stack of papers tied with black ribbon

Competitive Pitching

All aspiring authors know how difficult it is to write a query letter that stands out in a slush pile. You stress and stress over the exact wording, trying to create something that will make agents pick your manuscript out as the next big thing. But sometimes you just need a break from the standard method of pitching your novel. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your manuscript out in the world, check out #PitMad, a Twitter event put on by the organizers of Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars is a mentorship program that matches a writer with an author, editor, or other industry intern. It’s a chance for writers to work with someone who will read their entire manuscript and give them suggestions. These mentors help their mentees prepare their manuscripts so they’re ready for the agent showcase. There’s a ton of information on the Pitch Wars website, so if you’re an unagented writer––or just want to learn more––check it out! There’s information on both current and past Pitch Wars, #PitMad––which I’ll be going into here––and other resources for writers. It’s a great site to check out if you’re looking for an agent or just want to connect with other writers.
One of my favorite things about Pitch Wars is #PitMad. Although Pitch Wars only takes place once a year, #PitMad happens in March, June, September, and December on Twitter. Each pitch day goes from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. Writers craft a short pitch using the #PitMad hashtag, and on designated days they post on Twitter. As a writer, you can post your own pitch for your manuscript using the 280 characters Twitter allows, or you can support your favorite writer friends’ pitches by retweeting. It’s a great community event which allows you to find new writers and future novels. And if you’re lucky enough, an agent will like your tweet and you’ll be able to submit your manuscript to them.
To start participating, just write up a few tweets that you’ll share throughout the day! It helps to have a few to work with, as you’ll want to tweet periodically over the day for more chances for agents to see your work. You’re allowed to pitch a manuscript a maximum of three times a day, and it’s recommended to pitch once every four hours in order to not crowd the hashtag. More rules are available on the #PitMad section of the Pitch Wars website and will help you navigate the #PitMad days on Twitter.
#PitMad is such a fun way to jump into the exciting world of competitive pitching. It may not always lead to an agent, but it’s a wonderful way to interact with the Twitter writing community, find some aspiring authors to follow, and see what agents are looking for.

#PitMad: Your Quick Ticket to Pub

For many new writers, the question is how to break in, get an agent, and get published. There are many tracks to getting to the peak, but the route is often long and arduous, and authors can go many months—which can compound to years—without hearing about the masterpieces on their hard drives. How can a writer get noticed and noticed fast?

Like with all contemporary remedies, the internet has a hand in getting new authors noticed.
According to Pitch Wars, the curators of the event, “#PitMad is the original twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. No previously published works. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.” It’s really something like speed dating, where agents and editors get to peruse the quick pitches and interact with authors. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be published, but you will have eyes on your manuscript’s idea.

Another key feature of #PitMad is the use of hashtags, not only to denote the genre of your manuscript, but also to let agents and editors know about target audience and authentic authorship. As we move forward with Ooligan’s acquisitions process, we looked at not only #YA, but also at #BVM (Black Voices Matter, for Black writers), #POC (People of Color), #IMM (Immigrant), #OWN (Own Voices), and many more. These hashtags help agents and publishers fill in gaps in their publication list, but also help promote diversity in publishing.

However, not all see this as a great use of time. Jessica Faust from BookEnds Literary Agency says that not only is #PitMad not the best use of her time as an agent, but also that she doesn’t consider “an event like this [as] querying.” She goes on to say that 140 characters is not enough for a full pitch. And while Faust isn’t wrong about the pitch length, she doesn’t speak for all agents and publishers out there. Writers do get picked up here, but it might be a bad idea to put all your eggs in this basket.

In summation, #PitMad is a way for you to meet agents, publishers, and even writers in the Twitter community. Pitch your idea of your manuscript and wait for the likes to roll in. It may not be a total success, but it’s a quick route to get there if you remember to also query for real on the side. As an acquisitions editor for a press, I’ll divulge a few pro tips to writers: pitch in the morning (and think about Eastern Standard Time), pin the post to your Twitter page, and post the pitch a few times, but don’t spam. Use the hashtags, but don’t embellish the truth. Add realistic but known comp titles—not comp TV shows or movies—to your post. I’m less likely to go for “Casablanca x Fifty Shades” than a more grounded “Love, Simon x The House on Mango Street.”

Knowing Your Audience: A Quick Guide to Improving Your Query

One of the most common issues acquisitions editors find when reviewing queries is that an author’s target audience for a book is too broad. While it would be incredible if your book ended up in the hands of nearly everybody because someone like Oprah picked it for her book club, for most books that’s not the case.

Ensuring that you are aware of your reader before you query your book will help not only your agent (if you have one), but your publisher continue to strengthen the concept of your audience and transform it into a marketing profile.

Marketing profiles are used fairly often in publishing and other businesses as a way to imagine who exactly a product will be sold to. More importantly, it helps marketing teams imagine what unique aspects of a product will make people want to purchase it.

Identifying your audience in a broad sense can be helpful when initially imagining the concept for the book, why you want to tell that story, and who you want to tell it to. But when querying, if you are able to tell editors that your reader is a part of a specific age group, socioeconomic status, education bracket, or even if you can describe their interests, it becomes easier to understand who this reader is and why they need your book. For a quick reference on how to build your target audience profile, check out steps 4–7 in this article.

Oftentimes, developing a target audience can reveal interesting information about how to get the book into the hands of the reader. For example, if members of a target audience are likely to listen to podcasts, then the marketing plan for the book should include some reviews by podcasts they probably listen to. If the book is about a character going off to college, publication should be planned around the time of high school graduations, and the marketing plan should focus on adults and parents in the reader’s life who might gift the book.

When a query comes in with a well-developed target audience, it makes the book seem more viable to the editors. Being able to picture the audience as a specific person—almost like a character—helps generate ideas for a marketing plan, which leads to a better pitch and better acquisition.

One of the most important factors in a successful book pitch is building a case for who the reader is and why they will read the book. At Ooligan, we spend a bit more time to describe not only why they will buy the book, but why they will open it in the first place, and what will drive them to keep reading. Imagining the different reasons for each of these scenarios will allow you to picture what will make your book sellable beyond just its content.

All of this will help you build a better case for why your book should be acquired in your query. Taking these steps will also show that you are an author who is aware of your audience and how your book should be marketed, which publishers love!

Proposals: The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction

Book proposals can be intimidating. Writing the book was hard enough, and now you have to get other people to like it too. The number of resources for writing query letters is infinite, with published authors, agents, and publishers all weighing in on what makes a good query letter. But what about the next step—the proposal package?

The internet has a myriad of sources detailing what goes inside a book proposal, but most of these sources are about fiction. Any time you’ve seen a book pitched in a movie or on television, it’s probably followed this format as well. For fiction, it’s pretty simple:

  • Cover letter
  • Manuscript (or part of it, depending on the agent or publisher)
  • Marketing info
  • Your published works, awards, and credentials
  • Comp titles
  • Page count

In a fiction proposal, the cover letter and marketing info are just as important as your manuscript. In these sections, you have the best chance at pitching your proposal to agents and publishers. So, in your cover letter, you should also include a brief summary of the book that reads similarly to the description found on the back covers of books: enough information to captivate the reader, but not enough to spoil the ending.

As the author, you are not technically responsible for marketing your book; but including any potential ideas for marketing is extremely helpful to the publisher. Not only could it help during the marketing planning, but it also shows your investment in the work and your understanding of the market. This is also a great time to mention any special events that your book may be able to be a part of. For instance, if your best friend is a best-selling author with a strong following, this would be a good time to mention it. Or if there is an upcoming event that the audience of your book will likely be attending, you should include that as well.

Pitching nonfiction can be incredibly different, but it also depends on the type of nonfiction. According to agent Jane Friedman, the proposal expectations can vary a lot for memoir: “Some agents don’t require a book proposal for memoir, while others want only the book proposal and the first few chapters.”

Proposals for other kinds of nonfiction can vary just as much as memoir proposals, depending on the publisher. But in general, they will include these items:

  • Cover letter
  • Target audience or market
  • Table of contents
  • Marketing plan
  • Author bio (What makes you an expert? Why do readers want to hear from you?)
  • Sample chapters
  • Comp titles

Nonfiction proposals often include more information about the author’s platform and expertise than about the quality of the writing. As Friedman writes, “While everyone expects the writing to be solid, they’re probably not expecting a literary masterpiece.” It’s also very common for nonfiction to have a ghostwriter, so keep in mind that while you may be the author, the writing may not be wholly your responsibility.

Proving a market for a book is much more important for nonfiction, especially in this technological age when most information is only a search away. Like in a fiction proposal, the marketing section is where you as the author can show the publisher your expertise and knowledge of the market and your audience. However, this section should also go deeper into why your audience cares about this specific topic. Being as specific as possible here is what will sell the proposal to an agent or publisher.

The Importance of Tone in Editing

What tone to use when writing a letter to an author or making queries on their manuscript is often one of the most crucial yet most challenging parts of an editor’s job. There are many factors to consider: Where are you at in the editing process? Are you speaking to the author directly, or are you addressing a senior editor? Is this the author’s first novel, or are they more experienced? With so many factors to juggle and so many tiny nuances, it’s no surprise that this is the area that trips up most novice (and sometimes more senior) editors.

When you are addressing an author that is new to the editorial process, a more gentle tone is worth considering. Because they are not used to how the publishing industry works, it sometimes comes as a surprise just how much change their novel goes through during the editing process. Establishing a good relationship with the author is always recommended no matter where they are in their career, but in the case of a new writer, it provides reassurance that their novel is in the hands of someone who cares about it and wants it to succeed. That’s not to say that more experienced authors don’t appreciate this as well—after all, authors that have proved themselves often already know what good editing is, so if you write something that offends them they can easily move on to a new editor. Having an open line of contact with the author prevents miscommunication and allows them to express any questions or concerns that they might have. If you are in either the developmental or line-level editing phases, don’t be shy about also pointing out where the novel really shines. This not only gives the writer confidence, but it highlights the areas of their novel that they should emulate throughout their writing.

There is an important line to walk when you are being considerate. You do not want to come across as too harsh, but it is equally important to convey that you are sure of yourself. You need to project confidence in your skill so that the author has confidence in you. Sometimes when editors are trying to be careful with their phrasing, they start to write queries with so many qualifiers that they look confused. “I’m not sure,” they write, “but I think this sentence might be too long. Maybe rephrase it?” Do away with some of the qualifiers, and avoid saying you aren’t sure of something.

There are times, however, when the tone you use is expected to be slightly different. Sometimes editors are working for managing editors, and the notes that they make are not for the author. Notes for an editor are expected to be more direct in order to help them quickly pinpoint problem areas and look for solutions. But in the case that the author does not see your comments, you are still expected to be polite. You never know what might get back to them, after all. As a general rule, take the time to reread everything you’ve written whenever you’re giving editorial feedback. How would you feel about receiving this feedback about a project that is incredibly important to you? If what you’ve written gives you pause, then your answer is clear—it’s time to reword your edits in a more tactful way.

Five Steps to Take Before Writing a Query Letter

Last year, a friend of mine was preparing a manuscript to be pitched to publishers and agents. He asked me to read his manuscript beforehand because he believed my editorial experience would provide him with insight regarding the plausibility of his book getting accepted by a publisher or an agent (it doesn’t). I told him the story was enjoyable but in need of structural work. After revising the manuscript twice, he approached me for tips on how to write his query letter, knowing that I’ve been involved with Ooligan. So to help new authors like my friend, I’ve compiled a list of five reminders that are helpful when writing the dreaded query letter.

    1. Have a fully formed idea of what your manuscript is about. The more concise an explanation you can give about your book, the more you know what it’s about. A good exercise is to try distilling major plot points and themes down to simple sentences that are clear and brief. Doing this will not only help focus your work but it will assist with the concision necessary to write an effective query letter.

    2. Revise, revise, and revise. It’s rare that the first, second, and third drafts of a new manuscript are ready to be sent out professionally—that’s fine! Set aside a reasonable amount of time to revise and edit your manuscript, so that it’s in the best shape possible before pitching it to prospective agents and publishers.

    3. Have someone read the latest drafts of your manuscript. After revising your manuscript, ask someone you know—anyone—to read your work before querying a publisher or an agent. Doing this provides invaluable reader responses that elucidate any shortcomings that weren’t caught during the revision process of your manuscript.

    4. Get to know the person or organization that you are going to query. Whether it’s an independent press or Penguin Random House, research the publishers and agents you are querying. Pay attention to the genres they focus on, and target specific outlets that fit the criteria of your book. For example, a publisher specializing in nonfiction isn’t interested in publishing romance.

    5. Familiarize yourself with the query letter. In its most basic form, a query letter is a one-page pitch that gives the reader a concise summary of your manuscript, a brief author bio, and your understanding of the market that you hope to reach. A simple Google search will come up with dozens of results showing writers how to compose an effective query letter while also providing examples of pitches that successfully landed book deals.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of steps to take before beginning to write a query letter, but it should be a useful reminder for any writer preparing to pitch their manuscript to potential agents and publishers. Remember that query letters can be difficult to write and the content needs to excite the reader through the brevity of what’s being presented inside the pitch. So fully understand your work, revise your manuscript, have someone read it, get to know who you will query, and familiarize yourself with the query letter itself before sending out your pitches.