Confession: I usually avoid Twitter during PitMad.
The quarterly Twitter “Pitch Party” invites writers to post 280-character manuscript pitches, which agents and editors can request with a ‘like’. Twitter’s eager writing community, amped up on fantasies of scoring a book deal, turn my feed into an endless scroll of self-promotion and supportive retweets. I’m not much for social media to start with, so this frenzy overwhelms me.
It also tempts my inherent skepticism. No disrespect to the earnest sponsors at PitchWars.org, but I find it unlikely that many reputable book agents are so hungry for clients that they’ll spend a day sorting through Twitter chaff. And even if a few do, given how many hopefuls sling their pitches out under the #Pitmad hashtag, the percentage who get a coveted agent ‘like’ must be infinitesimal.
So why did I participate in my first PitMad two weeks ago? Not with any expectation of tempting an agent, but in service of science and my fellow writers by studying responses to different pitch styles.
PitMad permits three pitches from each participant, so I created three versions, each highlighting a different aspect of my upcoming third novel, Binary Chop. All contain the holy trinity of book pitch elements: the main character, the crisis they face, and what’s at stake if they fail. I struggle to write 100-word “blurbs” for my books, so capturing a novel in an enticing tweet proved damnably difficult. If nothing else, PitchWars is terrific for pitch-writing practice!
Given the spontaneous nature of my experiment and the subsequently short timeline, I thought I did a decent job (critiques in the comments are, however, welcome). They appear below in the order I posted them.
A pitch using comparison titles, or “comps”:
ANCILLARY JUSTICE x ALTERED CARBON
Investigating Baltimore’s cyborg gangs leaves Detective Vallee with a dead lover, illegal body upgrades, & a transhuman ally keeping murderous secrets. Can she master new parts & old demons in time to stop a deadly street war?
A plot-focused pitch:
When members of a cyborg gang turn up dead in a research facility, Detective Petra Vallee can’t ignore connections to her own dark past. With civil war brewing and a bionic time bomb in her own body, she must choose between justice & revenge.
A character-focused pitch:
A disabled detective running from her past. A cyborg immigrant desperate for a future. Homicide strikes both their hearts, uniting them to hunt illegal bionics ravaging Baltimore’s biohacker gangs. But their secrets threaten to tear the partnership—and the city—apart.
It was, admittedly, an imperfect experiment with many variables outside of my control. But let’s take from this what we can.
None of my pitches received a ‘like’ from an editor or agent. I could interpret this fact as corroboration that the odds of landing a book deal through PitMad are slim. It’s certainly possible that my pitches just weren’t that good; however, they seemed stronger than a lot of others I read that day. In any case, we can’t use agent likes to quantify success here.
Instead, we’ll use retweets. I have fewer than 600 Twitter followers (I’m just not into that indiscriminate follow-everyone-and-hope-for-follow-back approach, so my platform growth can be measured in geologic time), so it’s a small sample size. Still, the outcome suggests an interesting trend. The comp title pitch earned twice as many retweets as the plot pitch, and more than three times the character pitch. I posit three possible reasons for this:
- People might respond favorably to pitches that claim kinship with titles they enjoyed
- The comp titles ate up precious characters, forcing me to cram more exciting ideas–dead lover! illegal body upgrades! murderous secrets!–into the pitch body.
- Earlier tweets get more attention simply by virtue of timing. If that’s true, PitMad participants should consider posting their strongest pitch first, to maximize its potential exposure.
The character-focused pitch generated the least interest. I found it the least compelling of the three, myself, but the outcome still surprised me because so many people claim to prefer “character-driven” stories. Whatever sympathetic magic draws readers to characters apparently can’t be invoked in a tweet. Catchy, colorful concepts got better responses: several people replied with their enthusiasm for the notion of “cyborg gangs”.
My PitMad experiment suggested some interesting correlations, but ultimately raised more questions than it answered. I need more representative data! If anyone else who participated in the September 5 PitMad wants to share their statistics, we can expand this loose personal study into a proper research project.
What observations have you made about PitMad or pitch writing? Let’s discuss in the comments.