Querying isn’t just done through snail mail or email anymore: Twitter is the new way to get a literary agent’s interest. When writer Brenda Drake wanted to take writing contests to Twitter, she created the game, #pitchmadness. How effective is #pitchmadness at finding star authors, and what kind of benefits are agents seeing from participating in these online games with writers? While #pitchmadness probably won’t overtake traditional querying, it does have its benefits.
According to Drake, #pitchmadness’ rules are always changing, but there are a set of ground rules: slush readers and host bloggers choose 60 book pitches and the first 250 words of the manuscripts, and post them on their blogs for the agents. The agents make blind bids on these pitches in the comments, and on game day, everyone’s bids are revealed. If more than one agent bid on the same project, they duke it out on Twitter using the hashtag #pitchmadness. Whoever has the winning bid gets a headstart on that pitch, though all agents get their requests. After, anyone who didn’t make the Top 60 can tweet their pitch using #pitchmad, and agents, both new and established, show interest by favoriting the tweets.
Though the rules can get a bit complicated and vary for every “game,” participating agents have found the exercise an effective way of finding new writers. When asked how many manuscripts she has requested, agent Jordy Albert, of The Booker Albert Literary Agency, says: “Conservatively, I would estimate 15 to 20, and that doesn’t include partials.” Other agents cited similar numbers, although some, like agent Gordon Warnock of Foreword Literary, say that they “haven’t signed anyone from #pitchmadness yet.” Drake explains that many writers have also found critique partners through the contest, and those that make the Top 60 receive a lot of exposure.
“It was intriguing to read the captivating pitches and the game aspect added a competitive element to the process,” says Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency, adding that he’s seen some great ideas he would not have necessarily looked for otherwise. Jessica Sinsheimer, of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, feels similarly, stating that she has “a broad range of interests—much more than the works [she] has already sold.” #Pitchmadness allows her browse freely instead of just receiving queries based on authors’ impressions of her likes and dislikes. Both Stender and Sinsheimer believe that they have also gained exposure through their social media presence; Sinsheimer gains 60-100 Twitter followers every time she participates in a contest.
Despite the myriad benefits, #pitchmadness does also have its pitfalls. “There’s the potential to miss things that are weeded out…but through the #pitmadness twitter pitch session you also have the chance to pick up [pitches] that didn’t make it to the blog post rounds,” agent Danielle Smith, of Foreword Literary, says. Her colleague, Gordon Warnock, agrees, saying that “pitch contests in general are very hit-or-miss…but it can be a nice supplement to the slush pile.” Smith also explains a few other qualms: many of the same writers come back to each competition, and the need to be online all the time in order to catch the best pitches can be frustrating. Jessica Sinsheimer mentions that complicated plots are not always encapsulated well in a tweet, implying that traditional querying is still best for certain projects. A trend she sees in these competitions is that it best works for YA, New Adult, and women’s fiction. Warnock also feels that the competition would be improved if it were more genre specific as he doesn’t even read past the genre half the time if it isn’t what he represents.
So while #pitchmadness may not reinvent the querying wheel, it is still a fun way to have writers and agents interact. Especially as the book industry figures out good ways of using social media platforms like Twitter, getting the conversation going is a good thing. Now to just figure out how to distill your magnum opus into 140 characters or less…