Saturday, September 17, 2016

Savvy Saturday: Twitching With Keith Willis

Why Are You Twitching?

With the latest round of #pitmad just finished, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect back on my own experience in the world of Twitter pitch contests. I’ve told this story numerous times in workshops and at author presentations, and people normally give me odd looks when I tell them I connected with my publisher, Champagne Books by “Twitching”.

Sometimes they just nod and smile. Other times they back away slowly, as if they think it might be catching. But if you’re a writer looking to place a book with an agent or an editor, trust me—you want to catch this twitching madness. It’s like speed dating, for writers. And I have a special fondness for Brenda Drake’s #pitmad (even more than a year later I still call Brenda my Fairy Godmother), since that was the contest that resulted in my contract with Champagne to publish my debut fantasy novel Traitor Knight.

Okay, I suppose a definition is in order at this point. Twitching is the art (and science) of crafting a ‘pitch’ for your book, in less than 140 characters—yes, you read that right, not words but characters, including spaces and punctuation—in order to participate in any of a variety of ‘pitch parties’ offered on Twitter. Twitter + Pitch = Twitch. Simple, eh?

Essentially, a twitch is a query letter writ small. It should contain the same basic elements as a query:
  • The main character, by name or vivid description
  • The central conflict around which the plot is based
  • The stakes of success or failure by the MC
The whole process works like this. Writers with completed and polished manuscripts pitch those manuscripts during a Twitter contest. Agents and editors monitor the feed for the contest, which normally seem to last from 8 to 12 hours. They ‘favorite’ twitches which attract their interest, thus extending to the writer an invitation to submit per the agent/editor’s guidelines—normally a query and set amount of pages, generally ranging from 10 pages to a full manuscript.

I participated in quite a few of these pitch contests during my journey towards publication. Here’s a excellent list of most of them, courtesy of author L.M. Pierce, who has compiled (and curates) an amazing array of contests throughout the year: (used with permission).

I found #pitmad and the other contests I’ve entered to be a terrific learning experience. You pretty quickly garner a sense of what does and doesn’t work by watching what kinds of twitches end up getting requests. And you learn the art of brevity like nothing else can teach. When you only have 130 characters, including spaces, to tell about a 120k-word novel, you tend to cut to the chase.

Twitter contest are also a marvelous opportunity to make friends with other writers who are in the same boat. This is a group of hopeful authors, proud of their work and daring to put their words on the line in the hopes of capturing the interest of an agent or editor. I also find it fascinating that the writers themselves, far from trying to subvert the competition, instead encourage other contestants. I’ve met so many super folks through these Twitter contests, people I’m proud to call my (virtual) friends. Many have offered suggestions and critiques on my manuscript, my query letters and my pitches to help make them better. And I’ve tried to pay that forward, offering advice and critiques to others who may need a little help along the way. Because, as some sage so wisely said, what comes around goes around.

Even though some of my twitches in various contests received requests from several agents and editors, initially those didn’t pan out. Receiving a request through one of these contests is no guarantee of anything other than an invited opportunity to submit. While a particular twitch may engender interest on the part of an agent, it doesn’t mean that that agent is going to find the book itself exactly what they’ve been craving all these years.

The #pitmad twitch which ultimately led to my offer of a contract to publish Traitor Knight was:

Morgan risks death, dishonor & a woman's scorn when he poses as a turncoat to unmask the traitor plotting his kingdom's downfall.

I honestly didn't think it was one of my best efforts, but it caught an editor's interest. And that's what counts. It's not always adherence to the established formula (Character + Conflict + Stakes) that does the job (although in this case I pretty much did just that). But sometimes it's the voice or an intriguing story element that results in a request. In any event, I was asked to submit a full manuscript (which went out within ten minutes of that request). Not that I had premonition that this was 'the one'. I had several other full and partial manuscripts out with other agencies at the time, and this was just one more in the bunch.

You hear a lot about ‘it only takes one yes’. I had my share of rejections over the years I'd been querying Traitor Knight (to the tune of about 80 rejections). But it does just take that one time when your story resonates with an agent or editor. When they can see your vision, hear your voice. When they get it. This was that time for me.

Just to be clear, I'm by no means advocating that writers leave off the querying process and rely solely on Twitter contests. Down that path lies madness, despair, and most likely, dragons. But I am advocating the notion of adding Twitter contests as a significant part of a writer's arsenal. It's simply one more means to an end. It won't work for everyone, but there are enough stories with a 'happy ever after', mine included, to assure you that these contests can be a potentially valuable resource.

Keep querying by all means. But consider twitching once in a while too. Who knows, you might even have fun. And you may well see me there. Because even though I'm not participating, I still try to monitor the feeds and root for friends I've made along the way. One more way of paying it forward.

About the Author:

Keith W. Willis graduated (long ago) from Berry College with a degree in English Lit. He now lives in the scenic Hudson Valley/Adirondack region of NY with his wife Patty. They have one grown son, Matt, who actually thinks it’s pretty cool that Dad wrote a book.

Keith’s interests include camping, canoeing, and Scrabble. Keith began writing seriously in 2008, when the voices in his head got too annoying to ignore. When he’s not making up stories he manages a group of database content editors at a global information technology firm.

Traitor Knight is his first published novel and is available on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and at the Champagne Bookstore

1 comment:

  1. Keith, it was a true pleasure to be reminded of the pitch that made us sit up and take notice of your manuscript. And it's with pride that we are reminded of why we chose to publish your work.

    Traitor Knight is a great story, full of adventure and I am so looking forward to reading the sequel!

    Write on!