The more I write, the more my process has slid more towards the middle between pantsers and outliners, borrowing tools from both ends. One of the tools I never expected to use so frequently—or depend on so heavily—is the twitter pitch.
Twitter pitches are most commonly used in contests like DVpit, Pitmad, SFFpit, PitDark, etc. The goal is to distill your book down to one or two sentences in hopes of “hooking” an agent or editor perusing the feed enough for them to request pages.
In fall of 2017, I was trying to figure out a twitter pitch for a book that I would ultimately end up shelving. (It was a very bad book.) I was frustrated because I could not, for the life of me, condense the book down to a pitch. When I was trying to workshop it, someone suggested that the issue might not be the pitch itself—it might be that the hook and the heart of my story weren’t clear enough to me, and that’s why I couldn’t boil it down into an effective pitch. My first reaction was to roll my eyes. Like, yeah, sure buddy. I’ve spent years on this book. I know it well enough. It’s clear enough—
They were right.
I couldn’t pitch my book—because my book wasn’t complete enough to be pitched*.
*That’s not to say every book has to be pitched; not at all. I’ve read plenty of stunning books that wouldn’t be easy to boil down to a few sentences. But when it comes to my work, and the types of stories I love to write, if I can’t pitch it, that’s a red flag.
In the case of the terrible shelved book, I didn’t know the character’s wants well enough, or the core stakes that the story was supposed to be built on. My book was too broken for me to pull out the Neat Thing meant to grab people’s attention and get them excited.
I queried the book anyways. It did, uh, poorly. And when my head started to bubble with ideas for a new project, I decided I wanted the reverse of what had happened last time. My draft could be a mess, my characters could be nonsense, but I wanted to know the heart of the book from the beginning. I wanted the hook.
So I started with the pitch. I boiled down the concept of my shiny new idea to a pithy sentence. The first iteration was something as short as a blood-witch has to assassinate a prince to save her family. That pitch is okay, but there’s not much of a hook factor to it. I knew it needed more. I don’t want my pitches to just tell someone what the story is about—I want to tell them why it’s worth reading.
I kept tweaking it until I ended up with this:
That pitch ended up being what first connected with me with my current agent, although I didn’t end up querying her until months later. When I participated in Pitmad that spring, I received over 100 likes that turned into over 20 full requests. The book was still pretty flawed, and I’ve put a ton of work into it since (sobs in two full rewrites) but the pitch did its job, and because I’d started from a pitch, I’d written that book with the heart of the story in mind from the beginning.
Because all of my books prioritize character, my pitches tend to also hinge on character and how their choices drive the story. When I’m building out that hook, I try to answer at least two of the following questions: What does my main character want? What do they need? What’s in their way? What will they do to get it? And what do they stand to lose?
The pitch I used for Bloodwinn tackles three of those—the want, the obstacle, and the stakes. Most of my pitches will also include a turning point to introduce the stakes. Basically, it’s your characters “oh shit” moment. As in realizing “oh, shit, I’ve caught feelings for the sister of the boy I’m supposed to murder the hell out of.”
The more I practice this format—and the more I practice interrogating those questions—the easier it is for me to make these pitches. Here are a few I came up with on the fly:
Maincharacter McProtagonist is a kitchen-witch on the rise. But on the day she finally opens her enchanted bakery, a horde of ghouls invade her town. Maincharacter can stop them—if she’s willing to trade her magic—and her dreams—for deadly soul magic.
Tired Lady is tired of prophecies and the war they bring. When a wizard shows up preaching about chosen ones, she’s ready to slam the door in his face—until he reveals this prophecy isn’t about Tired Lady. It’s her daughter they’re after.
And that’s basically it. As I draft, I continue to refer back to the pitch. Sometimes it needs to be adjusted for the book, and sometimes the book needs to be adjusted back to the pitch. More often than not, when I’ve found myself floundering in a draft, it’s because I’ve strayed from that distilled, core of the book. For me, it’s a constant reminder of what hooked me into writing the story to begin with. It’s the beating heart of the book, the promise of who my character can become, and a taste of the spiderweb of subplots I love to weave and drive myself bonkers refining in revisions.
And when I’m drowning in the quagmire of drafting or a never-ending revision, it’s the thing that reminds me why I love this book, and why I need to keep going.
YMMV with all of this, of course. I have friends who love pitches and friends who loathe them. I have friends who used a twitter pitch once for a contest and never felt the need to use them again—and friends who have adapted them into their process even more intensely than I have. Writing, like any craft, is a constantly evolving thing. Your methods and tools are going to shift and sharpen as you level up and are able to tell even better stories than before. And that’s all a pitch is at the end of the day—another tool for your toolbox. Test it, try it, and if it doesn’t work, chuck it away. You’ll find something else that fits.
Rebecca Mix is a fantasy writer, Michigander, and hoarder of houseplants. Her short fiction has appeared in Kaleidotrope, Flash Fiction Online, and more. Rebecca is represented by Kiana Nguyen of Donald Maass Literary. To read Rebecca’s work, visit rebeccamix.com. You can also send her neat puns @wordmixrr on twitter.