by Korina Moss
Some people call the journey to getting published a roller coaster. For me, it was starting to feel more like a carousel, going round and round and getting nowhere. I’d been querying for two years, made a major revision thanks to the suggestions of a freelance editor, then started anew. When I received three rejections in two days, I knew I needed a new way to connect with agents. It was time to enter the Twitterverse.
I fumbled around Twitter for a month before discovering that hashtags are the keys to the agent kingdom. I found the manuscript wish list page (#mswl), where agents post the types of stories they want to see. I also eavesdropped on any page with a writing-related hashtag -- #writers #agents #amquerying #WIP #amwriting, etc. – which is how I came across #PitMad, my first experience with a pitch party.
What is a pitch party? Twitter pitch parties have slightly varying rules, but their purpose is to help you find an agent by introducing them to your book in a few sentences, specifically 280 characters or less. (For writers seeking independent publishers, some small houses also participate in both #PitMad and the Savvy Authors pitch parties, as well as their own #Pit2Pub.) The rules for this one allowed me to pitch three times that day. Agents scroll through the #PitMad page periodically throughout the day. If any of them “like” your pitch, you query them according to their submission guidelines.How did I find out about the pitch party? I got lucky and stumbled upon it the day it was happening. If you’re a regular on Twitter and stalk the writer sites, you’re bound to find out about one. #PitMad is a quarterly one-day pitch party. You can go to the official Pitch Wars site at www.pitchwars.org to find their schedule.
How did I come up with my pitch? I’m sure there are articles on how to write a good pitch, but it was eleven a.m. and I’d already missed out on most of the morning. I felt like I’d perfected my query blurb, so I spent some time breaking it down until it conveyed what I thought were the necessary elements of my manuscript. This was my pitch:
Mom Blogger must solve a party magician's murder while confronting Type-A soccer moms, her husband's past affair, and her addiction to Little Debbie's snack cakes.
It conveys the theme of my cozy (mom blogger), the mystery (party magician’s murder), the personal aspects (soccer moms and her marital woes), and the humorous tone (her addiction to Little Debbie’s). Overall, I wanted to give agents an accurate sense of what they’d be reading.
I had room to add more, but my assumption was that agents would be cross-eyed reading through so many pitches, even with hashtags that indicated genre. I wanted mine to be as simple to read as possible.
My pitch garnered interest from four agents and a small publisher. I submitted to them as requested.
How is this different from simply sending a query to an agent? First, they’re excited about your idea even before they read your query. Second, you’re asked to include the pitch party name in the subject line of your submission email. This may get your query read ahead of ones in the slush pile. I received requests to see the full manuscript the very day after I submitted. Normally, I would wait from one to six months for this request.
Although it was exciting to have agents interested, I’d been asked for my full manuscript before and still faced rejection. I wasn’t about to stop my agent quest while I waited to hear back. The following week, I came across a Twitter announcement for another pitch party, this one on a website called Savvy Authors (www.savvyauthors.com). The rules for their Hot Summer Pitchfest were different. They had a group of participating agents, so we were able to pitch to the agent(s) of our choice. Although the number of agents was more limited than #PitMad, here they were sure to read your pitch. The agents would either acknowledge their interest immediately or they would give Savvy Authors a list of whose pitches they liked, and Savvy Authors would publish that list the following week in their newsletter. I chose two agents (let’s call them Agents A and B) from the group, and expounded on my earlier pitch:
Mom blogger Connie Tillman must solve a party magician's murder while confronting Type-A soccer moms, her husband's past affair, and her addiction to Little Debbie's snack cakes. When the magician’s body vanishes, she realizes the murder was not as it first appeared. Soon, friends become suspects, and Connie becomes the killer’s final target.
One of the two agents (Agent A) got back to me immediately and I submitted my query and chapters. Three days later, she requested the full manuscript.
A week later, one of the agents from #PitMad (we’ll call her Agent C) emailed me, inquiring about a good time to call me to “have a conversation.” We agreed to speak two days later, and I spent the time in between hyperventilating… and researching what I should ask of an agent. I also contacted two writer friends who attend conferences regularly and had the inside scoop on the reputations of my possible agents. One friend put me in touch with one of Agent C’s authors and we spoke about what I could expect from this boutique agency.
Agent C and I spent almost an hour on the phone. I erroneously thought she’d be interviewing me, but it was the other way around. I was glad I had my list of questions. She did ask me some questions about my intended series and if I was planning to stick with the genre. This was the time to be fully honest about my writing plans and my book, to ensure that we could ideally have a career partnership. She told me about her relationships with publishers, her communication style, the contract, and how she edits. From her website, I knew how many clients she had and the genres she represented. She answered most of the questions on my list before I even asked them. I had a good feeling about her. At the end of the phone call, she offered me representation.
I let her know I had several full manuscripts still being read by other agents, and I asked her to give me a couple of weeks to make a decision. She agreed. I emailed the agents who had my full and partial manuscripts, letting them know I had an offer of representation and was inquiring about the status of my submission.
Two days later, I got an email from Agent A, the agent who had requested my full manuscript via the Savvy Authors pitch. She wondered if her prior email to me offering representation had gotten lost in my spam folder. I immediately checked my spam and sure enough, there was an emailed offer from Agent A from the week prior! This is what I get for not being paranoid that I missed an offer in my email! ACK!
Luckily, she was understanding and called me later that afternoon so she could answer my questions. I was becoming a little better at this now that I had some experience. She relayed their pertinent information: which publishing houses she had relationships with, her plans for the series, and their marketing resources. She reiterated her offer of representation. I gave her the same decision date, and she agreed to wait.
Later that evening, I received the Savvy Authors newsletter with the lists from the Pitchfest agents. Since I’d already gotten an offer from Agent A from this pitchfest, I assumed Agent B didn’t like my pitch. But there I was on Agent B’s list! I was very interested in this agent because of her stellar reputation. I was nervous to tell her about my offers in my initial query letter, afraid she would think I was being presumptuous. But I had no choice. I sent her my query and let her know that I had two offers I was considering, but I wanted to give her the opportunity to read my manuscript, as well. I sent the requested fifty pages.
Within the hour, I received an email from her praising my first fifty pages and asking to see the rest. I sent it immediately. And then I waited, refreshing my email (and checking my spam folder) every four minutes. It’s interesting how quickly an unpublished author goes from feeling desperate for an agent to feeling greedy to get the “right” one.
Three days later, I got The Call.
We spoke at length about my manuscript. I appreciated her excitement about my book and my writing voice. We spoke of my career beyond this book series. We discussed revisions she suggested based on her knowledge of the targeted publishers for my book. She said if I was open to doing the revisions, she would offer me representation. I still had two more agents I hadn’t heard from yet, but like any good relationship, when it’s right, you know it. I felt a true sense of partnership with her, so I accepted Agent B’s offer on the spot (pending the contract).
After we’d both signed the contract, I let the other agents know that I’d accepted another offer and thanked them for their time and attention to my manuscript. They were gracious in their responses to me.
So what happened next?
I celebrated! But not for long, because there were:
2. Blurbs for Books 2 & 3 of the series to write, because cozies are most often contracted as a series.
3. A synopsis to edit.
4. Book 2 to start.
Acquiring an agent isn’t a guarantee we’ll get published, but it’s the vital connection for those of us who want to follow the traditional publishing path. Participating in pitch parties isn’t a magic elixir, but it may propel you from the querying stage to finally securing an agent or independent publisher.
So why is my first book a cheese shop mystery and not the mom blogger book I pitched?
Stay tuned for next month’s blog post! The roller coaster’s not over.
Did you ever have to pivot to reach a goal? I’d love to hear how you’re doing in your journey to publication or the path you took to being a published author.