Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Well, it was an intense day. I realized last night that I hadn't written the query letter I would need if anyone was interested in my work, so I ended up spending part of the night writing and fine-tuning the query letter. I drew on some online resources to work out what was needed. In particular, one helpful blogger, Chuck Sabuchino (https://www.writersdigest.com/successful-queries/successful-queries-agent-jim-mccarthy-and-the-big-rewind), gave a series of examples of successful query letters that I found particularly useful. Of course, I have no idea if my query letter is as good as these, but I did my best with the concept.
I also found that although I had worked for weeks on my pitches, and was still tinkering with them over the course of last night, once I had a look at what other people were pitching I realized immediately what I needed to do to give my pitches more punch. The first pitch went up just a few minutes after the start time of 8 a.m. I had read online that a reasonable strategy for the pitches (one is allowed only three, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., on the day of the event, and they have to be different) was to aim for first thing after 8 a.m., then around 9:30 a.m. after late arrivals at work come in, and then pitch the third around 2 p.m. to catch the people coming back from lunch. It was suggested not to pitch later than around 4 p.m. since most editors and agents would be going home about then, or preparing their departures. I'm not sure that I agree entirely with these ideas. It seems to me that agents might still go over tweets in the days following the event, but perhaps not.
Anyway, to get back to my story, my first pitch went up at around 8:02 a.m. Then I looked at the other pitches, and immediately set about modifying pitches #2 and #3. This effort was demonstrably successful, because I got a lot more notice for pitches #2 and #3 than for #1. Here are the pitches I used :
Pitch #1 : As Mags, a 13 yr old Jewish girl with cerebral palsy, in Belgium, 1941, you escape the Nazi roundup with your parents, but now you must get out of Occupied France. Success, however, could bring the wrong kind of attention. A tale of terror and resilience. #PitMad #HF #DIS #NA #A
Pitch #2 : 13-year-old Mags, a Jewish girl with cerebral palsy, must rely on intelligence and courage as well as a Maquis family to get out of Occupied France. Success, however, could attract the wrong kind of attention. ANNE FRANK meets SEBASTIAN FAULKS. #PitMad #HF #NA #A
Pitch #3 : Mags, a Jewish girl with cerebral palsy, must get out of Occupied France to escape the Nazis. Even if successful, however, her disability could attract the wrong kind of attention. ANNE FRANK meets SEBASTIAN FAULKS. #PitMad #HF #DIS #NA #A
Pitch #2 got the most traction, with 18 retweets and 3 likes, while Pitch #3 got 3 retweets and 1 like. But two of the 3 likes on Pitch #2 were spurious (only agents or editors are supposed to "like" the tweets, but sometimes people who are unaware of the rules or who have forgotten, "like" them as well - these are what I call spurious likes). In the end, one agent responded to each of the last two pitches. One of the changes I made was to notice that this idea of the story being "like" someone else's writing helped raise its profile. I think the combination of Anne Frank and Sebastian Faulks as references also makes for a interesting mix. I actually had this comparison in my draft query letter, but as soon as the pitches started going up I realized lots of people were doing that inside their pitches! I also struggled for a long time during the 24 hours leading up to the event with the description of what happens after she gets out of Occupied France. I wanted this to be tentative, not a given, and for a long time I talked about how the Vichy regime was hard on children with disability (nothing but the truth!), but talk of the regime makes this feel very abstract. So I finally came up with this idea of "attracting the wrong kind of attention". I still wasn't sure this was going to work, but it seemed to have been effective.
One of the blog postings I read about the PitMad exercise was by someone who had participated for several years as a writer and then had to adapt to doing it as an editor (Sandra Ruttan, see http://www.bronzevillebee.com/2019/06/increasing-your-odds-of-pitmad-success/.) This helped me to put myself into the editor's shoes, and to see the pitch within a different light. So, for example, I agonized over what combination of age hashtags to put up, between #A for adults, #YA for Young Adults and #NA for New Adults. When I started thinking about this from the editor's perspective, it became clear to me that the best strategy was to put all three up, since the editors are using the hashtags to sort the tweets and bring up pitches that interest them. Worrying whether putting up multiple age hashtags would be confusing was the smaller issue - yeah, maybe, but who has the time to worry about such things?
The difference between #YA and #NA was, however, important. My novel deals in part with issues of sexual abuse in relation to disability. This material would be inappropriate, I think, for the younger ages covered by #YA, but not for #NA, which is often picked precisely for this reason. So even though I worried #NA might be a little too "niche", I think it was the right call.
The end result of the day - I have sent two query letters off to two agents, along with excerpts from my novel. Even if these don't pan out, the experience was fantastic. I learned under pressure to write a decent query letter, and to write pitches that are effective. I also "met" a number of other writers online who retweeted spontaneously my tweets. It is said that this enhances visibility of one's tweets, and this seems to make sense, but I also read some who questioned that idea. It depends how editors find the pitches. If they are using search criteria, the retweets are not all that useful, but if they are browsing, they will be of interest. The blogger who had done PitMad both as a writer and an editor was one of those who argued that the retweeting wasn't that useful. He said there were so many pitches to sort through, no one has the time to just browse. And I must admit, watching the #PitMad thread throughout the day, there was an unending stream of pitches, thousands of them, perhaps tens of thousands. Twitter says 35000 tweets on the #PitMad hashtag, but I don't know over what time period. Still, it is a lot! However, I did find the cameraderie between writers useful, and that comes partly from the retweeting. So even if it isn't ultimately the right way to reach the editors and agents, I found it a good way to network.
Another image of events that take place in the novel 'Goodness in Small Doses' - the truck or lorry that carries Mags and her father from the mill to the town of La Rochefoucauld.