#DVpit and the Phenomenon of Twitter Pitch Events

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Finding an agent is difficult. Not just the getting-an-agent-to-look-at-your-work part. No, the act of using the wide open web to track down someone interested in your unique sort of writing is also time-consuming and stressful. And then when you do find someone, after you daydream about how great it would be to be their client, you get down to business and spend hours figuring out how to personalize your query letter.

Finding a writer to take on as a client is difficult. If an agent is chomping at the bit for a very specific concept, then they have to sift through hundreds — thousands of email queries in hopes to hit on that one special thing. Time spent on this competes with duties to current clients, agents’ social lives, time they might want to spend with their families.

There are websites to help with both issues. QueryTracker allows you to search agents by genre, name, and a whole slew of other criteria. #MSWL (short for manuscript wish list) is both a popular hashtag on Twitter, and a bona fide website where agents and editors can shout out their exact wishes in an easily searchable medium. Writing hopefuls can search it for keywords (such as ‘zombies,’ ‘harlem renaissance,’ or ‘bisexual’) and various genres (YA, NA, MG/horror, comedy, romance), and find someone asking for the exact intersection of their work.

The industry, once a solely envelope and ink business, is evolving.

Over the last few years, Twitter pitch events have popped up with increasing frequency. During these events, writers pitch their manuscript in 140 characters including related hashtags, like genre and category. Agents, editors, and publishers scroll through the feed and favorite pitches they’re interested in. Writers send them their query, and then hopefully: magic! Agent finds writer. Writer finds agent. All is well with the world.

Pitch events have evolved significantly since their inception. One such event is #PitMad, founded by Brenda Drake, author of Thief of Lies and Touching Fate. When it first started out, writers were allowed to pitch twice an hour from 8am to 8pm EST. Anyone who wanted to show support, from the random Joe Bob who saw it trending to your aunt who doesn’t understand the publishing process and thinks this means your MS will be in B&N soon, were allowed to retweet and comment their opinions. In a January 2014 run of #PitMad, there were over 6,500 tweets in the feed. This resulted in a flood of activity that buried many pitches and boosted others.

Since its first run in 2012, the rules have been redesigned to foster a more equitable environment. Writers may now only pitch 3 times during the entire 8am to 8pm EST window. Each pitch must be different. The pitch must also contain both the #PitMad hashtag and a category (#YA, #MG, #NA, etc.).

As the popularity of Twitter pitch events grew, so did the events that were available to writer.

Other twitter pitch events include:

Twitter pitch events have been attended and heralded by many an aspiring writer to the point of fierce ador. Pitch events have also been criticised by some. In an industry full of people who willingly and enthusiastically, write, edit, represent, publish, market and generally love a product built on the tenet of critically analyzing basic human motives within its pages, criticism makes sense. Criticism is good. Viewing anything, even something that seems as innocuous as a Twitter pitch event as solely good or bad, is dangerous.

Justina Ireland, purveyor of awesomeness and author of Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows, is one of these critics. She’s been vocal on twitter about how she sees pitch events.

Twitter, I’m going to share a little secret with you: I hate pitch contests.

HAAAAAAAAATTTTTEEEEEEE THEM.

People get so wrapped up and stressed out about them, when really a pitch contest says absolutely nothing about your writing.

Much of the problem she sees with pitch contests has to do with the perception aspiring writers have of them.

“A lot of writers look at pitch contests as some kind of shortcut to getting an agent, like a board game square where you get to skip to the end of the line,” said Ireland. “They go into pitch contests thinking that there is going to be some additional benefit to them, but there isn’t. What do you get if you’re selected? Well, you get to send along your query. But… you could’ve done that all along! Nothing has really changed for the writer here, unless the agent is closed to queries and is making an allowance for the pitches they’ve selected.”

There is a fierce ardor that tends to pop up when pitch events come along. Aspiring writers spend days fine tuning 140 character pitches to catch that special agent’s eyes. I know, I’ve done it. There’s nothing quite like the uncertainty that comes along with second guessing which two letter hashtag best quantifies your genre, how the hell you’re going to concentrate an 85,000 word novel into a single damn tweet, and if you really truly need all four letters of ‘with,’ but then again is it sloppy to just use ‘w’?

I’m not messing w you. These are thoughts that have run through my head, and the head of many others, when preparing for and participating in Twitter pitch events.

There are blog posts and articles by the handfuls about pitches and how to perfect them. There are places you can submit your pitches for critique. There are even agents and editors themselves who will look at pitches and provide feedback

Twitter pitch events are popular. The internet footprint shows it.

They are so popular that the rules have evolved in order keep what is supposed to be special about them, which is their visibility. This visibility is important to writers who probably have nightmares about the slush pile, as well as agents who also dread the slush pile.

“The bigger benefit in Pitch Contests isn’t to the writer, it’s to the agent,” said Ireland. “Pitch Contests give agents visibility this is extremely important for newer agents who are building their list and the ability to curate their slush. Think of it this way: it’s the difference between going to a store and looking for an item or having one of those subscription services send items to you to view. I imagine going through slush is a time sucksince regular emails areso being able to skim through a list of about a hundred pitches and very quickly choose which ones you want to see? That saves agents time and effort.”

With tools like Twitter’s advanced search, where you can generate a list of tweets showing specific keywords in specific hashtags or even in someone’s account, it can be especially speedy.

We exist in an industry where agents can get a thousand queries a year and a survey in 2014 of 9,000 writers reported that on average 54% of traditionally-pubbed authors make less than $1,000. It’s not surprising that we’re all hooked on hope and, when you think about it, relatively slim hope at that.

Not to say there aren’t success stories, because there absolutely are. You can find some of them from #PitMad on Brenda Drake’s website, here. Here are a few more as well.

Pitch events have also evolved to include another powerful emerging force in the publishing industry: the call for diversity.

On April 19, the first ever #DVpit, hosted by Beth Phelan, ran from 8am to 8pm EST. The response was electric. Pitch events often have a uniting theme, whether it be horror, kidlit, or science fiction/fantasy. #DVpit, shorthand for diversity pitch, was an event aimed towards writers who identify as diverse. According the guidelines on Beth’s website, this includes, but is not limited to:

Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.

Phelan first had the idea for #DVpit after she’d hosted a query contest for marginalized voices. The rules were simple: anyone with “Diverse Voice” in their subject line of their query would receive a personal response from her. The response would cite the exact reason she passed. Manuscript requests also received a personal reason why she was interested enough to read more. All in all, she got about 100 “DV” queries that day. “It was really inspiring and fun,” Phelan of the event, “but I also felt sort of overwhelmed because I did it alone. So I thought it would be a better idea to open it up, find a way for more people to get involved.”

She succeeded. Under the tab for #DVpit on her website, 65 agents and 14 editors are listed as participating in the event. Not only that, but she also amassed resources, people like Kayla Whaley, senior editor at Disability In Kidlit, and Nita Tyndall, the social media coordinator at We Need Diverse Books, who were willing to help make their queries and pitches as polished as possible.

“I know that #DVpit isn’t the solution — we’ve still got far to go — but I hope it’s a strong step in the direction of one,” said Phelan. “I think we all needed the space to see just how many of these amazing voices and projects there are out there.”

Not every reaction to #DVpit was positive. There were some who dismissed the tactic of limiting the people who could pitch as exclusionary. Essentially, the reasoning was that in order to achieve true equality no group should be excluded, including one regarded as oppressive. Therefore, excluding white, heterosexual, able-bodied men/women in an event aimed towards promoting diversity, was seen as hypocritical.

There were some choice feedback to this:

if you feel the need to complain about #DVpit “excluding” cis/het/straight/white people maybe consider why it exists in the first place?

“but have you thought of all those cishet white guys being excluded from #dvpit imagine how they feel”

[gif of Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine saying “I’m devastated” with a straight face]

Q: I’m an able cis straight white male writing about people who look just like me! Can I participate in #DVpit?
A: No.

By the end of the day, by the afternoon really, the negativity had been drowned out. Phelan describes it as a rally, and honestly, as someone who watched it happen, it was.

“The negative tweets were unfortunate, but they were also quickly quashed by the supporters — authors and industry folks rallied together to protect the space,” said Phelan. “But really, there were so many amazing pitches… and what I also loved was seeing so many others coming out to support and cheer the participants. There were successful, published authors, and agented authors, and editors all coming together to boost — a lot of them doing it for hours and hours! It was wonderful.”

Lee and Low conducted a 2016 survey, Where is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Baseline Survey Results. The publishing industry is exceptionally white, at 79%. It’s also made up of 88% straight/heterosexual and 78% cisgendered women. #DVpit represented a step in the right direction.

No matter whether Twitter pitch events inspire inordinate amounts of stress, or the Conspicuous Writer who sees writing as an online performance to be tweeted about, they do give people hope. Especially a pitch event aimed towards those heard the least.

“I learned that there are people who’d want to read my book based on the elevator pitch, and that has made me feel better about the querying process as a whole,” said Elsa S. Henry, an aspiring writer, feminist scholar, and disability rights activist. “As I’m sure almost everybody knows, it’s a scary journey, and knowing that people out there would actually like to read this thing sitting on my hard drive is making it easier.”

Death has Millie on speed dial, and that’s not great. She’ll have to put her ghost dad to rest in time to save her own skin. #DVpit UF LGB

Another aspiring author, Meagan Rivera had a huge amount of success in #DVpit. The night before, she tweeted about not being sure if she should participate.

when u don’t know if you want to do the pitch contest tomorrow bc u don’t know if there’s really a point to keep at this or not

i just keep thinking about how much time i feel like i’ve wasted on all of this over the years. i dunno. we only have so much of it.

The next day, when Rivera did decide to participate, one of her pitches received 56 favorites and 19 retweets. It was retweeted by agents, authors, editors, and generally anyone excited by the prospect of marginalized voices being heard, finally being heard. I’ve been either participating in or watching pitch events, and I’ve never seen so many requests on a single pitch.

When exploring brujería and where she fits as a biracial Latina, Marta &her queer friends are targeted by peers crying witchcraft #dvpit #ya

Writing is a difficult profession. It can be lonely and often rather dejecting. When the rejections pile up, it’s not easy to keep your head high and your morale strong. One of the benefits of Twitter pitch events is the support from writers dealing with the same thing. Rivera dealt with this particular facet of writing life during the event.

“I’ll be honest, the support was really overwhelming, and a little bit hard to believe because I’ve been doing so crappy overall with the book,” said Rivera. “With a ton of ‘the writing isn’t strong enough’ and ‘I just didn’t like the voice’ and an unfortunately high number of ‘I like YOU, but just not this book, sorry buddy,’ it’s been kind of a huge downer. Hearing that people wanted to read the book made me feel good and bad at the same time — I want to give it to them, but will anyone who can make that happen actually like it? The support made me feel happy to be a part of the community for the first time in a while — I was at work and trying to keep up with all of the stuff happening on my feed, and there was SO MUCH good stuff that wasn’t getting attention, amazing pitches that were, and I think what mattered most to me was making pals with some people I didn’t know before, and getting excited about their books in the future.”

Despite Justina Ireland’s opinion on Twitter pitch events, she does appreciate what #DVpit was created to do.

“#DVPit was a great event not because it was yet another pitch contest — because, let’s face it, there are a lot — but because it highlighted agents who were willing to say ‘I am committed to diversity’ in a big way. It’s extremely hard to put yourself out there, to query and present your writing for criticism. It’s even harder if you’ve face a lifetime of marginalization and rejection based strictly on stereotypes applied to you. #DVPit gave underrated groups a touchpoint, a way of saying ‘Oh, this is a person I can query who is going to understand where I’m coming from, or at least try to.’ And that, to me, was the biggest boon to come out of this whole thing.”

And for those who haven’t found an agent, or are still working on their books, or are weighing the pros and cons of Twitter pitch events: just keep writing.

Not done in time for #DVpit? Don’t worry, today’s a big kickoff. Not a finish line. Keep #querying! We will still want to read these later!!

Fellow #ownvoices: Take heart. Your stories do have what it counts. So many people obviously want them. Keep writing them.

query. exhale. keep writing.
repeat repeat repeat repeat.#amquerying #amwriting

[EDIT] The original post incorrectly listed March 19 as the original #DVPit date; it has since been corrected.

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About Author

Sarah Strange

Sarah is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Environmental Studies. She loves writing and reading books where gay girls don’t die. She looks really, really ridiculously good in black. Follow her on Twitter at @StrangeWrites.

2 Comments

  1. Another concern: not every agent (or publisher) participating in Twitter pitch events is reputable or competent. You _always_ need to research the responses you get.

    • Sarah Strange
      Sarah Strange on

      Yeah, that’s so true. I’ve gotten some odd looking requests at pitch events that made me uncomfortable sending anything out in the end. It’s definitely a concern.