Ultimate #PitMad Novel Pitch Makeover

How to write a Twitter pitch literary agents can’t resist

Twitter’s #PitMad pitch parties have scored many a writer their first book deal and have many other writers circling Twitter like sharks four days a year seeking that one bite.

For writers new to Twitter pitching, here’s how it works.

Writers with a completed, polished, unpublished manuscript who are seeking representation by a literary agent (the first step to traditional publishing) can Tweet a “pitch” describing their novel (up to 280-characters).

If an agent wants to learn more (and possibly represent you), they “Like” the tweet. Writers with “Likes” will then contact that agent and proceed from there (submitting a synopsis, full manuscript, or whatever the agent requests).

Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch, and all genres/categories apply.

But let’s be honest. With hundreds of novelists pitching in one day, your tweet might as well be a black cat in a coal cellar. Your follower numbers don’t even give you a leg up.

The only thing that’s going make you stand out in #PitMad is (1) your idea, (2) your presentation, and (3) the all-important hashtags.

So get out your notebook, open your laptop, dust off your pitch and light it up like a Christmas tree with this Bad Pitch to Good Pitch Makeover.

1. Example of a Bad #PitMad Pitch

How many of you stumble over your words when some asks, “So what’s your story about?” It’s hard right? Complete focus on one story for months or years can blind a writer to exactly what their story is about. But you’ve got to get this right.

A bad pitch shows writer blindness. Here’s an example:

Martin finds a woman’s body on the beach. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So Martin, Matt Hooper, and the eccentric Quint must work together to find what caused the woman’s death. #PitMad

So it’s a mystery. These guys are solving a crime? Or maybe it’s a comedy. A body is involved, but “eccentric” makes me think it could be funny. Wait, is this true crime or fiction?

This pitch might not go far. Agents don’t know what it’s about. Let’s see what we can do.

2. Use Proper Hashtags

Martin finds a woman’s body on the beach. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So Martin, Matt Hooper, and the eccentric Quint must work together to find what caused the woman’s death. #PitMad #A #AC #H

That’s a little better. With the hashtags added, we now know it’s an adult novel, an action story, and in the horror genre.

Not only do hashtags help explain things, but agents looking for specific story types will use hashtags to search for relevant pitches. In short, add as many hashtags as possible for your story. Other examples of good hashtags include:

#HF: historical fiction, #MR: magical realism, #DV: diversity, #LGBT: lesbian gay bisexual transgender, #POC: author is a person of color

But still, this story doesn’t sound that interesting. There are tons of stories about crime solving. What makes this one different?

Many writer’s feel that keeping the mystery in a pitch will intrigue an agent. “By not giving the story away, the agent will want to know more and give me a Like!” Instead, keeping your story too much of a mystery could make the agent say “Next.”

Let’s take the mystery out of our pitch. Lay it right out there.

3. Remove the Mystery

Martin finds a woman’s body on the beach. Death by giant shark. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So Martin, Matt Hooper, and the eccentric Quint must work together to find the shark that caused the woman’s death. #PitMad #A #AC #H

Okay, now things are getting interesting. Taking out the mystery and saying this is a movie about a shark attack could get some Likes from agents into that sort of thing.

Still, this pitch is far from perfect. For one thing, who cares if they find the shark?

In pitching, there must be stakes. SERIOUS stakes. Stakes are like survival or protection of loved ones. What’s at stake if they don’t find the shark?

4. Ramp Up the Stakes

Martin, a father of two young boys, learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So Martin, Matt Hooper, and the eccentric Quint must work together to hunt down the shark. #PitMad #A #AC #H

So now we know the shark is repeatedly killing people in a beach community. Not only are the citizen’s lives at stake, but the main character has two young children he needs to protect. We are getting somewhere. The story is becoming more interesting. The reader becomes more invested.

Still, if you really want to make your #PitMad pitch shine, there are a few more things you can do.

For one thing, we know nothing about Martin, Matt, or Quint (except that he’s eccentric). Why do we care about these people? Let’s get rid of the names and replace them with descriptions.

5. Replace the Names

A father of two young boys learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So the father, an oceanographer, and an eccentric fisherman work together to hunt down the shark. #PitMad #A #AC #H

Way better right? Character is a real attention grabber, so let’s go even further on character. See how “eccentric fisherman” is more interesting than “father” and “oceanographer?” Let’s tell the agent more about those other characters.

6. Add Interesting Character Traits

An ocean-fearing cop with two young boys learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So the cop, a shark-loving oceanographer, and an eccentric fisherman work together to hunt down the shark. #PitMad #A #AC #H

Nice. And now we’ve added some fun personality traits. A cop whose afraid of the ocean has to go out and hunt a shark. Makes you want to see what happens next! And now we have a shark-loving oceanographer, so we know these guys aren’t going to be completely ignorant on how to hunt sharks.

Still, there are two more things I like to do with my pitches to draw in readers. One of those things is to point out the “ticking time bomb.” I mean, these guys could be hunting that shark for the next five years. Is this story going to take place over five years? Or five days? If you have a time constraint in your story, add it in your pitch.

7. Ticking Time Bomb

An ocean-fearing cop with two young boys learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community during tourist season. He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go. So the cop, a shark-loving oceanographer, and an eccentric fisherman work together to hunt down the shark. #PitMad #A #AC #H

By adding three words – “during tourist season” – we have not only explained that our story takes place over a few weeks, but we’ve raised the stakes. There will probably be lots of beach goers (and potential victims) during this time. Now they HAVE to find that shark.

Finally, I personally like short and simple Tweets. Agents are having to sift through hundreds of pitches. They’re more likely to read a quick summary, than a full 280-character spiel on a novel. So if you can cut it down, cut it down.

8. Eliminate Unnecessary Content

An ocean-fearing cop who learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community during tourist season hires a shark-loving oceanographer and an eccentric fisherman to hunt it down. #PitMad #A #AC #H

It can be VERY hard to know what to take out. Here is what we eliminated and why:

Two young boys: Since we added “during tourist season,” “ocean-fearing cop” and “beach community,” we know plenty about the stakes and the main character. We don’t need to know he’s a father. The story would still be interesting without that.

He asks the Mayor to close the beach but it’s a no-go: Again, the stakes are already high. If the agent wants to know more, like “Why don’t they just close the beach?” he or she will ask you during your personal meeting. And you’ll have a great answer for that.

The remaining eliminations were just unnecessary words. Now we have a concise, compelling pitch that highlights the main character, the stakes, the interesting characters, and the genre. Have you guessed the story? (One of my favorite films written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb).

9. Add Comps

One more thing: If you can include comps, do so. Comps are “comparables” – movies, shows or books that are comparable to yours. While comps don’t have to be in your pitch to get a like from an agent, they certainly help it stand out fast.

If we included comps for this story, the final pitch might look like:

MOBY DICK meets PIRHANA: An ocean-fearing cop who learns that a giant shark is terrorizing his beach community during tourist season hires a shark-loving oceanographer and an eccentric fisherman to hunt it down. #PitMad #A #AC #H

Can you think of some popular movies or books that fit your theme and genre? If so, add them!

Good luck guys! Snag an agent and get published so I can read that best-selling novel.

Reboot Your Writing Routine for Maximum Productivity

How to write a novel in 6 months without quitting your day job

How do people like Elon Musk keep on top of Tesla and SpaceX and everything else they have to do, AND have time for inventing an submarine to save children trapped in a cave at a moment’s notice?

Most of us can’t even handle our paying jobs, much less make the time to construct some new apparatus that’s going to change the world?

Hard core productivity IS possible, but to crush a day’s work like Elon, you’re going to have to ask yourself what your priorities are.

I’ll lay it right out. For most of us, writing a 75K-word novel from scratch in six months takes at least 24 hours a week of serious focus. Is that even possible? With a 40-hour-per-week day job?

Yes! While not for the faint of heart, this diehard daily writing routine is guaranteed to fire up your productivity and cut your publication timeline in half.

Step 1. How long do you NEED to sleep?

Not how long do you WANT to sleep, because most of us want to sleep eight hours right? But how short a period of sleep can you get away with while still being able to function for an entire day without a nap?

For me, its six. Any less than six hours of sleep and I am nodding off anytime I’m not physically moving. But six I can handle.

Step 2: Set alarms for each hour of your waking day.

Set your phone alarms or a timer app like Tabata Timer to go off every hour that you aren’t asleep. This is going to help keep you on track and supply a sense of focus and urgency to hit your goals for the day. (Elon reportedly works in five-minute increments, so if you think this is over the top, well…)

Step 3: Do you write or type faster?

Think about this. Because there’s a lot of hype out there around BuJos (bullet journals) and sweet daily planners like The Happy Planner and Erin Condren planners. And if you write faster than you type, great – use one of those.

But if you type faster, download a good planner app like Any.do. Easier yet, put your schedule in an Excel file (my go-to), or just use Google Calendar which basically does everything.

In short, you’re not going to have time to fiddle around with a planner, but you’re going to LIVE BY your planner. So work with whatever is fastest for you.

how to schedule your work day

Step 4: Schedule work, personal, friends/family, and tasks.

Okay, so you know you need six hours of sleep, you’ve set your alarms, and you have a planner ready. With 24 hours in a day, you have 18 hours to get things done. You’re going to fill in your 18-hour day (whatever hours you aren’t sleeping) with the following:

  • 12 hrs Work
  • 1 hr Friends/family
  • 1 hr Tasks
  • 2 hrs Personal

Don’t panic, just do this.

Depending on what fits in best where, your schedule will look something like this:

writing routine

Note: These hours may shift on certain days depending on appointments or other scheduling conflicts. You’ll likely end up making a new one every morning, sometimes updating it in the afternoon (that planner is going to get some serious use).

How do you define work, personal, friends/family, and tasks?

Work:

There are two kinds of work: Paid Work and Unpaid Work. For students, school and study are considered your “Paid Work.”

You’ll want to spend six to eight of the 12 work hours on paid work, the remaining four work hours going to the Unpaid Work – writing your novel

The idea is that the Unpaid Work will eventually become the Paid Work (and then you can come up with a new project to put in the Unpaid Work section).

For both types of work, do the LEAST fun, most daunting things first. With a 12-hour work day, you’re going to run out of steam fast. It’s a lot easier to conquer the fun stuff on low steam than the not-so-fun stuff.

Is admin included in the “Work” section? Yes. But try not to get so carried away on admin that you don’t make some serious headway on your projects. Limit admin to just one of the 12 work hours if possible.

For ultimate productivity, creativity, and focus, turn all social notifications and media off during work hours.

I need music to work, so I typically have some instrumental playlist going on Spotify. But remember, studies say it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after a distraction.

Stop checking that Twitter feed during work and you’ll double the time it takes to hit your goals!

Exercise:

You’ve got to get your blood flowing to function at maximum capacity. So in the middle of your day, whether that’s 12pm or 12am, get to the gym and do as much as you can. Have a long commute to the gym? Get rid of your membership, pack a bag, and jog on-site during your lunch hour. Don’t make things more time consuming than they need to be.

Commutes to a gym and having to change clothes is considered a part of your hour-long workout time. The faster you get that stuff done the longer you can workout. I give myself 15 min to get on the elliptical and 45 minutes to workout.

You can also use workout time to check social media and listen to podcasts, further allowing you to step out of Work mode and into recharge mode.

how to fit daily exercise into your schedule

Personal:

Speaking of recharge mode, personal time is recharge time. In the morning, you’re going to need time to wake up, get your coffee, get dressed, and get moving. You have an hour of personal time to do this.

After your workout, you get another hour to recharge. Showering, touching up your makeup, and changing clothes in the middle of your day is a great Pavlovian trick that gets you thinking, “Yup, I can go another eight hours easy.”

Two hours of personal time a day is a lot, so use this time to do any other tasks that need doing. Listen to podcasts, catch up on social media, and mess around in your planner to make sure the rest of the day (and tomorrow) are set.

Family/Friends:

This is where this productivity schedule gets “hard core.” If you’re 100% extrovert, dating a new love interest, have a young child, or are otherwise heavily involved with other human beings, one hour isn’t going to cut it. I suggest finding an alternative productivity schedule that works for you. There’s no shortage.

For the remaining poor souls who can actually pull off one hour a day with friends and family, you just need to make the most of that hour.

Pencil in – yes schedule – time with them. If you can get your partner on board with a similar daily routine, even better.

Let family and friends know you’ll be available at 8:00pm. If you want to go out, schedule it. If you want to go to dinner, schedule it. If you want to help a friends with their own project, schedule it.

Obviously, with this very limited time slot, it’s critical to dedicate your time to them. No social media. You’re allowed to use social anytime you aren’t working, except for this time.

Tasks:

Tasks includes anything that isn’t work, exercise, personal or family time. Doctor’s appointments, home maintenance, club meetings. You can also use it as a cushion to expand your personal or family time an hour if needed. Keep a calendar of tasks in your planner and try not to schedule anything that takes over an hour for each day.

Read:

This hour is set aside to do whatever you want. Netflix and chill, social media, read a book. But try to keep this mellow. Six hours of sleep isn’t a lot. If you don’t get it in, tomorrows gym time could end up nap time.

Of course, adjustments are always fine, and will happen a lot. If you’re going to a three-hour concert tonight, you may have to replace your mid-day exercise and personal time with work. But that 12 hours of work comes first.

You can sacrifice task time, personal time, family time, or exercise, but not work. Whether you have to break up the 12 hours, or do it all at once, get it done.

When do you eat? When you can, and WHILE you are doing something else. Multitask anytime you aren’t working. Very soon, you’ll find your Work hours becoming the most relaxed, enjoyable hours of your day.

When you aren’t working, stay immersed in your trade. Listen to writing podcasts or watch author interviews offering tips on how to improve.

You can do this! Don’t forget, you still have one day per week to do whatever you want!

Harper to Publish Alice Marie Johnson’s Powerful Memoir “After Life”

We all make mistakes, some worse than others. But imagine if a poor decision made in a moment of despair meant you’d be spending the rest of your life behind bars? This is precisely what happened to 41-year-old mother-of-five Alice Marie Johnson.

HarperCollins Publishers’ imprint, Harper, is set to publish Johnson’s harrowing yet inspiring story in May of this year, complete with a forward written by Kim Kardashian West, one of the key advocates for Johnson’s release. Johnson’s story is already headed for the big screen with Good Films’ Scott Budnick and BET Executive VP Zola Mashariki managing the film adaptation.

Alice Marie Johnson has heart. When she had her first child at age 15, she turned down her Mississippi high school’s advice to drop out, graduated with honors, and went on to college. She was always able to make ends meet for her family, working in a 10-year management position with FedEx Corporation.

But life happens, or in Johnson’s case, life fell apart. In 1989, she and her husband divorced. Soon after, she developed a gambling addiction and lost her job with FedEx. With her finances in shambles, she filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Her home ended up in foreclosure, and the following year, her youngest son Cory was killed in a scooter accident.

Things had completely unraveled. Johnson was looking at life on the streets if she didn’t think of something fast.

“I felt like a failure,” Johnson said in a talk with Kim Kardashian West in May of 2018. “I went into a complete panic and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.”

With no prior criminal record, she saw participation in a Memphis drug trafficking operation to be her way out. Johnson says she never sold drugs, but was paid to act as a go-between for up to 15 co-conspirators, making calls and relaying messages.

In 1993, Johnson was arrested on drug and money laundering charges. Ten of her cohorts got charges dropped or reduced sentences for testifying against her. While they got anything from probation alone to 10-years’ jail time, Johnson got life in prison without parole – a punishment outrageously disproportionate to the nonviolent crime. The sentence took her from the one thing she had left, her beloved family.

While imprisoned, Johnson missed the births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But she made the most of her life in the Aliceville Federal Correctional Institution, helping out with the prison’s Special Olympics program, mentoring women, becoming a playwright, participating in vocational and educational programs, and volunteering to care for sick prisoners.

On June 6, 2018, after 21 years in prison, American Civil Liberties Union campaigns supporting her release, activists arguing excessive punishment, U.S. Representatives supporting her bid for clemency and urgings for pardon from Kim Kardashian West and Jared Kushner, President Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence.

Harper describes Alice Marie Johnson’s memoir as the “story of all of the firsts Johnson has experienced through her activism, as well as a deep look into the systemic issue of mass incarceration.”

“It is an honor and a privilege to publish After Life,” says HarperCollins Publishers’ Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development, Lisa Sharkey. “Her story reveals what life was really like for this model prisoner, how hard she worked for her freedom, and the incredible series of events that eventually led to her release after 21 years behind bars.”

Regarding her memoir, Alice Marie Johnson says, “I feel humbled that the telling of my story gives hope and my years of pain were not in vain.”

Order your copy of Alice Marie Johnson’s After Life today.