Monday, June 22, 2009

Feeling Twitchy?

Today two of the agents at BookEnds, LLC started a pitch contest on Twitter. They're calling it Twitch* Week and if you want more details, click here.

There have been several of these types of contests over the past few months. The Knight Agency did their Book In A Nutshell pitch contest a few months ago. Colleen Lindsay over at FinePrint Literary Management did a Query in 140-Characters or Less contest on her blog back in January. (Our very own Darlene got a nod in that one!) These contests are all over the place if you keep your eyes open.

I love them.

There are a number of skills you must have to be successful in publishing. First, most importantly, you must be able to write. Some people will quibble over the degree of skill you must have here in order to be published, but I think we can all agree that, to at least some extent, you must be able to string together various words in a form which conveys some semblance of a story. I'd like to think you need to be able to write really, really beautiful prose in order to be published, but the cynic in me is forced to admit this isn't always the case. (The self-doubting pessimist in me is secretly glad!)

Also, because the days of over-the-transom submissions have pretty much passed, you must also be able to write a good query letter. People hem and haw over the nature of the query letter system, but right now it's the name of the game. If you want anyone in publishing to look at your manuscript, you have to sell it with a solid query letter first.

Another skill you need is the ability to pitch, succinctly and yet still coherently. Some people call it the elevator pitch, the quick little plug for your book that you could communicate to someone in the time an elevator takes to reach its destination. It's a very important skill. As writers, we attend conferences and conventions and the like and try desperately to get thirty or so seconds with our choice editors and agents so we can convince them that our book is their next big thing. It's also a skill that very few people tell you that you need when you set out to be a novelist.

I realized the lack in myself of this particular skill almost right away. Here's how: once I started telling people I was a "novelist", the following conversation invariably took place:

Me: I'm writing a book.
Oh, wow. What's it about?
Me: *blinks blankly, twice, before taking a deep breath* Well, you see, there's this guy. And he thinks his life is. . . but then this other thing happens. . . and then he finds out this. . . and he has to do this. . . and this. . . and there are these other people -- they're the bad guys -- who want to do this instead. . . so then they. . . *voice trails off as previously interested person wanders away into a wall with a glazed over expression*

Oh dear, I would think. I need to come up with a better answer to that question.

Contests like this week's Twitch Week do just that. When you can only explain your story in 140 characters (actually 123 for this one, since you have to add the @reply tag in there somewhere) you learn to boil your plot down to its bare necessities while struggling to hang onto its unique voice. The first time I entered one, it was like an epiphany, a lightning bolt striking my brain. So that's what my book is about! I get it now!

Several of the Modern Myth Makers are participating in Twitch Week. I've already entered two of my projects. What about the rest of you out there? Anyone else feeling twitchy???

*For those who don't get it right away, I think the idea behind the name is something like this: Twitter + Pitch = Twitch

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