Inside Info on Agents & Publishers
Many agents, editors, and publishers are very active on Twitter. As you're doing research before sending a query or submitting your work, it's a great idea to check out their Twitter account first. This will give you a better sense of their communication style and personality, and you may find out more specific information about what they're looking for, the opening or closing of a submission window, how actively they're seeking new clients/authors, and whether you have interests in common that might help you personalize your query letter in a way that will catch their attention. In an era where there are so many agents and publishers to choose from, and so many writers trying to find someone to publish their work, having access to more information during the querying process can only be a good thing.
The #MSWL hashtag is a great starting point for any writer trying to figure out which agents or editors to submit their work to (a hashtag is something people include in their tweets, or posts on Twitter, to make them easily searchable). It stands for "Manuscript Wishlist," and agents and editors use it to post about what kind of manuscripts they're looking for at a given time, or to post a link to an updated blog or website where they've shared their interests. Sometimes the posts are pretty generic, such as "I'm looking for character-driven women's fiction." But they can also be really detailed, like asking for a retelling of a specific fairy tale from a certain point of view or in a particular setting. You never know, you might find out your project is exactly what an agent or editor is looking for!
Every once in a while there is a specific #MSWL day, where many agents and editors post about what they're looking for throughout the day. The best part about catching one of these days is that if you query someone based on one of their #MSWL posts, they may specify that you should include #MSWL in the subject line of your e-mail, which could move your query to the top of the slush pile.
Please note, the #MSWL hashtag is only for agents and editors to use, writers using it to promote their work are not well-received.
This hashtag also inspired a website that's worth checking out: http://manuscriptwishlist.com/
Some agents take the time to do #tenqueries on Twitter, where they go through 10 queries in their inbox and post a brief comment on each. This can be especially helpful if an agent you're interested in querying has done #tenqueries to see what they're looking for and what they consider to be turn-offs in query letters. But it's also helpful in general to get a sense for how agents approach their slush piles and glean some query tips.
While #tenqueries is the most common hashtag used, some agents do something similar using a different hashtag. For instance, agent Laura Zats at Red Sofa Literary provides a lot of helpful and entertaining query advice using the hashtags #500queries and #everyquery.
Note that these hashtags are also only meant for agent and editor use, not for writers wanting to pitch their work.
There are many query contests out there, all set up a little differently, so I can only speak generally on this one. The contests I can list off the top of my head are: Query Kombat (hosted by Michelle Hauck and Michael Anthony), Sun vs Snow (hosted by Amy Trueblood and Michelle Hauck), Pitch Madness (hosted by Brenda Drake), Pitch Wars (hosted by Brenda Drake), and Pitch Slam (hosted by L.L. McKinney), but there are many others! Most are open to all genres, but some are more specific.
The basic way these contests work is you first figure out what you need for your submission. Typically it's some kind of pitch for your project (something like a short, one-line pitch or your entire query letter), and a short excerpt from the opening of your story. Most of these contests have limits on how many submissions they'll accept, and they tend to fill up fast (the contest I entered closed within a matter of minutes), so I would recommend that you have your e-mail ready to send as soon as the submission window opens.
Once the submissions are in, usually there are multiple people running the contest who review all the entries and pick their teams. After the teams are announced, there is generally a mentor round, where experienced writers review the chosen entries and give the writers feedback. The writers have a chance to make revisions, then the updated submissions are posted on a blog or website, where agents can review them and make requests.
The benefit of these contests is if your entry is chosen for a team, you can receive feedback on your writing and get your work seen by a number of agents. Plus it's a huge compliment if your entry is chosen from among so many, which is a definite sign your pitch / query and opening pages are on the right track. It can also be a fun way to meet fellow writers as you get to know and cheer each other on through the duration of the contest, regardless of whether your submission ends up getting picked.
The downside to these contests is they can be draining for some writers (at least the one I entered was for me). During the course of a contest, people tweet about it almost non-stop, plus those in charge of the contests often will give vague hints about their team picks, which could leave you wondering for days if the "YA with a strong female MC" was referring to yours, even though it probably could've referred to at least a third of the YA entries. Plus, not getting picked for a team never feels good, of course, and may cause more discouragement than necessary due to all the hype surrounding the contest and the subjective nature of the teams' picks.
I am by no means discouraging involvement in these contests, they're a wonderful opportunity for writers who are able to have fun with it and not take it personally. If you tend to be emotional and a bit obsessive, like me, however, consider carefully before entering, as it may end up causing more pain than it's worth.
I may be biased since I've had some success with pitch parties, but I find them to be a lot of fun :) They can be a great opportunity to connect with agents or publishers that take an interest in your story idea, possibly even ones you may not have otherwise thought to query based on their descriptions of what they're looking for.
The way a pitch party works is that on a given day (or sometimes a more limited period of an hour or two), writers pitch their completed, polished manuscript in a tweet (up to 140 characters) with a certain hashtag associated with the event, often with an additional hashtag indicating genre. Agents and editors review the tweets and favorite the ones they're interested in.
In my opinion, the best way to approach pitch parties is with low expectations. Many tweets don't get favorites, so don't be discouraged if nothing comes of your pitch. But if your tweet does get favorited, yay!! Take a look at the agent's or editor's Twitter account, most will specify what they want you to send (typically a query letter with a certain number of pages or chapters). Generally they'll want you to include the pitch party title in the subject of the e-mail, which may send your query to the top of their submission pile. I was lucky enough to get a few favorites in the pitch parties I've participated in, and each time I heard back from the agent within a few days - twice with a full manuscript request!
Like query contests, each pitch party is a little different, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules of a given event. Also, the event coordinators don't moderate which agents or publishers are looking through and favoriting pitches, so make sure to research anyone who favorites your tweet before you submit to make sure they're legitimate and someone you'd like to work with. A favorite doesn't commit you to submitting to anyone you're not comfortable with.
Pitch parties are also a fun way to see what other writers are working on, and you can encourage others whose story ideas you find intriguing, either by retweeting their pitch, or by responding to it, depending on the rules of the particular event. But don't favorite other writers' pitches!! That's only for agents and editors - a favorite from anyone else will falsely get the writer's hopes up.
Here's a link with great information about query contests and pitch parties that happen throughout the year, organized by month: http://www.
Also, as a general note, some hashtags where you can find other writers' tweets are #amwriting, #amediting, #writerslife, #querytip, #writetip, and #amquerying.
What do you think of Twitter? Have you participated in any of these events? Let me know if I missed anything, and feel free to ask questions!
See you next time!