PitMad is a mad rush of excitement, panic, and hopes and dreams literally pinned on the idea of an agent seeing your query in the mass of hundreds of thousands of other queries. There was some discussion in the ranks of hopeful writers that perhaps PitMad wasn’t as effective as it once was and that overall, PitMad was little more than a popularity contest that counted retweets more than the overall quality of the pitch.
On the surface, this felt and seemed like a viable complaint but I was curious and decided to dig deeper into the lack of response or engagement from agents. But first, I think it’s important to give some background information on #PitMad.
PitMad was first established back in 2012 by founder and author Brenda Drake who after running a few contests and watching one fateful episode of “Cupcake Wars” was given the inspiration to create a writing based even centered around the idea of pairing writers with an assistant of sorts.
Over time, this idea evolved into Pitch Wars where industry professionals could be paired up with writers whose manuscripts fit their genres, style, or what they were looking for in a book. It was a huge success and gave way to PitMad. Held quarterly, PitMad is a different way to pitch to agents. It consists of going on Twitter, having several pitches to release over the course of the day, and using the appropriate tags while keeping within Twitter’s character limit. Writers were able to connect with agents, other writers, and get priceless advice to help polish their manuscript. Since then, PitMad has exploded in popularity and is one of the highlights of the writing community.
But after what feels like a lackluster response all around, questions started to pop up on whether PitMad was as effective as it once was. The idea that it’s a popularity contest and because your pitch didn’t get as many retweets sounds like it could be the cause. If you don’t have a large following and don’t have the people behind you to push your tweet to the top, would an agent even see it? I debated this for some time and have come to the conclusion that popularity is a make it or break it factor is a no. While retweets never hurt, they don’t actually play a significant part. As we all know, agents have their genres in which they specialized in. You wouldn’t send a strictly Middle Grade Fiction agent a lengthy novel on the life and death of Josephine Bonaparte, just as you wouldn’t send a murder-mystery agent a child’s book on the importance of friendship.
Those sub-category tags are there for a reason. No agent is going to go wading through the hundreds of thousands of tweet in the PitMad feed while another hundred are created with each passing minute. It’s not a good way to go about business or a good use of their time. Instead, agents will stick with what they do and look at the tweets within their categories.
Whether PitMad is still effective or whether the landscape of querying is changing, I went to Gina Panettieri, President of Talcott Notch Literary, to see if this was the case.
In your tenure as an agent, what do you believe to be the best querying method?
- I’ve found that a really well-written emailed query, showing your writing potential, your background and understanding of your market and your comps, really gives me enough to engage with the writer. I feel like I know them a bit now, and it can set me up to want to jump on their work quickly.
Are events such as PitMad worth a writer’s time or is best to stick to traditional methods?
- I don’t see anything wrong with it but two huge things have happened with the huge Twitter pitches in the last year. Agents are seeing many of the same projects pitched that they’ve already seen in the Pits before, and when something sounds intriguing, dozens of agents ‘like’ it. Agents are fine with multiple submissions and competing for a book with more than one offer, but this just feels a bit like overkill. We don’t feel there is adequate return on our time investment. So more and more agents are becoming tepid about the entire process.
As social media plays a large part in connecting with writers and agents, do you believe that there will be a greater integration of it in the querying process?
- I hope not! There needs to be some boundaries, and agents are already unable to disconnect because of email forwarded to our phones, so finding their social media also a point of contact would cause burnout. It’s important for any professional to be able to have some down time for mental health, so constantly being ‘on duty’ on every front would be exhausting.
As time goes on, what do you predict will be the future of querying? And what processes do you think will become obsolete?
- I don’t see the formal query process ever becoming obsolete, but I see an increasing number of agents closing to queries. The nature of email querying, where one can email their query to dozens of agents simultaneously, means our inboxes are overwhelmed. I see more than 7500 queries a year, and I know some see more. We ask that each one include a 10-page sample, so consider the time it takes to process those if the author wants any degree of feedback whatsoever. That’s a minimum of 82,500 including a cover page to try and read with care and attention. then there are the actual requested manuscripts. And, of course, our primary role is working with our existing clients, so the reading is on top of our main duties. I’m seeing more and more services to ‘make an agent’s job easier’, like submission services, but those really seem to be devoted to creating forms, ‘click to reject’ pathways and ways to spend less time considering each work. Is that what we want? I’m seeing a lot of success with authors finding agents and selling books through the intensive one-on-one workshops (like NY Pitch, though there are opportunities online and through many conferences. I’m not talking Pitch Slams, which can be chaotic and intimidating to many but actual one-on-one workshops), and I think that’s because it returns the time and relationship element to pitching. Agents have become engaged with the author and the work, see what the author is like to work with on revisions and feedback, and can determine if they feel this is a person they want to invest time in.
During the past PitMad, there were some fantastic pitches but gained very little attention. As some have speculated, event like PitMad are more successful during certain time periods like spring or winter? Do you believe this holds any validity or is it more of a case of bad timing in general for writers?
- Agents and editors may see something different in the pitch than participating writers do. Would it be a difficult project to sell for some reason? Is it a crowded shelf or are there elements that haven’t sold well lately? However, as you suggested, holiday times and summer shutdowns probably don’t bode well for strong participation. Many agents and editors may have travel plans, are already committed to quite a few summer conferences, or simply want to close queries for the summer and aren’t looking to increase their work load. It’s always best to offer virtual events during quiet periods.
For writers who are constantly trying to write the Next Big Thing, what do you believe the market and readers are looking for? Are there certain trends that you have noticed that writers haven’t that they should be aware of?
- It’s never good to write on trend, since by the time your book would be completed, sold and published, that trend would be exhausted. That said, be intuitive to societal shifts. What’s going on around you? Get in on the ground floor of change. Read newspapers and journals and note when there seems to be a plethora of articles about a topic that hasn’t been newsworthy before. For instance, many outlets have noted the rise of ‘non-religion religions’ among young people, like astrology, numerology, witchcraft, spiritualism, etc. Books are growing more realistic, harsher, sadder, darker as readers and viewers feel overwhelmed with negative news. Find trends and take them to their natural conclusion.
If you could give any piece of advice to querying for writers, what would it be?
Know your market – both the market for your books (your readers, your comps) and the agencies who work well with your material. When we get a query where it’s clear the author isn’t well-read in their own genre, it’s an immediate no. Read widely. Become active in that community, online and in person.
If someone was to query your agency and a member of your team, what is a premise that you would love to see and represent?
- Each member of our agency has their own specializations and very particular personal preferences, so it’s best to follow their blogs, Twitter or #MSWL feeds to see what they’re looking for. I’m a generalist, so I’m the hardest to pin down, but the flip side to that is I’m interested in the widest range of material.
Special thanks to Gina Panettieri.