You've got a very small window in which to give the editors everything they need to know. The 5 W's (Who, What, When, Where & Why) are a good place to start, but with so few characters, it may not be possible (or even necessary) to squeeze them all in. For instance, Time Served takes place in Chicago, but that's not essential to the pitch, so I left it out. The characters' names aren't essential to my query, either--certainly not as important as their very different roles: she's a successful attorney and he's an ex-con. What's the story about? They're having an affair. Correction--they've rekindled their affair, because she left him once before, in search of something better. This sets up the emotional stakes of the story, and tells you the trope: opposites attract. You want to have plot stakes, too, but there's hardly room to detail the roller coaster ride of drama in the story, so I focused on the biggest issue: the heroine left the hero to have a better life, and getting involved with him jeopardizes everything she's worked for. Now you've got characters, emotional stakes, plot stakes, genre, and the hashtag. And let's be honest - the "ex-con" thing is a big hook for some, and when people tell me they remember my tweet, they remember it as "the one with the ex-con." We all shine for different reasons!
Be sure to consider what's different about your story, what makes it stand out from all of the other ones being pitched. Twilight's just a love story between high schoolers until you learn that one's a vampire. Harry Potter's just a story about wizards until you learn he has to save the world and he's nine and oh yeah - he doesn't know magic exists. 50 Shades is just a love story between a virgin and a billionaire until you mention the BDSM. (Remember: whether or not you like these books isn't the point. These details are what set them apart and make them stand out from the thousands of other titles they're competing with.)
Fellow Carina author Pamela Cayne's 2015 release The Fighter and the Fallen Woman was released on March 9, 2015, and was also acquired via 2014's #carinapitch. She's written a very interesting post about her experience here, and I've taken the liberty of copying her original tweet to share:
And here it is with notes:
If you're visiting this page, it stands to reason that you already know the next #carinapitch is taking place on Twitter on June 7, 2017. (If you're not clear on the rules of #carinapitch, the details can be found here.) Essentially, #carinapitch is a great opportunity to get your work read by editors at a reputable publisher (Carina Press) via a great tweet. The benefit to participating in #carinapitch is that you get a response in about half the time you usually would, and if they decide to pass on your manuscript, you'll get a bit of feedback explaining why.
My book Time Served (released March 23, 2015) was acquired during 2014's #carinapitch. I wrote a blog post for Carina about my experience, which seems to have vanished, but that's not important. (The gist of it is that I tweeted, then waited, had two mini-heart attacks, waited, and got a request.) What's important is the pitch. The first step in this process is composing a tweet that will leave the editors with no option but to request your sure-to-be-amazing manuscript. (Well, actually, the first step is writing that manuscript, but I'm sure you know that.)
If you're like me, the thought of condensing a 100,000-word story into 140 characters (including the hashtag and genre info!) is a daunting one, so I thought I'd share my original tweet here for those who are interested, explaining why I wrote it the way I did and why I think it worked.
The point is not to give you step-by-step instructions on how to write a great pitch tweet (since these things are entirely subjective), rather to give you some ideas to consider while crafting yours. So here is my original tweet:
the Time Served series
If you're like me, you probably hate trying to tell people what your story's about. It's all too easy to start rambling. "Well, she's an attorney--her name is Rachel-- and ten years ago she left the trailer park she grew up in because she wanted a better life for herself. Oh, and she had this boyfriend named Dean, and they were in love, but then she just abandoned him, so then he robbed a store and ended up in prison, and then fast forward ten years and she's working on this big case and they bump into each other and he wants answers and she's like, "I'm really busy and important now," and he's like, "I don't care, you owe me," so then they..."
Not doing myself any favours, am I? After a few seconds of this the only question the listener will have is "How do I extricate myself from this painful conversation?" not "Ooh, where do I buy this absolutely fabulous sounding book?" The rambling's not so bad, however, if you keep it to yourself. I find it helpful to start by writing a small paragraph and then hacking it back from there. You know you've got all the details, now it's a matter of scrutinizing each word and asking, "Is this really necessary?" and realizing it's probably not. Not when you've got so few to work with in the first place.
Ask yourself what elements your pitch can't possibly do without. What do you love about it? When people who have read the story talk to you about it, what stood out to them? What's going to snag someone's attention and make your story something they simply have to have? What's going to set it apart? Give it some thought. Let it sit for a couple of days. Get some feedback. Read other Twitter pitches (there are so many pitch contests out there you'll have no shortage of samples) and see what worked and what didn't. Think about why.
And that's that! Feel free to tweet me or email me for clarification on anything. And remember that these are just guidelines - there are a billion stories to be told, and even more ways to pitch them. What works for one person may not work for another, and vice versa. Just take your time (well, until #carinapitch day) crafting your tweet, make sure the essentials are there, and good luck!
use your words
Amanda Weaver's historical romance series was picked up after her successful #carinapitch in 2015. She rebelled and used two tweets to pitch her story, but you can see it has all the fundamentals and some very smart word choices.
Who? A destitute earl. Destitute is an important adjective, because we'd otherwise assume wealth since he's titled. That also presents its own question - why is he destitute? My curiosity is piqued. And destitute is also a better word choice than something similar, like poor. "A poor earl" doesn't have quite the same ring. So yes, you only have 140 characters and shortcuts might seem tempting, but make sure they don't change the meaning or tone of your story.
Who else? An American heiress. They're from different countries, he's broke, she's loaded... I love opposites attract! And we know all this from four words: destitute + earl & American + heiress. That's a brilliant way to maximize your word count.
The use of the word "forced" is very important here. Consider the feeling you get from the pitch if it's removed: A destitute earl weds an American heiress... A destitute earl must wed an American heiress... "Forced" is what gives the sentence conflict and drama. "Their mutual hatred" is what personally sells me on the pitch, because the enemies-to-lovers trope is my favourite. And hatred is a powerful word. It conveys so much more than something like contempt, dislike, or disdain. Hatred makes a statement, and when you're working with limited space, you have to choose your words wisely. Amanda obviously got it right, because you can buy the first book in her Grantham Girls series, A Duchess In Name (the one pitched above), right here.
Sarah Hawthorne's successful 2016 #carinapitch entry showed a keen awareness for a super hot trend (motorcycle clubs!) and employed an opposites attract trope (dangerous biker + single mom) which is catnip for many readers. (Guilty!) And then, as if that weren't enough, she tossed in something irresistible: a secret. Who hasn't stayed up late frantically turning the pages to find out just what secrets your characters are keeping? Secrets also promise stakes and conflict, key elements for any story.
When you only have 140 characters to hook someone, adding in a detail that piques a reader's curiosity is a smart move. Whether or not your secret is good enough for a book deal (obviously Sarah's was because she's already published two books in the Demon Horde MC series!), it's an excellent way to convince someone to read more of your pages. Some people might say that writing a story that plays to current trends means risking getting lost in the masses, but there are reasons something becomes a trend and that's a) because people like it, b) people want more of it, and c) (more on point to this discussion) we already have certain expectations surrounding it. As soon as Sarah says "bikers" we have an immediate sense of tone/character/world building - you name it. It's a brilliant use of shorthand, which, when you're working with limited characters, can work in your favour. Or Sarah's favour, since she got the book deal. ;)
get to the point (and dear God, please have one)
know what's hot - and leave 'em wanting more
I think this is an excellent pitch--it tells you everything you need to know in two brief sentences. Who? A prostitute & a street fighter (I'm instantly intrigued). What do they want? A chance at love (relatable - who doesn't want this?). What's the problem? They're owned - owned! - by a terrible guy. When? Victorian era (this is obviously very important in this pitch - you can include it in the genre part as both Pamela and I did, or work it into the tweet, just make sure you don't include it twice, since you've only got 140 characters). What's at stake? Their lives. Clean, clear, concise.
The key to every great story is conflict. It doesn't have to be of the life and death variety, but it's important to propel the story forward. Take out the "owned by the same ruthless man" bit from Pamela's tweet and the pitch loses its tension, since there's nothing to indicate why they can't just be together.