Why is it that one word from even a complete stranger has the power to ruin your whole day?
I participated in #SFFpit. For those of you who don’t know what it is: it’s a Twitter event where wannabe authors can pitch their novel to agents. It’s a little bit of a desperate shout into the void, but it can be fun at the same time. All you do is type up a tweet length pitch of your sci-fi/fantasy manuscript, tweet it with the hashtag SFFpit, and hope for the best. You can tweet once every hour for each project. The goal is to gain likes from agents or publishers. If they like your post, that means they want you to query them and you have a shot of getting represented or published. It’s preferred that only agents and publishers like posts. Otherwise, you get the author’s hopes up. If you want to show support for a pitch, retweet or comment, but don’t like.
Why do I bring this up? Well, reading through the instructions of #SFFpit, it sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. You can’t fit a lot into a tweet, so you REALLY have to simplify your work in a way that sounds appealing to everyone. When you have so much packed into a novel like I do, it’s REALLY hard to do (and all the authors say “Amen!”). It took me a while, but I came up with a pitch that I was actually pretty proud of. This is it:
A son of an alchemist is hand-picked as the apprentice to the kingdom’s only mage and is given no reason as to why. When Darkness threatens the land, he must find an ancient artifact to save his loved ones from evil’s corruption.
That was the simplest way I could describe my book without dumbing it down to any cliché. I thought it sounded mysterious. I thought it did a good job hinting at the fact that my book has more too it than those two sentences portrayed. So, with high hopes, I shared that tweet all over Twitter and quite a few people supported me by retweeting and one guy retweeted that it sounded mysterious! That sounded like a victory to me!
Then, came the one word from one random stranger. I scrolled through my notifications, hoping to see a like by agents, but instead, I see someone’s comment on my pitch. One word that has got to be one of my top least favorite words:
Talk about a shot to the heart. I was appalled, taken aback, shocked, astounded, and every other word in the thesaurus. I lost focus on what I was supposed to be doing that day. You see, all my experiences on Twitter had been encouraging because the writing community is awesome. Then, that stranger comes in and criticizes my work in the worst possible way. Just one word. Nothing else. I worked hard to come up with that pitch! I wanted to get angry. I stalked the guy’s profile and I honestly wasn’t impressed. He didn’t look like a guy that should be taken seriously. I almost responded with a snarky (rude) comment, but I quickly remembered that agents would be seeing this stuff too and that made me panic. What would an agent think if they saw someone commenting “weak” on my post? Would it make them change their minds about liking it? I tried to delete it, but all I could do was hide the comment and I’m not even sure if that hides it from everybody. Then, I made the spiteful and childish decision to block the dude. I hope you understand: this guy’s “weak” comment was the first bad feedback I’ve ever gotten when it comes to promoting my novel on Twitter. I like to think I handled it well enough?
Yet, blocking the dude and hiding his comment didn’t get that word out of my head. The damage was done. I started fretting that maybe the dude was right? Maybe my post is weak? Looking back at it now, it…sadly is. I mean, it’s a trope, right? Common kid is chosen for greatness and has to save the world. Welcome to nearly every YA story out there. You’re probably thinking of three of them right now as you read this or maybe you’re thinking of your own story? My point: a lot of stories follow the same plot line. It’s how we mix it up that makes them special and that’s what I didn’t include in my pitch.
So, I started rewriting it. In query letters, I’ve been told you focus on your main character, get the agent attached to your main character. So, I tried that approach and ended up with this:
The unwanted son of a commoner dreams of proving himself and he gets his shot when Darkness finds an ancient artifact that could destroy the kingdom. If he can steal it, he’d be a hero, but his mistakes place it right in enemy hands. All he loves will perish if he can’t correct his error.
Better, right? Well, I didn’t like it. Still don’t like. Yeah, it kinda ups the stakes more. A poor kid wants to be noticed and his attempt to get noticed ends up putting the entire world in peril. It’s still kind of a common trope if you think about it. Yet, what I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t sound like my story. That doesn’t sound like my main character to me. He’s not a thief. He doesn’t break rules. Yeah, he’s desperate to prove himself, but he wants to do it the right way. I posted that little pitch on Twitter and I didn’t receive any likes from agents, so I decided to reword it again. I decided that my main character might be a little too trope-y for a Twitter pitch so, let’s focus on what the title of my novel aims directly at: the artifact.
A lot of stories have artifacts in them: Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, Sword of Shannara, even the Never-Ending Story has one. Point is: lots of great stories have a “find the artifact and save the world” vibe or even “destroy the artifact and save the world” vibe. Yet, what makes these stories unique is how different the artifacts are from each other or the world these artifacts are placed in. You could have two artifacts that are the exact same in two different stories, but the characters and settings are complete different which allows both stories to be one of a kind.
So, what makes my artifact special and how do I pitch it without spoiling the story? Well, I know how special my artifact is. I don’t think there’s a story out there that has anything like it. I’ve reread the scenes in my novel its involved in so many times because of how much I love it. The tricky part is pitching it. So, that same #SFFpit day, I came up with this:
An ancient artifact forgotten by history holds the fate of the world. When evil finds it, a commoner turned mage must retrieve it. If he can’t control his power and the power of the artifact, this whole world could be swallowed by Darkness.
That sounds pretty cool, right? Forgotten by history means that no one knows this artifact exists and suddenly it’s in the hands of evil. Now, this poor commoner turned mage has to go get it and he has no idea what he’s up against. No idea what this artifact can do, but the fate of the world depends on him getting it back. I’m pretty proud of this new pitch. I plan on using it in future pitch events. I’d love to tell you that this new pitch got a couple agent likes, but…I can’t say if it would’ve or not. You see, I typed this up, posted it on Twitter for the last two hours of the event and it was after the event that a kind gentleman–with pity probably typing his every word–informs me that I used the wrong hashtag. Instead of #SFFpit, I typed #SSFpit. So, agents following the event hashtag would not have been able to see my post…
Long story short: my first #SFFpit did not meet my expectations.
BUT! There was still a victory in the day. “Weak” comment guy forced me to take a good, hard look at my pitch and instead of pouting and crying over a bad review, I’m proud to say I rose above it. Made my pitch better. I mean, if you think about it. One word from a random stranger can only ruin your day if you let it. You can turn it into the building blocks for improvement. You just have to remember to never give up. Especially when you want something as badly as I do.
Moving forward, I used my new pitch in the Twitter #mockpit event. It’s an event where you can post your pitch and other writers will give you feedback on it and you’re encouraged to give feedback on other pitches as well. I got some decent feedback and some good advice. I was warned that my summary–though interesting–was pretty vague and I was encouraged to use my main character’s name. Honestly, that’s hard for me. I’m SUPER protective of my story and my characters so just throwing their names out there is scary. I haven’t even included their names on this website. Yet, when you think about it, there are a thousands of people trying to get published and we’re all throwing our character’s names out there. Some people have super unique names that I would be worried about anyone copying or stealing, but my main character? His name isn’t very unique. It’s actually a bit common if you think about it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Since it’s common, do I really have to worry about someone stealing it? I mean, there’s a lot of people with this name and a lot of people have the same name in real life, so what does it matter?
Now, this new advice told me to focus back on my main character, describe this evil a little more and why my main character has to struggle to control his own power. In giving me this advice, the person made assumptions on my book (and that’s a rant for another day), and she wasn’t right in those assumptions, so I tweeked my pitch again the best I could. This is what I came up with:
Justin is a commoner chosen as the apprentice to the land’s only mage. It’s great, until monsters find an artifact lost to history. To prove himself, Justin disobeys orders & pursues the artifact…only to send it to a Dark being who wants to control the world.
Now, #Mockpit allows you to post three revisions of your pitch. So, I posted this one on Twitter. However, because there are so many people trying to get recognition by others and not a lot of people providing feedback, my pitch was overlooked. I only received a single like from someone. But that’s better than nothing.
Thinking over it all, it’s funny how one word can lead to so much growth. I’m happy with where my pitch is at and I plan on using it in future events. As for you, whatever you face, whatever words get thrown your way, I hope you use them to your advantage. Words have a lot of power to them, but you get to decide what kind of power.