Earlier this month I applied for a scholarship to an agent-led writing online course because a) I'm not in a financial position to pay out the full whack of the course fee and b) I've felt that during this draft I would really benefit from more streamlined and professional guidance in order to get the novel to where I know it needs to be. I wasn't surprised not to be successful (there would have been literally thousands of applicants worldwide and only one scholarship placement was available). The very nice response I received was that they were "really impressed" with my writing, but (etc, etc) and hoped I wouldn't be too disappointed. Well. As a struggling writer who must contend with failure every time they put their heart on the line and submit their work to the 'Gatekeepers', I couldn't help but be a little disappointed, which of course then set those pesky self-doubt demons going again. Were they really "really impressed" with my writing or is that just the generic response sent out to all rejected applicants? I will never know the answer to that, but it certainly makes me ask the question Am I wasting my time? Should I really be persevering with this? Still? I'm going to put on a brave face and say NO. I'm not wasting my time. YES. I should be persevering. Let's not be so hasty. It was simply the luck of the draw ... and the pitch. Which leads me on to ...
As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I've attempted a Twitter Pitch. On the most recent occasion I obviously only took an interest in the historical genre, trawled through the ones already posted, and at the end of the day searched for the ones that had been liked by the agents. The lucky chosen ranged from the Tudor court to WW2, but I've chosen three to take a look at which seemed to really shine (all Tweets posted are with the permission of their authors)...
And here they are. All different, yet each following the same characteristics. So, the question is here, why did these work? Let's try and break it down:
These three pitches worked because they tapped into a market that is easily defined into a short and punchy pitch. And I suspect this is why hashtag events are so successful for authors writing within this area of historical fiction (or crime/thriller fiction in general). And this leads me on to why mine didn't get very far:
E.g. ... Previous to #TellAMH I attempted #PitchCB and #PitMad, using a variation of the following:
London 1820: William Hazlitt's LIBER AMORIS, from the POV of its heroine Sarah Walker.
1820s London: Famous essayist William Hazlitt falls for young serving girl Sarah Walker, writes scandalous book, story from her POV.
Now, I'm positive these pitches could have been miles better, but the key info I wanted to get across was there - their names which (in my head) proved they were real people, and the fact that the novel is written from Sarah's POV. Neither of these previous attempts got any likes though (actually one did, but not by an agent), partly because clearly no one knew who these people were, so the concept didn't appeal (maybe a more famous name might have done it). To try a different tack, I wrote the #TellAMH pitch without the names, to see if the concept itself might appeal. Nope. It still got no response. Which I can either take as my novel being completely unsellable, or, I can take as my novel just not being able to be defined within such a limited word count.
The thing is, I think every novel is difficult to pitch in 140 characters, and only the rare few manage to do it successfully. Even then it is subject to opinion and preference. With a novel there is usually so much going on beyond the initial premise. Mine for instance is very much about feminine desire, sexual politics and gender dynamics, the very real struggle of a Regency serving girl. But the novel is also about fleshing out these two characters in a sympathetic but realistic way according to their relative backgrounds, to show there is a reason for everything, that for every action there is a reaction, that we are all accountable for what we do. How can I put that across with only a few words available to me? With difficulty. Truth is, some novels you just can't define in a sentence (or less). And that's okay. That's what the back cover blurb is for.
In regards to the Scholarship application, had I managed to get all that across? Well, I certainly tried. But either I didn't do it effectively enough, or there were simply others that just appealed far, far more. Were they thrillers? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps in this case it wasn't the pitch itself but the writing just wasn't thrilling enough for them to choose my extract. Or, there was someone whose background was far more deserving than mine. Whatever the reason, do I consider this a failure? Or simply just another stumbling block. Let's go with that - the stumbling block. That's by far the more mature and less self-destructive choice.
To conclude, I'm not going to give up just because my application and Twitter Pitch wasn't accepted. Neither should you. Don't be the guy on the right. And while I've written here specifically about historical fiction, this really does apply to everyone. Some pitches work - and if you're a crime/thriller writer especially then perhaps use the above pitches as a guide - some are more difficult to tie down. It doesn't mean it can't be done (and perhaps mine can be done), but it also doesn't mean it has to be done. The benefit of these writing course applications and Twitter pitches are that if you get chosen then it's a massive boost of confidence, and you're good at writing a noteworthy pitch (for that particular story). But in the end you still have to submit via the normal route and an agent requesting the full MS depends entirely on the submission package you deliver - the stress isn't over yet. So above all believe in the power of the story you are trying to write, believe in your writing. It is that passion and belief that will get you through, and remember that an agent takes on a writer based on the strength of the writing and the merit of the story they submitted. A successful 140 character Twitter pitch, or acceptance onto a prestigious writing course is just one of many possible beginnings.
PS - The very best of luck to Nicola Curtis, Miranda Malins and K.R.M. Morgan - fingers crossed for a successful agent submission!
PPS - If anyone knows who the artist(s) is of the stick men, please let me know so I can link back to them for credit!