Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Aren't You Twitching?

I sometimes get odd looks from people when they ask how I connected with my publisher. Because my answer, invariably, is ‘by twitching’.

Sometimes they just nod and smile. Other times they back away slowly. Perhaps they think it might be catching.

But if you’re a writer looking to place a book with an agent or an editor, trust me—you want to catch this twitching madness. It’s like speed dating, for writers.

Okay, I suppose a definition is in order at this point. Twitching is the art (and science) of crafting a ‘pitch’ for your book, in less than 140 characters—yes, you read that right, not words but characters—in order to participate in any of a variety of ‘pitch parties’ offered on Twitter. Twitter + Pitch = Twitch. Simple, eh?

Essentially, a twitch is a query letter writ small. It should contain the same basic elements as a query:

·        The main character, by name or vivid description
·        The central conflict around which the plot is based
·        The stakes of success or failure by the MC

The way the whole process works is that writers with completed and polished manuscripts pitch those manuscripts during a Twitter contest. Agents and editors monitor the feed for the contest, which normally seem to last about 12 hours. They ‘favorite’ twitches which attract their interest, indicating to the writer that they are invited to submit per the agent/editor’s guidelines—normally a  query and set amount of pages, ranging from 10 pages to a full manuscript. 

There is such an amazing community of writers hanging out on Twitter. People who support and encourage each other. People who offer to read queries and/or manuscripts, and provide critiques to help improve them. People like Dan Koboldt, Michelle Hauck, Brenda Drake, and Tamara Mataya and Jessa Russo, who spend inordinate amounts of time, energy and good will lining up agents and editors to participate in their contests. And then spend even more time and energy running those contests, so aspiring authors will have an opportunity to connect with said editors and agents. I can't begin to imagine the time and effort these folks pup in, all gratis. It's their way of giving back to the writing community. If there is indeed heaven for writers, these guys are going!

I participated in several pitch contests in my journey towards publication. I found them to be a terrific learning experience. You pretty quickly garner a sense of what does and doesn’t work, by watching what kinds of twitches end up getting requests. And you learn the art of brevity like nothing else can teach. When you only have 130 characters, including spaces, to tell about a 120k-word novel, you tend to cut to the chase.

Twitter contest are also a marvelous opportunity to make friends with other writers who are in the same boat. This is a group of hopeful authors, proud of their work and daring to put their words on the line in the hopes of capturing the interest of an agent or editor. I also find it fascinating that the writers themselves, far from trying to subvert the competition, instead retweet other contestants’ twitches to indicate their approval, and send them messages of encouragement. I’ve met so many super folks through these Twitter contests, people I’m proud to call my (virtual) friends. Many have offered suggestions and critiques on my manuscript, my query letters and my pitches to help make them better. And I’ve tried to pay that forward, offering advice and critiques to others who may need a little help along the way. Because, as some sage so wisely said, what comes around, goes around.

Even though some of my twitches in various contests received requests from several agents and editors, initially those didn’t pan out. Receiving a request through one of these contests is no guarantee of anything other than an invited opportunity to submit. While a particular twitch may engender interest on the part of an agent, it doesn’t mean that that agent it going to necessarily find the book itself exactly what they’ve been craving all these years. 

The twitch which ultimately led to my offer of a contract to publish my fantasy novel TRAITOR KNIGHT was:

Morgan risks death, dishonor & a woman's scorn when he poses as a turncoat to unmask the traitor plotting his kingdom's downfall.

I honestly didn't think it was one of my best efforts. But it caught an editor's interest. And that's what counts. It's not always adherence to the established formula (Character + Conflict + Stakes) that does the job (although in this case I pretty much did just that). But sometimes it's the voice or an intriguing story element that results in a request. In any event, I was asked to submit a full manuscript (which went out within ten minutes of that request). Not that I had any haunting feeling that this was 'the one'. I had several other full and partial manuscripts out with other agencies at the time, and this was just one more in the bunch.

You hear a lot about 'it only takes one yes'. I had my share of rejections over the years I'd been querying TRAITOR KNIGHT. But it does just take that one time when it resonates with an agent or editor. When they can see your vision, hear your voice. When they get it. This was that time for me.

Just to be clear, I'm by no means advocating that writers leave off the querying process and rely solely on Twitter contests. Down that path lies madness, despair and most likely, dragons. But I am advocating the notion of adding  Twitter contests as a significant part of a writer's arsenal. It's simply one more means to an end. It won't work for everyone, but there are enough stories with a 'happy ever after', mine included, to assure you that these contests can be a potentially valuable resource.

Keep querying by all means. But consider twitching once in a while too. Who knows, you might even have fun. And you may well see me there. Because even though I'm not participating, I still monitor the feeds, and root for friends I've made along the way.  One more way of paying it forward.

Happy Holidays!


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good advice. Basically a "shout line."

Liz Fountain said...

Reminds me of when I ask my research students to sum up their topics in haiku. The idea is that if they can boil it down to 5-7-5 syllables, they truly know it. Same with our stories - I can see the practice of crafting 140-character pitches would be quite useful.

Olga Godim said...

This is very interesting. I didn't know about the Twitter contests. How do I find out about them: when, who, and what?

Keith Willis said...

Olga (and anyone else who might be interested), if you'd like to shoot me an email at I'll be happy to provide some details off-feed on websites where you can find out about the Twitter contests.

Big Mike said...

Thanks Keith. Never heard of that idea and luv to learn new things.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

January Bain said...

Hi Keith, thanks for commenting yesterday on my post. I too have unfinished manuscripts to complete!
As for today's post: Brilliant suggestion. I'll email you if that's all right or you can email me at I think it would be a very useful exercise and a great part of the writing journey. Best, January