12 August 2022
Debut author Janelle McCurdy explains how Twitter helped her get a publishing deal
It took ten years for me to become a published author and Twitter pitches played a big part in that journey. It’s been a mixture of happiness and heartbreak along the way, but I’m finally here!
How it all began
I officially started my journey towards becoming an author when I was sixteen. I’d written a YA contemporary novel and sent it out to agents. Of course, I was very new to the world of querying so it’s funny to look back and see the queries I sent in. I didn’t get a single response. It was devastating. After a year, the rejections became too much and I became depressed, which led me to stop writing for a while.
I knew that I needed to work on my craft as an author, so I got a part-time job in order to save money and attend writing workshops. I met writers in the same boat as me and came face to face with agents for the first time. This really helped to break down the idea that agents were invincible beings and scary gatekeepers! I learned how to hone my writing and was able to see query letters from other authors who had been successfully picked up by agents. I felt extremely hopeful for the future.
I wrote many manuscripts in the years to come, but whilst I would get the odd request from agents to see more, it all ended with rejection. This hurt the most because it felt like I was so close and messed it up. Then, I found out about Twitter pitch contests.
Twitter pitch contests
Twitter pitches are online events that run for a day. Writers pitch their book in 280 characters (back in the day it was even less!) and include the Twitter pitch hashtag. If an agent likes the pitch, it’s an invitation to submit to them.
My first ever pitch did pretty well, but when I sent my book to the agents, it was rejected once again. Year after year I continued to take part in pitch events. Sometimes I didn’t get any likes, but I kept pushing on because it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all!
Then came the summer of 2020, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and seeking justice for George Floyd, there was a call out for more Black voices in the publishing industry. Agents and publishers were looking to sign more Black authors from all over the world. It was during this time that #Pitmad launched a Twitter pitch event with a new hashtag for Black voices, called #BVM - Black Voices Matter. I decided to pitch and surprisingly it did extremely well. I got likes from over 50 different agents and lots of editors.
Here’s my pitch:
Within a week I had my first offer of representation. I notified the other agents that I’d been emailing about this offer of representation at which point Rachel Mann, from the Jo Unwin Literary Agency, saw the query that I’d sent a week or so before the Twitter pitch contest and responded almost instantly.
We had a Zoom call and she offered me representation, which I accepted a week later (although I knew I wanted her to be my agent the moment we spoke!). After a month of editing, we sent out my manuscript to editors and within a week received amazing offers. I decided to publish Mia and the Lightcasters with Faber Children’s in the UK and Aladdin in the US. After ten years, my dreams were finally coming true!
Tips for Twitter pitch contests!
• The main thing is to not get disheartened if you don’t get any likes. In recent years, Twitter pitch contests have become so saturated and busy that not every agent will see your pitch. Just because you don’t get a like, it doesn’t mean your pitch was bad!
• If you need help with writing pitches, keep an eye out on the pitch hashtags. Sometimes there are authors who offer to help with pitches and often there are fun events such as #pitlight, which is all about writers supporting each other, offering tips on how to improve pitches and bigging each other up. As an event meant solely for writers, it’s really nice to be amongst people in the same boat as you, and you can even make some new writer friends!
• Research and vet any agent that likes your tweet! Just because they like your pitch doesn’t mean that they’re the right fit for you. Do your research on them. Out of the 50+ agents that liked my pitch, I only sent my book to about five. Recently there have also been reports of scammers pretending to be agents too. The last thing you want to do is send your manuscript to a scammer. Remember, you never have to pay an agent to send a query or to look at your book either!
• Normal querying works too! I ended up going with the agent I’d queried normally, not one who had liked my twitter pitch, so please don’t be disheartened if twitter pitching doesn’t work out for you. Email querying works just as well!
Finally, here is the pitch formula I used when creating my pitches:
Use comparison titles, so X meets X. I wrote 'Pokémon MEETS Stranger Things'. This is a quick way for agents to get an idea of what your book is about.
Then, I usually include the name of my character, their age, the main conflict and what the stakes are.
For example, “When (NAME) finds out (CONFLICT) happens, she must (BLANK) or (BLANK HAPPENS) and she loses it all.
Then, I include what age group my book is for and the Twitter pitch hashtag.
Sadly Pitmad is no longer doing events, but here are two events that I personally LOVE:
• DVPiT: A pitch event for diverse voices run by Beth Phelan.
• Pitlight: A pitch event with the sole aim of uplighting writers, run by Amanda Woody.
Thank you so much for reading. If you keep working toward your dreams they WILL come true! Everyone’s path is different, but your time will come. Trust me, you got this!
Janelle McCurdy’s debut middle-grade novel, Mia and the Lightcasters, is published by Faber.
Are you interested in writing middle-grade fiction? Read what Sophie Kirkwood says about writing The Wild Way Home.