It was madness, but of the fun kind, when agents and editors offered their PITMAD or pitch madness contest on Twitter the other day. All we writers had to do was pitch our book ideas in 140 characters or less and add the hashtag #pitmad. If your Tweet was favorited by an agent or editor, that was an invitation to send your materials to them. Of course that meant doing some quick research on their submission policies, but most helpfully put that in a Tweet as well. It's a generous offer by those we ordinarily have to do quite a bit of research on to see if they are even accepting new submissions. But as one agent said to me, they want their query boxes to keep getting filled because each query has the potential to be  "the next big thing." And that could be your book!

I was fortunate to be favorited by three agents, and I quickly sent out the submission packets that I have ready to go. Also, my pitch was retweeted by some other authors, which meant that it became more visible to the agents and editors, and it was a show of support from fellow writers. In all, it was a chance to feel a part of a larger writer community, rather than the very insular experience writing tends to be.

But I am being slightly facetious when I say "all you have to do is pitch your book in 140 characters or less" because that is only about 20 words. I understand the challenge. I have long taught my journalism students that a perfect newspaper or magazine article pitch can be done in less than 25 words, and novels are no exception. Here's what I wrote: A self-help addict, 16-year-old Beth has all the answers to everyone else's problems, but can't seem to fix her own. Contemp YA.I'm not saying my example is perfect, but here is what I did right:

1. I established the character's conflict.

2. Gave the basics about who the character is.

3. Identified the book's genre.

And that is what is most important to do any time you want to pitch--or sell--your product.

There are, of course, some ground rules. This contest is only open to unagented authors who have a completed manuscript. Also, as one agent griped, you can't say you were favorited if you weren't. That same agent Tweeted: We'll both know you're lying. Since this contest is done in a friendly and open environment, you want to respect the rules, both expressed and implied.

I don't know when the next PITMAD will be. But it's worth practicing now if you can get your pitch down to 140 characters, both to be ready for the next contest, and also, because if you can't explain your book succinctly, it probably needs more work.

I understand there are other contests like this. One colleague mentioned a Facebook contest. Can anyone let me know if they are aware of other pitch contests and when they're taking place so I can share that here?

Meanwhile, practice that pitch!

Liza N. Burby
Liza is an award-winning journalist for some of the top publications in the country, a magazine editor, parenting speaker, children's book author and a motivational speaker/expert on getting your work published.

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