Why? For a couple of reasons.
1) Participating in these contests, which are followed by hundreds of authors, as well as agents and publishers, is a great way to make Twitter friends and to bulk up on my Twitter following.
2) Learning new tricks and trends of social media is good for me. It helps me know what agents and publishers are looking for, and what other authors are doing. All knowledge=good.
3) I find that learning new ways to write and taking on challenges--even ones that force me to convey my entire manuscript in 140 characters or less--really help me hone my writing skills. After participating in these contests, I have completely revamped my query letter and my synopsis.
If you're asking yourself this question: Should I enter?
Then ask another: Am I seeking the traditional agent and/or publishing routes?
If yes, then: Is my manuscript finished, and Am I querying my manuscript anyway?
If you already have an agent or only intend to self-publish, then you're probably not going to want to enter a pitch contest.
But if you do have a finished manuscript for which you're seeking an agent or publisher, and you'd like to learn new things, meet new people, and challenge yourself as a writer, then there are definitely some things you should know.
Here's How It Works
Various professionals or publishing houses may host a Twitter pitch contest for a set amount of time on a set date. Authors enter by using hashtags specific to the contest. Just this week Carina Press held a contest in which their editors watched for tweets by searching for the hashtag #CarinaPitch. The #PitMad and #PitchMadness contests invite literary agents to review pitches and request materials from those authors whose pitches catch their eyes. They do this by "favoriting" a Tweet.
My first entry was in the recent #PitMad contest. I researched the process, asked for help from other authors, and guess what? One of my Tweets was favorited by an agent at Foundry Literary agency. I submitted a query and manuscript at her request. Not bad. It may or may not be successful, but to me, it was worth the effort. The Tweet that caught her eye?
Legally Blonde meets Game of Thrones when fiery coed Stella navigates a new world and new men in search of a scaly new body #NA #SFF #PitMad
Notice those hashtags included in my Tweet. Those are necessary. As if conveying your manuscript in 140 characters or less wasn't hard enough, you must also include these space-takers. Each Twitter pitch contest requires that you use its specific hashtag (#PitMad, #CarinaPitch, etc.). If you don't, the agents and publishers won't see your entry.
A category or genre sub-hashtag is also extremely important. #YA = Young Adult, #NA = New Adult, #SFF = SciFi and Fantasy, #CR=Contemporary Romance. There are others. Typically the group or site hosting the contest will specify these sub-hashtags, but they're fairly standard.
Lost yet? It's okay.
There are some tricks to help you along. This formula, for example, I found very helpful:
“When [MAIN CHARACTER] is [OBSTACLE], he/she must [DO SOMETHING] or else [CONSEQUENCE]. #PitMad [GENRE]”
Goal, conflict, stakes. Say it again: goal, conflict, stakes.
Here's another tip: Don't be vague. Be very specific. Agents and publishers will have on their business person hats, not their reader hats. Don't ask rhetorical questions. Don't try to be overly-clever. Just focus on conveying your plot and the stakes. That task is hard enough! If there's a way to throw in your author voice and what makes your story unique, great!
Run your draft pitches by other authors on Twitter by using the applicable hashtag in advance. There are lots of authors out there new to the process and others who are experienced, willing and able.
Have somewhere around three variations of your tweet. No one wants to see the same one eight times throughout the day. And more than one tweet is a good way to get more info out there about your manuscript. What interests one editor or agent may not interest another. Switch it up and have some fun!
Lastly, don't cause yourself undue anxiety by waiting until the last minute. Draft your Tweets in advance.Then, use a scheduling device like TweetDeck. Follow this link for a free Excel spreadsheet that not only counts characters, but also allows you to organize them by time slots, so they can be cut and pasted into scheduled Tweets.
I hope some of what I've learned the hard way helps you compose a Tweet that gets you lots of attention and then a competitive publishing contract. Hey, it happens.