Almost two years ago, I pitched several manuscripts through #PBpitch, and although my overall success was minimal that day, I landed a once-in-a-lifetime contract offer from Frances Gilbert, who is the Editor-in-Chief for Doubleday for Young Readers, which is a division of Penguin Random House. She purchased world rights for a manuscript that I almost didn’t pitch at all. I knew that the story was written well [trust me, I don’t always think that my manuscripts are written well], but I simply didn’t believe that I’d have any luck with that particular seasonal book–especially since I have never been published before and since I have no agent yet. But if I learned anything at all from having participated in the Twitter event PBPitch in February of 2020, it is that no one should ever pre-determine what will and will not be acquired during a Twitter Pitch Event.
Tip Number 1 – Don’t Sabotage Your Potential by Failing to Pitch ALL of Your Good Writing During A Twitter Event
In other words, don’t pitch only the manuscripts that you think might have a chance to be liked. As writers, we have no idea what editors and/or agents are seeking during a Twitter event. Before last February, I had never heard of PBpitch or of any of the other Twitter pitch events. Truthfully, I was not active on Twitter before then, but because of some miracle, I bumped into an announcement that in February of 2020, there would be an opportunity for authors to pitch their writing to agents and editors who might be scrolling through the mounds of potential tweets that were marked by the hashtag #PBPitch. Although I had been writing for years, I had only recently begun seeking publication, and I reasoned with myself: “Why not try PBpitch? After all, it is free, and it might actually work.” And as miracles sometimes happen, Frances Gilbert “liked” my tweet. Note these important details:
- The day that Frances said that she was interested in my debut book, she just happened to be looking that day for a book about a donkey. I don’t believe that she was looking for a nativity story, but she later told me that she had recently adopted a donkey and that she simply had a hankering that day to acquire a donkey book. The title of my debut picture book is The Donkey’s Song, and as soon as I pitched that title and a few other words about the story, Frances liked the pitch.
- Mind you: this was the first time that I had ever participated in a Twitter pitch event. When I saw Frances’s “like,” I thought that she had made a mistake. I’m not exactly sure how it all went down from there, but I believe that I timidly messaged Frances and sheepishly asked, “Did you like my pitch about The Donkey’s Song?” She responded with a “Yes,” and she further asked me to send her the complete manuscript.
- I did immediately send Frances my complete manuscript, and within a day or two, she responded, saying that she loved the story. She further indicated that she was interested in acquiring it for publication.
- The rest of that business deal followed through without a hitch, and on December 22, 2020, Frances announced in Publishers Weekly that my debut book The Donkey’s Song would be released in 2022. At the time, that date seemed like it was ages away, but today, I understand the saying: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Fairy Tales Do Come True, It Can Happen to You
It is an understatement to say that I am ecstatic that my first picture book is in the works, but before this all becomes a matter of history, I want to say a little bit more about some of the miracles that came together in February of 2020 to make my first book deal happen.
- As I said before, I almost didn’t pitch The Donkey’s Song at all that year. I had decided that my Christmas Nativity story wouldn’t have a chance to be noticed on Twitter, but I was wrong,
- Although I am an artist and although I pitched all of my other manuscript ideas that day with one of my illustrations, I did not do that for The Donkey’s Song. I knew that my painting style was not right for that sweet, gentle book.
Tip Number 2 – You Don’t Need an Illustration to Pitch in a Twitter Event.
The truth is that my art is bold and most of my illustrations are wild and funny.
Jacki Kellum Illustration – One Proud Rooster
By the grace of God, I can illustrate funny or even silly, but I had no idea how to illustrate my very soft story about the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem. Although I almost NEVER tweet without an image, I did tweet that 1 manuscript pitch with no image at all.
This is important: many people believe that they must have an illustrator before they submit their manuscripts, but when submitting to an established editor, that is not at all the case. Had I pitched my debut book with an illustration in 2020, I might have prevented Frances from visualizing the book in the way that she needed to see it. Ultimately, Frances selected the established illustrator Sydney Hanson to illustrate my first book, and I could not be happier about that decision.
This miraculous success story continued. The fabulously sweet illustrator Sydney Hanson was asked to illustrate The Donkey’s Song, and I cannot say how very perfect her illustrations are for that book.
Tip Number 3: You CAN sell your Picture Book without An Agent
But It Is Almost Impossible to Get A Debut Book Deal without an Agent. PBPitch Is the ONLY Reason That I Defied That Rule
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that it is almost impossible for an unknown writer to get his/her work in the hands of one of the Big 5 Publishers. And without an agent, those possibilities are next to nil.
It is ONLY because of PB Pitch that Frances Gilbert saw my manuscript. For un-agented authors, a Twitter event may be your ONLY chance to be seen by an established editor and/or agent.
Tip Number 4: A Twitter Presence Is Necessary for Authors
2020 was a learning year for me. Although my Twitter profile says that I have been on Twitter for years and although it says that I have tweeted thousands of times, I actually had not used Twitter much before February of 2020. You see, I had launched my Twitter account years before when I was at Rutgers studying Information Technology in graduate school, and although I had tweeted thousands of times as part of one assignment or another at Rutgers, I had rarely used Twitter for my own personal use before Frances’s acquisition. I am working to change that behavior. At the time of the PB Pitch party last year, I had about 30 Twitter followers, and those were probably leftovers from graduate school. I promise you that before February 2020, I rarely visited Twitter. Period. When Frances acquired my manuscript that year, she did so in one breath, and in the next breath, she kindly prodded me: “You really need to do something about your Twitter presence.”
Tip Number 5: Don’t Wait Until You Are Perfect to Begin Pitching Your Manuscripts
Now hear this: I was 69 years old when my debut picture book was acquired for publication. When my debut picture book was actually published, I was 72. For many practical purposes, that is too old to begin any career. One of my greatest mistakes of all time is that although I have been writing for children for at least 25 years, I didn’t start seeking publication until I was nearly 69. I can offer several valid excuses for that delay, but the main reason was that I didn’t think that I was good enough to submit my work yet. I wanted to be perfect. That kind of waiting is a huge mistake. Although by a chain of miracles, one of my picture books has been acquired for publication, I don’t feel any different about myself now than I did 25 years ago. I still don’t think that I’m good enough. I certainly know that I’m not perfect. Getting better at writing and illustrating is a never-ending process. All of my manuscripts, until they are published, are works in progress, but that is no excuse to keep my efforts hidden in some closet.
Tip Number 6: Try Not to React Personally to Whether Your Pitch on a Twitter Party is Liked or Not Liked
I have no idea how many picture books are pitched at Twitter parties, and I also have no idea how many agents and editors are watching the pitches at those events, but luck is still a major player in what does and does not happen on any Twitter event. The editor who selected my debut book last year came to PBpitch that day, specifically looking for a book about a donkey, and I just happened to be pitching what she came to the event hoping to acquire. That is a miracle.
Twitter is like a black hole, and the odds of your teensy tweet being picked out of this unfathomable bucket are very poor. But your odds are not impossible. The only time that your odds of being selected are impossible is when you fail to submit what you have written. That is a sure way to fail. Submit.