The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza, Long Island #17: White Knuckles, Crime & Punishment, and Transcendent Triumph in Long Island
We hope and pray you never get stuck on Northern Blvd. in Long Island during rush hour when you have to be at your bookstore event by 7. It plum wears you out. It took us longer to travel 10 miles in Long Island than it did to get from New Jersey to Great Neck. At 6:48 David was into full-blown white-knuckle mode, and the knots in Arielle neck had migrated into her belly. Naturally, when we finally arrived, there was nowhere to park. But we finally slammed out of the car, and ran the two blocks back to the bookstore.
The second we entered Book Revue, all anxiety melted away. It was packed beyond the gills, ripe and swollen with 250 writers just waiting for us to hear them pitch their books. It was an absolute mob scene. From 12-year-olds to 90-year-olds, pierced to permed, ex-junkie to a man who’s run marathons in every state.
We were again blessed with a fantastic panel: James Levine, founder of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, author, golfer, and a man who’s helped dozens and dozens and dozens of writers, thinkers and businessmen become successfully published authors; and one of the great book dudes in the business, Mauro DiPreta, Executive Editor at It Books/HarperCollins, who has shepherd mega-bestsellers like Marley and Me onto the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, and he’s also a children’s book author. Not only are these men spectacularly articulate about the book business, they both have a ribald sense of humor. It was kind of like getting to have Derek Jeter and Tom Brady both on your team.
And then it was ON! A rhyming scratch’n’sniff pitch. A weight loss pitch with a bold new twist. A literary novel that was somehow Portnoy’s Complaint meeting Crime and Punishment. Swami Pajamananda dispensing equal parts spiritual wisdom and comedy. The winner gave a beautiful pitch about plunging from business executive to homeless heroin addict. Arielle had welled up by the end of the pitch. The whole thing was yet another vivid illustration of just how many Americans, from every walk of life imaginable, have books inside them that they desperately want to share with the world. Looking out over that vast sea of aspiring writer faces, our hearts and minds were filled with a real sense of happy accomplishment.
The pitches went by so fast, all of a sudden it was 8:30–time to wrap it up. Only about 20 people got pitch, and an audible groan came up from the crowd when we announced our last pitcher. But we offered up a new deal: anyone who buys a copy of our book gets a free consultation, and this seemed to soothe the savage beast. Julianne, the events coordinator, who was in large part responsible for getting the word out about this event, whisked us upstairs to a signing table. The line to buy the book literally went around two different corners and down a flight of stairs.
We ended up selling 100 books. If you’ve never actually tried to sell a book, that might not seem like much. But this is a niche reference book, on a Thursday night, in the middle of Long Island. It was the closest we’ve come to being Justin Bieber.
Spent and drained, but gratified and ecstatic, we hauled our asses back to Montclair, New Jersey. In half the time it took us to get to Long Island. But we were reminded how the hundreds and hundreds of hours spent writing the book, sending out the e-mails, putting together the website, the often dull, tedious, frankly painful work that’s gone into making and marketing this book, can sometimes, when the stars line up just right, lead to a transcendent triumph that lifts the spirit high, higher, highest.
The reports of the death of the book have been slightly exaggerated. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, we can tell you most assuredly that the book is alive and well, if the Miami International Book Festival is any indication. Hundreds of authors from Carl Hiaason to Patti Smith to Montclair New Jersey’s own Ian Fraser held court for tens of thousands of book lovers. Also on the scene were former president George Bush, Oprah-disser then Oprah-kisser Jonathan Franzen, and Clifford the Big Read Dog.
We arrived in Miami from Seattle on Saturday, and headed out to the old-school Cuban restaurant Versailles, where Jews and Cubans find a common ground: inexpensive and tasty food. Arielle’s grandmother took her there when she was a child, so this was a special familial ancestral residence for her as she dove into her black beans and yellow rice cooked in gobs of chicken fat. Yum!
On Sunday downtown Miami was buzzing with books, authors and those who love them. It was startling and inspiring to see all the different kinds of writers and books in their booths, from the highest brow to the lowest.
Out of the blue we ran into our compadre Roxanna Elden, who took our class in Miami and rocked our Pitchapalooza that was at one of our ATF bookstores, Books & Books, 5 years ago. Ever since the first time she pitched us, we knew there was a book there, long before she’d found an agent, written her book and got it published. All of which she did, step-by-step, yard by yard, mile by mile. It took her a couple of years and many rejections, but her book See Me After Class was published in June, 2, 2009, (David’s birthday) by Kaplan Publishing. It always makes our hearts happy when we see Roxanna not only because she’s such a funny, grateful, gracious, and exuberant person, but also because we have a sense of pride that we helped guide her from talented amateur to professionally published author. We’re very excited to report she’s working on a new book, a novel. Can’t wait to read it.
Our Miami event was our only non-Pitchapalooza, and we were sharing a panel with Betsy Lerner, author/editor/agent/quarter-century-veteran-of-the-publishing-wars. She has a new book out, or rather a new edition of what has become a publishing classic, The Forest for the Trees: An Editors Advice to Writers. It’s a must read for writers: veteran, neophyte or anything in between.
Five minutes before the event there were only 25 audience members, and no Betsy. Then suddenly the audience poured in like prospectors at the Gold Rush. In an instant there were 100 people. And there was Betsy. Right on time. There was no moderator, so it was interesting sharing a stage with someone else, just freeform talking about anything we wanted to talk about. It was a little like playing jazz with someone you never met before, and someone you played with for 10 years at gigs all over the country. Luckily, Betsy is a virtuoso, she had such smart stuff to say. For example, if you are querying an agent, don’t tell the agent that you two are soulmates. Don’t send a love letter. When the agent sells your book, then you can send flowers and candy and be best buddies. And don’t say you’re the next Eat, Pray, Love or Harry Potter. You are almost certainly not. Just makes you seem like an amateur. Think carefully about what your goal is as a writer. How do you define success? And for goodness sake, don’t rely on your husband/wife/mother/father for literary/publishing advice. Unless of course you’re married to Arielle Eckstut or Betsy Lerner. We focused on our 4 Principles of Successful Publishing: Research, Network, Write, Persevere.
We only had 50 minutes, so between the three of us, there wasn’t actually all that much time to talk before we opened up the room to a Q&A. At the end of the event, we tried a technique David used on his Art of the Memoir tour. We offered a free consultation to anyone who bought a book. At the signing table they lined up by the score. We must’ve sold 50 books. That may not sound like a lot. Until you’ve tried to sell a book. We’ve had events attended by 100 people and sold 4 books. People don’t understand that authors are generally not paid to do events. Authors do events to connect with their audience, to celebrate their publication, but they are there primarily to sell books. And despite having written the book on the subject, we have found this part of our job to be continuously challenging.
Afterwards we ran into our Hoboken homey, Caroline Leavitt, one of the nicest and most talented authors we know.
Her new book, Pictures of You, is already in its second printing and won’t even be published until January. We each bought each others’ books at the fair and Arielle started reading Pictures of You on the plane home. She got through 125 pages in 3 hours (and she’s a slow reader) because it was so crazily compelling. She finished it two days later—even though we came home to piles and piles of stuff to do after having been away for a month. She just had to finish it. For all those literary fiction lovers out there, you are in for such a treat. Pictures of You is Arielle’s favorite book of the year. It’s delectable!!!
It was tremendously gratifying/satisfying to end the first half of our tour with a great success. Riding high, we decided to cheat ourselves and go for it decadent brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach. It’s a pastel happy fantastical melting pot of Cuban ex-pat immigrants, flashy trashy fashion pioneers and victims, touristas, bikers, muscleheads and plastic surgery lovers. The brunch at the Ritz-Carlton has a very Fall of Rome feel to it. The people who work there don’t just serve, they seem like they’re happy to serve. Dining poolside was divine. California hand rolls, pancakes with fresh berry compote, roast beast, crab legs extraordinaire, and cheesecake popsicles. Yes, cheesecake popsicles.
David had a fascinating confrontation with a surgically enhanced 50-something. The server brought out two raspberry chocolate treats on a tray and presented them to David, Surgically Enhanced and her daughter. Surgically Enhanced grabbed both of them. Her daughter, clearly embarrassed, said, “Mom, maybe he wants one.” He being Me. Who said, “Yes, actually I would like one of them.” Surgically Enhanced just shrugged, took both chocolate raspberry treats and slouched away, clearly succumbing to one of the type 7 Deadly sins: Gluttony. Speaking of gluttony, stuffed and bloated we waddled out onto the beach. The ocean breeze was a gentle tonic, and we basked in the sun, sea and sand.
Finally, we wanted to give a shout out to the face, brains and heart of the Miami International Book Festival: Mitchell Kaplan. He’s is that rarest of birds: a brilliant businessman who also makes everyone he touches feel special. He had some fascinating things to say about the present and future of publishing. Amidst all the deathknell doomsaying about the book business, he said he can’t operate from a place of panic or doom. He just keeps doing what he does: loving and selling books. And keeps evolving, changing with the times, which are always a’changing. He was one of the first people to realize that a bookstore could transcend bookstoredom. So he brought in a great chef to Books & Books, and now people go there just to dine. The bookstore also has a beautiful courtyard where people can sit and read and write and talk in the sun. He’s brought in the greatest writers in the world not only to read, but into the bookstore to hang. So you never know who you might be sitting next to as you eat your quiche. Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie. Mitchell said he was starting to shift the fundamental way he does business. He thinks the agency model that Apple and others are using has great potential for independent booksellers as well (we’ll be exploring this more in another post).
We’d like to close by thanking all the booksellers, book buyers, writers, panelists, babysitters, our amazing Workman team, who has made all this travel possible. We’ll leave you with a few lasting images from the festival.
The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza #14, Seattle: Mexican Prisons, Sea-Salted Pate & Losing Your Innocence to Jimmy Carter
A cruel wind blew up our metaphoric skirts and chilled our gizzards with a damp shivery wetness as we stepped into Seattle. “Dad, it’s too cold!” Olive declared. We bundled and trundled into a taxi and cranked up the heat in our hotel, just off the blustery bay from Pike’s Place Market, where fish go to be turned into flying dead acrobats by monger/jugglers.
We decided to have a late lunch/early dinner, and wandered the market looking for something hot and excellent to eat. “Dad, it smells funny!” Olive declared. After a 10 minute walk that took about six weeks, with our extremities numbing and our bellies rumbling, we settled into a bistro called Pichet.
We struck pay dirt. Exquisite french fries. Creamy sea-salted pate. And the piece de resistance: French onion soup that was so transcendent when you close your eyes you could actually hear Edith Piaf singing like a little sparrow with a quivering voice and a broken heart. Sated, we went back to our room, tried to answer the 47,841 e-mails in our inboxes, while telling, re-telling, and re-re-telling Olive’s favorite new story: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Then it was off to Third Place Books. We were a little leery because it was deep in the depths of the burbs. But we had a spectacular panel that had tweeted and Facebooked about the event, so a few dozen writers showed up armed and fully-loaded with their pitches. On of these panelists was Kurtis Lowe, the head honcho at Traveler’s Group West, a leading book repping firm. He is Workman’s West Coast rep as well as a writer’s best friend. Not only is he wildly knowledgeable and articulate, he just loves books and authors. He bought us tea, he promoted our book, he even found this a boo-yeah babysitter for Olive. He also brought in the other panelist Johnny Evison, author of All About Lulu and the forthcoming West of Here. Johnny is that rare bird: a great artist who’s also an extraordinary businessman. He understands the complexity of promoting, spinning, and the marketplace, and knows how to succinctly articulate complex ideas. Plus he’s funny as hell.
As usual we heard some first-rate pitches. A woman who was imprisoned in Mexico in the 70s and helped change prisoner exchange laws. A writer who told her heart-touching story of an American who relocates to Frankfurt after World War II for love. A memoir pitch about a woman who goes to Washington DC as a teenage intern in the late 70s, and loses her innocence to the Carter administration. A marathon coach who’s lived through shocking tragedy and now transforms women’s lives. But the winner, Courtney Happ, gave an airtight tour-de-force pitch for her multiple point of view YA novel about navigating love and hormones, called Spinning Voices. It was really a great night, and Third Place was first rate. We left the burbs of Seattle invigorated, refreshed, with hope for the future of books.
the essential guide tour Pitchapalooza #13: coming home to Portland, autumn leaves, and packing ’em in at Powell’s
Portland, Oregon is one of our favorite cities in the world. In the name of full disclosure, David not only went to, but graduated from Reed College in Portland, and parts of his family has lived there on and off for a couple of decades. So it was a homecoming of sorts.
We landed in Portland on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. Frankly, we can’t remember which. Exhaustion was beginning to set in.
But as we deplaned, we witnessed a true miracle. Rain was not falling from the concrete Northwest sky. Our increasingly beloved travel agent put us in a gorgeous hotel right on the river, and the leaves were putting on a fireworks display of wild autumnal explosions.
Immediately we were struck by that unique combination of biking/hiking/outdoorsivity mixed with the attitude of chillaxation which makes Portland Portland. Plus the hotel had free, warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies that made you feel all warm and happy and cozy. David’s sister Liz came down and we all had a lovely dinner, as she regaled us with hysterical stories of insanity from her gradeschool teaching. Then it was off to our gig, with Liz in charge of Olive while we were doing our thang. Olive is at that phase where almost everywhere we go, she looks around in bedazzled wonderment and exclaims joyously, “Wow, this is BEAUTIFUL!” Although it might seem counterintuitive to recommend taking a three-year-old with you on a book tour, I highly recommend it. She has already, at this point, become the go-to person when it came to keeping it real.
Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside may well be our favorite book emporium in the galaxy. David’s been going there since he was in undergraduate in the 1970s, soon after Michael Powell had the outrageous, outlandish, much-ridiculed idea of selling NEW books side-by-side with USED books. Gasp! What started as a cockeyed dream and a small room full of books, has become over the decades a mecca, shrine and heaven for books and those who love them, as well as an intellectual center in a city full of writers, artists, and musicians. This was David’s third event at Powells, and it’s always a transcendent thrill to be presenting his book in the very place he dreamed of being a writer when he was a bent and folded 18-year-old.
We were blessed with a truly top drawer all-star panel. Michael Schaub of Bookslut, Alison Hallett of the Portland Mercury, and Lee Montgomery, book guru of the venerable and influential Tin House (Sadly, Lee arrived after we took this photo).
They were assembled by one of our ATF* booksellers (and an excellent writer in his own right) Kevin Sampsell. To illustrate what a book mensch Kevin is, he proposed to his wife in front of 200 of his closest friends at the book release party for his memoir, right there at Powell’s.
As Olive was whisked away by David’s sisters Liz and Kate (who had joined us at the bookstores), to have her own book adventure, we were overwhelmed with gratification when 100 people showed up to pitch. Standing Room Only.
There was an apocalyptic kid’s book. A rhyming Christmas kid’s picture book. A cancer survivor looking to help sick kids book. An intelligence of Turtles book. A 15-year-old with a YA book about a pop star trying to find true love. But the winner was a young adult graphic novel about low riders in outer space. Full of beautiful poetry and wild action. The panel rocked HARD. The hour went by and about 10 minutes. Olive had a mad blast with her aunties. Portland, as usual, was everything we expected, and more.
*All-Time-Favorite for those of you without texting vocabulary
Arielle, the brains behind the Book Doctors, dispenses wisdom from her years as a literary agent and a successful entrepreneur, on five books that will help turn your dreams into income on LearnVest.
The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza #12: Vromans Versus Dancing with the Stars, Riding a Donasaur, & a Minnie Mouse Who Needs $
One of the great things about going on tour is having a day off. Which for us was Sunday. We planned to sleep in, hang out, sunbathe, luxuriate, get a massage, and generally do a total LA chillax. Sadly, Olive did not have the same idea. Olive is 3. Since basically every day is Olive’s day off, she got up at 5:30am ready to PAR-TAY! Arielle did the 5:30am-8:00am shift. David did the 8:00am-10:30am shift. He took Olive swimming. She got them 43 glasses of lemonade (from the free lemonade cooler by the pool) which she insisted David drink. Then we headed to one of our favorite LA eateries, Campanile. It was shockingly empty for a Sunday brunch , and we thought: maybe they now suck. But there was no suckage, only excellence. Sourdough pancakes with crème fraiche. Pochaed eggs over proscuitto and arugula with scallion oil. Dee-lish! As an added bonus, the gorgeous hostess gave Olive some fish food to feed the fishies in the pool up front. Olive loves feeding fishies. A bleachy blonde with blood red lips sat next to us. Olive told her she liked her sparkly sweater. Blondy was clearly trying for a Gwen Stefani look, but only got as far as 2nd rate Courtney Love
Next door to Campanile is the famed La Brea Bakery. Arielle continued her search for the greatest soft pretzel in America, David got a boo-yeah macaroon that was an otherworldly blend of crunch and goo. And Olive had her first gingerbread lady. Then out to the ocean and Santa Monica pier. Olive was dancing and squeeling with glee as soon as she spotted the ocean. She went on a cool old-school carousel with real wooden horses. Drove a cab. Rode a dinosaur. Steered a rocket ship. Then the coup de grace, Elmo, Mickey and Minnie Mouse. In the flesh. We don’t know how Olive has become so infatuated with Mr. and Mrs. Mouse. We have no Disney characters in our home. In fact, David wrote a screenplay for Disney and it was such a horrifying experience, he basically breaks out in hives whenever he’s around anything Disney. Has it been hammered into the DNA of American children with generations of relentless Mouseketeer marketing?
So Olive went sprinting over to Minnie and tries to give her a big hug. The human inside the very authentic Minnie outfit held a dollar between thumb and forefinger (International sign for: Give me cash). Minnie needs money to hug child. When David refused on principle, Minnie turned her back on Olive and marched away in a giant rodent huff. It was Disney–and Hollywood– and America–in a perfect symbolic nutshell. Beloved childhood icons, fully branded, working as mercenaries extorting money from children. Then there was the Jedi Knight, a homicidal maniac waving his $3 plastic light saber while wandering around muttering to himself, “So, you’d like to get rescued by a Jedi? I bet you would. Oh yeah, lady, the Force will be all over you.”
But there was a magical Argentinian singer/guitarist filling the night with the most exquisite rhythmic music as the sun set soft and pink over the Pacific and Olive enchanted the crowd with some wild improvisational dance. The Argentinian we were happy to pay. Then we were off to Monte Alban, on Santa Monica Blvd. They promised authentic Oaxacan cuisine. And they delivered. Holy mole, it was good! Fresh, flavorful, familiar yet utterly unique. Arielle had life-changing chicken soup with raw tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and avocado chopped in right before serving. David a burrito luxuriating in a mole blanket. Sated, sun-drenched and exhausted, we collapsed back at the hotel, in love with life and each other.
The next day, after more swimming with Olive, as we drove to our Pasadena Pitchapalooza, we had a bad feeling. Sure enough, when we got to Vroman’s, one of the employees told us, “I hope you don’t expect a crowd—it’s Dancing with the Stars night.” You know you’re in trouble when the writers won’t come out because they have to watch Dancing with the Stars. “Why don’t they digitally record it?” we asked. “Oh no,” the employee looked at us like we were crazy, “they have to watch it live so they can vote.”
But the events coordinator, Connie, could not have been lovelier. She participated in the event (and we are always grateful and happy when booksellers give their two cents). We talked a lot about befriending your local bookseller. Finding the expert in your category and gently, respectfully pick their brain about your book idea and similar books you should know about. Connie told us about the interview questionnaire at Vroman’s. How you must demonstrate your passion for and knowledge of books. If you’ve never been to Vroman’s, it is one of the largest and coolest independent bookstores around. Not only do they have a huge selection of books, but really cool merchandise. On this visit, Arielle discovered T-shirts with the covers of out-of-print editions of famous books.
We actually ended up with a nice gaggle of writers. And Tony, a fan of David’s, showed up after dental surgery and bought 3 books! The winner pitched an everything guide to Disneyland. Because LittleMissMatched (the company Arielle is the co-founder of) has a store in Disneyland, we know just how rabid these Disney fans are.
We were sad to bid farewell to Hotel California, but happy to take a little of Hollywood with us in the form of incredible edibles from Joan’s. So happily, Southern California lived on in our hearts, and our bellies.
“Look at those mountains. Look at those trees. Look at that bum over there, down on his knees…I love LA!”—Randy Newman
As soon as we arrived in LA, sleep deprived and still high from the previous night’s triumphant Upper East Side Barnes & Noble Pitchapalooza, we remembered why we both love and loathe LA. The ridiculously Robin’s egg blue sky and the balmy breeze blowing through the postcard palm trees juxtaposed with the stinking smoggy asthtray-breath of LAX were the perfect yin and yang.
Humans are so adaptable. When you don’t fly, the whole airport/plane experience is exhausting, alienating and loathsome. But when you’re flying all the time, it becomes normal. Newark Airport looked deja-vu-ingly familiar when we arrived at 9am, having just been there 12 hours earlier. Six hours in the airplane flew by in a flash. Olive had one minor meltdown, but we were the recipient of the random act of a stranger’s kindness. The guy in front of us lent Olive a tiny stuffed dog and cat that he was bringing home for his daughters. Dog & cat were a total tonic, and soothed our girl as she held one under each arm.
It took about a month and a half to get our rental car, but we met a very cool writer named Amy J. Baker, who had also just arrived with her daughter from New Jersey. She told us her story of getting a book deal with WW Norton without an agent on the basis of a cold e-mailed query. Unheard of! She was in LA to give a lecture at Cal State Northridge. We exchanged our 411 and she emailed us that day. Her book is about a fascinating subject: Parental Alienation.
Our hotel, though neither French nor anywhere near a park, was called Le Parc. It was quite excellent, right on the border of Beverly Hills 90210 and West Hollywood. It had a pool on the roof and Olive was in ecstasy. We swam and dove and frolicked. After we’d been at the hotel a few hours, Arielle asked if there was a bodybuilding event at the hotel. David chuckled and replied, “No, baby, this is LA!” Huge dudes and chicks with silicon breasts and lips out to there!
We had a spectacular meal at Wa, a Japanese Bistro (their words, not ours). Arielle had Spicy yellow tail in a lettuce wrap, sea bass with eggplant, and grilled hot peppers that she had to pass on to David because they were TOO hot! David sucked them down & they burned beautifully. Olive had edamame, sunomono, and grilled shrimp, not to mention many bites of David’s spicy tuna roll. David had a volcanic crab dish that was TDF*. Then we went to Sweet Lady Jane for dessert. Princess cake for Olive. Sour cherry pie for Arielle. And a raspberry tart for David. Dee-Lish! There we met yet another writer: Devorah Cutler-Rubenstein, AKA the Script Broker. Devorah is a screenwriter, former studio exec and script doctor. Script doctor meet the book doctors! She drew Olive a picture of a pony on a surf board with a butterfly that will soon be hanging up in her room @ home.
Saturday it was 80 degrees and gorgeous. We had a boffo brunch at Hugo’s, simultaneously good & good4u. We met a great LA couple there with an adorable baby named Elinor. Mama had magenta hair and a wicked orange tattoo above her right breast. Dad was rocking a nose ring and man-skirt. And baby was dressed like a baby. He too was from, you guessed it, Joizy. Dad told us they were tempted to move back because his parents were involved with a great shul** there. Even book doctors sometimes forget: don’t judge a book by its cover.
After lunch more swimming with Olive. Then it was time for Pitchapalooza Hollywood-Style at Book Soup, one of LA’s great bookstores. After packing 150 people into our NY Pitchapalooza, we were psyched and stoked to Bring It at the Hotel California. Imagine our chagrin and consternation when 2 people showed up. 2!!! But we maintained our Zen detachmant, and heard a great pitch from Katie Schmidt about her years in China: marriages arranged and polygamous, old ladies playing dress-up, being rejected from a clothing store because she was “too fat” (Katie looks like a size 4). It was clearly a great book waiting to happen.
It being Hollywood and all, we did have a few guest stars show up. We had asked our friend Andy Behrman, bestselling author of Electroboy to be on the panel with us. It was disconcerting that panelists outnumbered pitchers. And so it goes. He regaled us with a classic Electroboy story about pitching his book. He was getting rejections from every agent. Couldn’t even get a bite. But he finally got a piece published in the Lives section of the New York Times Magazine. Boom, he was summoned for an audience with one of America’s top agents. He sat down. She said, “Give me your pitch, you have one minute.” He hit her with his best shot. “That was 90 seconds,” she said, “I told you you had a minute.” Despite the rebuke, she took Andy on and sold his book for a really nice chunk of change. And Andy turned that book into a bestseller through pure grit and perseverance (Andy even wore a sandwich board of his book at BEA the year it was released, to his publisher’s large & eternal embarrassment).
Our other guest star was Regina Louise, a client of Arielle’s who wrote a startling memoir, Somebody’s Someone. Regina is one of the world’s greatest story tellers. She regaled us with tales of trying to get her book made into a movie. She told us about speaking at a conference and being approached by a small man who through her eyes looked like a wannabe pimp. Regina is stunningly beautiful, so she is constantly being hit on by men men men. But this slick talker told her he was going to help her get her movie made. That Samuel L. Jackson was making a movie of his story. Regina gave him a “Yeah right!” look and sauntered off after the man gave him her card. Once she got home, she Googled him just to make sure he was the loser she suspected. Turns out he was Coach Carter of basketball fame. And sure enough, Samuel L. Jackson was making a movie of his life. Regina quickly picked up the phone. She called Coach Carter’s publicist leaving a message with who she was. She got a call back and was told that Coach Carter wasn’t interested in speaking with her. Having been through over 30 foster and group homes as a kid, Regina had been up against much worse. So instead of getting frustrated, she got her mojo workin’. She called back the next day with a fake English accent saying she was a journalist from the UK wanting to know the story of how Coach Carter got his movie deal. The Publicist, wanting to get the credit, told her how she had engineered the whole thing. Then through the powers of her charm, talent & pluck, Regina landed on the cover of the LA Times, which eventually led to her very own movie deal.
Yes, we ended up having a blast at our “event”. But still we were humbled. Luckily, as we left, Olive was there to keep us real. She turned to us and proclaimed, totally deadpan:
“I LOVE LA!”
*to die for
** for non-Jews: a synagogue
Pitchapalooza Barnes & Noble Big Apple: The Goddess Next Door, Two Female Presidents, & a 1/2 Swedish 1/2 African Gigolo (With Pitching Tips)
10 years ago, before 9/11, the Kindle, Facebook and Twitter, Arielle, my ex-agent and current wife, and I both had books coming out. One about my childhood hero, Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The other was about her childhood hero, Jane Austen. Our publishers, Random House and Simon & Schuster, seemed disturbingly uninterested in helping us sell our books. So we called up our local bookstores and proposed doing events. They said if we could bring Leroy Satchel Page or Jane Austen down to the bookstore, they’d love to do an event with us, otherwise they were completely uninterested in us or our books.
Then one night we were at a party in San Francisco, and word got out that there was a literary agent in the house. Like moths to the flame writers flew furiously, pitching their books to Arielle. This was the lightbulb moment. Why not create an event that would explain how to take something you’re passion about, develop a book out of it, get it published and deliver it into the hands, heads and hearts of readers all over the world? Thus was born the Putting Your Passion Into Print event. I personally set up a 20 city West Coast tour. We were flabbergasted by how many Citizen Authors flooded out of the woodwork. Grannies, Goths, surfer dudes, soccer moms, PhD.s and homeless ex-vets. They all had two things in common: 1) They wanted to getsuccessfully published. 2) The wanted to pitch their books to an industry professional who could help them makes their dreams come true.
Thus was born Pitchapalooza—an American Idol for books where writers would get one minute to pitch their books to a panel of book professionals. The panel then critiques their idea while an audience of aspiring writers and those who love them soak the whole thing in. The panel evaluates everything from character to plot, presentation to marketing, title to comp books, befriending booksellers to finding an agent.
Pitchapaloozas prove Einstein’s theory of relativity over and over. Sometimes a minute goes by in a second. Sometimes it takes six months. But wherever we went, there were so many great stories out there, so many passionate writers who just don’t know how to navigate the stormy waters of the publishing ocean. And we’re proud to report that many Pitchapalooza participants have gone from being talented amateurs to professional authors with published books.
Which brings us to Thursday night, November 11, at the Barnes & Noble on E. 86nd St., in the throbbing center of the publishing mecca, NY, NY. It was the launch for The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published and our biggest Pitchapalooza yet. We had Larry Kirshbaum, a 40 year veteran of the publishing business, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, now the head of his own literary agency, LJK Literary Management. And Bob Miller, newly minted Group Publisher of Workman Publishing. Since our book is published by Workman, it was a make or break time. We knew that if we put on a great event, it would go a long way to generating enthusiasm from the top down. And if it sucked, and nobody showed up, it could sink our book, which is just a brand new baby. We sent out hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to writing groups, publishing people, friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. We invited all of our Facebook “friends” and Twitter tweeters. Luckily, we are blessed with a rarity in the book business: a publisher who actually supports their books. They hooked us up with Gotham Writer’s Workshop, who sent out an e-mail promoting our event to 70,000 writers. And Workman and Barnes & Noble took an ad out in the Village Voice.
So as we showered, shaved, and dressed in our Sunday best, we were tingling with excitement and sick with nerves. Imagine our surprise and delight when we showed up at 6:15, and there was already a gaggle of nervous writers with dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes, waiting to pitch. By 7:00 Citizen Authors of all hue, with hair blond, green and even blue, packed the room, 130 strong, Standing Room Only. As we took our places at the podium with the other judges, you could smell the fear. It was a stifling hothouse of wide-eyed hungry hope and raw vulnerable terror, electricity crackling and buzzing through the room. It was one of the most charged atmospheres I’ve ever been in, and I worked at Chippendale’s Strip Club in the mid-80s, when it was the hottest show in New York City.
And then it began. An old white guy pitched a book about black wisdom. A lawyer lady pitched a thriller involving a lawyer lady. A life coach who called herself The Goddess Next Door pitched a book for women Entrepreuners. An Italian immigrant septuagenarian pitched a book about how he learned English when he came to America as a youth, the first words he learned were: zank you, asshole and son of a bitch. A Norwegian oncologist pitched a book about how fragile life is. Two different people pitched novels about the first female president. A Puerto Rican man pitched a thriller with a mambo beat. A half Swedish half African immigrant pitched a memoir about being homeless and ending up in the sex business: “Coming to America meets American Gigolo.” A tall stately young woman pitched a book about helping women get athletic scholarships to college. A woman who spent time in jail pitched a prison memoir. A security guard pitched a memoir about becoming his own lawyer and winning a lawsuit against NYU. A woman driven by the desire to help sick children pitched a kid’s book about Pointy the umbrella. A man in a hat pitched a book of poetry about how awesome women are. But the winner, Verne Hoyt, gave a pitch which sent shivers through the judges and the crowd. It was a stunning story, simply and exquisitely told.
The event was America at its best. A simmering melting pot of grit, humor, pathos, wild imagination, mad passion, and stories about triumphing in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sadly, only 23 people got to pitch, so over 100 writers were victims of pitchus interruptus. So the second the event was over, they rushed the stage, clamoring to be heard, ravenous to tell their stories. It was the closest we’ll ever get to being a Beatle: getting swallowed up by a crowd obsessed with grabbing a piece of us. It was terrifying, overwhelming and incredibly cool all the same time.
I honestly believe there were a dozen pitches which, if properly executed, would make powerful, important, and deeply entertaining books. A number of writers were approached by agents and publishers who were in the audience. And it was a true education to see what ignited the crowd and what made it glaze over. For us, it could not have gone better. The head of Barnes & Noble events was there, and he was incredibly gracious. He told us he thought this was a reality show waiting to happen. Which is just what we’ve been saying for years.
Every once in a while you get a vision, an inspiration, an idea that seems so powerful and valuable and right that it won’t leave you alone. Inevitably everyone tells you why it won’t work. But sometimes, the vision is so powerful that you push on through, determined to prove the playa haters wrong. You work, you buff, polished, and refine. Then somehow, suddenly, it all comes together, and your vision becomes a beautiful reality. Exactly like you saw it in your head. Wouldn’t it be great if life was always like that?
6 tips from the Book Doctors on how to perfect your pitch:
1) A pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
2) It’s always better to present specific images than make general, generic statements.
3) Don’t tell us it’s funny, make us laugh. Don’t tell us it’s scary, scare us. Don’t tell us it’s lyrical, wow us with your poetry. It’s like those people who wear T-shirts that say SEXY. Please, let us be the judge of that.
4) Don’t oversell. Claiming to have written the next Eat Pray Love or Harry Potter only makes a writer look like a deluded amateur.
5) Never say that your book is like no book ever written. That book will never be published. Publishers want books that are familiar but unique.
6) Develop an elevator pitch . An elevator pitch is a Hollywoodese short hand way of describing your book, where X meets Y. For example, Jaws in Outer Space=Alien. Ann Rice meets Gossip Girl=The Twilight Series. The elevator pitch for our book is the What To Expect When Your Expecting of publishing. Yes, we borrow from a title in an entirely different section of the bookstore, but you know exactly what you’re going to get from this elevator pitch.
Book Doctors thank Huff Po!