The Essential Guide Rocks America Pitchapalooza #4: Pat Conroy & Scarlet O’Hara On the Road to Pittsburgh
7:30AM came ridiculously early this Saturday morning. Knowing we had to make it from DC to Pittsburgh in our rental car by 1:30 PM, there was no time to lose. As Olive (our three-year-old daughter who is on tour with us) watched Dora the Explorer, we threw clothes into suitcases, computer cords into bags, and food into bellies. The edge of manic franticness finally dissipated as we drove onto the highway and were serenaded by the spectacular explosion of autumnal colors and the soothing sounds of Scott Simon’s voice.
While we basked in the ochres, oranges and burgundies, we listened to a fantastic interview with Pat Conroy, talking about his new memoir, My Reading Life. We were particularly excited when we heard him speak of how his mother read poetry to him when he was a wee lad because one of the projects we’re working on is a collection of poetry for kids to say out loud. His interview confirmed for us the power of the spoken word.
Conroy also told a beautiful story about his mother reading Gone with the Wind to him and how she would relate the characters in the story to the people in their own family’s lives. Naturally, his mother cast herself as Scarlett O’Hara. We loved hearing him talk about how, at an early age, the relationship between art and life was formed through the beautiful soothing voice of his mother reading bedtime stories to the young future bestselling author. It made us reflect on how valuable it is for young Olive to hear the stories we read to her and made us feel connected to that great tradition of passing stories from generation to generation that has been with human beings since we lived in caves.
One of the joys of going on tour is getting to hang out with old friends and to make new ones. Arielle first met Jessica Goldstein when she was fourteen. And they’ve been friends ever since. But because Jessica lives in Washington DC, they don’t get to see each other nearly as much as they’d like.
When we were booked into the DC area for the first stop on our tour, Jessica asked if we would like her to throw a book party for us. As you can probably guess by this gesture, Jessica is one of the more generous people on this earth. Naturally, we were excited to meet her friends and to have a night just to hang out and talk to all kinds of interesting people.
Jessica, and her husband Peter, are both producers at NPR. So they are surrounded by a plethora of interesting folks and many of their friends are voices that we hear over the airwaves every day. Arielle also happens to be an NPR fanatic—while David feels soothed with the sound of sports in the background, Arielle is most at ease with the hum of NPR.
For those of you who don’t follow the book business closely, NPR is kind of like the Vatican, the Yankee Stadium, the Disneyland to published authors. Get on NPR and watch your Amazon numbers skyrocket! So when Jessica told us she was going to fill her house with NPR friends and colleagues, we were literally jumping for joy. We’d get to meet some of our favorite radio journalists and we’d get to tell these folks about our new book ourselves. The alternative was to have our publisher send the book in and have it sit next to the one billion other books winging their way to the NPR offices as we write.
Jessica asked us if we would prepare a little something to say during the party. We knew this was a great idea, but we suddenly found ourselves star struck. What would we say? How could we avoid sounding stupid? Taking a page out of the boy scout’s book, we decided we must be prepared. We huddled in a corner while Jessica zoomed around prepping for the party.
The guests arrived. We greeted, conversed, had a really fun time…and then it was our turn to do our thing. David has performed in front of thousands of people in his life and Arielle has done her fair share of performing. And we both agree, it can be much more nerve-wracking to perform in front of a small crowd in a living room. But we managed to tell a semi-coherent story about how our book, our love, and our child, came to be. And how Jessica, our lovely host, was in part responsible for the book’s birth. You see, seven years ago, when we first came up with our Putting Your Passion into Print Workshop, Jessica got us booked onto NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Our publisher got wind of this appearance and asked us to write a proposal on the subject. That proposal turned into our new book.
So this blog post is really to say a big thank you to our old and wonderful friend for her past, present and future generosity and kindness. We love you, Jess!
Come join us for PITCHAPALOOZA in the Big Apple, November 11th at 7PM. We’ll be at the Barnes & Noble situated at 150 E. 86th Street, New York, NY.
We drove 300 miles in the rain from our home in Montclair, New Jersey to a bookstore in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside DC. We had our freshly pressed clothes hanging in the car, and a box full of books in the trunk. Our first event. I had a bad feeling. In fact I bet Arielle a dollar that there would be less than 20 people in the audience. Still, tingling with excitement, we entered this emporium of books. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the manager didn’t even know an event was scheduled that night. And they only had 3 copies of our books in the store. Their website had two different times for our event. As far as I can tell, they did absolutely no promotion of this event, didn’t try to reach out to the tens of thousands of writers in the area who are our audience. I had to give myself a timeout before I exploded. But even though it was my worst nightmare realized, I was the model of restraint. I smiled and made nice with everyone as I recalled the first stop on our first tour where there were only 2–yes 2–people at the event. One was a mom with three kids running around the store that she had to chase throughout our workshop. The other was an angry drunk man writing a memoir about his horrible father. Sorry, I digress. Turns out this was a huge lesson for me. Trust your own instincts. I KNEW this was the wrong thing to do, but I caved in and did not follow my own instincts. I shall endeavor never to make this mistake again. Sure enough, five people showed up, and two of those were friends of ours. It was an embarrassment. We, the publishing experts draw five people. I was livid. Filled with a furious rage. I must say though that the manager of the bookstore was very gracious and apologized publicly, which made me feel a little better. And our next event is in Pittsburgh, @ Joseph Beth. I just read this morning that the store where we’re performing has been selected for extermination @ the end of the month. They are a walking dead bookstore.
That being said, it was a really fun event. We heard three fantastic pitches. I should explain that our event is called Pitchapalooza. It’s like American Idol for books. Each writer in the audience gets one minute to pitch their book to a panel of experts. Arielle and I are two of the experts, and we have a couple of panelists. One of our guest panelists was a very charming, witty and knowledgeable fellow named Alan Fallow, who is the Features Editor at AARP Magazine. And a long-time publishing veteran. He just could not have been any smarter or nicer. And the other guest publicist was our publicist, Bethanne Patrick, who has read more books than anyone we know. She was able to come up with perfect comparison titles for our three pitchees. The winner, Lisa Lipkind Leibow, gave a great pitch about Iranian women and culture. And everyone who was in attendance, all five of them at any rate, got in-depth expertise about the books they were pitching, and about the publishing business in general. It was actually great fun to do. But we traveled 300 miles to sell three books. That’s 100 miles a book. Something seems very wrong with that. Still, I try to take joy even from these adverse conditions. But it’s a terrible thing to bet against yourself, then win. Valuable lessons were learned. Always trust your instincts. And always bring a box of books.
On the road. Again. Yes, we’ve just taken off to begin our book tour. After all the flight arrangements, rental car machinations, hotel bookings, Facebook event announcements, dry cleaning, haircuts, prepping, packing, and panicking, we are finally embarking on our odyssey, like Odysseus before us. Only instead of Trojan horses, soul sucking sirens and a gigantic cyclops, we will be going up against book critics, baby booming bloggers, and publishing industry at large which is like a leaky rowboat barely staying afloat in the Sea of Recession. But we are brimming with excitement, visions of a rabid readers and writers, the delighted bright eyed booksellers and packed Pitchapaloozas with books flying off shelves dancing in our heads. Plus, we have a lovely and talented three-year-old daughter Olive with us. See you soon, America!
Come pitch your book ideas to us at Books and Company in Dayton on November 9th at 7PM
The Book Doctors are going to be in town to listen to your book proposals.
Thanks to our amazing publisher Workman for throwing us some big love.
We feel that one of our book’s greatest contributions to the morass of writer’s guides is our chapter on social media, aka chapter 2. We interviewed everyone one from Sree Sreenivasan (professor of journalism at Columbia University) to Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman (with whom there is an interview over Twitter) and many other social media geeks. The result is a hefty chapter on how to make social media work for you as a writer and author. Check it by clicking here.