The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza #18: Nirvana in Naperville–300 Writers Flock to Anderson’s for Pitchapalooza
Naperville? On a Thursday night? Seriously? That’s what we thought when our publisher told us our Chicago Pitchapalooza would be in a suburb 45 minutes and a world away from the Windy City. That’s kind of like doing your New York City event in Hohokus, New Jersey. We rolled our eyes. We shook our heads. We tutted.
OMG, were we wrong. When we showed up at 6:25 for our 7pm event, there were already 50 writers waiting, pregnant with their book ideas, expectant, hungry, make-my-dreams-come-true looks in their eyes. Turns out Anderson’s is a bookstore with a capital “B”. It is a destination. A hub of intelligent, fun, interesting events that people look out for. And a staff that is as knowledgeable and professional as you’ll find.
On arrival, we were whisked downstairs into what the employees affectionately call, “The Dungeon”. One of the fun things about doing events in bookstores is that you get to go where all the books are before they get put out onto the shelves. It’s like some strange beautiful alternative universe you imagine exists when you’re a kid who loves books and reads way too many of them.
Downstairs, we met with an 11-year-old writer who the Make-a-Wish Foundation people hooked us up with (we will be sharing more about her soon). She told us she wants to be published by a REAL publisher, no self-publishing for her, which made us laugh because many of the adult writers we meet don’t know the difference between the two. Her pitch was incredibly moving, and so accomplished for her age.
When we hustled back upstairs it was about five minutes ‘til eight.
Our flabbergasted eyes and jaws popped and dropped wide open. Every single chair was filled by a writer, or someone with deep affection for them. There were writers and their entourages 10 rows deep behind the chairs. Writers huddled and cramped in the aisles behind the rows of books on either side of the chairs. Writers hanging from the rafters. Over 300 writers and writer-lovers waiting, breath bated, for us to start listening to their pitches. On a Thursday night. In Naperville.
We were lucky enough to have assembled an absolutely fabulous panel to gently yet firmly critique all those book ideas: Dominique Raccah, founder, president and publisher of Sourcebooks; Joe Durepos, author, Executive Editor at Loyola Press and former book rep and literary agent; and Wendy McClure, senior editor at Albert Whitman & Company and author of the forthcoming The Wilder Life. It’s always shocking to us how generous book people are with their time and expertise. These are all top-notch pros, coming out to give writers their immense, invaluable wisdom. For FREE!
Suddenly it started, and the pitches were flying thick and fast. Paranormal apocalyptic novels, picture books with purple yawns, hard-boiled thrillers set in the high-stakes world of international finance, and about a dozen pitches with awkward outcast geek teens overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to save the world. In fact, about 75% of the pitches that night (and we heard 25 of them) were for children’s books.
Why, we found ourselves wondering, do so many adults want to write books for boys and girls? Arrested development? A nostalgic desire to return to that hormone-drenched time when your biggest worry were zits and heart-stopping crushes? A Back-to-the-Future yearning to correct the injustices of cruel adolescence? A boom in the YA business? Parents with kids reading children’s books and thinking: I can do that? We’re not sure, but the fact is, grown-ups are reading and writing kids books at an alarming rate.
A fascinating phenomenon: about half the people who were picked to pitch chose not to. Afterwards, a bunch of writers told us that when they saw a few pitches, they realized how ill-prepared and lame their stuff was. But everyone told us how much they learned just watching other writers pitch, and listening to what our cavalcade of publishing pundits had to say about them.
A few highlights:
• A young woman overcoming OCD who pitched a beautiful book about a kid who’s compelled to wash and re-wash his hands ad infinitum.
• “Hello My Name Is…”, a series of books written from the perspectives of kids from different eras, races and ethnicities to promote diversity. The author acted out one story in the character of 10-year-old daughter of a slave which was funny and sassy, even as it broke your heart.
• A dad who had lost two children writing on behalf of all fathers who had lived through the death of a child.
• The true story of a woman whose mom lived most of her life without knowing that her “sister” was actually her mother.
• Our winner, a schoolteacher who gave a bravura performance of her YA novel pitch full of tongue-twistingly hysterical characters and situations.
Here are a few nuggets from our most excellent panel.
• Joe Durepos told writers to think of publishing like a parking lot. You can’t park where there’s already a car. And you have to find a vacant spot in the place that’s nearest to the destination you want to be. In other words, you can’t sell a book that’s too much like something else. You have to find a hole in the market were your book fits nicely. But you also have to stay within the area.
• Dominique Raccah said that writers need to show her the particulars about what’s new, fresh, different and unique about their books.
• Wendy McClure, after listening to a writer’s story about a teen who has to become the sole caregiver to her younger sister, then save the world, told the writer that the pitch should be more about taking care of the kid sister. “I get stories every day about teenagers saving the world. Saving the world’s easy. Being the sole caretaker to your kid sister, that’s hard.”
It took us almost an hour to sign just some of the 171 books we sold that night. Becky Anderson, the boo-yeah owner of Anderson’s who made all this possible, said she’d never seen that kind of attendance for a reference book, which made us feel proud and that all the energy expended was well worth it.
We thanked our thoroughly awesome panel of judges, then, elated and exhausted, we staggered out into the frigid Midwestern night, reveling in our Naperville nirvana.
Hopeful authors ‘pitch’ stories to editors Anderson’s Bookshop 123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL. Nearly 300 people attended a unique book signing at Anderson’s Book Shop in Naperville, where 25 prospective authors were able to receive feedback on their book ideas.
By Kim Lovejoy-Voss
Naperville offered a unique opportunity Thursday night. “Pitchapalooza” was held at Anderson’s Bookshop and featured Arielle Eckstut and her husband, David Henry Sterry, authors of a newly-released book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.
While authors of recently published books are nothing new at Anderson’s, this signing was a little different. Anyone who purchased the book was given a number and a chance to pitch their book idea to the authors and a guest panel. Twenty-five hopeful authors heard their number called and then attempted to sell their story to the panel and nearly 300 guests who had packed into the shop on Jefferson Avenue.
“All three (of the editors on the guest panel) have fine, upstanding credentials and are good friends with Anderson’s,” said Gail Wetta, events and publicity person at the shop. “They are all local, and they came forward to help us out and create this wonderful program.”
Guests on the panel included Dominique Raccah, founder, president and publisher of Sourcebooks Inc., based in Naperville; Joe Durepos, senior acquisition editor at Loyola Press in Chicago; and Wendy McClure, senior editor at Albert Whitman and Co. in Park Ridge.
One-by-one the brave and optimistic souls came forward to try to sell their story ideas to the five judges. Children’s stories, gothic tales, science fiction, fairy tales and true life experiences were explained in a variety of ways.
I was one of those hopefuls standing in the audience. When my number was called I experienced a mixture of hope and complete and utter fear. My book idea has been tossed around in my head for nearly a decade and, just recently, has been growing in my computer. It has been fun to write the story, loosely based on me getting pregnant in my 40s and dealing with the burdens and trials of a pregnancy late in life while raising three rambunctious teenagers. But what would others think of the idea?
Well, I didn’t bomb. I carefully read my pitch, heard a little laughter at certain parts and then waited for the criticism to start. To my surprise, they actually liked what I had to say and how I presented my story, asked if it was based on my experiences and then said, although the presentation went well, my ending fell a little flat. Having worked with editors who have critiqued and changed my newspaper stories for over 30 years that was criticism I could live with.
After the 25 authors presented their ideas, Sterry explained that everyone who had purchased a book at Anderson’s Book Shop would receive the opportunity to speak with Eckstut or himself for 30 minutes during a phone interview to receive feedback on their book ideas, find out the next step to having a book published and to gain information regarding book publishing.
“This evening was done because of the release of the book,” Wetta explained. These authors “have quite the pedigree, and it is only logical to add (the pitching of stories) to their event. They are very committed to their craft.”
She added that Friday the shop had received numerous emails regarding the event, most expressing gratitude for the opportunity to sell their story, while others praised the panel.
“This was one of our larger (book signings),” Wetta said. “But it shows you the amount of talent that can be found right here in the Chicago area. You don’t need to go to New York or L.A. to find talent. We have plenty of it right here.”
there’s a nice mention of our events coming up on Thursday, January 6 at Anderson’s bookstore in Naperville. Thanks again to the Huffington Post!