As I fell asleep the night before Pitchapalooza, I told myself not to be nervous. I decided that one of three things would happen: 1) I would go and I wouldn’t get to pitch. 2) I would go and I would pitch and I would lose. 3) I would go and I would pitch and I would win. I then told myself that there was no way number 3 would happen, so it was really just down to 1 and 2. I decided that there was a large possibility that number 2 wouldn’t happen, either, because only 20 or 25 people would get to pitch. So I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably end up sitting there listening to 20 other people pitch, chin resting on my hands, applauding after every one, and then leaving as the same person I was when I walked in.
I had written my pitch earlier that day. It had taken about five minutes. I used my iPod to time myself saying it once or twice, to make sure it was under a minute. It was. So I printed it out and went back to what I’d been doing before – writing fanfiction.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested or excited to pitch – it was that I didn’t want to let myself anticipate anything but losing. I realized that a fifteen-year-old writing what was really like an anthology of short stories was an unlikely win. I figured I would get up to the podium, do my pitch, and if I got through it without majorly screwing anything up – which was definitely a concern of mine – the judges would just say things like, “Well, it’s a good idea, but…” or “There really isn’t a market for an anthology of short stories right now.”
I didn’t want to expect to win because I really didn’t think I would. It was like when I went to Disney World when I was 10 and was anticipating the single best week of my life, and it just really didn’t live up to my very high expectations. How could it?
I was trying to protect myself.
In the car on the way to the book store, my parents asked me to read my pitch. I get nauseous if I read or write things in the car, so I agreed to read it once and then stop. I did, and of course my parents had all sorts of suggestions. My mom handed me a pen and told me what she thought I should change. So, stomach growing ever more uncertain, I changed a few of the things she suggested but disregarded some of her suggestions. I added some things that I thought would work better, and re-worded some sentences.
One of my biggest pet peeves with my mom editing my work is when she tries to tell me exactly what to do. She makes suggestions and then tells me exactly how I should re-write it. I hate that. I don’t feel proud of myself if she does this, because it technically wasn’t me who wrote it – it was her. And I’m terrified that someone will say, “Oh, the best part was this!” and that this was something my mom wrote.
I realize this’ll be an issue where editors are concerned, but I’m just trying to live in a fantasy about that for right now, so let me be.
The pitch that I presented was almost completely written in the car. I kept the main structure of what I’d written the day before, but I changed most of it. I didn’t even read through the final thing because I was afraid I might barf if I didn’t look out the window.
I’ve been in plays before, I’ve gotten up on stage and read things in front of tons of people, I’ve given presentations in class, et cetera. Each and every time I’ve done this, I’ve freaked out. I don’t like presenting things. I’m always terrified that I’m going to throw up or faint in front of everyone and embarrass myself thoroughly.
Yet I make myself do it. In some situations I don’t have an option – like the time in eighth grade where I had to present a power point on House Slaves in the 19th century in front of 100 people. That was truly terrifying and I would’ve paid money not to have to do it. In other situations, though, it’s a choice that I make – I like doing plays because I meet a lot of great people in them.
And Pitchapalooza I chose to do because if I want to be a writer, I have to get used to talking about my books in front of lots of people.
Today I watched the livestream of the red carpet at the London premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. J.K. Rowling stood on stage in front of thousands of people in Trafalgar Square and millions around the world, and she talked about the whole Harry Potter experience and all that.
So I figure I have to have practice for when I’m standing in front of millions of people worldwide at the premiere for the eight movie made about my books.
Also I have to put myself out there if I ever want to get to Trafalgar Square. Baby steps.
When my name was called to get on deck for presenting my pitch, I was surprised but forced myself to just stand up and walk over to the book case next to the podium and wait for the woman before me to finish her pitch. I had my paper in my hands, with things written across other things, sentences crossed out, arrows directing me where to read. It was all wrinkled and I was afraid it looked unprofessional.
I looked at a book on the book case which had a lovely picture of a really nice, sleek modern house in the middle of the woods that reminded me of Edward Cullen’s house in the Twilight movies. If I was still a Twihard, that would’ve gotten me so psyched up and ready to go that it’s almost embarrassing to admit.
I stepped up to the podium when it was my turn and everyone was looking at me. I set my paper down because I absolutely hate when people are standing up in front of people and they seem perfectly calm in their face and voice, but you can see the paper in their hands shaking and you can tell they’re nervous.
I avoid that at all costs.
I read my pitch, inwardly freaking out and hoping that no one could tell. Everyone was looking at me and I was afraid that they were judging me or were mad at me; like, ‘How come this fifteen year old girl can get up and pitch her stupid book when I’ve worked for 30 years on my book? She probably wrote it only 6 months ago.’ Which would be true. And yeah – how dare I? Shouldn’t I just give up my place and let someone older and more mature and wiser and better than me present their pitch?
I should probably just go home to my fanfiction.
I was truly shocked that the judges had such good feedback for me – they actually liked my idea and thought it would have a good market! I could barely even understand what they were saying, because by the time they got to one sentence I was still processing the sentence before, thinking, ‘What?!?!’
It’s a good thing my dad was videotaping it so I could go home and watch it over and over again so I could actually hear and try to comprehend what the judges had to say.
As I walked back to my seat, people were smiling at me. I couldn’t figure out if they were smiles like, ‘Oh she’s such a cute kid!’ or if they were more like ‘Wow, that was a very nice pitch!’ Or maybe they were like, ‘I’m going to smile at her so she won’t realize that I’m cursing her out on the inside for taking my well-deserved spot.’
I got back to my seat and my parents were smiling at me. I was smiling, too, so unbelievably relieved that I hadn’t gotten the reaction I’d expected. The rest of the event passed in a blur; I tried to figure out if I actually had a chance or not and I’ll admit, I thought I did. I didn’t want to think this, because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but sometimes I can’t help it.
When the winners were announced, I was freaking out again. I do a lot of that – but I’m a fifteen year old girl – it’s in the job description. (Incidentally, there is a lot of freaking out done in my book by fifteen year old girls.)
There was a tie. Apparently, the two winners had such drastically different ideas that they couldn’t pick.
I really, sincerely hoped that the first name they announced, if it wasn’t mine, was drastically different from my book.
It was. It was about financial scams and stuff I don’t fully understand.
They announced my name
I stood up and grinned and everyone cheered and I tried to figure out if I should sit down again. I looked at the other guy who had won and he was sitting down, so I sat down too.
And then I realized that I had won.
Number 3 out of the 3 possibilities was the least likely! It was the one that I’d told myself wouldn’t happen.
And it did.
The next 15 minutes were all smiles and ‘thank you’s and handshakes and more ‘thank you’s. I just hoped they weren’t all secretly plotting my murder for winning when they didn’t.
To be honest, I felt kind of bad. Lots of these people had spent their whole lives working on these books, and I’ve spent my whole life writing mediocre stories on pieces of paper that I stapled together and presented proudly to my parents, declaring that they were books. When I learned to type, I wrote hundreds of beginnings of stories on the old mammoth computer in the study. It took me a few years to ever write something that I actually finished. When I learned about fanfiction, I got an account on fanfiction.net and wrote a lot of it.
Fanfiction was actually how I grew as a writer. My first fanfiction is complete and utter crap and I wish no one had ever read it. But as time goes on, I can look through my computer and my profile on fanfiction.net and see the evolution of my writing. I can see that the view counts go up on my stories, and the review number on my most recent fanfiction, which is 50,337 words is 201.
So clearly I’ve come far from those stapled ‘books.’
But I never imagined that by the age of 15 complete strangers would be looking me in the eye and telling me that they ‘knew I would win.’
That just completely threw me for a loop.
So at this point, anything could happen.
I just really hope that Trafalgar Square thing is part of ‘anything.’
Ready, set, pitch! Got a book idea? Head to
this speed-publishing event
Book ideas are like belly buttons — everyone has one. But not everyone knows how to make a solid book pitch.
Enter Pitchapalooza, the “American Idol” of books that is coming to Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene on March 30. Then, author hopefuls can pitch to a panel of publishing experts, where they’ll get feedback.
“In the real world of publishing, for an unknown writer, you’re lucky to get a minute in front of a great agent or publisher,” said David Henry Sterry, who wrote “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published” with his wife, Arielle Eckstut, and has brought Pitchapalooza to over 20 cities since starting it last fall.
No matter the city, the game is the same: “contestants” are randomly picked out of a hat and then have one minute to do their pitch, which then gets critiqued by the panel including Sterry and Eckstut — is there too much plot? Too little? Not enough characterization? Marketplace potential? The person with the most promising pitch gets introduced to an agent.
Kurt Christenson will be among the Pitchapalooza hopefuls trying for his shot at literary gold. The Clinton Hill-based writer hopes to pitch his book, “Tower of Brahma, a “part pulpy adventure, part Beat Poet novel” about his journey from late 20s suburban office worker to 30-something writer in New York City.
“My work is often too ethereal and poetic to be considered by most publishers, so I’m looking for one that might be more along my lines,” said Christenson.
Greenlight owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo had people like Christenson in mind when she decided to bring in Pitchapalooza.
“Part of our mission as a bookstore is to be a community resource, and a place where people can come together over books; offering a fun way for authors to get connected to potential publishers and readers seemed like a perfect fit for us,” she said. “And it’s always exciting to host a contest!”
Pitchapalooza at Greenlight Bookstore [86 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (718) 246-0200 end_of_the_skype_highlighting], March 30 at 7:30 pm. For info, visit www.greenlightbookstore.com.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
The book still lives.
And so does its ever-faithful lover, the independent bookstore.
Despite the economic downturn, book superstores, the ordering ease of Amazon.com and the surging popularity of e-books, independent bookstores in New Jersey have managed to stay alive.
Some have found niches — old and rare books, in particular — no chain bookstore can compete with.
Others concentrate on providing personal, first-name service as friendly neighborhood bookstores.
And when nothing else works, they bring in the occasional sword swallower or fire-eater.
“I like to indulge my impresario proclivities,’’ says a smiling Alex Dawson, co-owner of the Raconteur in Metuchen, which has hosted circus sideshow performers, arm-wrestling and beard-growing tournaments, jazz groups from Paris, radio serials and more — all free of charge.
The Cranbury Bookworm, on Main Street in that Middlesex County town, could fit an entire circus in its 10 book-jammed rooms, but right now manager Andrew Feldman is concerned with bringing the once-doddering aunt of a bookstore into the modern age. He’s adding new shelves and is turning a side room into an event space for readings and presentations.
Margot Sage-El, meanwhile, is worried about e-books.
“They’re the big threat,’’ said Sage-El, owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair. ”We have third graders asking parents for Kindle.’’ Sage-El smiles. “And nobody turns down their kids for books.’’
In 2000, there were about 3,000 independent bookstores nationwide. Now there are about 1,700, with about 25 true independent bookstores (as opposed to gift stores that may sell books) left in New Jersey.
It’s not an encouraging number, but Sage-El, for one, believes the worst is behind.
In January and February 2010, sales at Watchung Booksellers dropped so dramatically, it was “horrifying,’’ according to Sage-El.
“I thought, oh my God, is this it? Is this how we’re going to end?’’ she said.
But sales picked up that March and April, and the bookstore is now holding steady.
Oldie but goodie
If Bob Ruffolo hasn’t quite felt the pain of other independent bookstores, he still realizes that he can’t afford to be stubborn when it comes to prices.
Ruffolo is the owner of Princeton Antiques in Atlantic City. It’s an antique store in name only; his father, an antiques dealer, owned a shop in Princeton before moving to Atlantic City. He bought a three-story building on Atlantic Avenue in 1966, and lived upstairs with his librarian wife. “He was married four, five times,’’ his son said, smiling. ”I think my mother was No. 2.”
Books supplanted antiques long ago; Princeton Antiques is now home to 250,000 used and rare books. Most ordering happens online; browsing in-store is by appointment only. Of the 250,000 books, about 100,000 titles are computerized; the remaining titles are listed on index cards.
The store’s specialties include art, science, architecture, ships, and Arctic and Antarctic exploration. Ruffolo owns about 100 early editions of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.’’ Ruffolo has a two-volume first American edition of an Austen set priced at $9,000. An early illustrated edition of ”Price and Prejudice’’ costs $750, but the price is negotiable.
“Depends what bills are due,’’ Ruffolo said.
He recently sold a first edition of “A Christmas Carol’’ for $4,500 to an artist. His most valuable item is a collection of 150 books owned by a former president of Venezuela. Yours for $100,000.
But major sales are few and far between; the typical book is about $35.
“The last two years have been lean years,’’ said Ruffolo, who rents rooms upstairs to help defray expenses.
Once a month, he hits the road to check out private collections; most recently he was in Baltimore.
“The pleasure of this business is selling a book to someone, whether they paid $30 or $300 for a book, and getting a thank-you,’’ the bookstore owner said. “They are passionate about paying something for a book they’ve been trying to get for a long time.’’
Place to gather
At first glance, the Raconteur resembles a museum of oddities more than a bookstore.
The decor includes a stuffed pheasant, steamer trunk, Ouija board, a Christmas light made of shotgun shells, giant mounted bugs, a G.I. Joe lunch box, Underwood typewriter, a scarred but in-tune piano salvaged from a shut-down saloon, a knight’s helmet and three beer taps from the Plum Street Pub in New Brunswick, where Dawson once worked.
Oh yes, and 25,000 books, neatly arranged, although some are intentionally stacked on the floor because people “like sorting through the piles — that’s where they think the treasure is,’’ according to Dawson.
The former bartender, bouncer and Central Park carriage driver wrote and designed 15 plays for the New York stage, but could never get used to the “fleeting, ephemeral’’ nature of theater.
So he opened the Raconteur six years ago, envisioning it not just as bookstore, but a “free cultural center’’ and community gathering place.
Dawson holds about 80 events a year in the bookstore — author appearances, readings, musical performances (everyone from chamber music to hard-core punk), and film screenings. And let’s not forget the annual arm-wrestling competition, called the Santiago Armsport Tourney in honor of the arm-wrestling fisherman in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.’’
There’s a record store of sorts downstairs, 4,000 DVDs for rent (“Mad Dog Morgan,’’ anyone?) and a children’s corner in the back.
Dawson is the author of an adventure book for young readers titled “The Rapscallion Club,’’ which manages to include french fry contests, bullet ants, umbrella combat, dead pirates, lost treasure and a Titanic survivor. The first ”draft’’ sold about 500 copies; a fuller version, the first in a projected series of 10 books, is due out in a month or two.
In the 1980s and 1990s, bookstores “didn’t have to be good to make money,’’ according to Dawson.
Those days are long gone.
“Recessions don’t affect independent bookstores because you’re always struggling,’’ he said wryly.
Last weekend, John Wesley Harding, the esteemed neo-folkie singer/songwriter, appeared at the Raconteur under his real name — Wesley Stace, author of “Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer.’’
The Raconteur is not your typical neighborhood bookstore, but there is still a bottom line to maintain.
“I don’t want to be a bright grocery store of books,’’ Dawson said. ”It’s all about creating a singular experience. You don’t get a singular experience online.’’
“We’re kind of purists,’’ Sage-El says when told of the dizzying variety of events at Dawson’s bookstore.
But that doesn’t mean just put out books and hope they sell.
Watchung Booksellers opened in 1991 above the old Bradner’s Pharmacy. In 2001, it moved to its present location, just down the street. Sage-El, who previously worked in educational publishing, calls Montclair “a town that really values the word.’’ Sixty authors, by her estimate, live in town.
There are bi-monthly “Writing Matters’’ panels where local authors talk about writing and publishing, and an annual event where children write for an in-house magazine, then read from their work at the store.
Sage-El also donates $8,000 to $10,000 in books a year to schools, churches and civic groups.
But hard-core punk bands in her bookstore? That’s where she draws the line.
Many customers who order from her online pick up their books in person. They want the personal touch, the connection.
Sage-El says publishers are paying more attention to independent bookstores. She is encouraged by the “renaissance’’ of indie bookstores in Brooklyn, with five stores opening there in the past three years.
The future of her bookstore?
“I am concerned,’’ she replied. ”So far we’ve been able to ride out any other obstacle. I’m proud I’ve never had to lay anyone off or cut anyone’s hours.’’
The old-fashioned way
After all these years, the Worm still turns.
For many years, the Cranbury Bookworm was a cheery chaos of a place, with books scattered on the floor, jutting from shelves, housed in a warren of 10 rooms that Alice in Wonderland would have appreciated. One upstairs room is smaller than a bedroom closet; even the bathroom has been turned into book space. When it opened in 1974, the Cranbury Bookworm occupied just one room in the Victorian home; the other rooms were occupied by municipal offices, a dress shop and a Venetian blind shop.
The original owner, Ralph Schremp, died in 2002. Today, Feldman and his father run the bookstore; Schremp’s widow, Ann, owns it, and the building.
There are about 100,000 books in all, and some are on the floor — but in post office crates. Books on the back porch are six for a dollar. The books inside are in alphabetical order by section, but nothing is computerized. Prices are marked in pencil inside each book; most hardcovers range from $5 to $8, all paperbacks are 50 cents.
Feldman, who started working here when he was 15, goes on estate calls: Orange, Lakewood, Robbinsville in recent weeks. And he and his dad are regulars at flea markets and garage sales.
The 30-year-old has gotten used to first-time customers walking in, spotting him and asking, “Can I talk to the manager?’’
“ ’08 and ‘09 were trying years,’’ Feldman said. ”There were weeks we made $500. You can’t make payroll that way. It was scary. But we made it. We survived.’’
Really fun Pitchapalooza on KCUR-FM/KCUR-HD1 | Kansas City Public Radio
“I’m reading a new book I downloaded on my Kindle and I noticed an underlined passage. It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don’t know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books…. And then I discovered that the horror doesn’t stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who’s defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station.
“So now you can add to the ease of downloading an e-book the end of the illusion that it is your book. The end of the privileged relation between yourself and your book. And a certainty that you’ve been had. Not only is the e-book not yours to be with alone, it is shared at Amazon which shares with you what it knows about you reading and the readings of others. And lets you know that you are what you underline, which is only a number in a mass of popular views…. Conformism does come of age in the most private of peaceful activities–reading a book, one of the last solitary pleasures in a world full of prompts to behave. My Kindle, sugar-coated cyanide.”
–Andrei Codrescu on NPR’s All Things Considered
Shaun Yu & David Henry Sterry talk about books on NPR
Citizen Author: Determined, Motivated, Fed-Up Authors: Unite
Literary success is being democratized as it never has been before.
By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
Dec 20, 2010
Yes, Virginia, we’ve entered a new digital age in publishing. But there’s another major change afoot.
America was founded by a scrappy bunch of determined, motivated, fed-up citizen soldiers who revolted against an unjust system that benefited the few at the expense of the many. Like them, a new 21st-century group of brave outsiders has decided to revolt against the often unfair elitism of modern publishing. We call them Citizen Authors.
Sure, some of these brave new Citizen Authors are Harvard graduates with megaspeaking careers and fancy titles. But most Citizen Authors aren’t college professors, graduates of M.F.A. programs, or even relatives of someone in the publishing industry. Instead, they are veterinarians, entrepreneurs, schoolteachers, bartenders, soccer moms, firefighters, goth teenagers, and foodies determined to write their way to success.
Citizen Authors have two things in common: (1) a dream of having a book published, and published well, and (2) the will to make it happen by whatever means necessary. Some Citizen Authors self-publish, some e-publish, some partner with small, medium, and megapublishers, and some do all of the above. There’s Seth Godin, who uses his creativity to package, market, and publicize his books in unique and savvy ways that embrace a grassroots methodology. There’s Robert St. John, who depends on his local following to successfully publish and produce gorgeous illustrated books that defy all publishing conventions about the coffee-table book market. There are Patricia Konjoian and Gina Gallagher, mothers with a passion to help other mothers despite no “expertise” in their topic.
What’s perhaps most exciting about Citizen Authors is that some of them have been able to say a big “I told you so!” to Manhattan publishing after having been rejected, mocked, and/or dismissed by that clique’s elitism, solipsism, and/or lack of creative vision. These include people like Zetta Elliott, J.A. Konrath, and Lisa Genova. Zetta wrote about race in a way that didn’t fit into the credo of the mostly white world of publishing, but fit perfectly into libraries all over the country that catered to children of every color; J.A. (aka Joe) took his rejected thrillers and turned them into e-books that his fans—and his pocketbook—couldn’t get enough of; Lisa wrote about Alzheimer’s, one of the many subjects “people don’t want to read about”—a favorite catchphrase of agents and publishers alike.
The irony is, when Citizen Authors prove how valuable they are, all the big guns in the book business come running, throwing money. Even more ironic is that these Citizen Authors saw the marketplace in a clear-eyed, smart way that “big publishing” wouldn’t or couldn’t.
With the plethora of new ways to connect with readers, and with the fantastic formats and platforms that are now available to writers, literary success is being democratized as it never has been before. And yet the same four principles apply to these Citizen Authors as to those who have been published successfully for decades. They do their research; they network their buns off; they write, write and write some more; and they persevere. They also take an entrepreneurial approach to their projects. They get professional help when necessary. They hire excellent editors, top-drawer publicists, and social media gurus. They even buy books about how to get successfully published!
Yes, it remains difficult for writers to achieve any kind of monetization. And successful Citizen Authors know that a good publisher—the right publisher for their book—can offer many services and opportunities that would be tough to manage while working solo. (For example, anyone who has published a book with Workman, as we have, would be an idiot to say that publishers no longer have value!) But most Citizen Authors haven’t been given the chance to work with a top-notch publisher.
So, valiant writer, when you hear the nabobs of negativity spouting doom and gloom, do not despair. In the age of the Citizen Author, any writer with a dream in her heart, grease in her elbows, fire in her belly, generosity in her soul, thickness in her hide, funny in her bones, brains in her head, and a little help from friends and experts, can now be published—and even published successfully.
Workman published Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully last month.