Ann Ralph on the Joys of Fruit Trees, Taking Care of Mother Earth, and How to Get a Book Deal Writing About Something You Love
We first met Ann Ralph when she won our Pitchapalooza with one of the greatest elevator pitches we’ve ever heard: The Elements of Style for fruit trees. It made total sense even as it was counterintuitive. It communicated something so clearly, with such economy, intelligence and style. She also presented it in such a smart, relaxed, fun and yet information-packed way you couldn’t help but sit up and pay attention. Plus, who doesn’t love a great fruit tree? So now that her book Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy Harvest Fruit Trees is out, we thought we’d pick her brain and find out exactly how she did it.
To read this interview on the Huffington Post, click here.
The Book Doctors: How is your garden?
Ann Ralph: The garden is thirsty, but so far, so good. These dry winters are unusual and scary. Long, dry summers are nothing new. In most of California rain stops in May and won’t start again until November. I planted with this in mind. The plants on a hot bank behind my house do entirely without summer water. The roadside tree trimmers left behind a huge pile of chipped prunings last fall. This stuff is gold to me. I applied it as a deep mulch around my fruit trees and ornamentals. Mulch helps tremendously with transpiration. I water my established fruit trees only about once a month. Mulch improves soil quality and sequesters carbon, too.
TBD: How did you get started as a writer?
AR: Nursery work was meant to be a placeholder until I got a real job. I got waylaid in a composition class on the way to a respectable career, then abandoned pretense for the work I liked, low pay, the outdoors, a cavalcade of interesting questions, great people, and writing in my off hours.
TBD: What are some of your favorite books and why?
AR: However beautifully rendered, nonfiction is constrained by facts. I get more sustenance from the truth in fiction: I think of the Salman Rushdie character who cooks grievances into her chutneys. I wish everyone would read All the King’s Men, A Passage to India, and A Place on Earth. When our president quotes Marilynne Robinson, I feel sure we’ll be okay.
TBD: How did you get started as a fruit tree enthusiast? What are some of your favorite fruit trees and why?
AR: I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. We were awash in fresh fruit all year long. I went out the front door for Meyer lemons. Neighbors left bags of nectarines on the front porch. Teachers, like my dad, graded and weighed peaches for Del Monte in the summertime. He brought home leftover lug boxes full of fruit. My mother canned peaches and apricots to tide us over until summer came again. I had no idea how good we had it until I left California for New York. This last weekend I visited friends in Ripon and came home with a huge box of tree-ripe grapefruit. There is never too much grapefruit at my house.
TBD: What were some of the joys and difficulties of taking your passion and turning it into a book?
AR: I had a good idea about what made fruit trees confusing and difficult for people, and what was missing from existing books on the subject. Storey asked me to double the content. How right they were! Every step in the process led to a better book. The photography was more complicated than I expected it to be. Marion Brenner was generous with her time and up for anything. The trees, weather, light, and backgrounds weren’t as cooperative. The photos took another year, the design a third. I sometimes despaired that I’d ever see the thing in print.
TBD: You’ve gotten some wonderful reviews. What did you do to promote and market the book?
AR: Storey Publishing has reach into the book business I could never have managed on my own. My sister has been a buyer for independent bookstores for thirty-five years. She drilled into me a sense of my shared responsibility for the book’s promotion. I knew my audience. I also knew I had a book that people needed and would want to buy. I have great garden connections from Berkeley Horticultural Nursery. I’m easily evangelical on the subject of fruit trees.
TBD: The environment is going through some terrible times. What do you think are some solutions to bring back a balance with nature?
AR: Humans wield a lot of clout in the natural world. The organics now in markets are there because we wanted to buy them. We can look to decisions we make everyday, regarding packaging for one. We’re drowning in plastic. Recycling is better than nothing, I suppose, but recycling plastics is a dirty business. I make yogurt at home. Its deliciousness aside, this small action by one person eliminates a need for hundreds of plastic containers. The environment doesn’t exist apart from us. We’re in the thick of it. For good or ill, we build it as we go.
TBD: How did you get a book deal?
AR: The Book Doctors pulled my name out of a hat at a Pitchapalooza at Book Passage in Corte Madera. They liked my pitch. I shopped a proposal around to several publishers with interest but without success, always on the heels of another fruit book. Arielle took the idea to Storey Publishing. I strengthened the proposal based on information from The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. I’m sure that made the difference. I’m not just saying this because the Book Doctors happen to be asking the question. It’s true.
TBD: What advice do you have for fruit tree growers?
AR: Keep your fruit trees small enough to manage. I wish I could take credit for my favorite pruning advice. It came from a UC Davis seminar, “If you don’t know what to do, cut some stuff out.” Fruit trees are forgiving. If you goof it up, they give you another chance.
TBD: What advice do you have for writers?
AR: Let’s leave fruit advice to me and writing advice to Anne Lamott.
Ann Ralph is the author of Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy Harvest Fruit Trees. Publisher’s Weekly called the book “a thrilling read for the backyard farmer.” She is a fruit tree specialist with 20 years of nursery experience. She lives in the Sierra Foothills near Jackson, California.
You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The BookDoctors, come in.
For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches online so you get to see what makes a great pitch. We will then choose one winner from the group. The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her manuscript. We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
Beginning February 6, 2015, you can email your pitch to email@example.com. PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PST on March 6, 2015. The 25 random pitches will be posted on March 15, 2015. Winners will be announced on March 31, 2015. Anyone can vote for fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up!
Like last year, we’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll set up your consultation.
It’s been a great year for Pitchapalooza winners. Cathy Camper and Raul Gonzalez III were our Pitchapalooza winners from world-famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Their middle grade graphic novel, Lowriders in Space, is the first in a two-book deal with Chronicle Books. Cari Noga was the NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner in 2011. Her novel, Sparrow Migrations, was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, the spring 2013 winner of the ForeWord Firsts contest sponsored by ForeWord Reviews, and was named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. She recently received an offer from Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Then there’s Pitchapalooza winner and NaNoWriMo veteran, Gennifer Albin. After she won Pitchapalooza, one of New York’s top agents sold her dystopian novel in a three-book, six-figure deal. Her third book, Unraveled, just came out this past fall. And these are just a very few of our many success stories!
Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch? We’ve got 10 Tips for Pitching:
1. A great pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
2. Make us fall in love with your hero. Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
3. Make us hate your villain. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, it has to be the very best of your writing.
7.Don’t make your pitch a book report. Make it sing and soar and amaze.
8. A pitch is like a movie trailer. You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/
9. Leave us with a cliffhanger. The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.
Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, January 14, 8:00-10:00 p.m. EST.
About the Webinar
Now, you can participate in the Pitchapalooza magic without leaving your home or changing out of your jammies! Now Pitchapalooza is a webinar. And, unlike the live event, writers are GUARANTEED to have their pitch heard. As always, writers get one minute—and only one minute—to pitch their book. We will help you improve the pitch, not tell you how bad it is. We will critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace to comparable titles, and so much more.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped dozens and dozens of talented writers and experts become professionally published authors. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for over 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. She is also the author of nine books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.
Anyone who buys a copy of our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully, will receive a FREE 20 minute consultation ($100 value) from The Book Doctors. Just email a copy of your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
DATE: January 14, 2015
TIME: 8-10PM EST
How to join us
- Click the button below to pay online.
- We’ll email a link to the webinar.
- On January 14, follow the link. Log in 5 minutes before the webinar to view.
It is impossible to overstate the benefit from listening to published authors and guest editors respond to 20 or so authors pitch their book. Pitchapalooza is that exciting and useful. You and your guests led us into the demands of the publishing industry and the rich rewards found in your book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Clearly you are serious about your work. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is more like dancing than reading. You suggest steps, require spins, then demand leaps that propel us in directions and through doors that only publishing industry insiders could choreograph. Your sharp caring red pencil corrections force me to put your book down and return to rework my own efforts. Your purpose is to help one get published, but your writing is a graduate course in communication. — Richard Coulter
I attended Pitchapalooza and all I have talked about since then was how much fun it was. David’s wit made the evening a joy as well as immensely informative. Also what impressed me was how alive and focused you both were. — Anand Ami Hadani
I never expected such a heart pounding experience. I had dropped my name into a jar to be plucked out at random and I had no pitch prepared! Over three hundred people were about to witness my utter humiliation at the hands of an expert panel. I got out my pen and began to furiously write which is not an easy task when every couple of minutes you are sure your name will be called and voices are booming over microphones and hundreds of people are laughing and clapping. — Guruparwaz Khalsa
I thought the event was great because I learned something from the critiques you gave the other authors and you and Arielle are not intimidating, the opposite of stuffy. This was the first time I came out from the shadows and into the light to speak as an author which took courage on my part. I was able to do it because you made me feel that the risk was worth it to receive valuable personal critique. — Marsha Cohen
The Pitchapalooza was fantastic. I found it so informative. I especially benefited from listening to the various pitches. By the end of the evening I had completely reformatted my pitch into something I’ll be excited to present to you. The panel gave good advice as well as helpful critiques to all those brave enough to step up to the mike. That they did it with humor and without malice or sarcasm made for an entertaining evening. — Coleen Nigg
I thought pitchapalooza was great!! Your feedback to other authors was helpful to everyone. Your attitudes showed you were excited about your industry and that transferred to us! I learned how to make a good pitch which I look forward to sharing with you. The book is easy to read and already marked up with highlighter. Thanks so much for your interest in new authors! — Deb Farinholt
I thought the Pitchapalooza was helpful and educational and certainly not boring! Most activities surrounding writing are solitary tasks and it is difficult to have an idea about how other people handle the same problems that one grapples with. The Pitchapalooza accorded me the opportunity to observe fellow writers’ pitches and their thought processes. — Vaijayanti Bal
I truly enjoyed the Pitchapalooza. As a novice entering the book world I found it extremely insightful. It was not only entertaining but disarming. No one was being judged, rather provided constructive criticism that every person in the room benefited from. — Natalie Cannady
I thought your Pitchapalooza was excellent! You were both constructive without being harsh and created a positive and exciting forum for upcoming writers to learn. I was personally beyond impressed and entertained, by halfway through I had completely re-written my pitch based on the advice you were providing. — Bradley Butzin
Pitchapalooza was a hoot! A good pitch grabbed me like a good movie trailer would and I was all ears whereas the poorly executed pitch had me tuning out, waiting for the painful minute to end, and your gentle constructive criticism to begin. — Dorrie L. Williams
This was entertaining and informative. It let us all know that there is hope for each of our books. It was an opportunity to listen to others’ ideas and become informed about our skills and the ins and outs of the publishing world. I so appreciated the suggestions and help! — Charla Waxman
The event was very useful as well as entertaining. It refocused me, refreshing things I’d known and revealing things I hadn’t. It was interesting and fun hearing people’s pitches, and instructive hearing the feedback to everyone’s pitches, not just mine. Of course, the entire exercise of putting together my own pitch and getting feedback on it was invaluable. — Doug
I did think your Pitchapalooza was entertaining and informative. — Fritz Windstein
I was awed and amazed at your Pitchapalooza. It brought out raw talent, great story ideas, and sparked hope in the hearts of the writers in our small college town. It was also quite educational! Although I wasn’t chosen to pitch, your comments and advice to the writers that pitched enlightened me about the writing, pitching and marketing process. The writing/editing/literary community seemed ivy leagish to me, too far out to even touch. You made it touchable with your Pitchapalooza. It was a magical moment. — Kay Hoffner
I did indeed find the Pitchapalooza both entertaining and educational. The material presented was extremely varied, and though the subject matter was invariably unrelated to my own, I found helpful tips with nearly every pitch. The evening felt relaxed and intimate and there was a nice mix of serious discussion and humor. Even though I wasn’t selected to pitch, when the evening was over, I wished there was more. — Solace Sheets
Pitchapalooza was both thrilling and terrifying. Zip-lining 700ft over San Francisco last year was less terrifying than standing at that podium. However, the panel’s feedback immediately put me at ease and clearly defined how I needed to change my pitch. Overall the event was amazing. The quick pace gave a wonderful energy to the event and the interaction between panel and audience was both entertaining and informative. When I began delving into the process of writing a proposal, querying agents, working with social media, etc. I bought book after book, trying to find a single one that answered all of my questions. Needless to say, I amassed a substantial stack of books all of which were quickly littered with sticky notes containing the questions they hadn’t answered. Your book answered those questions along with a few I hadn’t thought of. It really is the Essential Guide. Thank you for a book free of sticky notes! — Melissa Henry
I attended your Pitchapalooza. Although I spent a good deal of time frantically scribbling notes in case you called my number, and worrying about whether I should pass or not if called, I found the experience to be quite educational. Thank you for the opportunity to be exposed to a whole new world during my 7th decade. — Charles Peraino
I really enjoyed the Pitchapalooza and found the critiques educational. I read the book already and it is very helpful in understanding what goes on in the industry. What also was great is that you brought a local publisher to the event and I found out that they handle the genre I will try to pitch when I contact their company. — Janet Moulton
First, congratulations on your work and thank you for reaching out to help other aspiring writers. I gained a great deal of insight at the Pitchapalooza as did all that attended. Those who were selected enjoyed the opportunity to tell their story out loud to a group of supporters. The key lesson is “Be Prepared” with a written pitch in hand and well rehearsed. I came away with the above knowledge and also a sense that I may NOT be on the right track as far as my personal effort. Please note that I used to tell people “I am writing a book…” Now I say “I am learning how to write a book…” Arielle and you make the event. Enthusiasm and kindness are always palatable. — Thomas Yorke
Your presentation at the Tattered Cover in Denver was phenomenal, and Pitchapalooza was amazingly helpful as an author trying to get published for the first time. It helped that Denver has so many creative and talented writers, because even though my name wasn’t selected, I learned a ton. Your kinder, gentler critiques provided tremendous insight for knocking down barriers in the highly competitive publishing world. You know your stuff! — Kerry Gleason
I thought the Pitchapalooza was a wonderful idea for prospective authors to have a forum in which to present their idea(s). I don’t know a lot about the publishing world but I would think that they probably would not otherwise have had such an opportunity to express their ideas and get feedback & constructive criticism. Being an avid reader myself, I enjoyed hearing all the book ideas presented. — Pam Smith, Huntington, NY
I thought Pitchapolooza was great fun. I had no idea we’d be pitching our book ideas to the masses and I felt a bit like I was suddenly in the Roman Forum, but the dimension of unanticipated public theater only added depth to an evening full of learning. — Diana Donlon
I really enjoyed the Pitchapalooza. It was definitely entertaining and educational. As a new and aspiring writer, I appreciated the sober dose of reality about the challenges of getting published, but it was well balanced with support. I also like hearing about what others are writing, how they frame the story in a sound bite and the reaction of the pros. It’s a good reality check for me. — John Brooks
Your event at Book Passage was the most fun I have had in ages. Your book is great! I will recommend it to my friends, including those who are not writers, but definitely readers. — Anand Hadani
My pitch wasn’t chosen; however, the entire evening was fun and informative. Your responses entertained and, more importantly, enlightened me about the pitch process. — Kate Hoffner
Wow, thank you for coming out to do your Pitchapalooza at TC tonight. You were so warm and welcoming and nice, not at all Simon Cowell-like, and I appreciate your obvious commitment to helping everyone get published, even if their pitch isn’t quite ready yet. Even though I wasn’t able to pitch, I experienced your incredible energy, heard your critiques of others, and left feeling inspired and happy I invested my time attending your event. — Cindy Rold
I thought the event was great. I had never heard of anything like it before. I thought a majority of the pitches were quite impressive and the format of the event with the panel was very well organized and productive. It was more than worth the drive from the city! It inspired me to get back into my big second draft of my current work which says a lot considering it’s been stagnant for a bit. — Mandy Soderstrom
Going into Pitchapalooza yesterday at Kepler’s, I heard it would be entertaining but was unexpectedly surprised at the quality of the pitches and the panel’s commentary. It was a great opportunity to take in your comments and make meaningful revisions. Thank you! — Paula Chapman
Here are just some of the testimonials we’ve gotten from Pitchapalooza. We’ve loved every second of it. Thanks America!
I am still resonating from the experience. — Larry Kirshbaum
I just wanted to drop you both a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed the event last night. You two are incredible! I learned so much and just thought it was tremendous.
I’m so glad I could be there and meet you in-person, as well. Thank you again, so much, for extending this awesome event to our participants and including us in such a smart, beneficial, and fun project. You’re stars! — Lindsey Grant, NaNoWriMo Program Director
I wanted to thank you for a very inspiring afternoon at Kepler’s. Thanks for showing me the different components of a perfect pitch. I’ve done tons of query letter writing in my years as a freelancer but this one-minute pitch was daunting. But I told myself that the point was to go and have a good time and that’s what I did. — Kalpana Mohan, Pitchapalooza winner, Kepler’s
I wasn’t sure what to expect when went to Kepler’s last Sunday, but I thought the Pitchapalooza was amazing, and I hope to attend another one or one of your workshops in the future. The positive energy combined with the constructive feedback helped me feel energized and ready to continue working towards polishing my craft. I have a page full of notes from the Pitchapalooza and will continue to consult them as I write new query letters and pitches. Thank you for putting together such an amazing event and resource. I’m looking forward to speaking with you. — Jessica Bayliss
Pitchapalooza is a great concept. Fledgling authors get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of literary experts who provide instant feedback. Not only was Pitchapalooza entertaining–some “pitchers” are funny and have great senses of humor–but participants get a chance to meet “neighbors” and discuss their book ideas with them as well. All in all, Pitchapalooza is a wonderful opportunity for average folks to learn if their book ideas have merit. — Murray Sabrin
Thank you for your appearance at Kepler’s a few weeks ago. I chickened out of pitching my book-in-progress but I learned so much from the experience and met some other wonderful fellow writers. — Samantha Rajaram
I LOVED it! I spent six months and paid $1,000 to get a fraction of the publishing wisdom you dished out in a few hours for 17 bucks. Beyond entertaining! Arielle and David were charming, hilarious and wise. You had fun, so we had fun. I learned something from every pitch and every panel response, even though you didn’t call my number. And … you softened the blow for those of us who didn’t pitch with your surprise announcement that we’d ALL get a chance to have you weigh in on our proposals … for FREE! Thrilling! I loved the energy in the room — yours and my fellow authors’. You captured the, “American Idol for Aspiring Authors,” vibe I had read about… I appreciated the clearly communicated, fast-paced, tightly enforced format. I appreciated how thoughtfully you assembled your panel; panelists brought insights from vast but varied experience… You and the panelists didn’t pull punches, but no one left with a “black eye” from too-brutal feedback. I considered it a fantastic event… — Kelly Standing
Pitchapalooza made my book go from the realm of the desirable to that of the possible. It was exciting to see so many other people wrestling with many of the same issues that I’m confronting, and getting to pitch my book forced me to confront this one obvious fact: yes, I can do it. And not only can I do it, but I should, and now. So, the experience inspired me. Thanks, Book Doctors! — Nathan
The enthusiasm of David and Arielle, from the beginning and throughout the event, was contagious. They did an amazing job at setting everyone’s nervous minds at ease immediately. I felt a definite camaraderie with the others “pitchers” as each stood bravely to try their hand at their one minute pitch. The genuine, attentive and thorough feedback from the panel was impressive. I took a few pages of notes from the critiques given and I learned something from each pitch and comment. The 17-second-recited-in-unison pitch by David and Arielle was entertaining. — Michele Dutcher
Pitchapalooza was highly entertaining and as nerve-wracking as the thunderstorm going on outside the tent as I waited to see if my name would be called. I learned a lot. It was my first experience with doing a pitch and it was incredibly helpful to listen to the specific feedback everyone was given…including feedback given to me. — Bev Smith
Since civilization began, we’ve been climbing the walls to get our stories told. This husband and wife team rocks the Kasbah! Arielle and David have turned today’s science of book publishing on its head by teaching us the art of enjoying the ride. They delete the daunting and magnify the doable, so that everyone wins. .How did they manage to write a whole Bible yet have it be such a fun read? By quantum leaps, The Essential Guide to Getting your Book Published inspires me forward and grows more valuable every day. — PM Kearns
Pitchapalooza is the most fun I’ve ever had in a bookstore. The two of you work together like a comedy team, and your advice is succinct, insightful, and encouraging. I left Pitchapalooza with an autographed copy of your new book (definitely worth buying for the new information) and with concrete ideas on how to improve my pitch and market my book. Thank you again for sharing your time and talent. — Lee Wilson
The Pitchapalooza was GREAT!! I was very entertained. It was a first time experience for me as I am quite new to the writing and publishing world. The process was interesting and impressive. I enjoyed first the positive, encouraging manner that you all began with leading into the needs or more accolades. And of course many of the pitches were amazing. — Regena Walters
Thank you so much for the highly entertaining and informative pitch session at the Northvale book store this afternoon. Your feedback on my very rough pitch about raising a child with autism was invaluable. — Laura McKenna
I thoroughly enjoyed attending your Pitchapalooza, even though I was nervously anticipating my turn to pitch. The event was entertaining as many of the authors were gifted performers and all of them were passionate about their work. One of the authors even argued with the judges which gave it an American Idol flavor. Your panel of judges was very knowledgeable and had a wide variety of expertise which they passed along and which I found invaluable. I hope you make this an annual event! — Kristin Oakley
I had the pleasure of hearing you both at the DIY Author’s Conference luncheon yesterday. The Pitchapalooza later that afternoon was great fun and very informative. — Bobbi Hahn
I loved your book. I read it over a couple of day’s time and learned a lot from it. As far as the pitchapalooza went, its been very useful because not only did I learn how to do a pitch but also how NOT to do it. Confidence is a big factor in pitching. Knowing your pitch upside down, inside out and backwards is a MUST and NOT giving away too much of the plot seems to be the smarter way to go. — Renee Gibbons
I enjoyed the event; it was interesting to hear what other writers are working on. Plus, to get the mesh of the writer’s personality with their ideas was entertaining. Usually you only get the words on paper, no actual personality of the writer before you. Evaluating a “pitch” is far different than evaluating the actual work. However, in this harried world, poor authors probably only get a minute for consideration — or not. So perfecting the pitch is a necessity. — Liz Gruder
I wanted to personally thank you for putting on the PitchaPalooza for books. It was a last minute Daddy-Daughter gig for us. Katie listened intently to the 20 pitches prior to hers and took in the advice you gave. You both inspired her to finish her manuscript. Again, thanks for writing your book and holding your seminars. The ripple effect of your genuine enthusiasm for the written word coupled with an “honorable mention” in your contest lifted the wings of a budding ten year old blond author. — Allan Mishra
I attended the Pitchapalooza this past week and loved it (despite the fact that I didn’t actually get to pitch!) Listening to all of the writers, and the panel’s incredible feedback, was worth the cost of babysitting. Warm regards. — Deb Levy
Pitchapaolooza was fantabulous—full of theater, zany humor and most of all the insightful tips from The Experts: David, Arielle and their stable of experienced agents. The book itself is extremely well written and so packed full of vital information that, I found, it has to be read and digested over several weeks time. For the writer with chops, The Essential Guide is a blueprint for success. — Peter Hensel
Pitchapalooza was so much fun! It truly proved everyone has a story to tell. I learned a lot and came away with several gold nuggets of useful information. — Robert Skead
I really enjoyed your seminar and I am really enjoying your book! What I liked about it was you all gave really good, valuable feedback that all of the attendees could use on their own pitch. So even though I didn’t get to pitch, I feel like my pitch is now 100 times more powerful! — Anthony Fasano
I was not selected to pitch at the Kansas City Pitchapalooza, but I still found it an entertaining and enlightening experience. Attending Pitchapalooza helped me conclude that my hundreds of hours of work and late nights were worthwhile and now I am working towards presenting my ideas to others. — Courtney Privett
Your Pitchapalooza innovation is such a heartening service for the literary future. You are inspirng the birth of what has been feared to be an endangered species, the published author. — Ann Rasmussen
I thought Pitchapalooza was a very unique approach to getting people energized about writing and publishing their book. The selling of the event as an American Idol for writers was a great way to describe the experience. It was entertaining but also frightening for those of us who either weren’t expecting to get up in front of such a large crowd. Another positive was getting accessibility to both of you who are willing to give honest feedback. — Andre Logan
Thank you, thank you, thank you! You folks are a traveling feast! What a simmering soup of ideas you served up for aspiring authors. Especially refreshing were the humor, empathy and the kindness of your comments. How deftly you kept the mood inviting and comfortable for all. Thank you for sharing your talents with us. I am lovin’ every page ofThe Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published! — Patty Kearn, OK
You provided a lot of positive yet helpful critiques. I think it is a great opportunity for a new writer to get direct feedback and an opportunity to work with an agent, which in my case is the most difficult part. The event was certainly entertaining, and if I had the opportunity to attend again, I most certainly would. — Glenn Snyder
The Pitchapalooza was absolutely wonderful. I loved listening to other people pitch their books, and while your advice was specific to each pitch, it was very applicable to every aspiring author. I learned a lot just by listening to what you guys had to say. My only complaint is that it went by so quickly! Thanks so much. — Rebecca Coppage
I really enjoyed Pitchapalooza. It gave me some insight to things that I would not have otherwise thought about regarding my own book and my pitch. It was entertaining and informative. — Scott McCulloch
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned a lot. It was a wonderful event. — Kristin Oakley
Pitchapalooza was part lecture hall, part rock concert. — Lonita Cook
After a month of sleep deprivation, self-medication, and caffeine saturation, you wrote your 50,000-word novel. Now what? Do yourself a favor, before you rush to send that novel out, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and come up with a strategic plan for getting your book successfully published. Because one of us is a writer, and the other is a literary agent, we thought we’d shed some light on this planning stage from both perspectives. Then we’ll give you 10 simple things you can do to increase your chances of success before you send your manuscript out into the cold cruel world.
DAVID, THE WRITER:
Before I shacked up with a literary agent, I had absolutely no idea of the sheer insurmountable massiveness of the Matterhorn Mountain of manuscripts that every agent faces every day. No matter how fast they reject manuscripts, they just keep coming. I always thought that agents would be excited to get my manuscript, would cherish the prospect of being able to get rich from it. But now that I’ve been living with an agent for over a decade, I realize what a fool I truly was. The great agents can barely service the clients they have. Even the bad agents have too many clients. If an agent is already established, they’re not hungry. If the agent is young and ravenous, they may not have the contacts necessary to lure the elusive golden ticket of a publishing contract.
Before I lived with an agent, I used to finish a piece of writing and send it everywhere. The problem, I now realize, was that I kept sending out a faulty product. One that hadn’t been road tested. That wasn’t finished. It’s as if I invited a guest over to my house for some delicious cake, and I only baked it for 40 minutes instead of an hour. All the ingredients would be there, but my guest would be forced to eat something all sloppy, gloppy, drippy and nasty. I’d say for every hundred manuscripts that arrive at our door every week, a good 85% of them are half-baked.
Now that I myself counsel so many writers trying to get published, I realize that many of them think, as I did, that an agent or publisher will help fix their manuscript. With the ever-shrinking publishing business in such turmoil, agents and editors must be absolutely passionate about a book. Or believe in their heart that it will make lots and lots and lots of money. Hopefully both. But because they have so many books to choose from, it only makes sense that they would be most attracted to the cakes that are beautifully baked and frosted. The ones that need no fixing.
ARIELLE, THE AGENT:
While it’s never overtly stated, agents and editors are trained to say “No”. You’re trained to look for reasons to turn a project down. To think of every objection anyone might possibly have. Uncover every reason a book might fail. In fact, because I have so little time as an agent, if a manuscript is just good or if it’s at all sloppy or if the writer doesn’t appear professional, the manuscript will go right in the trash.
But when a writer has done her research and perfected her craft, agents get excited. They can sniff a professional often in the very first paragraph of a query letter. And when they do, the thrill of the potential sale ping pongs through their bodies.
I love helping writers. I love working with writers. But it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, often for very little reward. One of my great frustrations as an agent is that some of the very best books I’ve ever worked on never got published. It breaks my heart! That’s why agents are so very picky. And that’s why you have to anticipate every reason why an agent might say “no” before they can.
Now that you’ve heard both perspectives, here’s our top 10 list of things to do before sending your manuscript out. These tips are writer and agent friendly!
1) READERS & CRITIQUERS. Like a fine bottle of newly opened wine, let your manuscript breathe. While it’s breathing, get people to read it. You absolutely cannot be objective about your own work. Almost everyone thinks that their baby is the cutest, smartest, and most talented. For this reason, don’t depend on your family and/or people who love you as your readers. Look to your NaNoWriMo cohorts. Writer’s groups and workshops. Readers and writers on any of the gazillion websites where they congregate, like Goodreads, RedRoom, and Open Salon. Offer to read other writers’ work in exchange for them reading yours. Yes, of course, take all comments with several grains of salt. But if everyone says your ending sucks, there’s a very good chance that it does.
2) MOUNTING A PLATFORM. Nowadays, publishers don’t just want you to have a following, they expect it. How many eyeballs can you bring to the table? Relentlessly connect with your audience. For example, Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, a novel about Alzheimer’s she originally self-published, hooked up with a major Alzheimer’s website. After much dedicated hard work, Lisa became a keynote speaker at a big annual Alzheimer’s convention. This led to the New York Times bestseller list, which led to a seven-figure two-book deal.
3) IDENTIFYING COMPETITION. Know your marketplace. Frequent your local bookstore. Live in the section where your book will land. Read everything. Befriend booksellers and pick their brains for comparable titles. Assemble a deep and elaborate comp list (this is industry lingo for comparative titles). When you go to an editor or agent, and they ask you about a book similar to yours, you better know that book, and know how yours is different. You also want to compare your book to others that have been successful in the marketplace.
4) FINDING BUYERS. Pinpoint books similar but not exactly like yours. Scour the acknowledgments. See if the agent and/or editor is named. Research these people. Find out everything you can about them. What other books do they represent or edit? Where did they go to high school, college, grad school? Are they horse people, cat people, Jane Austen people? All this will help you find the right buyer for your book when you go to sell it.
5) A PITCH-PERFECT PITCH. 1 minute or less. 1 page. 150 words. That’s all you get for a pitch. Read tons of flap copy of other books in your section of the bookstore. Use your comp titles to develop a 5-second elevator pitch, which will usually either end or begin your pitch. For example, we call our book the What to Expect When You are Expecting…of publishing. In other words, our book, like What To Expect promises to be a one stop shopping guide for everything you’ll need to know about the subject. It may seem cheesy and/or ridiculous, but this shorthand “sales handle” gives agents and editors a quick and easy way to understand and describe exactly what your book is. A pitch is like a poem. Every syllable counts.
6) MASTERFUL QUERY. 1 page. 3 paragraphs. The first paragraph establishes your connection with whomever you’re trying to hook with your book. The second is your pitch, condensed to one paragraph. The third is your bio, again shrink-wrapped so that it’s one short paragraph. This letter needs to establish who you are. If you’re writing a humor book, this letter better be funny. If you’re writing romance, there better be some sizzle. If you’re writing suspense, there better be a great cliffhanger somewhere in sight. Read your query out loud before you send it. Again, get others to read it. Sadly, this one page has a lot to do with your chances of getting successfully published.
7) GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. A great editor can make your book so much better. Our editor improved our book approximately 15,000 times. She kept challenging us to be more precise, to surgically remove unnecessary words, to say things with more clarity and concision. She could, in the words of editor/agent/author Betsy Lerner, see the forest for the trees. If you have the dinero, investing in your book early on in the process may save you time and money in the long run. If you don’t have a lot of spare change, you can ask a local bookseller to just read—not edit—your manuscript for a fee.
Originally posted at The Office of Letters and Light
“Writers now have breathtaking new ways of connecting with and getting their work directly into the hands of readers. And they no longer have to rely on a small group of publishing experts in order to get published. Because there is no barrier to to publishing”, write publishing experts and Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry in their comprehensive and idea packed book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully. The authors set out a blueprint for creating an idea, developing a book on the topic, getting that book published, and delivering it to readers worldwide.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry understand the challenges of writing a book and in getting the final manuscript published and marketed well. The authors point to the importance of passion as one of the most critical elements necessary for publishing success. Without the passion for the book’s idea, a would be author might not have the drive needed to carry the book through to completion and for the marketing effort. Along with the important aspect of being passionate about the book’s subject matter, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry share their four principles of successful publishing:
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (both in photo left) recognize the dramatic and systemic changes that have altered the publishing landscape. As a result, their advice doesn’t cover just traditional book publishing. The authors also share techniques for self publishing a book, and for utilizing the alternate book formats including ebooks, audio books, and even for publishing online. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry offer step by step advice for every facet of the book publishing process, and also include the crucial but often overlooked areas of copyright, contacts, payment, and legal protection. Along with the valuable tips on taking care of business, the book also contains the always vital area of book marketing. While a book may be great, and convey the passion and knowledge of the author, without a marketing plan even the best book will fail to find an audience. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry provide marketing concepts that include both conventional and unconventional channels to promote and sell more copies of the finished product.
For me, the power of the book is how Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry remove the mystery from book publishing, and present a complete handbook for achieving success as an author, from start to finish. The authors leave no stone unturned, and make it clear to the would be author that writing a bestselling book is possible, but requires much work on the part of the writer. Because of the effort involved in writing, contracting, and marketing a book, the authors emphasize that the author must be passionate about the subject or plot of the book. Anything less, and the book is likely to not do as well in any facet of the process.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present two very important and useful sections on the business of book publishing and on marketing the book through traditional and guerrilla methods. These two critical topics are not always included in books on publishing, making this book even more essential for the serious author. An added bonus feature provided by the authors are the many author resources in the appendix. Overall, the book is a treasure trove of information that will benefit any aspiring or experienced author.
I highly recommend the essential and very practical book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, to anyone seeking a one stop advice book for becoming a successful author. The wealth of information contained in this wonderful book makes it a must for any novice or long time author.
Read the valuable and information filled book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and discover the insider secrets to becoming the successful published author of your dreams. From idea to sale, this is the book to unleash the bestselling author within you.
Get a free consultation with the Book Doctors, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Whether it’s figuring out a great title, how to pitch your book, get an agent, market and promote, or self-publish, we can help you get successfully published. Just send proof of purchase of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Offer good til midnight Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010.
David Henry Sterry & Arielle Eckstut, aka The Book Doctors are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Between them they have published 20 books, been a literary agent for 18 years, been on NPR countless times, contributed chronically to the Huffington Post, and appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
To purchase book: http://thebookdoctors.com/buy-the-book
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.