December 10, 2010
For Would-Be Authors, a Chance at a Happy Ending
By AILEEN JACOBSON
SUZANNE WELLS, a slight woman with a careworn face, looked a little shaky as she walked up to the podium and faced a table where four judges sat. To her left was an audience of more than 200 people, ready to listen to her bid to become a published author.
Glancing at her notes, Ms. Wells launched into a description of her life, which started in affluence and comfort and devolved into heroin addiction and poverty, including an excruciating evening “when I took my children to a housing shelter.”
That was one of the more dramatic moments of “Pitchapalooza!” an event at the Book Revue here during which would-be authors pitched book ideas to a panel of publishing experts. All the presenters got advice from the panelists; the winner was to receive an introduction to an agent.
Though only 25 people were chosen at random to make their pitches, 187 had signed up for the opportunity at the Dec. 2 event, which was part of a cross-country promotional tour by David Henry Sterry and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, the authors of “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It … Successfully!” The crowd in Huntington was the largest yet, they said.
“Who knew how many people on Long Island are looking to write a book?” said Mr. Sterry, of Montclair, N.J., who has written 12 of them. “There were so many different kinds of stories,” said Ms. Eckstut, a literary agent and writer, who said she had signed 97 copies of the book.
Each person who bought one was to receive a free telephone consultation with the authors, whose new book is a substantially revised version of “Putting Your Passion Into Print,” which they published in 2005. Both the number of books sold and the size of the crowd were unusually high for authors who aren’t celebrities, said Julianne Wernersbach, the Book Revue publicist who organized the event.
Each writer making a pitch was limited to one minute — timed and sometimes stopped mid-sentence — followed by comments from the authors and two other panelists, James Levine, founder of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, where Ms. Eckstut works, and Mauro DiPreta, associate publisher of It Books, a HarperCollins imprint, who lives in Port Washington.
“You choked me up,” said Ms. Eckstut after hearing the emotion-packed pitch by Ms. Wells, a former Fortune 500 company executive who is now a yoga teacher and mother of three living in the home where she grew up, in Fort Salonga.
Ms. Wells, who won the competition, said later that she had already written much of her memoir, called, “One Wing — The Book.”
On a decidedly lighter note, Amber Jones, a hotel concierge who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, delivered her idea for “New York, Phew York,” a scratch-and-sniff book for children, in rhyming couplets: “Smells of bagels and lox and stuffed garbage trucks;/because summer to winter these smells are in flux.”
Ms. Jones’s pitch was a close runner-up, Ms. Eckstut said, as was a proposal by Gerald M. Rosen of Lido Beach, who laid out his story of running a marathon in every state, even though he was 51 when he started training.
Melinda Ehrlich of East Norwich had the room in stitches when she started her presentation with a joke about a Jewish boy who tells his mother he’s going to marry a girl named Running Deer and has changed his own name to Sitting Bull. “I’ve taken on a new name, too,” the mother says. “Sitting Shiva.”
Mr. Levine said her book of humorous vignettes about sitting shiva and attending wakes would be “highly promotable on talk radio,” but cautioned that it might be tricky to get people to buy it as a gift.
T. J. Dassau, 18, of Huntington Station stood at the side of a family friend, Janet Murphy, as she explained that Mr. Dassau, who is autistic, had written a set of illustrated stories for children, “The Epic Adventures of Rampion.” The book, she said, looks at the world from the perspective of a tiny imp. “I love this idea,” said Mr. Sterry, who advised Mr. Dassau to start gathering a following by getting some of the stories published on Web sites and building liaisons with autism-related organizations.
Some would-be authors were gently encouraged to consider self-publishing, but no one got negative feedback. “We try to inspire people,” Mr. Sterry said. “We don’t want to step on people’s dreams — and you don’t know what will sell.”
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One of the joys of going on tour is getting to hang out with old friends and to make new ones. Arielle first met Jessica Goldstein when she was fourteen. And they’ve been friends ever since. But because Jessica lives in Washington DC, they don’t get to see each other nearly as much as they’d like.
When we were booked into the DC area for the first stop on our tour, Jessica asked if we would like her to throw a book party for us. As you can probably guess by this gesture, Jessica is one of the more generous people on this earth. Naturally, we were excited to meet her friends and to have a night just to hang out and talk to all kinds of interesting people.
Jessica, and her husband Peter, are both producers at NPR. So they are surrounded by a plethora of interesting folks and many of their friends are voices that we hear over the airwaves every day. Arielle also happens to be an NPR fanatic—while David feels soothed with the sound of sports in the background, Arielle is most at ease with the hum of NPR.
For those of you who don’t follow the book business closely, NPR is kind of like the Vatican, the Yankee Stadium, the Disneyland to published authors. Get on NPR and watch your Amazon numbers skyrocket! So when Jessica told us she was going to fill her house with NPR friends and colleagues, we were literally jumping for joy. We’d get to meet some of our favorite radio journalists and we’d get to tell these folks about our new book ourselves. The alternative was to have our publisher send the book in and have it sit next to the one billion other books winging their way to the NPR offices as we write.
Jessica asked us if we would prepare a little something to say during the party. We knew this was a great idea, but we suddenly found ourselves star struck. What would we say? How could we avoid sounding stupid? Taking a page out of the boy scout’s book, we decided we must be prepared. We huddled in a corner while Jessica zoomed around prepping for the party.
The guests arrived. We greeted, conversed, had a really fun time…and then it was our turn to do our thing. David has performed in front of thousands of people in his life and Arielle has done her fair share of performing. And we both agree, it can be much more nerve-wracking to perform in front of a small crowd in a living room. But we managed to tell a semi-coherent story about how our book, our love, and our child, came to be. And how Jessica, our lovely host, was in part responsible for the book’s birth. You see, seven years ago, when we first came up with our Putting Your Passion into Print Workshop, Jessica got us booked onto NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Our publisher got wind of this appearance and asked us to write a proposal on the subject. That proposal turned into our new book.
So this blog post is really to say a big thank you to our old and wonderful friend for her past, present and future generosity and kindness. We love you, Jess!