MONTCLAIR LITERARY FESTIVAL presents:
THE BOOK DOCTORS PITCHAPALOOZA
APRIL 1, 4:30-6:00PM, MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY
COME PITCH YOUR BOOK!
WHAT: Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute! Dozens of writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza. At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.
WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. 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 subjects, including memoir, sports, YA fiction, and reference. His first book has been translated into 10 languages and optioned by HBOl; his latest book was featured on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Arielle and David 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.
Our special guests for the Montclair Literary Festival are literary agents:
Liza Dawson, Liza Dawson Associates
Joelle Delbourgo, Joelle Delbourgo Associates Literary Agency
Monica Odum, Bradford Literary Agency
HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. Pitchapalooza has been covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.
WHERE: Montclair Public Library
WHEN: April 1, 4:30-6:00 — THE ONLY PITCHAPALOOZA IN NJ IN 2017!
PRIZE: The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.
“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”
—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners and authors of Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Woman
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.
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 email@example.com.
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
I recognized that you have given me a rare and wonderful opportunity. I appreciate your kindness and generosity. . Thank you again for being an inspiration. After hearing you and David talk, I was inspired to pen my pitch on the spot. I hope that one day I get to live out this rich of a life and lift up others as you and David have. — Vee Somphon
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
A while ago, we interviewed one of our favorite writers, Caroline Leavitt, The New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and nine other books. Not only is she an amazing novelist, she’s also a brilliant teacher. After reading an interview we did with Caroline, Katharine Herndon, a member of James River Writers, asked a very simple question: She wanted to know what Caroline meant by “mapping a story by moral wants and needs.” We asked Caroline and her response was nothing short of game-changing in terms of storytelling. It made us think about constructing a plot in a whole new way. Here is what she said:
I always feel that you want to figure out: What is the specific long-standing thing your protagonist has gotten wrong about herself or himself and the world that the plot will force him or her to overcome in order to have a shot at what she or he wants? For example, take Kramer vs. Kramer. Kramer’s wrong about (and he doesn’t even know it yet) that the purpose of his life is to have a high-powered job in NYC, work 16 hours a day, neglect his wife and little boy. He thinks he’s doing the right thing because he’s providing for them, and he equates that with love. His boy doesn’t know him and his wife leaves him–with the kid. So the plot forces him to be the one thing he is not–a father. And through that experience, he comes to realize that what he wanted–to be the CEO–is not what he NEEDS. What he NEEDS is to be a loving father, which allows him to be a loving friend, and then possibly, in the future, a loving partner to someone.
I call this the Rolling Stone method of plotting. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try–sometimes–you can be lucky enough to get what you need, which is usually the opposite of what you want.
-So I start out asking, what is it the character wants and why?
-What’s at stake if he (or she) doesn’t get it?
-What is the character wrong about that he doesn’t even realize yet but is holding him back?
-What is the character ghost–the thing from his (or her) past that haunts him and keeps him from moving on that he must heal?
-What is the inciting action–this is something that pushes the protagonist into an inner and outer struggle with his misbelief. (Like Kramer who has to work less–the thing he believes he has to do more of!)
All the protagonist’s plans fail and fail until what I call the Big Doom moment, when he realizes all is lost. The girl or guy will never be won. The job is finished. The funds are gone. And then, in that moment, the character has a self-revelation. He realizes the misconception he had. For Kramer, it was when his wife comes back and wants the child –the one thing he thought he wanted at the beginning of the novel. Only now he loves his child, adores being a father, and he needs to keep him and fight for him. The protagonist fights for this new idea.
The last part is the New Equilibrium, where we get to see the character acting differently now that this misconception has been cleared up. Kramer is a dad with a ho-hum job, but he doesn’t care about the job or prestige anymore. He cares about being a father.
If you give your character lots of moral choices until he becomes who he should become, you get a deeper novel. A moral choice, by the way, is being stuck between two terrible choices, like, I can rob the store to get the medicine my dying wife needs and go to jail, or I can be a good citizen, and stay out of jail so at least I can be with my wife when she dies. Both are terrible! But humans show us their best selves when they are at their worst.
Writers: Please take this most excellent advice and run with it!
Consider 25 Sophie’s Choices.
Consider 25 juicy, delicious pitches.
Consider that you only get to choose one.
We did. And after much consideration, we have chosen a winner. It was not an easy choice! There were just so many great pitches. But we kept coming back to one. And that one, as you may have guessed, is Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga. Cari’s storytelling ability , strong voice, and her idea to revolve her book around an event that captured America, won us over. We really wanna read this book. Congratulations Cari!
As for the fan favorite, the fans have spoken and the winner is…drum roll… Out of the Woods by father-son team, David and Ben Ash. Congratulations guys!
Thank you all so much for participating in what, for us, has been a fabulously fun Pitchapalooza. We hope EVERYONE gets happily published!
The Book Doctors, aka David Henry Sterry, and ex-agent/current wife Arielle Eckstut, authors of the Workman book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, will making a house call in Long Island, and they want YOU to PITCH your BOOK at their Pitchapalooza. Book Revue, Huntington, December 2, 7 PM. It’s like American Idol for books, only without the Simon. Writers get one minute to pitch their book ideas to a once-in-a-lifetime All-Star cast of publishing experts. It’s like American Idol for books, without the Simon. We are lucky enough to have James Levine, the founder of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of Manhattan’s most successful book agents. As well as Long Island’s own Mauro DePreta, Vice President of It Books (HarperCollins Publishers), publishers of the #1 New York Times bestseller Sh*t My Dad Says. An industry veteran of nearly two decades, he has had the good fortune of publishing bestsellers like Not Without Hope, the incredible survival story by Nick Schuyler and New York Times journalist Jere Longman, and Marly & Me by John Grogan. Arielle has been a literary agent for 18 years, and I am the best-selling author of 13 books, the last of which appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. We’ve helped dozens and dozens of talented amateurs become professionally published authors. We’ve appeared on NPR many times, and taught at publishing Stanford University. Here’s a link to our awesome Editor Goddess Savanna’s blog about our Pitchapalooza at Barnes & Noble 86th St., with publishing titans Larry Kirschbaum and Bob Simon. Here’s a link to an article about the Art of the Pitch and our Pitchapalooza on Publishers Perspective.
Every writer who buys a book will get a free consultation from the Book Doctors, $100 value.
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.