georgetown patch on pitchapalooza @ politics & prose http://georgetown.patch.com/blog_posts/country-mouse-review-of-pitchapalooza-part-1-introduction
Have an idea for a book but don’t know the first thing about pitching it? The Book Doctors can help. David Henry Sterry, author of such varied works as “Confessions of a Sex Maniac” and “The Glorious World Cup: A Balls-Out Guide,” and his wife, literary agent and author Arielle Eckstut, help aspiring authors bring their ideas from conception to a polished, published book through consulting services, workshops and their book, “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.” Together with Changing Hands Bookstore, Sterry and Eckstut will conduct “Pitchapalooza” at South Mountain Community Library where writers will have one minute to pitch their book idea for the chance at an introduction to an agent in their genre. The Book Doctors spoke on the phone with College Times about the keys to a successful pitch.
To see the article, click here.
It began small, as things often do. A line in a dinner conversation which could easily have been swept away in the sometimes lively swirl. My teenage daughter, Helen, the writer in our family, said, “NaNoWriMo is almost here.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“National Novel Writing Month. You have to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.”
I’d never aspired to be a writer although lots of people have assumed I have. I do like to read. Maybe that has something to do with it. Anyway, finding out that there was such a thing as NaNoWriMo got me thinking. I remember someone telling about a motivational speaker who asks a room full of people, “Who wants to write a book?” Everyone’s hand goes up. Then he asks, “Who has written the first chapter?” The hands go back down.
I figured if we both undertook the challenge, we could spur each other on, like running a marathon with a friend. I also liked the idea of the set time period. There’s nothing like a deadline to make things happen. I announced my intention to participate and now there was no turning back. The only thing missing was a topic.
Back in college, I had taken a course on Napoleon and the French Revolution. I ended up doing a report on Napoleon’s retreat from Russia after his failed invasion in 1812. The disaster stuck with me as something about which many had heard, but the details were obscure.
My wife and I had become hooked on the humorous Bloody Jack series of books about an orphan girl in London who ends up in the Royal Navy. While the series is full of outlandish adventures, it got me to thinking that putting a youngster into the grown-up world of the military and war would make for an interesting story. And so, standing at the clothesline in mid-October, 2010, I pulled these two ideas together and came up with the premise for Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army. My story would be about a boy who accompanies the Grande Armée on the great invasion.
There is another element I need to work into my tale at this point. For most of my life, I’ve done Revolutionary War re-enacting. In fact, my wife and I met because our fathers had joined the same regiment when we were in our teens. All of these years of experiencing firsthand the “hurry up and wait,” confusion, contradiction and plans gone awry, albeit as a re-enactor, gave me some feel for what a lowly soldier in the ranks must experience on a campaign. This is why I wanted my main character to tell the story through his eyes about what he saw. As such, he wouldn’t have known what the generals were planning, he would only know what he experienced himself or heard from someone else.
It had been many years since that college report on the retreat from Russia so, in mid-October, I threw myself into a frenzy of studying the campaign, the soldiers’ life and outlining the story. Meanwhile, something else was giving me cause for concern. I’d never written fiction before and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write enough to get to the 50,000 word goal. So I paid particular attention to developing a good outline and thinking through what my character would experience. I decided if I could outline 30 chapters, one for each day of the November writing period, I would be all right.
Then November started. I set my alarm an hour earlier in my daily quest for 1,667 words (50,000/30 days). The words flowed. I wrote thousands of words in chapters that theoretically would have only 1,667. Helen, my number one writing buddy, and I kept track of our growing word count on the refrigerator white board. I put my character, 13-year-old Henri Carle, into 1811/12 France and let him go, documenting the trials, tribulations and adventures along the way. The word count grew and grew. By Thanksgiving, my daughter and I were both NaNoWriMo winners and with days to spare.
But, there was a problem. I had written my 50,000 words and November was over, but my story had only been half told. The epic part of the story, the part where my hero endures the Russian campaign, was yet to come. Now I had to write without the daily 1,667 word goal to drive me. Fortunately, a new goal soon appeared. The nice folks who run NaNoWriMo, sent an email telling about the Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award contest which had an entry deadline at the beginning of February. Thank goodness, a new deadline!
Back at the keyboard, I wrote until the end of January while my wife (and number one editor) worked on editing. Then it was time to write the pitch, give the manuscript one last look and submit it to the contest (all 115,000 words). The waiting for the judges’ decision began.
In the meantime, The Book Doctors had teamed up with the NaNoWriMo people to offer a special, online Pitchapalooza for NaNoWriMo winners. Twenty-five pitches would be selected at random to be critiqued and the pitch for Russian Snows was one of them. Because the 200th anniversary of the events depicted in Russian Snows was fast approaching, The Book Doctors suggested I self-publish if I wanted my book in print by the time the anniversary rolled around.
Russian Snows made it into the final 250 out of a potential 5,000 entries in the young adult category in the ABNA contest. The Publishers Weekly review was positive but advised, just as some writer friends had, that I trim down the manuscript. My target readership was 12 – 16 year olds so ideally, I had to cut my manuscript by over half. A summer of cutting, editing and re-writing had the manuscript down to 51,000 words and I was ready to self-publish.
October 19, 2011, the 199th anniversary of Napoleon’s departure from Moscow to begin the retreat, was the date of my book launch. With a stack of books from CreateSpace at my side and a cake depicting the book’s cover, I signed books like a pro.
This June will mark the 200th Anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. I have developed a presentation on the plight of the soldiers on that campaign and am available to give it to local groups (southeast Pennsylvania). As a side project to the book, I began a blog about the experience of the soldier on the campaign that features eyewitness accounts of those who were actually there. The blog can be seen at www.Napoleon1812.wordpress.com.
The (updated) pitch for Russian Snows:
Russian Snows: Coming of Age in Napoleon’s Army is the fictional account of 14-year-old Henri Carle as he accompanies France’s Grande Armée from Paris to Moscow during Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia.
When his older brother Luc enlists in the army, young Henri follows and finds work in the camp bakery. He later joins the supply train to stay close to Luc on the long march through Europe. Shy and unprepared for life on his own, Henri is shaped by the people he meets. As the French army crosses the vast plains of Russia in search of a decisive battle, he develops skills and confidence. When the battle finally comes at Borodino, Henri is caught in the thick of the action and proves his bravery. The victorious, but battered French army is now caught deep in enemy territory. Henri and the devastated army begin the retreat in a desperate attempt to escape the Russian army and the Russian winter.
Henri is forced to use his wits, skills and quick thinking to survive. He experiences the horrors of battle, the heartbreaking agony of the wounded left behind and the death of his friends. As he is maturing and becoming a man, the army is disintegrating around him. With a quiet determination, Henri triumphs as he becomes both the first Frenchman on enemy soil and the second to last Frenchman out of Russia.
A cross between Stowaway and The Hunger Games, Russian Snows follows actual events and incidents from the campaign as Napoleon’s invading army was reduced from 500,000 to barely 20,000. The story brings the disaster to life through the eyes of Henri in this sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching, but ultimately uplifting adventure that paints a picture of what life was like for the common soldier.
You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You’ve been congratulated. You felt the high. But here’s the 64-gigabyte question: What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious manuscript? If you’re like the approximately one gazillion writers we know, you want to get published. And you want to get published successfully. You want readers to devour your book ravenously; you want raves glowing in blog posts; you want bookstore owners to hand-sell your book so fast it’s literally flying off the shelves; you want to trade barbs with Steven Colbert; you want readings in front of rapt devotees; you want to go viral at the speed of one of those krazy kitten movies. But how? This is where we, The Book Doctors, come in. It’s our job to help writers make their dreams come true. It’s what we did with our first Pitchapalooza winners, Nura Maznavi, & Ayesha Mattu, whose book, Love InshAllah, just hit the shelves. In the last week, they were profiled in the New York Times, had one of the most talked about pieces on the Huffington Post, and cracked the top 500 of all books sold on Amazon. Then there’s Pitchapalooza winner and NaNoWriMo veteran, Genn Albin. After she won Pitchapalooza, one of New York’s top agents sold her dystopian novel in a 3-book, 6-figure deal. Now we’re embarking on our second online Pitchapalooza exclusively for NaNoWriMo participants so that you, too, have a chance to win.
For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 200 words to pitch your book. You then email your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. 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 award a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). All pitches must be received by February 29, 2012. The twenty-five random pitches will be posted on March 5, 2012. Winners will be announced on March 15, 2012. Anyone can vote for fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up!
You may be thinking, “I can’t sum up my entire book in 200 words!” Let us say this: “Yes you can!” Your pitch is the first thing an agent, editor, publisher, bookseller, and often reader, will look at. In this age of one-minute attention spans, if your pitch doesn’t blow the person you’re pitching out of the water, you’ll get that dreaded letter that starts: “Dear Writer, Unfortunately…” We don’t want you to get any more of those letters. So enter the 2nd Annual NaNoWriMo Pitchaplooza by sending us a kick-ass pitch for your kick-ass novel. Who knows, maybe this year, the golden ticket will have your name on it.
P.S. 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.
The Book Doctors on Huffington Post: How to Get Your Book Published When the Everyone Keeps Rejecting It
The crazy tale of Nura Maznavi & Ayesha Mutta, & how their book Love InshAllah finally got published by Soft Skull Press.
Nura & Ayesha Get Published, or From ‘He’s just not that into you’ to ‘As good as it gets’ in under one minute
From ‘He’s just not that into you’ to ‘As good as it gets’ in under one minute
by Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi
We came to the Book Doctors with our book on life support.
Three years earlier, we had an idea for a book: a collection of stories written by American Muslim women about love, dating and courtship. We scoured every book publishing website and blog we could find and worked diligently on our book proposal every weekend. Our efforts paid off – within just a year, we acquired an agent and started shopping our proposal to large publishers.
That’s when everything fell apart.
We received the same line from each publisher who rejected us: wonderful, novel and interesting idea…but we’re going to pass. It was like a break up scene from a bad romantic comedy on repeat – “it’s not you, you’re great.” If our book was so great, why didn’t publishers want to be with it?
After six months of “we’re just not that into you” from publishers, our agent dumped us. Our enthusiasm was zapped. We both had family and work obligations that had overtaken our lives in the period our proposal was being shopped, and we no longer had the time, energy or direction to find a new agent and start the process all over again.
We did nothing but mope about our bad luck for a year. Whereas before we couldn’t stop talking about our book – stopping strangers in the coffee shops we worked out of to tell them all about it – we now grew irritated when family and friends asked us about our progress, telling them, “Why the hell do you keep asking us about the damn book? Back off already!”
And then we heard about Pitchapalooza.
Ayesha is a long time San Francisco Litquake volunteer and forwarded Nura news of Pitchapalooza’s first appearance at Litquake in September of 2010 with a note:
We’re going for this, it’s our last chance.
ps. You’re pitching.
pps. No pressure.
After reviewing our proposal, we decided to write our pitch from scratch. We knew we were pitching a book on two subjects that, individually, have been written about in tired and clichéd ways: love and Muslim women. How best to combine the two into a pitch that would be compelling and fresh? We decided to use an unexpected twist: humor.
On the night of Pitchapalooza, we were so excited and nervous that we showed up almost an hour early. Our names were the first ones dropped into the pitching hat. But as the night progressed and our names weren’t called, we grew anxious. The other pitches were a blur – after each one that resulted in thunderous applause from the audience and accolades from the judges we’d turn to each other and whisper, “Oh man, that one is totally going to win,” and “I’m so sad that our book will never be in print.”
And then, David announced that they had time for only two more pitches. We held our breath and then – NURA MAZNAVI was called! Nura would be the second to last person pitching for the evening. She made her way down to the side of the stage to wait on deck for her turn. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until Chris Cole (the fiction winner for the evening) leaned in to her and said, “You need to breathe.”
And then it was time. Nura had memorized the pitch but couldn’t remember a single line as she took her place behind the microphone and realized that the future of the book lay in the next minute. Clutching a wadded piece of paper she had brought with her just in case this happened, she began:
Muslim women – we just can’t seem to catch a break.
The audience erupted in laughter.
Emboldened by the audience’s reaction, she pushed on. And, amazingly, as she continued to pitch, the audience continued to laugh, clap, and then cheer. By the time David yelled, “TIME,” the crowd was going nuts!
The judges agreed with the audience, telling us that the book sounded fun, new and exciting. And then they clued us into why we maybe hadn’t been successful in shopping our proposal: “Large publishers can be cowards. Sometimes, if a book is about a subject that hasn’t been written about before, they are nervous about being the first ones to publish it.” They suggested that we do more research on marketing and on our target audience, and approach smaller and independent publishers who are less risk averse.
We had to sit through only one more pitch before the winners were announced. The fiction winner and the non-fiction winner – US!
Winning Pitchapalooza resuscitated our book, but listening to The Book Doctors as they advised us after the competition is what landed us a publisher.
We’d initially envisioned Love, InshAllah as a light and amusing look at the search for love—with a Muslim twist—to be placed on bookshelves somewhere in between Pride and Prejudice and Sex and the City.
But, we had edited our proposal – based on our former agent’s suggestions – into an academic work that was not at all funny or, frankly, that interesting. The book went from being placed squarely on a woman’s studies shelf to an amorphous space between religion and politics that no publisher wanted to touch.
The Book Doctors reviewed our proposal and gave us great advice, encouraging us to go back to our original hunch to go light. David wanted us to think big, think fun and carry that theme from the introduction right on through the marketing plan. Arielle’s insight helped us see that our book was the crest of a Muslim explosion – a literary one!
We retooled the proposal incorporating all their suggestions and within a month, The Book Doctors introduced us to Laura Mazer, Managing Editor at Soft Skull Press. The rest, as they say, is history. Laura loved the proposal and just six short months after winning Pitchapalooza we were offered a book deal! And in just two more weeks – on January 24 – our anthology Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women will be on bookstore shelves everywhere!
Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi are the co-editors of the groundbreaking anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” (Soft Skull Press, 1/24/12).
Follow Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi:
The Book Doctors had a great time at the 2nd annual Book Revue in Long Island. Here’s the podcast!
Really fun interview w/ wonderful interviewer. http://www.kcho.org/_main/links.asp?c=11
Excellent mini-documentary about Pitchapalooza taken at Book Revue, Huntington Long Island.