Washington Post with a lovely piece about David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, P0litics & Prose, The Book Doctors & Pitchapalooza
Very nice piece on Vermont Public Radio about Pitchaplooza @ Northshire, one of our favorite bookstores in the world.
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.
The Book Doctors had a great time at the 2nd annual Book Revue in Long Island. Here’s the podcast!
On February 25, Changing Hands, one of the great bookstores in the world, is sponsoring the Book Doctors to come out to the Wild West to put on Pitchapalooza. It’ll be a great conference, with lots of top drawer publishing professionals. Attendance is limited, so hurry & sign up.
Boston Writers: The Book Doctors bring Pitchapalooza to Porter Square Books, interview in Phoenix
For the last 25 years, Echoing Green has unleashed next generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems through their social entrepreneurship Fellowship program. Echoing Green recently developed a new program, Work on Purpose, which helps young people create a life and career that is both right for them and good for the world. Lara Galinsky, who is senior vice president of Echoing Green, knew that publishing a book would be a powerful way to launch this program, and wanted to do it in a way that would afford them as much flexibility as possible. So Lara chose to self-publish their book, Work on Purpose. She and her colleagues quickly learned the power and pitfalls of self-publishing. And so we asked Lara to share her experiences for those of you considering going down the same path.
If something could go wrong, it did. The first draft of Work on Purpose— the book I co-wrote about Echoing Green’s world-changing Fellows and the ways they have created meaningful careers with social impact—was scrapped; the first cover design hit the trash just as quickly; the book was stopped at customs days before our launch party, and; don’t even get me started about the months it took to create the highly designed eBooks.
But we persevered, with a small staff and a tiny budget, for the sake of flexibility.
Self-publishing Work on Purpose meant we didn’t have the prerequisites of a publisher. YET, we had complete freedom to make choices that aligned with our mission, such as donating books to worthy partners without the funds to purchase them, and our vision. Having held a number of focus groups and done a great deal of market research on just what young people needed to help them create careers in social change, we were looking for a process that allowed us complete freedom in creating the book.
As a result, we learned more about the world of publishing—which our beloved board member, publishing wiz Dan Weiss (of Sweet Valley High fame), calls “the business of details,”—than we ever expected. Honestly, I don’t know that we could have done it all without Dan’s guidance. We also involved our entire Echoing Green staff in the book’s development, getting great feedback throughout the entire process and allowing our staff to internalize its methodologies and frameworks that help Millennials create careers with social impact.
When it came to marketing and distribution, we knew we were missing out on a publisher’s media savvy, paid connections with distributors, and access to book buyers’ lists. This was certainly quite a challenge. To make up for it, we developed a robust partnership-based strategy that enriches our understanding of the field, provides us with on-the-ground marketing and accomplishes our social mission at the same time. We work with like-minded partners including nonprofit organizations, social entrepreneurship leaders, and universities to share our networks and our knowledge. Some co-create content us; others do cross-promotional marketing with us; still others receive services from us such as workshops, and more.
The result of all of our hard work is that we now have the perfect tool to help us roll out our new Work on Purpose program—a diligently developed book with a beautiful design, which is flexibly priced* for our partners’ varying budgets. In other words, exactly what we wanted.
*For all of you self-publishers, we wanted to highlight the brilliant strategy of flexible pricing. This sort of nimbleness is what makes self-publishing so exciting and potentially successfully. Take note!
Pitchapalooza comes back To San Francisco for the 2nd annual Litquakepalooza. The lovely and talented Sam Barry & Kathi Kamen Goldmark, authors of Write That Book Already, will be joining us once again. Last year’s winner, Nura Maznavi got a book deal from Soft Skull Press with her partner, Ayesha Mattu, after her amazing pitch rocked the house.
“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
WHAT: Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only without Simon). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute! In the last month, three writers have gotten publishing deals as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza.
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 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 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.
HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from 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. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.
PRIZE: 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.
PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.
WHEN: Oct. 9, 5PM-6:30PM,
WHERE: Variety Preview Room, 582 Market St, SF
New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.
Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television
Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:
“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,