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
How To Busk Your Way Into The New Yorker: How Heth and Jed Weinstein Went from Street Performers to Published Authors
The other day, we got one of the best emails an author can get. It was from two dudes and it said, “Recently we released a memoir (Soft Skull Press) called, Buskers: The On the Streets, In the Trains, Off the Grid Memoir of Two New York City Street Musicians. We never could have done it without you AND your book The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. We wanted to say hi and thank you!” Of course, we wanted to know more. So we wrote back and said, “Do tell how it all happened!” and they did. Here’s their story:
We would be hanging out at a party, getting our drink on, and guests would find out we were street musicians. That’s when the Q’s & A’s would fly fast and furious. No shit? How much do you guys make an hour? (between $0.00 & $200.00) Do you need a permit to play on the streets? (not unless they catch you) Is there a union you had to join? (what are you, nuts?!) And folks ate up our juicy busking war stories. Like the time we beat a mugger into submission with our trusty microphone stands after he helped himself to about two hours worth of hard earned tips. The conversation would almost always end with: “You guys should write a book!”
Yes, but how do we do that? The answer remained a mystery until destiny intervened. A mutual friend at Simon and Schuster recommended we pick up a copy of Arielle and David’s book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—that’s when the veil of confusion lifted. EGGYP provided the road map we desperately needed for organizing our thoughts into a solid proposal. With our confidence bolstered, we spent the next six months meticulously focusing on each and every component, until the Outline, Overview, Competition, Sample Chapters etc… became a part of what several literary agents eventually deemed “the most thorough book proposal they’d ever seen.”
Next, by adhering to the guidelines in the righteous chapter, Locating, Luring, and Landing the Right Agent we managed to concoct a rather killer query letter. Here is an excerpt . .
My brother and I are street musicians in a duo called Heth and Jed ( www.hethandjed.com ). Perhaps you’ve seen us playing in the subways. Over the last four years we’ve performed in excess of 1,000 shows, and sold more than 50,000 copies of our independently released CDs–all without ever leaving New York City. Together we’ve written a proposal for a book entitled, Buskers: The-On-the-Streets, In-the-Trains, Off-the-Grid Memoir of Two New York City StreetMusicians. We’d be thrilled if you would review our proposal and consider representing us.”
Then it was GO TIME! With the book proposal and query letter “in the can”, we plunked down twenty bucks to join publishersmarketplace.com and sifted through a list of the Top 100 Deal Making agents. After boldly firing off an arsenal of query letters we sat back and hoped for the best. Within hours our inbox was filling up with top agents requesting a look-see at our proposal. For the first time we held out tentative hope that we might someday know the thrill of having our magnum opus published. The more we sat and thought about the whole thing, the more surreal it became. Here we were, two accomplished musicians who couldn’t get a record company to give us the time of day, but within hours of the initial mailing, the gatekeepers of the literary world appeared to be welcoming two guys with the combined SAT scores of around 900, with open arms.
In the end, we met with a bunch of prominent agents and eventually signed with Andrea Somberg at the Harvey Klinger Agency. We swear we didn’t sign because she was the only one schmoozing us over pitchers of Brooklyn Lager . . . or maybe we did! At any rate, she was way cool and we believed she could sell our book.
Soft Skull Press subsequently published Buskers and our band was finally on the musical and literary map, receiving recognition not from the previously envisioned Rolling Stone or Spin Magazine, but in the form of book reviews from such sweet ass publications as theNew Yorker.
Presently, our book continues to unlock unexpected creative doors as we begin the process of adapting our story for the stage. Having our book “out there” has also separated us from the generic rock n’ roll pack and we couldn’t have done it without Arielle and David by our side. Like those two rockers from Aurora, Illinois once famously said, “We’re not worthy!”
Our fabulous Kansas City Pitchapalooza winner, Genn Albin, gives us part 3 of 4 of her journey to a six-figure deal for her YA dystopian fantasy novel, Crewel:
I was an agented writer. Now it was time to whip the manuscript into shape and outline the sequels. Mollie and I worked like fiends for three weeks, passing revisions back and forth and discussing submission strategies. During that time a sneak peek to one editor turned into a pre-empt offer. We kept working on revisions and opted to submit to a list of editors on the Friday before Memorial Day. On Tuesday we got our second offer with a choice of editors at the house. I took four phone calls that day to discuss editorial and marketing strategies. The next day we had two more, and a fifth offer came in on Thursday. That afternoon my agent asked for everyone to submit best offers and marketing plans.
Once again I found myself torn between two amazing choices. I knew I couldn’t go wrong either way, but by the end of Thursday a final offer and an amazing marketing plan landed in my email. As soon as I saw it, I knew my choice was made. Not only did I have an enthusiastic editor offering, her enthusiasm was shared by her whole imprint.
My agent suggested I sleep on it to be sure and I spoke to her early in the morning to let her know I was sure. On Friday, June 3rd, exactly one month since my first meeting with Mollie, she sold my book in a three book deal to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. I was going to be a published author!
As soon as I had the official announcements, I emailed it to Arielle and David. I can’t share what David said because it’s not PG enough for a blog post, but, suffice it to say, they were ecstatic.
So that’s my wild ride, and what did I learn from it? A lot of people think this business is about luck, but I believe we make our own luck. It can be scary to tae chances and put your work out there, but there are so many opportunities if you’re just willing to take a chance. I could have left my name out of the box at Pitchapalooza. I could have given up on getting my query into the live event. I could have chosen an agent who wanted to run spell check and submit. Those would have been the easy choices. But I was tired of dipping my toes in the water, so I jumped in the pool. And what do you know? I can swim.
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
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.
Book Doctors thank Huff Po!