Murder in Marin, Science in SF, Books In(c) Berkeley, Standing Room Only in Santa Cruz, Fun Down on the Farm
We started off our Bay Area Tour with a bang at the Mystery Writer’s Conference at Book Passage (one of our ATF bookstores). There were maniac murderers, femme fatales, and international men of mystery run amok. And that was just at the faculty dinner! As for the Mysterypalooza, the bar was raised very high—lots of writers flew in from all over the country to chase their mysterious dreams. In fact, Sheldon Siegel, the attorney turned NYT bestselling mystery author who chairs the conference, was once a student there. Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage, welcomed us with her usual grace and warmth. We also had a phenomenal panel, bestselling author Hallie Ephron was an font of wisdom about the ins and outs of the fine art of the mystery pitch. How much to reveal, how much to conceal. How to create a sense of suspense, character and place. Bridget Kinsella of Publisher’s Weekly and Shelf Awareness, as well as an author, brought her market savvy and understanding of the publishing biz to the table big-time. Everyone who pitched came away with a whole host of tools for how to improve their pitch, but perhaps more importantly, how to solve the mystery of the dastardly publishing game.
One of the great joys of going to conferences like these is the socializing. At the after party, at a gorgeous home overlooking the Bay of San Francisco, we met one of the true mastercraftswomen of her trade: Rhys Bowen, who is the author of over 100 books (that’s not a typo, we’re talking one hundred!). She told us that before she starts writing one of her mysteries, she visits the specific location. She walks the streets, studies the buildings, smells the smells and listens to the sounds. And when you read one of her books, you feel the authenticity shining through.
We had never held a Pitchapalooza in a bar until our next stop when we watched pitchees rock it at the Rock It Room in San Francisco. We were joined by two more fab panelists. Pitchapalooza veteran Elise Cannon, the grand pooba of the pitch, and Head of Field Sales at Publishers Group West. Elise tossed off comp titles and tweaked and toned pitches with a fun-loving ease. Christina Amini, Executive Editor at Chronicle Books as well as an author, brought her editorial and marketing savvy (a rare combination in an editor) to the party. Green Apple Books sponsored our event. This super cool bookstore has an eclectic mix of new and used books. And it happens to be located down the street from one of our new favorite restaurants in San Francisco, Burma Superstar.
Since David’s family has been living in Berkeley for 25 years, it was a homecoming of sorts when we brought our dog and pony show to Bezerkly. Although we’re a big fan of Books, Inc., we had never been to the new store in Berkeley. We’re happy to say that books are alive and thriving in Berkeley. Over a 100 brave souls showed up pitch their books on a Monday night. We had a wonderfully eclectic sampling of revolutionary agitation, waxing New Age gurus, and startups gone terribly wrong. Again, we were graced with an extraordinary panelist, the lovely and talented Laura Mazer, who runs Soft Skull, the phenomenal independent publisher. She just signed a deal to publish our first Pitchapalooza winners (held during last year’s Litquakepalooza), Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, who have written the wonderful anthology, Love, InShallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. As usual, Laura was incredibly generous with her expertise, both as an editor, but as someone who runs an independent, and actually acquires books.
Santa Cruz is a magical place, rich with California history, radical hippies, party hearty students, and a spectacularly laid-back sunshine-drenched vibe. We’d never been to Bookshop Santa Cruz, but the second we stepped foot in this magical Emporium of literature, we fell madly in love. George, who’s been working there since the last millennium, catered to our every need, and made sure that the show ran like clockwork. She is a bookseller’s bookseller, and we salute her. The bookstore has been around since 1966, and has been run by the Coonerty family for over 30 years. Casey Coonerty Protti, who basically grew up in the bookstore, runs it now. Casey took the time to meet and greet us, and make us feel right at home. The bookstore also supplied us with two judges, Kat Bailey, and Susan McCloskey. They both had such an incredible passion for books, and deep insider’s knowledge which they dispensed with almost alarming alacrity. We had a feeling this was going to be a big event, you never quite know. So, we were excited and deeply gratified over 200 people showed up Thursday night to shower us with their pitches and love. We can’t wait to go back.
Stanford is a universe unto itself. Every time we go the sun is always shining, pretty people always seem happy, and even though the campus itself is an essentially unnavigable maze, there is a deep vein of contentment which pervades beautiful buildings. We love teaching at Stanford, in part because almost all of our students are better educated than we are. They are wicked smart, and have a deep thirst to learn. Since our classes are interactive, this makes for a scintillating exchange of ideas, and the five hours fly by in a flash. We will be absolutely shocked if several published books don’t come out of this class.
The bad news is that we have to leave the Bay Area. The good news is that we will be doing our second annual Litquake Pitchapalooza on October 9 at 5pm. Come on down. Who knows, maybe this year you will be the author who gets published out of Litquakepalooza!
Well Played, Sterry By Michael Leaverton
You’re a writer and you have one minute with Soft Skull Press executive editor Laura Mazer: How do you pitch your book? This isn’t a rhetorical question — you really do have one minute with Mazer. At Pitchapalooza, she’s sitting next to NaNoWriMo’s Chris Baty and self-described “book doctors” Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, the founders of the five-year-old event. To prepare, start speaking in public ASAP, because you’re pitching before a room of people. Try to compare your book to what’s already out there, but don’t say, “It’s like Foer got drunk with Godot at Twilight and started puking Seuss,” because we’re going to say that. There might be agents scattered around you in the audience, like at the Pitchapalooza in New York, so don’t mutter profanities and scribble on a matchbook when awaiting your turn — or, better yet, do exactly that. The winner gets “an introduction to an agent,” which is surely better than it sounds. The losers get the opportunity to buy Sterry and Eckstut’s book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully!, which comes with a “free consultation” worth $100. Of course, it should be clear that Pitchapoolza is, at its core, a drop-dead genius way for Sterry and Eckstut to market Essential Guide — they know their shit, to be sure. They’re the book doctors.