The ‘Book Doctors’ Want to Know What You’re Working On

The Montclair Times

OK, all you scribblers, it’s time to come out of your attics.

Time to let those manuscripts see the light of day.

Think about how you’d summarize your book to an agent if you only had the chance.

Distill that description down to a minute.

Rehearse it with a friend, or in front of the mirror.

Go to the Montclair Public Library tonight, and deliver that pitch to the Book Doctors and their panel of judges at Pitchapalooza, a sort of literary “American Idol” but without the cruelty.

The Book Doctors, in private life called Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, are the authors of “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.”

A revised edition of the book was released in November 2010 and since then Eckstut and Sterry have been touring the country with Pitchapalooza. They’re wrapping up the tour in their hometown and invite Montclair writers to pitch their books tonight, Feb. 10, at 7, at the library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.

Three judges will evaluate 25 pitches: Dominick Anfuso, vice president and editor in chief at Free Press; Liza Dawson, owner of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency; and Pamela Redmond Satran, bestselling author of “How Not to Act Old” and many baby name books, and the founder of the Montclair Editors and Writers Society, of which Eckstut and Sterry are members.

Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years and is the author of seven books. Sterry has written 12 books, in a wide variety of genres including memoir, sports, young adult fiction and reference.

With anywhere from 100 to 300 people at each Pitchapalooza event, the Book Doctors must see a wide range of pitches. Do they ever feel they’re wasting time?

“No one knows what’s going to be a successful book,” Sterry said. “If anyone knew they’d make a billion dollars.”

Citing Michael Jordan having been cut from his high school basketball team, Sterry said it’s not his job to nip anyone’s dream in the bud. But he won’t hesitate to tell a writer, “Look, this is not professional caliber. You need to do A, B, C and D.”

And as an agent, “trained to say no to everything,” Eckstut pointed out that there are no barriers to getting published anymore.

“One of the first questions we ask,” she said, “is ‘What is your goal?’ If they say ‘I want to be published by Random House and get a six-figure advance…'”

The sentence hardly needed finishing.

But what surprises publishers, editors, and agents, Eckstut says, is how many people don’t want that.

“They just want a printed book in their hands, and don’t care how they get it: self-publish, e-book, print on demand.”

Self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma it had a decade ago, when self-published meant ugly and riddled with typos.

“We tell everybody, if you’re going to self-publish, hire an editor, hire a proofreader, hire a cover designer and a book designer, so it looks like it deserves to be on the shelves,” Sterry said.

Many authors who’ve been published by reputable houses are choosing to publish on their own because they already have a following, he said. “If you’ve got 20,000 people champing at the bit and they can press a button [to get your book], why would you need a publisher?”

Before Pitchapalooza, Eckstut and Sterry conducted workshops based on the 2005 edition of their book — titled, like the book, “Putting Your Passion into Print”— and have had what Eckstut called “some major success stories.”

“A winner in San Francisco from seven years ago has seven books out,” she said, “and Tim Ferriss of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ took our workshops. Even from this tour, we’ve already hooked up a lot of our winners with agents, so they’re in the process right now.”

Everyone pitching a manuscript tonight will get one minute.

“This is what makes the event so dramatic,” said Sterry. “That clock starts ticking. When they get to 50 seconds, Arielle says, ’10 seconds.’ You can feel the room tightening up.”

For an unknown writer to get to pitch a book to established agents and publishers is a rare thing, so the Book Doctors want you to make the most of your minute tonight.

For writers who aren’t sure what a pitch is, Eckstut suggests reading the copy on the backs of books in your genre. Whether mystery, sci fi, children’s book, whatever you read (and write), “on the back of every book is a pitch.”

The Eckstut-Sterry family loves living in Montclair, to which they moved just after the birth of their daughter three and a half years ago. Eckstut recently completed a book project with her mother, an expert on color.

Sterry has just finished a novel, which he describes as “‘Catcher in the Rye’ meets Stephen King.”

That’s a very short pitch.

Contact Elizabeth Oguss at