After having travelled America coast to coast Pitchapaloozing, we were extremely excited and slightly terrified to bring it to our own hometown: Montclair, NJ. Because Montclair is populated with publishing professionals (shake a tree here and an editor from Harper Collins or a New York Times writer will fall out), we were worried that the jaded been-there, done-that mentality might make our event seem passé. But we also know that basically everyone in Montclair wants to write a book, so we were optimistic that there were enough writers who would be hungry to dine at our publishing buffet. Plus we had an all-star panel of judges: Dominick Anfuso, Editor-in-Chief of The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, agent Liza Dawson, founder of Liza Dawson Associates, and Pamela Satran Redmond, New York Times bestselling author and founder of MEWS.
While we started a little late in the game with publicizing our event, we ended up working our tails off to get the word out. We hooked up with Meetup groups, sent stuff to the Montclair State University student newspaper, and its writing department. We got something up on Baristanet, and a couple of pieces in the Montclair Times. Margot Sage-El, the amazing owner of the amazing bookstore, Watchung Booksellers, did her part getting the word out via her website and emails. We also put up posters in the bookstore and at strategic spots in town where writers like to hang and sip their decaf soy lattes with just one shot. The piece on Baristanet sparked some flaming, hate spewing in the comments. Montclair seems to be such a liberal, happy place, but there can be an undercurrent of profound anger bubbling just below the surface. Very David Lynch-ey.
It was a freezing, frigid night. David arrived at 6:15 to help the videographer who was nowhere to be found. The library tech guy announced at 6:40 that the sound system they promised us “wasn’t working.” David, seething, asked the library tech guy what he meant. He explained, that the sound system they had promised didn’t, in fact, work. David, now livid, demanded an explanation. The library tech guy explained that the sound system wasn’t working and he apologized very nicely. David, overwrought, immediately began to assemble his portable sound system–yes, David travels with a portable sound system for just this very reason. And since we were videotaping this Pitchapalooza, we had to have sound. Arielle had not yet arrived, but Montclair’s best and brightest were already piling in by the score. The wonderful staff of Watchung Booksellers, who were sponsoring our event, were frantically putting out more chairs, always a good sign 10 minutes before an event. The videographer finally called, her GPS sent her through Chinatown from Long Island.
Arielle had still not arrived when David had managed to hook up and amplify three mikes. Made them hot. The judges arrived. Steven Pace and Michael Rockliff, two of our favorite people from our publisher, were there. At 6:55, the videographer arrived, a whiff of Chinatown wafting after her. She began frantically setting up. At 6:58, Arielle showed up. The babysitter had been late, some horrendous accident with ambulances had blocked up the streets of Montclair, and there were no parking spaces. Her cheeks were radiating red as she tried to catch her breath as she settled into her judge’s chair. Imagine our gratitude and joy when we started the show at 7:07, exactly as planned, with the cameras rolling and someone from the Montclair Times snapping pix.
Compared to places like Denver, Colorado and Naperville, Illinois, it seemed at first to be a rather subdued crowd of about 125. But once the train started rolling, we heard some top-notch pitches. Ani, an autistic artist and visionary had a stunning book that’s a visual representation of how her autistic mind/soul/spirit sees the world. Plus she has cool green hair. A poet writing a memoir from the POV of a house. A guy who had been tortured by nuns as a kid. But the winner blew everyone away. Wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”, she rocked a revisionist historical novel about the Founding Fathers and the creation of America. Spellbinding, smart, timely and timeless, historic and au currant. Plus—get this–she was 15 years old! David confessed afterwards that he had never felt stupider remembering what he was doing at 15.
As usual, our panel doled all kinds of precious info. At one point Dominick said, “I don’t know exactly what your book is. The voice isn’t distinctive and unique. I wouldn’t know which editor I would send assign it to.” Fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a guy deciding which editor to choose. Liza Dowson pointed out the basics clearly, precisely and warmly. Who is the audience? What are the comparable writers/books? Why are you the person to write this book? Pamela Satran Redmond, gushed over a great pitch for a grandmother naming book (she is the author of some of the bestselling naming books of all time) and handed out helpful hints and bon mots about locating, reaching out, and touching your audience.
After the event, the grandmother naming book lady was besieged by admirers and publishing peeps. Our 15-year-old winner (the youngest in Pitchapalooza history) was wide-eyed, stunned, and giddy with glee. Apparently she’s finished five drafts of the novel, but is not quite satisfied yet (why can’t all writers think like this?!). Afterwards people were so nice. It was great to catch up with Montclarian amigos and make lots of new friends among our homies. Laura Schenone, James Beard Award winner and author, and Herb Schaffer, President of Schaffner Media, sat right in front. Laura and Herb also happen to be our closest friends here in Montclair. It was strangely comforting to have our extended family in the hizzle laughing and nodding in all the right places.
We also tried something new. We announced a paid workshop at the Pitchapalooza, then rented a room a week later to do our Stanford University presentation: How to Get Successfully Published. We had no idea if it would work. But we’re constantly trying to evolve the way we get our ideas out into the world. Trying the next thing to see what you can learn to make your thing more easily accessible, simpler for someone who wants it to say: YES.
There was a lot of Montclair love at the Montclair Public Library. The library was great, sound system notwithstanding, and they continue to be an incredibly underrated resource in our community, one that must be supported, nourished, and treasured. Thanks Montclair. We’ve been here 3 years and change, and we can honestly say, Montclair has been very, very good to us. Next stop, Kansas City!