The New York Times covers our Book Revue Pitchapalooza!

December 10, 2010
For Would-Be Authors, a Chance at a Happy Ending

SUZANNE WELLS, a slight woman with a careworn face, looked a little shaky as she walked up to the podium and faced a table where four judges sat. To her left was an audience of more than 200 people, ready to listen to her bid to become a published author.

Glancing at her notes, Ms. Wells launched into a description of her life, which started in affluence and comfort and devolved into heroin addiction and poverty, including an excruciating evening “when I took my children to a housing shelter.”

That was one of the more dramatic moments of “Pitchapalooza!” an event at the Book Revue here during which would-be authors pitched book ideas to a panel of publishing experts. All the presenters got advice from the panelists; the winner was to receive an introduction to an agent.

Though only 25 people were chosen at random to make their pitches, 187 had signed up for the opportunity at the Dec. 2 event, which was part of a cross-country promotional tour by David Henry Sterry and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, the authors of “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It and Market It … Successfully!” The crowd in Huntington was the largest yet, they said.

“Who knew how many people on Long Island are looking to write a book?” said Mr. Sterry, of Montclair, N.J., who has written 12 of them. “There were so many different kinds of stories,” said Ms. Eckstut, a literary agent and writer, who said she had signed 97 copies of the book.

Each person who bought one was to receive a free telephone consultation with the authors, whose new book is a substantially revised version of “Putting Your Passion Into Print,” which they published in 2005. Both the number of books sold and the size of the crowd were unusually high for authors who aren’t celebrities, said Julianne Wernersbach, the Book Revue publicist who organized the event.

Each writer making a pitch was limited to one minute — timed and sometimes stopped mid-sentence — followed by comments from the authors and two other panelists, James Levine, founder of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, where Ms. Eckstut works, and Mauro DiPreta, associate publisher of It Books, a HarperCollins imprint, who lives in Port Washington.

“You choked me up,” said Ms. Eckstut after hearing the emotion-packed pitch by Ms. Wells, a former Fortune 500 company executive who is now a yoga teacher and mother of three living in the home where she grew up, in Fort Salonga.

Ms. Wells, who won the competition, said later that she had already written much of her memoir, called, “One Wing — The Book.”

On a decidedly lighter note, Amber Jones, a hotel concierge who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, delivered her idea for “New York, Phew York,” a scratch-and-sniff book for children, in rhyming couplets: “Smells of bagels and lox and stuffed garbage trucks;/because summer to winter these smells are in flux.”

Ms. Jones’s pitch was a close runner-up, Ms. Eckstut said, as was a proposal by Gerald M. Rosen of Lido Beach, who laid out his story of running a marathon in every state, even though he was 51 when he started training.

Melinda Ehrlich of East Norwich had the room in stitches when she started her presentation with a joke about a Jewish boy who tells his mother he’s going to marry a girl named Running Deer and has changed his own name to Sitting Bull. “I’ve taken on a new name, too,” the mother says. “Sitting Shiva.”

Mr. Levine said her book of humorous vignettes about sitting shiva and attending wakes would be “highly promotable on talk radio,” but cautioned that it might be tricky to get people to buy it as a gift.

T. J. Dassau, 18, of Huntington Station stood at the side of a family friend, Janet Murphy, as she explained that Mr. Dassau, who is autistic, had written a set of illustrated stories for children, “The Epic Adventures of Rampion.” The book, she said, looks at the world from the perspective of a tiny imp. “I love this idea,” said Mr. Sterry, who advised Mr. Dassau to start gathering a following by getting some of the stories published on Web sites and building liaisons with autism-related organizations.

Some would-be authors were gently encouraged to consider self-publishing, but no one got negative feedback. “We try to inspire people,” Mr. Sterry said. “We don’t want to step on people’s dreams — and you don’t know what will sell.”

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