Would-be authors had the chance to pitch their novel ideas to a panel of renowned authors during Pitchapalooza sponsored by BookTowne, 171 Main St., Manasquan.
Pitchapalooza began in November and is a competition for aspiring writers during which they make a one-minute pitch, with the winner receiving an introduction to an agent appropriate to their book. It is the brainchild of The Book Doctors, bestselling author David Henry Sterry, and his wife, literary agent and author Arielle Eckstut, both Montclair, and authors of the new book, “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.”
“We saw Manasquan had this great book store and we thought: the Jersey shore – there are many artistic, creative people in that neck of the woods,” said Sterry, who noted the team has 50 more events planned this year, and while ideally they want to do places close to Montclair, they’ll travel to Texas and Cape Code later this summer.
Rita Maggio, owner of BookTowne, was ecstatic about hosting Pitchapalooza. “We are thrilled – I’ve had the store four years, and since I’ve opened, a lot of customers have said, ‘I’m writing a book, do you have any idea how to get it published?’ So, this is the perfect opportunity – now we would see how many really wanted this opportunity.”
Due to overwhelming response of more than 20 aspiring authors, The Algonquin Arts Theatre, Manasquan, generously allowed BookTowne to hold the event in its dance studio. Several contestants had read “The Essential Guide,” and told Maggio it was excellent. The book – originally written in 2005 and called “Putting Your Passion Into Print” – is a revision according to Sterry, and “Seventy percent different as the world of books has changed for writers since 2005; there’s so many ways to get published now.”
The idea for Pitchapalooza stems from his personal experience: he had to shop around his first book to get an agent. An actor for 20 years, and former comic, “I started as a writer in 1999, and through sheer dogged persistence and countless rejections, was able to find an agent for my book,” he said, noting the book – his memoir, “Chicken” – sold within two hours, and “is being made into a movie as we speak.”
His advice to aspiring authors? “It does behoove writers to have a top-notch editor. We found from doing Pitchapalooza there are so many writers with great ideas, but don’t really know the publishing world. In the last month, we’ve helped three Pitchapalooza winners land book deals.”
Dozens of Pitchapaloozas so far; how many pitches have Sterry – also a contributor to Huffington Post – and Eckstut endured? “Thousands; 10 percent of those are great and ready to be made into books – most are ideas that aren’t ready yet or will never be ready,” said Sterry.
He recalled a somewhat unique pitch experience following the event held at Strand Book Store, New York City. “A guy in his late 40s accompanied by his beautiful girlfriend did a pitch about doing hard time in prison – beautiful descriptions, a fantastic story,” he recalled. However, the contestant was very persistent, “He called me and kept asking for my home address; he called at 3 a.m., and we talked to him, but he was getting belligerent and constantly asking where I lived so he could come and talk about his books.”
Although he was a “great writer and storyteller, he had a hardness about him, and we found out six months later he was back in prison for killing his beautiful girlfriend – just another story in the Naked City!” stated Sterry.
Upon observation, the aspiring authors at the BookTowne event weren’t ex-convicts; the group ranged from late teens to early 60s, and was roughly 95 percent female. Most came to pitch, yet a few were published already, and came just to glean pointers. Joining Sterry and Eckstut on the “judge’s panel” was Ocean Grove crime fiction author and former newspaper journalist, Wallace Stroby, whose latest novel is “Cold Shot to the Heart.”
Maggio praised The Book Doctors during her introduction. “I heard about this wonderful couple, and thought this is perfect for those wanting to get published. Together, they have helped so many people get published,” she stated.
Sterry in turn praised BookTowne. “You guys are incredibly lucky to have a bookstore like this in your community,” and made an appeal to the audience, “To engender goodwill with them, buy something!”
As Pitchapalooza got under way, Sterry laid the ground rules. “You should be able to tell your story in one minute – this pitch will follow you through the whole life of your book” advised Sterry, noting contestants had roughly 200 words to make the pitch.
A pitch called “creative and interesting” by Sterry involved “Suiciety,” a suicide fiction novel for older teens. Which Sterry also said was “a fantastic idea for a book.”
The operative word here being “idea.” The pitches didn’t have to describe the book, rather an idea for a book the author was going to write – although some may have already completed the entire book. Case in point: a pitch from a woman about the first in a series, “Nashoga,” which was published on Smashwords, to which Sterry opined, “I thought it was a good pitch and had a wonderful ending.
Speaking of series, Eckstut – in a pre-Pitchapalooza interview – said one of the most outrageous pitches she’d heard was “the 19-book series for spiritual self-help book. 19-book? Really?!”
How do you mesh together approximately 20 pitches with the reader getting bored? You don’t, so here is a representation, with highlight responses from the panel.
Charles McPherson pitched “South of Charleston: The Journey,” about his family experiences he had growing up, to which Eckstut responded, “You have a story that many people in this country share,” but he needed to be more specific with his family’s life experiences.
Carly Wyche’s pitch about the “underworld of hell,” a dead heroine, and the supernatural in her book for young adults won praise from Sterry, calling it a “nice pitch,” and “young adult books with supernatural elements are hot now.”
Stroby advised, “Regarding a main character – what do they want, what do they need? Keep that in mind for your character,” and Sterry agreed, telling the audience, “You got a nugget of gold just now.”
Sterry suggested making a female pitcher’s cookbook/stories with a single recipe alphabetized from a to z into a YouTube movie, and “If it’s a big attraction, publishers will come to you!”
Eckstut represents a lot of cookbooks and seemed unsure of the concept as “there are literally hundreds of cookbooks,” and told the writer to perhaps use a different title.
The pitches ran the gamut from novels, love stories, comedies, several memoirs and young adult books to fiction such as using a dog for psychotherapy and the supernatural.
A young gentleman touched on the supernatural in “Turnabout World,” a novel he described as “’Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘Lost.’” While Stroby said, “This is a crowded genre that goes back a long way,” Sterry disagreed, stating, “I thought it was a really good pitch.”
Among the comedies was “Play Group,” a novel set in upper-crust USA by Pat Kruger, Bay Head. Stroby drew laughter from the crowd when he opined, “So this is ‘Valley of the Dolls’ set in Montclair,” and while Sterry “liked the description of all the characters,” and called her a wonderful writer, “I need to know more about what the story’s about in your pitch.”
Recipes, “achieving balance,” and post menopause, all wrapped up in one cookbook/memoir? Such was a pitch by Cynthia Gandolfo, Galloway, to which Stroby responded, “It’s a two-word pitch, ‘menopause cookbook.’ My publisher would say ‘How soon can you get it to me!’”
Eckstut needed some convincing “So this is a menopause cookbook? The memoir – you haven’t given me reason to believe you have a story that is unique – the pitch didn’t convince me of that.”
The comical Sterry called the idea “fantastic – could use ‘hot flash guacamole!’”
Post-event, Gandolfo commented, “I’ve been journaling a lifetime. I’m going to take their advice – not going to give up.”
Bringing the house down with his pitch was Jack Finnen, Point Pleasant, and his “funny approach memoir about heroin addiction, but primarily impotence.”
“There’s a billion memoirs – I haven’t seen this one yet – it’s unique! This book, if done correctly could have a large, fertile audience!,” said Sterry, urging the aspiring author to “Describe the scene (impotence) as it’s going on in all its horror for you.”
Eckstut noted, “Men buy far fewer books than women,” and advised Finnen, “You may want to mention in the pitch that this is what men are going through.”
A comical idea about a woman’s morning of her first day as a teacher was called “purposeful” and “satisfying when you revealed you’re a teacher,” by Sterry, but Eckstut admitted she was taking a negative approach. “There are so many memoirs about teachers out there – can you really warrant another teacher’s memoir?”
A few rhyming book ideas were pitched, such as a Christmas story by a woman was called a “fantastic idea” by Sterry. Eckstut praised, “There’s a demand for Christmas books,” but suggested a chapter book instead.
School bus driver, Linda Homler, Marlboro, came up with a novel – pardon the pun – idea of a rhyming book for children to prepare them for leaving mom and riding on a school bus. Eckstut said, “If this book doesn’t exist already, it’s a great idea,” and Sterry agreed, stating, “The school bus driver you are will be a great hook for the media.”
Stroby drew tons of laughter from the audience when he told Homler, “You could have a good rap song there!”
Fitten’s memoir was comical, yet a more somber pitch was given by Matthew Hayduck, Spring Lake, which he called “a portrait of hope and courage” regarding a family member’s battle with leukemia. Stroby was touched, commenting, “It connects on a very personal level – not easy to do in writing – there’s a certain amount of craft involved in it.”
“A beautiful book in here just waiting to get out,” praised Sterry, a sentiment shared by Eckstut who found it “moving,” yet she was “confused by the pitch – I didn’t know if you’d lost your son.”
Although several memoirs were presented, a moving pitch by Lisa Schenke, Spring Lake Heights, impressed and convinced the judges enough to declare her the Pitchapalooza winner. It involved her son’s suicide, how she dealt, and “glimpses into her 18-year-old scholar athlete son’s life.”
Eckstut called it “a wonderful pitch – very moving. I love how it opens. I got it immediately – I wanted to know you, to know your son, your story,” and told Schenke to research memoirs on suicide from mothers’ points of view.
“Terrific pitch – topic of teen suicide is a hot-button topic right now – gets written about all the time,” praised Sterry, but wanted more information regarding her son for an emotional attachment with him.
Stroby’s advice: “Find a book that’s similar to yours that was done well and steal the structure.”
Following the pitches, Eckstut and Stroby went outside the studio to confer and decide who would win Pitchapalooza, which Sterry explained to process to the attendees, as well as the various types of books, and self-publishing. “Part of our job is to hook you up with the right editor, the right agent. I was on the outside looking in 10 years ago – now I’ve written 12 books.”
Post-event, Schenke responded to her selection, stating “I’m honored – I’m thrilled and honored and I’m so excited!” She continued, “I’ve been writing for one year. I’m driven by the message I want to deliver – my story – and try to help others. What was lovable about my son, and how I’ve gotten through this – sharing the pain, the recovery.”
As the judges lingered to talk to contestants, and sign books, Eckstut explained what the judges were searching for in a pitch, and noted, “We’re looking for a one-minute story – it’s the whole ‘show don’t tell.’ If it’s funny, make us laugh. We want to know what the totality of the book is in a minute.”
What inspired the panel to select Schenke as the winner? Eckstut admitted, it was a “difficult decision – lots of good ideas, but this is a pitching event and we thought the best pitch of the evening was Lisa Schenke,” and reiterated “This is a pitch contest, not a contest for the best idea for a book, and she identified her audience clearly. The writing was strong – she made us feel something.”
She mentioned also appealing to the panel were “The novel about suicide, ‘Suiciety.’ The impotence pitch was terrific, and there were many others than intrigued.”
Eckstut noted “Our goal is to help everyone in this room become successfully published,” and The Book Doctors tried to help pave the way by providing a free 20-minute consultation via phone or Skype to any aspiring authors who purchased their book, “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.”
For copies of “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published,” visit BookTowne at 171 Main St., Manasquan. Their website is www.booktowne.com, and phone is 732-722-7255.