The road to Pitchapalooza, part 1

Pitchapalooza is coming and, in case the massive rock concert-conjuring “alooza”  alone doesn’t convince you, this is kind of a big deal. At least if you’re a writer. An unpublished writer. Struggling in obscurity and unsure of where to even begin when it comes to cracking the Swiss vault that is the publishing industry.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors and the masterminds behind The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published are coming to Malaprop’s this Friday for an author event. But it’s not just any author event – Eckstut and Sterry promise to introduce one deserving writer to a literary agent. This is, in struggling-obscure-unpublished writer terms on par with a normal person being introduced to a Rolling Stone, or Johnny Depp, or the president. Only a little bit more so.

How the deserving struggling-obscure-unpublished writer is chosen comes down to pitches (hence the name of the event). The beginning chapters of Essential lead up to selling a novel or book concept; chapter three includes a wealth of information about proposals (non-fiction) and pitches (fiction and non-fiction), including the dreaded elevator pitch which must be sparklingly brilliant, sum up the entire book — or at least the essence of the book — and be delivered in a minute. As in, 60 seconds.

Hint: Most writers don’t willingly spend hours at a time a lone with their thoughts and a laptop because they love presenting snappy sales pitches to strangers.

But Eckstut and Sperry believe, based on plenty of personal experience selling work (Sterry has published a dozen books) as well as Eckstut’s professional insight (she’s a literary agent), they’ve come up with something akin to a foolproof formula for making a successful pitch (the caveat being your work can’t suck).

According to the promotion for Pitchapalooza, “Judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all.” The cost to participate is the purchase of a book: $15.95.  And,  “Anyone who buys a copy of receives a free 20 minute consultation, a $100 value.” So far it’s unclear to me how to get that consultation, though when I purchased a copy of Essential at Malaprop’s, I was told to keep my receipt for the Pitchapalooza event. During the event, 20 writers (with receipts, I’m guessing) will be selected at random to give their elevator pitch — from that group, a winner will be selected.

My plan was to read the book and then take part in Pitchapalooza just to see what the experience would be like. As in, is this process actually helpful? In a reality TV show age where everyone seems to get his or her 15 minutes of fame, can a relative unknown suddenly make it bit in the publishing arena by sheer luck of the draw? Is is this just a marketing gimmick (albeit a very clever one) for selling copies of Essential?

I happen to have a draft of a memoir that I wrote a few years ago and send out to literary agents without much success. I say “much” because when you’re a struggling-obscure-unpublished writer, anything short of a note that says “we didn’t even read your dumb manuscript because we could tell just by the envelope that you sent it in that you couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag” is success. I received a personal response from an agent who was interested enough to ask for a rewrite. I rewrote the memoir and sent it back, to which she replied that she’d decided it wasn’t the right project for her, but please send her my next manuscript. Since then, the memoir has languished in a drawer. (Well, it’s languished on a zip drive.)

Here’s what’s happened so far on my road to Pitchapalooza: I read the chapters in Essential on pitching (doable) and on searching for agents (which feels like a lot like online dating, only with a much slimmer chance of getting lucky) and small presses (I like this idea, it seems more possible. But also less lucrative. Only, at this point any money for my book would be better than what it’s earned so far). And then I got to the chapter on writing and rewriting — and I realized (with all the clarity of a thunder clap and a sign from god, written across the sky in laser light show style) that what my book needs is another edit. I need to rewrite, and I need to have more people read the book. Not doing both of these enough before sending it out into the world was my critical mistake. And apparently I’m not the only one: “Many, many writers do themselves the disservice of presenting material that is just not ready. They assume their editors will wave a magic wand and fix their manuscripts,” says Essential. “But in this day and age, a lot of editors have neither the time nor the interest required.”

Huh. Who knew? Apparently Eckstut and Sperry. And possibly (at least subconsciously) the other gazillion struggling-obscure-unpublished writers out there.

So. I have some work ahead of me. But here’s my question: Should I pitch anyway? Rather, should I prepare a pitch in case I’m one of the 20 chosen? It seems like a good opportunity to, if nothing else, farther flesh out the idea behind my memoir and what I hope to it will become with the next edit.

While I’m figuring out my next step, you should think about whether or not Pitchapalooza might be right for you and your book. The event takes place at Malaprop’s this Friday, June 22, at 7 p.m.

To be continued…

Read The Road To Pitchapalooza Part II here

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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