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Tag: authorship Pitchapalooza
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Last night, May 22, 6:30 p.m., Word Bookstore in Jersey City was abuzz. People quickly filled up chairs lined up in the back or stood in huddles, shooting the breeze. Taking my seat, I looked around and noticed a woman sitting in the row behind mine. In her hands she clutched The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and her lips move silently—rehearsing. I say rehearsing, because she was there to pitch her novel.
In fact, most, if not all of the people attending were there to pitch their books. Last night was Pitchapalooza, an event started by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut—the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—to give twenty writers, picked at random from a pool, the opportunity to pitch their book ideas. Participants get their pitch critiqued (kindly and constructively), receive a twenty minute consultation from David and Arielle themselves, and for one lucky winner, get a meeting with a publisher or agent who is appropriate for their work.
Some of you may have read my interview a few weeks back with David Henry Sterry about the publishing industry and Pitchapalooza. If you did, you know how difficult it is to navigate the publishing world and what a wonderful resource Pitchapalooza and the guide are for aspiring writers. By demystifying the publishing industry and providing valuable insider advice on how to properly market one’s idea, writers get a fairer shake at publishing.
I got to say, last night’s Pitchapalooza was super impressive and inspiring to watch. The first person to get called up was a seventeen year old. He was actually seated beside me, visibly nervous, his muscles tense, dreading what he so obviously was there to do. The kid nailed it! Did I mention that participants only get one minute to pitch? Well in one minute, this kid laid down an interesting, well-structured, and tight pitch for a Young Adult novel.
The panel, comprised of David, Arielle and Jenn—the Events Director of both Word Bookstores—were impressed, but certainly not without comment. What came up often in the critiques was the importance of addressing what the protagonist of one’s novel is like, which often gets neglected while trying to articulate the plot. It’s also very helpful to give comparable titles, basically describing your book by saying what books it’s similar to. This helps publishers get an idea of how to market your book, which is a great comfort to them.
I can’t say anyone at Pitchapalooza had a bad pitch. I expected more bumbling and awkwardness, but it appeared that everyone was pretty well prepared. Even a ten-year-old girl got up to the podium and blew everyone away with a shy, yet well thought out pitch. A ten year old! It was great being a part of that crowd, among writers who were supportive and respectful of each others’ dreams and ambitions.
In the end, the victor of Pitchapalooza was Val Emmich, a writer, musician and actor based in Jersey City. It was a well deserved victory, but Pitchapalooza did not have the feel of a competition. It was more about sharing one’s ideas with others, learning how to effectively sell a pitch and getting together as a community of writers. In end, everyone left with valuable insight and a card for a free twenty minute consultation with The Book Doctors themselves—David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut.
One of our best Pitchaplooza at Erma Bombeck Writers Conference.
As The Book Doctors have traveled all across this great land, we’ve made a startling discovery. A staggering number of adults want to write books for kids. And approximately 99% of them have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They don’t know the rules. They don’t know the players. They don’t know anything except that they have a great idea for a kid’s book and they yearn with a burning fever to get it published. Between us, we have we’ve thirteen books, four being nonfiction books for tween girls, and the other a middle grade novel aimed at boys. And Arielle has agented dozens and dozens and dozens of books in her 18 year career as a literary agent. But so much has changed in the world of children’s books, and so many people seem all fired up to write them, that we thought we’d get the inside skinny from one of our favorite children’s book resources, Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer’s had a fascinating career in the publishing industry, because she’s gone from hand-selling books to readers in brick-and-mortar bookstores, to finding writers who have the right stuff, then figuring out how to present and sell their manuscripts to publishers in the increasingly ridiculous book business.
Book Doctors: How did you manage to end up in the book business?
Jennifer: My first job was in a bookstore, when I was twelve.
Book Doctors: Ah, they got you young.
Jennifer: Exactly. It may have been child labor; as I recall I got about five dollars a day plus all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read.
Book Doctors: Who could resist that?
Jennifer: Certainly not me. I spent the next eighteen years working as a bookseller, and then events coordinator and buyer, for bookstores all over the country. I was also a reader and assistant for literary agents for a couple of years before I became one myself. Then I joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an agent three years ago.
Book Doctors: So, everyone wants to know, do you need an agent to get a children’s book published?
Jennifer: Ten years ago or more, the answer would have been no. These days, trade publishing is ever-more competitive and none of the major publishers accept unsolicited (i.e., un-agented) submissions. If you are very lucky, very persistent and very well-connected, you may not need an agent. But most authors don’t fall into that category. That said, if you are looking to be published in a niche market, by a specialty educational publisher, regional or smaller independent publisher, you may not need an agent.
Book Doctors: What are the standard age groups for children’s books?
Jennifer: Board books: 0-3. Picture books: 3-7. Chapter book/Early readers: 5-8. Middle Grade: 8-12. YA: 12+ or 14+ (depending on content)
Book Doctors: Does your book have to be a particular length to sit on a children’s book shelf?
Jennifer: Sure. But that varies depending on the age group; picture books are usually less than a thousand words, YA is usually less than 100,000 words.
Book Doctors: Can you sell a book for kids of all ages? How would you go about doing this?
Jennifer: In general, children’s publishers pick one age group that the book is for and publish it accordingly, and if there is crossover, that is all to the good. Every book I can think of that is supposedly “for kids of all ages” does in fact fall into one of those categories above, or is an adult gift or novelty book in disguise.
Book Doctors: If a writer has ideas for illustrations, should she put them on the page?
Jennifer: No. Illustration notes are distracting and almost always unnecessary, and will expose you as a newb.The only time you should put them is if there is some sort of visual joke or device that is totally necessary to the plot of the book, but impossible to deduce from the text alone.
Book Doctors: Is a good idea to have your uncle’s friend’s 18-year-old son who’s pretty good at art illustrate your book?
Jennifer: No. Let me say again:<em> No!</em>
Book Doctors: Is it ever okay to team up with an illustrator before going to a publisher?
Jennifer: There are some successful folks who are husband-wife or sibling teams or even best-friend teams, where one party is a professional illustrator and the other writes. They work well together and create awesome projects together. That said, these sorts of collaborations aren’t the norm. The much more likely scenario is that a publisher will prefer the text or the art and might be fine with publishing one but not both. Publishers almost always really want to choose their own illustrator.
Book Doctors: If you are an illustrator that has an idea for a kid’s book, but you have no writing chops, how would you go about getting your book published?
Jennifer: I’d learn to write, or get enough published as an illustrator of other people’s works that I developed a reputation with publishers. A big-name illustrator has a much better chance of getting help from publishers in developing a project.
Book Doctors: What are the top 3 mistakes you see in author submissions?
Jennifer: Impatience, Poor Presentation, General Cluelessness. Folks often shoot themselves in the foot by not taking the time to craft an effective pitch, or to target agents specifically, or to query in small batches. They submit material that is deeply flawed, not revised, not finished, or in some cases not even started. They submit material that is totally inappropriate and not what I represent at all because they are blanket-querying every agent in the world simultaneously. I only do kids & YA, fiction yet I daily get queries for erotica and narrative nonfiction.
Ideally, authors would do their homework before they start querying, and their work would be as finished, polished, as close to being ready to sell as possible.
Book Doctors: Does it help to come up with a publicity and marketing plan for your book when querying an agent or publisher?
Jennifer: Sure, though I wouldn’t lead with that; it’d just be a cool bonus if they loved your work enough to publish it already. Most marketing plans sort of grow organically as the book progresses in the editorial and design process and as buzz builds in-house.
A book can take anywhere from a year to several years to be published, and the content of the book, as well as the way it is positioned in the marketplace, are definitely subject to change in that time. That means marketing and publicity pushes that come about just prior to or just after publication will likely look a lot different, and be a lot more effective, than what was being imagined at the query stage. That early in the game, most folks don’t really know what their book is going to be when it grows up.
Book Doctors: Jennifer, on behalf of the Book Doctors and clueless children’s book writers all over America, we thank you.
Jennifer: You are all certainly welcome.
Jennifer Laughran worked in bookstores for years, and is now an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She is also the founder of the Not Your Mothers Book Club.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors, are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. They’re hosting Pitchapaloozas–a kinder gentler American Idol for books–at bookstores and libraries all over America. Check out their website http://www.thebookdoctors.com/to see their tour schedule, and for free helpful hints on how to get successfully published.
Washington Post with a lovely piece about David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, P0litics & Prose, The Book Doctors & Pitchapalooza