David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: james river writers conference

How to Get Published Successfully Conference and Pitchapalooza, Saturday, February 13, 2016

Can You Land an Agent or Book Deal at a Writers Conference?

Yes! Look, you can’t call up HarperCollins and say, “Hello! I’ve written a great book, could I please speak to Mr. Harper or Mr. Collins?” If you’re an unknown quantity, and you aren’t sleeping with someone at a literary agency–or even if you are, in some cases–it’s virtually impossible to get face time with a publishing professional, be it an agent, editor, or publisher. Your blind query is usually dropped with a plop into the slop of the dreaded and aptly named slush pile, where it is then skimmed over by an eighteen-year-old unpaid intern. The fate of your book, the object of your passion and hard work, is frightfully beyond your control. Luckily, at the best writers conferences and workshops, and even some of the top-drawer bookfairs and festivals, you can personally meet, speak with, and sometimes even pitch to real publishing professionals. We know. We’ve met amazing writers at all of these places and helped them get book deals.

“I’d already begun the pitch process by mail and email, and it felt like yelling into the void most of the time,” recalls Roxanna Elden, whose experiences looking for an agent to represent her first book are all too typical. “There were agents who took six months to respond to emails, and one who asked me to send a hard copy of the manuscript overnight, then rejected me weeks later with a one-line, all-lowercase email that said something like, ‘love the title but not for me sorry.'”

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Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu thought they had won the lottery when they almost immediately landed an agent. Their agent shopped their proposal to a dozen big New York City publishers and one by one they were rejected. “Soon after,” Nura explained, “our agent dumped us because she no longer had faith in the project.”

Roxanna, Nura, and Ayesha knew they needed to get in front of professionals. Roxanna signed up for Miami Writers Institute, an annual conference at Miami Dade College. There, she attended a talk by agent Rita Rosenkranz. “By this time, I had perfected my pitch and built my platform and had some idea of what I hoped to find in an agent. Then, in her talk, Rita mentioned that many agents wrongly ignore books for niche markets, which my first book was. She also said she was looking for authors who showed the willingness to hustle to promote their work. Everything she said made her seem like an incredibly good fit for my work. I walked up to her after the talk, handed her my card, and emailed her as fast as I could. She answered my email within 24 hours… and still does!” Rita went on to sell not only Roxanna’s first book, See Me After Class, but also her children’s picture book, Rudy’s New Human.

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Nura and Ayesha took themselves to Litquake, San Francisco’s biggest literary festival. They signed up for an event we do around the country called Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books), and they won an introduction to an agent or editor who was appropriate for their book, Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. One call later, they had a book deal. “A year later, our book was published and we were on the front page of the New York Times Arts section. And, two years later, we had a follow up book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy!”

But just attending a writers conference, workshop, or book festival is no guarantee of a book deal. How you present yourself (and to whom) matters as much as your idea and your book. You have to pick the right agent or editor. Present yourself as a complete package. Seize every opportunity at just the right moment.

Lana Krumwiede, whose attendance at the James River Writers Conference helped land her first book deal for Just Itzy, advises, “Be as prepared as possible by researching the agents, editors, and authors who will be speaking. You’ll get more out of the conference that way and you’ll feel more confident talking to people. Get out there and talk to people! Ask (appropriate) questions and take in as much as you can. And if you have an appointment with an editor or an agent, don’t fall into the trap of thinking of it as your ‘one big chance.’ There is no such thing as ‘one big chance.’ You will have as many chances as you create for yourself.”

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Victoria Skurnick, a literary agent at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency, has this advice for first-time attendees, “There are ways to an agent’s heart at conferences for writers. The first is–be normal. This is harder for some people than you might have thought. The second, be helpful. The people who provided me with a club soda when they noticed my voice cracking, who offered to pick me up and drive me to a dinner far away–I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life.”

We agree. Here are our top ten tips for scoring at a writers conference, workshop, or bookfair.

The Book Doctors Top 10 Tips for Scoring at a Writers Conference, Workshop or Bookfair

  1. Look good, smell good, and don’t be late. Pretend you’re a guest on The Today Show–act and dress accordingly.
  2. Be respectful of publishing professionals. Don’t just blast over and bombard them. Be patient, wait for your opening. Never pitch your book unless they ask you to, and if they do, don’t go longer than a minute. And please, we beg you, don’t follow them into the bathroom! This has happened to us more times than we care to remember.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Your goal should not be to pitch at all costs. Better to have a good conversation where you get to know an editor or agent.
  4. Research! Make sure the event caters to the kind of book you’re selling. Make note of who is presenting, and plan your approach for whom you want to meet. Sign up early. The most valuable conferences, classes, and one-on-one sessions fill up fast.
  5. How do you get to perform at Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. The same is true with pitching books. Workshop your pitch whenever possible. Tell everybody who will listen, honing your delivery so the pitch lasts less than a minute. Try rehearsing with other conference attendees. All this extra effort will have a make-or-break effect on an agent or editor.
  6. Have an excellent business card and don’t be afraid to use it. Collect as many cards as you can.
  7. After the event, follow up all leads as quickly as possible. Early birds strike while the iron is hot.
  8. Network! Meet as many fellow writers as possible. These encounters can blossom into all sorts of relationships. You never know who will be published one day.
  9. Buy books written by people you want to approach. Ask them to sign the book for you if they are willing. Use this as an informal opportunity to make a connection.
  10. Connect! Do something nice for booksellers, agents, editors, writers, and publishing professionals using social media. If done actively and appropriately, tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, and blogging are great ways of staying in touch and making yourself a known quantity.

The Book Doctors travel across America to feature in writers workshops, conferences, bookfairs, and festivals. On February 13th, we’re holding a conference and Pitchapalooza at one of the greatest bookstores in the country, Changing Hands. If you are in the Phoenix area, come hang out, polish your skills, and maybe take a selfie with us. But please, don’t follow us into the bathroom.

How to Get Published Successfully Conference and Pitchapalooza, Saturday, February 13, 2016
 

To read this article on the Huffington Post, click here.

Roxanna Elden has been a teacher for eleven years and is the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. Her inspiration for Rudy’s New Human came from watching her dog, Rudy Elden, as he adjusted to having a new baby human in the house. She lives in Miami, Florida, with Rudy and his (now two!) little humans.

Lana Krumwiede began her writing career by creating stories and poems for publications such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, Babybug, The Friend, and Chicken Soup for the Child’s Soul. Her first novel, Freakling (Candlewick, 2012) was named a finalist for SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Member’s Choice Award and an honor book for the International Reading Association’s Intermediate Fiction Award. Freakling was followed by two more novels, Archon (2013) and True Son (2015). Lana is also the author of the picture book Just Itzy (2015). She lives with her husband and daughter in Richmond, where she sits on the board of directors for James River Writers and runs a local writers’ group.

Ayesha Mattu is a writer, editor and international development consultant who has worked in the field of women’s human rights since 1998. She was selected a ‘Muslim Leader of Tomorrow’ by the UN Alliance of Civilizations & the ASMA Society and has served on the boards of IDEX, the Women’s Funding Network, and World Pulse. Ayesha is an alumna of Voices of Our Nations writers’ workshop and a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

Nura Maznavi is an attorney, writer, and Fulbright Scholar. She has worked with migrant workers in Sri Lanka, on behalf of prisoners in California, and with a national legal advocacy organization leading a program to end racial and religious profiling. She lives in Chicago.

Victoria Skurnick came to Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency after being at The Book-of-the Month Club for almost twenty years. As Editor-in-Chief, she relished the opportunity to devour every kind of book, from the finest literary fiction to Yiddish for Dogs. She also is the co-author (with Cynthia Katz) of seven novels written by “Cynthia Victor.”

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Valley Haggard

Valley Haggard on Writing, Working with Kids on Writing, and Life in 10 Minutes

We first met Valley Haggard (best name ever! And yes, it’s real!) when David was doing a reading at a tiny bookstore which shall remain nameless. The bookstore was so bad that they didn’t even realize there was a reading going on there that day. The reading itself took place in a tiny room with no windows that was approximately 120°. It was like a literary sweatbox. But Valley enjoyed what I did, we talked and bonded afterwards, and she invited us down to Richmond, Virginia, to make a presentation for the James River Writers Conference. It is truly one of the best writers conferences in America. And it was the start, as they say, of a beautiful friendship. We’ve now been presenting at JRW for over half a decade, and it’s proved to be a fantastic, symbiotic relationship. Which all began in a sweaty, nasty room in a sweaty, nasty bookshop at an event that only four people attended. Which just goes to show, you never know. Now Valley has a new book coming out, and we wanted to pick her brain about writing, book conferences, and how to get a book published.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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The Book Doctors: First of all, what made you decide to do something as ridiculous as decide to be a writer?

Valley Haggard: When I was seven I told my mother I wanted to grow up to be a famous reader. Writing seemed like at least the next best thing! I was tone-deaf and came in last place in the dance competition, but words were my allies, my friends, my escape, my safety, my rebellion and my fluency. I felt weird in so many places in my life, but not in a book, not on the page. Writing is the one thing that has stayed with me through everything: moves, men, sobriety. Writing has saved my life so many times it seemed silly to abandon it for job security and health insurance.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books and why?

VH: The answer to this question could be a book in and of itself. Some books are friends, some are family, some are lovers, some I can’t get away from fast enough. Some whisk me away around the world and some bring me deeper into myself. Some of my most intimate literary relationships have been with Lolita, Beloved, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love Junkie, Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, A Wrinkle in Time, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Our Tragic Universe, Claiming Georgia Tate, Chicken, Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, The Glass Castle, Lit, Henry & June, Shantaram, Notes From Underground. And there are so many, many more but I love these books because they took me somewhere and made me feel something. I think back on them as pivotal experiences I had with great friends.

TBD: How did you get involved working with kids and writing, and what are some of the things you’ve learned by doing that?

VH: The summers after my sophomore and junior years of high school I attended the UVA Young Writer’s Workshop, the first structured setting where I was treated with the respect of a real writer instead of a kid with a hobby. This was life changing! I returned for two summers during college to be a camp counselor. I started Richmond Young Writers in 2009 in an upstairs gallery room of Chop Suey, an independent bookstore in the heart of Richmond, after getting laid off from my desk job at the alternative weekly the year before. Initially there were just a few kids but we grew, added teachers and staff and have become a year-round program offering scholarships, a full range of summer camps, homeschool and after-school classes. Our mission is to share the craft and joy of creative writing with kids who otherwise might have the very breath of their work beaten out by SOLs, grades and other harsh, critical realities that can sometimes be present in schools and/or life today. The kids are amazing. Their writing blows me away and gives me hope for the future of humanity.

TBD: What’s the idea behind The Write Life?

VH: Initially The Write Life contained the spillover from the author interviews and book reviews I couldn’t seem to cut off at their allotted word count. It became a catch-all for my book and writing related thoughts and ideas, a place to post my articles, interviews and the column I wrote for a women’s magazine about navigating life as a self-employed creative writer while being a mother and a wife with a mortgage. Now that I’m concentrating my time and energy on Life in 10 Minutes it serves as an archive of my writing journey.

TBD: How has teaching writing impacted you as a writer?

VH: Teaching holds me to the fire. I write in the classes I teach which holds me accountable in a totally different way than lecturing from a podium. If I suggest that my students be vulnerable and brave, that they turn their shit into gold, extract their own splinters one by one, take creative risks and not apologize for their work, I have to do it, too. The synergy of writing and then reading aloud in class creates both the feeling of performance art and a really safe testing ground for taking creative risks. When I read something to the class and no one dies or runs out screaming, it gives me the courage to bring my work to the public arena. To keep my heart and mind in the game, I always teach what I need to learn, and there seems to be a great universal aspect to this. I learn so much from my students’ writing and their process every single day.

TBD: Tell us about Life in 10 Minutes.

VH: Life in 10 Minutes is an online literary magazine that features slice-of-life stories written 10 minutes at a time. For years, students would write these fantastic flash nonfiction pieces in my classes and I’d say, “It’s brilliant! Send it somewhere!” I finally decided to become that somewhere, to create a platform for my students’ writing as well as my own. It’s amazing how much story, character, heart and emotion can be packed into 10 minutes. Submissions aren’t limited to my own students however, and since the website launched in January 2015, I’ve been thrilled to publish two unique pieces everyday from all over the world.

TBD: You’ve been involved with the James River Writers Conference for many years. What are some of the benefits of attending a writers conference in general, and what makes the James River Writers Conference special?

VH: Conferences are a great way to step out of the room you’ve been confined to for months and years laboring alone, to break the isolation of the writing life and to learn from writers outside of your particular genre. I had no idea how much I’d get from a mystery or YA or poetry or food writing panel! The James River Writers Conference is special because the panelists and authors are thrown into the mix rather than being cordoned off like exotic animals. You learn that writers and those in the publishing industry don’t bite–most of the time. JRW is especially great at providing southern hospitality, networking opportunities, connection, fellowship, the always amazing Pitchapalooza and a chance to meet and talk to real, live agents and authors in the flesh. This is hard to accomplish in your own basement or home office even with a really good internet connection.

TBD: You’ve also done lots of interviews and reviews with writers and books, what if you learned about writing in the publishing business from that?

VH: When I was pregnant I thought “If millions of other women have survived childbirth, surely I can too.” Interviewing authors has been a bit like that. Of course, the stories of persevering against all odds, getting laid off, being completely broke, and soldiering on despite rejection have been my favorite because I can relate. I’ve learned that publishing is a different art entirely from that of the writing process itself and that you have to have a certain business savvy and mindset to sell yourself. I’ve recently determined that if you want to have a baby–or publish a book–there’s certainly more than one way to do it. You don’t have to go the traditional route to become either a parent or an author. The publishing world is really opening up and changing in this regard.

TBD: Tell us about your new book.

VH: The Halfway House for Writers is the culmination of everything I’ve learned over a lifetime of writing, reading teaching and studying creative writing. It’s a guide for overcoming the damage that’s been inflicted on us by the world as well as the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves. It’s a manual for both beginners and seasoned writers who are struggling with insecurity, self-doubt, writer’s block or simply being overwhelmed about how to start. It’s the process by which my students and I have found the heart of our true material and begun to heal our wounded writing selves. It’s a combination of my own experience, practical advice, encouragement and an invitation to begin.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

VH: Surrender your weapons. Stop beating yourself up. Seek shelter. Create some loose structure around your writing. Use your triggers as your prompts. Turn your shit into gold. Extract your splinters one at a time. Take baby steps. Free write. Handwrite. Learn how to be gentle with yourself. Set a timer for 10 minutes and see what happens.

Valley Haggard has written in short and long form all her life. She has slept in tents, hostels, motels, couches, tool sheds, log cabins, bunk beds and the bowels of a ship. She has lived in New York, Italy, Colorado, Arkansas and Alaska and now she lives in the house where she grew up in Richmond, Virginia. She has been a Waffle House waitress, dude ranch cabin girl, cruise ship stewardess and hotel maid. She has written book reviews, author interviews and first person columns; judged fiction contests and fellowships and sat on non-profit writing boards. She is the recipient of a 2014 Theresa Pollak Prize and a 2015 Style Weekly Women in the Arts Award. The founder and co-director of Richmond Young Writers, she leads creative nonfiction marathons, workshops and retreats for adults around Virginia. She is the founder of the online flash nonfiction literary magazine lifein10minutes.com and her book, The Halfway House for Writers, was published in October 2015.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Join our newsletter to receive more interviews and tips on how to get published. 

James River Writers Conference: October 18-19

October 18-19, 2014

Richmond, Virginia

To register click here

One of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

Since 2003, the James River Writers Conference has attracted prize-winning authors and highly regarded editors and agents from around the country to share their wisdom about writing and publishing. More than 300 people attend this multi-day event, known for its inspiring, collegial atmosphere and Southern hospitality.

Read about our first visit to the James River Writers Conference.

Watch The Book Doctors in the conference video.

CONFERENCE EVENTS

WHAT:   Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute!  Many writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully(Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.
HOW: At 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. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, register for the conference. 

WHEN: Sunday, October 19, 2:00 p.m. Sign up at the conference registration desk all day Saturday, October 18, and Sunday, October 19, from 9:00 to 1:30pm. Sign-up is required to pitch during Pitchapalooza. 

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza on Kansas City Public Radio: http://bit.ly/eBlMUy

Pitchapalooza video trailer: bit.ly/mVj4uA
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapaloza: 

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

James River Writers Conference: Pound 4 Pound the Best in America

The Book Doctors are so excited to be going back to Richmond Virginia – btw you probably have no idea how rockin Richmond is – doing Pitchapalooza at James River Writers Conference, Oct 18-19.  Hanging out with lots of cool cats and kitties, agents and publishers editors illustrators and lots and lots of writers..  There are still a few slots open, if you’re not already signed up, I highly suggest you do so.  We’re going to be kickin it with Barbara Kingsolver this year.  Here’s a most excellent video.

Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators’ Kristine Carlson Asselin Give The Book Doctors the Skinny

We first became aware of the Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators a few years ago when David’s middle grade novel came out, and he was invited by Penguin to the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was totally mind-blowing. Wall-to-wall writers, artists, agents, editors, book people of all ilk who were madly passionate about kid’s books. Since then we’ve send countless writers to SCBWI. They have regional chapters all over the country, and a large national presence. This year we were asked to bring our Pithcapalooza (think American Idol for books) to the annual SCBWI New England chapter’s conference, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to pick the literary brain of SCBWI’s own Kristine Carlson Asselin, who is a very accomplished writer in her own right.

The Book Doctors: How did you first become associated with SCBWI?
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Kristine Carlson Asselin: In 2007, I was hoping to break into writing for children. I’d finished several picture book manuscripts as well as the short story that would later become my first completed novel.  I attended a one-day workshop sponsored by SCBWI New England. It literally rocked my world. Before then, I had no idea that writers and illustrators came together to learn from each other. Soon after that fall workshop, I attended my first regional conference, held in Nashua, New Hampshire.

That first year, I felt like a poser. I thought for sure someone would see through the façade and kick me out! But everyone I met treated me like a “real” writer. I was hooked. In 2011, partly because I had previous event management experience, I was approached to co-direct a future conference. I spent two years shadowing the conference directors, and it’s been my great pleasure to serve in the lead role in 2014. It’s been the most amazing professional experience of my career.

TBD: What are some of the benefits of coming to the conference like SCBWI NE?

KCA: The SCBWI New England conference staff works hard to select a diverse menu of over 60 workshops for writers and illustrators of all skill levels, and writers of every genre of children’s publishing. Another tangible benefit includes the opportunity to network and rub elbows with literary agents, editors, and art directors. Intangibles include finding inspiration from our incredible keynoter speakers, fangirling (or fanboying) over your favorite children’s author, and making new friends and critique partners.

TBD: How has being part of an organization like SCBWI helped you in your writing career?

KCA: I can’t imagine where I’d be with my writing career, if I hadn’t stumbled upon that workshop years ago. I love being in the same room as successful authors and learning what works for them, and how to apply it to my own work. I’ve also met some amazing critique partners and beta readers, and dear friends through SCBWI.

TBD: What are some of the things you’ve observed that successful authors have in common?

KCA: All the writers I hang out with write for children, so I can’t speak for writers of books for grown-ups. However, children’s book writers are the some of the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. I think most people really embrace the concept of “paying it forward.” I’ve witnessed a lot of effort made by successful writers to mentor and advise newer writers and to “give back” to the universe.

TBD: What have you found effective in promoting and marketing your books? What are some of the things you’ve done that don’t work so well?

KCA: All but one of my published books have been written specifically for the school library market, so the publisher manages the marketing for those books. For me, the priority is to maintain a current blog and website, and to be helpful and supportive on Twitter and Facebook.

TBD: How did you first get into writing nonfiction books for kids?

KCA: I decided early in my career, I wasn’t going to pigeon-hole myself. I knew I wanted to write fiction for children, but I also wanted to experiment with different genres and styles. After my efforts to publish picture books stalled, I stumbled across the contact information for Capstone Press, the publisher of many of my nonfiction titles. I wanted to start something completely different from what I’d been working on. I sent the company my educational credentials and a writing sample, and they offered me my first contract. Of eleven books with Capstone at this point, that first book, WHO REALLY DISCOVERED AMERICA, is still one of my favorites.

TBD: How do you approach writing fiction differently that writing nonfiction?

KCA: I’m under contract for a Young Adult contemporary romance for Bloomsbury Spark (ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT is due out in late fall 2014). It started as a NaNoWriMo book. I wrote 50K words during the month of November–they were raw and awful, but it was so liberating to turn off my inner editor and write fast. I loved it! My nonfiction approach is to research first and then write an outline before I ever start the manuscript. VERY different from fast-drafting without my inner editor!

TBD: How did you go about getting your first publishing deal?

KCA: My first publishing contract for fiction came about from a twitter pitch! It’s true! I pitched a novel during #PitMad in the spring of 2013, and that pitch attracted the interest of Meredith Rich, of Bloomsbury Spark. It wasn’t a slam dunk–she still had to read and like my work. But ultimately that 140 character pitch turned into the contract for ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT.

TBD: What tips do you have for writers?

KCA: We all have different styles, and not everything works for everyone. But my very basic advice for writers is to write. You can’t get better at your craft without practice. So write. A lot. Take workshops, take classes, read blogs, read books in your chosen genre, have your friends give you writing prompts. Write. Write. Write. That’s the best advice I can give!

Kristine Carlson Asselin writes contemporary Young Adult & Middle Grade fantasy. She has written fourteen nonfiction books for the school library market with Capstone Press and Abdo Publishing, the newest (Dangerous Diseases) released in February 2014. She is one of the co-directors of SCBWI-New England this year, and her debut Young Adult novel, Any Way You Slice It, is due from Bloomsbury Spark in late fall 2014. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  Kris on Twitter: @KristineAsselin

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors

The Book Doctors in new James River Writers Video

one of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

The Book Doctors & Erma Bombeck Writing Conference in the News

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A magical moment happens when a writer takes a deep breath and launches into a passionate one-minute elevator pitch of a book concept before hundreds of other would-be authors.

“It’s very touching,” says literary agent Arielle Eckstut about the emotion-charged atmosphere at Pitchapalooza. “These writers are wearing their hearts on their sleeves.”

Adds her writer-husband David Henry Sterry: “This is the first time some have said in public, ‘I’m a writer.'”

At the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, 20 randomly selected writers will get the opportunity to make a one-minute pitch — and perhaps write their own perfect ending. One winner, selected by Eckstut, Sterry and two other publishing experts, will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.

Welcome to Pitchapalooza, billed as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Since 2005, Eckstut and Sterry have taken Pitchapalooza to approximately 150 bookstores, writing conferences, book festivals and libraries — from Cape Cod and Chicago to the far-flung states of Hawaii and Alaska. It has drawn standing-room-only crowds and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR and other media outlets.

“Our whole goal is to help people improve. There’s never a sense of humiliation,” said Eckstut, an agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books.

The event also illustrates the importance of tenacity. “In 2010 at LitQuake in San Francisco a woman pitched an idea for an anthology by American-Muslim women writing about their secret love lives,” Sterry recalls. “You could hear the murmur throughout the room. That pitch is a book waiting to happen, but an agent had dropped the idea.”

The lesson: an initial rejection doesn’t always determine a book’s fate.

“There’s a great expression, ‘Don’t quit five minutes before the marathon ends,'” says Sterry, who’s written 15 books himself. “I called up a publisher I knew, and it took about 10 seconds to sell that idea.”

The couple came up with the idea for Pitchapalooza after co-writing The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and trying to figure out how to creatively promote their own niche book. They’re the founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get successfully published.

“We were at a party in San Francisco, and writers in the room heard the rumor there was a literary agent in the house. People started buzzing around Arielle like moths to a flame,” says Sterry with a laugh. “There were some great drunken pitches made that night. Later, we realized we might have hit upon something that could help us help writers and sell our own book.”

When the couple introduced Pitchapalooza at New York’s iconic Strand Book Store, “we thought it would be a terrible bust,” concedes Sterry. “We show up, and there’s a line out the door. We looked at each other and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ If it’s not Michelle Obama or a celebrity, it’s hard to get more than 15 or 20 people at a booksigning.”

Over the years, Sterry says they’ve heard “some amazing and some horrifying pitches.” One writer tried to pitch five book ideas in a minute. Another had an idea for a 30-book series. Another didn’t win at Pitchapalooza, but still ended up with a book contract.

“The writer was an arborist who had an idea that took off on The Elements of Style — only for fruit trees,” Eckstut says. “She had incredible expertise, and I knew just the right publisher.”

Writers don’t have to win or even participate in the Pitchapalooza contest to receive a professional critique of their book ideas. Eckstut and Sterry are offering writers who buy their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, a free 20-minute telephone consultation after the workshop.

The two offer these tips for making a great pitch:

1.When pitching a narrative, memoir or creative nonfiction, make sure you have a hero we can fall in love with.

2. Don’t tell us your book is funny. Make us laugh.

3. Compare your book to a successful one. Show us where the book fits on the shelf in a bookstore.

And finally, “Don’t say you’re the next Erma Bombeck,” Sterry says with a laugh.

Art of the Memoir: Lisa Schenke: A Son’s Fall to Suicide, a Mother’s Rise from Grief

LisaS_WT_design_blueWe first met Lisa Schenke at Book Towne on the Jersey shore.  In one minute she told us the story of her son Tim’s suicide, which led to a series of copycat suicides in South Jersey.  It broke our hearts.  Not just because it was so gut wrenching, but because she told it so beautifully, and with such breathtaking honesty.  Knowing that there’s an epidemic of suicides among teenagers in America is different than staring into the eyes of a mom who’s beloved son jumped in front of a train.  But having a story and writing a book are very different things.  Without Tim: a Son’s Fall to Suicide, a Mothers Rise from Grief is out, so we wanted to talk to her about the process of turning her tragedy into a book.  And, during National Suicide Prevention Month, about the terrible problem of teenage suicide.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: What made you decide to write this book about such a horrific, and very personal subject?

Lisa Schenke book photo 11-12LISA SCHENKE: I felt that I had a story to tell, a story that would help others. My initial goal was to help those who are grieving, especially from a suicide. However, the further along I got with organizing my thoughts and the content for the book, the more I realized I had a bigger goal: to help teens and young adults who are struggling with the many issues facing them today. That’s how my book developed into two storylines: my recovery after Tim’s death, and glimpses into Tim’s life as he grew up- both his accomplishments and his troubles. I was also kind of motivated by people always asking me things like “How do you survive? I don’t know how you do it? How do you get up in the morning?”

DHS: Was it difficult to go back over these terrible events?

LS: Yes and no. Some days were heart-wrenching; trying to figure out the right way to express something so important to me. I also worried about putting my husband, children and immediate family members “through this” again. But more often than not, the writing helped clarify and solidify the details that I never want to forget. And I often reminded myself that I wanted other young people to understand how much they are loved.

DHS: Did writing this story help you in any way?

LS: Yes, very much. I feel that I voiced what many other parents are unable to share. While trying to convince other parents that they are doing the best they can, I kind of convinced myself that I did my best too. I also feel that it is a tribute to Tim. Also a tribute to my family. I want to make a difference in suicide prevention, I’m proud of my family. So many reasons that I wanted to expressing myself. I don’t claim to have the answers, but feel that telling my story can be comforting to teenagers who relate,  parents who have lost a child, and any parents raising teenagers.

DHS: What was the process of publishing like for you?

LS: Very complicated at first! Nothing I had ever been exposed to before. I chose not to send to many publishing houses and not to wait a long period of time before deciding to self-publish instead. I evaluated the pros and cons of self-publishing long and hard before proceeding. I am somewhat of a control freak, and I really LOVED my cover design. After being denied by a few publishers and realizing that I wouldn’t have control over many aspects of the book, including the cover, I chose to self-publish. I got a lot of professional  help by connecting to quality people for each area including copy editing, proofreading, book formatting, etc. I am extremely satisfied with the final product and feel I did not cut any corners in producing a high quality book.

DHS: Did you get help from an editor, and if so, how did this work?

LS: Yes! Each editor I worked with gave me the option of accepting/rejecting the suggested changes. Whenever I had questions, they were open to discussing. My mentor, Arielle Eckstut, was my content editor and she helped me tremendously. She clearly explained when/where the material did not flow, helped with length of chapters, pointed out all areas where chapters did not have a clear endpoint, the list goes on and on. However, Without Tim was always MY book. I never felt as though any of the editors were taking over the writing process.

DHS: What advice do you have for writers who want to tell their personal story, both in terms of writing and the publishing process?

LS: I think of myself as a “bottom up” rather than a “top down” person. I started with outlines containing many, many details of memories and little stories of things I wanted to include in my book. After months of doing nothing more than writing lists, outlines, and short paragraphs, I was finally ready to begin. For me, writing was not like you see on TV: someone sitting at a typewriter or computer moving along chapter 1, chapter 2, …  Also, I would not suggest using a ghost writer. I tried that for a short time, then ended the contract. I don’t feel anyone can tell your story other than you! Regarding the publishing process: I chose to hire professionals to help me because I have no expertise. Arielle helped me in finding quality help without spending a fortune. I published through Amazon Createspace. Because I was not confident with the book formatting process, I did hire a book formatter even though it’s possible to do it yourself. In the end, I will be happy if I can get “out of the red.” I did not write a book to make profit, but it would be nice if I can earn back my expenses! And then I will choose to donate to my son’s scholarship fund and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)!

DHS: What would you say to parents who are worried that their teenager may have suicidal ideations?

LS: I think parents should seek help, better to err on the side of caution. Even though most  troubled teenagers will not end up going through with suicide, they most likely need some help. And if you or your child doesn’t like or connect with the counselor, keep trying another one. Sometimes the match takes time. I know it is frustrating to have to “start again” with your whole story but it’s worth it if you find someone your teenager trusts. Try to help your teen understand that it’s ok to have fears, insecurities, … and that there is a way to get to a better place. Try to be calm and patient; something I wish I would have been better at.

DHS: Do you have any tips for parents on how to deal with grief after a loss like this?

LS: My book describes much of my journey. For me, the infrequent signs I received from Tim were probably the most motivating and positive aspect. However, they were infrequent and never seemed to come when I asked/begged for them! I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many great people, and kind of forced myself to try to rely on them. I also love fresh air and bike riding and returned to it very quickly. I think the path depends largely on the individual’s personality, and my personality is to “dive in” to whatever project I am faced with, good or bad. My grief counselor constantly reminded me to go with the good feelings whenever I could feel them, even though I often didn’t even want to. Then, when difficult times returned, it would eventually become easier to find my way out of them again.

Lisa Schenke was a longtime systems analyst turned personal fitness trainer, but with her son Tim’s suicide in 2008, she took on another line of work. She became passionate about getting the message out to struggling teens and young adults to celebrate and embrace life, and assisting others through the grieving process after a loss of a child or loved one. Lisa has been involved in the Hold On suicide prevention fundraising efforts for 2NDFLOOR Youth Helpline. She’s been featured everywhere from the Star-Ledger, to MSNBC.com, to the American Association of Suicidology newsletter. Readers can contact her at http://www.withouttim.com

The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers come up with a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.   Arielle Eckstut has been an agent for 20 years, and founded the iconic brand Little Missmatched.  Her new book, written with her mom Joann, is The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty and Joy of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. David Henry Sterry is the author of fifteen book, and his new book is Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition. He can be found at https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

 

 

David Henry Sterry, Pitchapalooza, Sex Workers and Tips for Writers

This was one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done, thanks to Julie Green.

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