Writers get a minute to pitch book ideas

Tamieka Blair, 38, of Huntington, receives to a Tamieka Blair, 38, of Huntington, receives to a critique of her 60-second pitch from author David Sterry during Pitchapalooza at Book Revue in Huntington. (Dec. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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Could you tell a story in 60 seconds?

In front of an audience of strangers?

With a possible book deal at stake?

If so, you might consider venturing to the next Pitchapalooza session at Book Revue in Huntington. At the session, dubbed by its organizers as "the American Idol for books," being "pitchy" is a requirement. At the most recent event, about 50 would-be authors gathered this month at the bookstore, waiting anxiously to be summoned to the microphone.

Once there, they had 60 seconds to wow a three-person panel of literary agents and authors with a pitch of their original book idea.

"I want to write a book of essays about me and my mom . . . she passed away from cancer," and had a difficult life, said Cynthia Cone, of Smithtown.

When her minute was up, panelists Ellen Meister, an author from Long Island; literary agent and author Arielle Eckstut; and her author husband, David Henry Sterry, gave Cone a thumbs-up. However, they encouraged her to rewrite the pitch by including more specific details about her and her mother's story and to find a compelling hook for the memoir.

Despite getting 65 rejection letters from potential agents and publishers, Lorrie Prescott, of Ridge, pitched "Finding Jane," a romance novel she's already self-published.

"The language fits beautifully into the genre," Sterry told Prescott afterward.

Each presenter was given a gentle, constructive critique by the panel. And the time limit was strictly enforced.

Patrick MacDevitt, of Centerport, pitched "For Goodness Sake," a children's Christmas book about an 11-year-old boy. But he quickly ran out of time and couldn't finish reading his description.

"I'm convinced that you're a confident storyteller, but I didn't come away knowing what the story is," Eckstut told him.

Julie DeBragga of Central Islip, who pitched another children's book, hers about a hedgehog detective and pegged toward readers ages 7 to 12, received similar feedback from Sterry. "I didn't get a sense of what adventures they go on," he said.

Calling themselves "the Book Doctors," Eckstut and Sterry are general practitioners, "literary medics" who can introduce clients to book agents and publishers, provide manuscript and book proposal editing services and help would-be authors attract the attention of industry pros by helping them hone their book project description -- the pitch.

That's why they organize Pitchapalooza workshops at bookstores across the country. The recent event was the third Pitchapalooza at Book Revue.

"We're a service that helps people get successfully published," Eckstut said. With the advent of eBooks and self-publishing platforms, "the publishing industry has changed so dramatically in the last five years that even seasoned, published authors have no idea what's going on and how to manage getting published today."

Last year, Pitchapalooza was also held at Books & Books in Westhampton Beach. The winning pitch was based on a crime novel by retired Nassau County police Det. John Nolan, of Oakdale. Since then, Nolan, 68, has been consulting with Eckstut and Sterry on the manuscript and plans to write more books.

The Book Doctors charge $250 an hour for consulting, but the winner of Pitchapalooza gets a priceless freebie -- an introduction to one agent or editor who is appropriate for his/her book.

Among them was Huntington real estate agent Gigi Bowman.

"Everybody has a story and everybody has an obsessive compulsion," she said at the start of her pitch for "What's Your OCD?" It was well-received by the judges.

"I think I'd like to read that book!" Meister said.

Though the panelists listened carefully as prospective authors delivered their book ideas, when it was time to select the winner, the choice was immediate and unanimous: Ruchir Gupta, who offered "A Patient's Guide for Surgery."

"It's to educate patients about what happens to them during surgery while they're sleeping," said Gupta, 33, an anesthesiologist at Syosset Hospital. "Who's in the operating room? What roles do they each play? In what order do things happen? Is everyone a doctor? Are there nurses? Are they being supervised . . . ?" Each chapter covers a different basic surgery, such as hernia, knee replacement, hysterectomy.

Gupta, of Dix Hills, said his 9-month-old daughter hadn't been feeling well and he debated attending Pitchapalooza, so he was happily surprised that he made the right call.

"It was an excellent pitch," Eckstut said afterward. "He established a need for his book," and he has built-in authority over the subject matter. "He's the only one that has the complete package, and I have confidence that he can pull off this book."

Meister agreed. "He's got the skills and it's very marketable."

Gupta sees it as a self-help guide, one he conceived about 6 months ago.

"My mother's surgery last year made me realize how little patients know about the anesthesia and the surgery they are having," he said. "I hope the book clears up misconceptions and people understand what's going to happen to them, so they are less stressed about their surgeries."

All he has to do now is sit down and write it.

Pitch perfect

Do you want to write a book? The first step is crafting a concise pitch -- a brief summary of what the book is about. The Book Doctors offer 10 tips:

1. Make us fall in love with your hero. Whether you're writing a novel or a memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.

2. Make us hate your villain. Show us someone unique and dastardly who we can't wait to hiss at.

3. If you're writing a book with information (self-help, diet, money, relationships, spirituality, religion, etc.) you must establish your credentials. Prove to us why we should trust you.

4. Just because your kids love your children's book story when you tell it to them at bedtime doesn't mean you're automatically qualified to get a publishing deal.

5. A great pitch is like a poem; every word counts.

6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are; it has to be the very best of your writing.

7. Don't make your pitch a book report. Make it sing, soar and amaze.

8. A pitch is like a movie trailer. You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic close up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes, and then build us to a climax.

9. Leave us with a cliffhanger. The ideal reaction to a pitch is, "Oh my God, what happens next?"

10. Show us what's unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it's comfortable, familiar and proven.

-- Claudia Gryvatz Copquin

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