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'Book Doctors' will diagnose your idea at Book Revue

Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large for Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

Arielle Eckstut, agent-at-large for Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and David Henry Sterry, author, activist, educator and performer are the co-authors of "The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published," are two of the panelists for "Pitchapalooza" event held at The Book Revue in Huntington on December 2, 2010.

Mix equal parts "American Idol" with a book idea and what do you get? Pitchapalooza!

But at this event, aspiring writers are the stars; instead of covering pop tunes, they pitch potential books to a panel of judges and receive valuable feedback.

Created by "The Book Doctors" - David Henry Sterry, author of 13 books, and his wife, Arielle Eckstut, a literary agent and entrepreneur - Pitchapalooza and its panel of publishing industry experts will be headed to the Book Revue in Huntington Thursday, Dec. 2, for an event to promote the pair's newly published book, "The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published" ($15.95, Workman Publishing).

Pitchapalooza's format seems to be resonating. Eckstut and Sterry have traveled across the country with their event, hitting cities including Seattle, Hollywood, Dayton and Miami.

"It's such a rare opportunity to get to pick the brain of great industry professionals," Sterry says. "As a writer who's not known, you can't call an agent and say, 'Hey, can you listen to my pitch and give me great feedback?'"

THE BACKSTORY

 

Sterry and Eckstut dreamed up the event about 10 years ago after trying to publish books about Leroy "Satchel" Paige and Jane Austen, respectively.

"We went to our local bookstore and asked if we could do a local event there and they said they would gladly host an event if we could bring Satchel Paige and Jane Austen with us," Sterry says, laughing. "That's a very typical scenario for writers whose names aren't Stephen King."

So, the pair developed a workshop on how to publish books on subjects in which writers are passionate. They caught a break showcasing the workshop at a Barnes & Noble in a small California town rumored to be populated by more ghosts than people. After receiving a stamp of approval from the chain bookstore, they were able to cement a 20-city tour on the West coast.

"What we discovered every single place we went [was that] all these writers wanted to pitch their books to us and this was just when 'American Idol' was becoming popular," Sterry says.

HOW IT WORKS

 

Just like 'Idol,' there's a panel of judges. Participants get one minute to pitch their book. And yes, there is a timer.

Panelists provide feedback about what elements of a pitch work, what needs to be fixed and how to make it better. The tone is more along the lines of constructive criticism than Simon-like jabs, Sterry says.

"No one is going to be mean to you. . . . We're very kind," he assures. "It's fun to watch even if you don't pitch."

The winner receives a future 30-minute consultation with "The Book Doctors" which, depending on the stage of the book idea, can include assistance in finding the "right" agent and publisher, as well as promotion and marketing guidance, says Sterry.

Past memorable pitches ranged from a schoolteacher offering her comedic take on the profession to "a guy who pitched a book on serial killers who looked like a serial killer," he says. A few attendees have received book deals, such as the teacher, Roxanna Elden, author of "See Me After Class" (Kaplan Publishing, 2009), who says she met her agent at the event.

"There are so many great writers who just haven't gotten a break yet," Sterry says. "It's one of the most fun things to do in my life - see somebody who is a diamond in the rough and polish them up and then they get a book deal."

BE PREPARED

 

We asked some of the judges to give pitching do's and don'ts:

DO:

 

Practice your pitch. "Write down your pitch and time it," says Long Island-based fiction writer Teri Coyne ("The Last Bridge").

Lead with the conflict. "What we really have to understand is what's at stake for the protagonist," Long Island-based fiction writer Ellen Meister (author of the forthcoming "The Other Life") says. "Really make sure that you understand the conflict . . . Let us know one key thing that makes the character different."

Use comparable titles to describe your book. Say something like "'The Catcher in the Rye' with Asperger's" or "readers who read 'Harry Potter' and readers who read 'The Da Vinci Code' will like my book," says author David Henry Sterry.

Convey who you are. "Is there something about you that makes you uniquely qualified to tell your story?" says James Levine, founder of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. "If you're going to write a crime novel, it would be really great to know you worked for the NYPD in the homicide unit."

DON'T:

 

Give too many plot details. "People too often get caught up in the background information and that's a mistake," Meister says.

Say that your book is for everybody. "A book that's for everybody is for nobody," says Levine. "Identify your audience."

Use adjectives to describe your book. "Don't tell me it's funny. Make me laugh," Sterry says.

WHAT "Pitchapalooza"

WHEN|WHERE 7 p.m. Dec. 2, Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington

INFO 631-271-1442, bookrevue.com

ADMISSION Free

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