Pitchapalooza Comes to Book Passage in Corte Madera, California

by | Jan 20, 2011

Tonight Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, just north of San Francisco, hosted the Pitchapalooza tour. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published are on tour, but in their own way. Instead of giving a reading, they stage an opportunity for local writers to give a pitch, with the winner taking away an introduction to an agent or publisher for their work.

As you might imagine, these events are well-attended. Tonight about 125 people packed the bookstore, and many signed up to give a pitch. About 22 people got to use one minute to pitch their book. And it was well worth doing.

Arielle Eckstut is a long-time literary agent and author. David Henry Sterry is a screenwriter, actor and the author of many books of his own. Also on the panel were agent Andy Ross and best-selling novelist Sheldon Siegel, and me.

Live and Die in One Minute

A microphone was set up in the middle of the room and writers, chosen at random, were sent to use their one minute to make their pitch. As the evening went on, we also received an education in just how important it is to fine tune your pitch, to make your pitch effective, entertaining, and full of information and life.

Some writers seemed like naturals at the mike, others were clearly in the grip of their own nerves. Each pitch received appreciation and many received astute suggestions on how to improve their pitch, or their concept.

For instance, David encouraged presenters to make him laugh rather than tell him their book was funny. Or to inspire him with their words, rather than tell him they wrote something inspirational. To give specifics instead of generalities, and to know exactly what category your book is aimed at, exactly who the audience is for what you’ve written.

Pitchapalooza at Book Passage

David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, Yours Truly, Sheldon Siegel and Andy Ross

The point of the pitch itself came home when Arielle paused to explain how your pitch, the essence of what your project is about, is what attracts an agent. The agent, in turn, will use your pitch to present your book to an editor. This same pitch may turn up as back cover copy on your book when it’s published, and then be used by the publisher’s reps when they sell the book to retailers. At the end of the chain, booksellers will use the pitch to explain your book to likely buyers in the store.

Memoir, Memoir, Memoir

Although both agents on the panel emphasized repeatedly how difficult it is to sell memoirs to publishers, about 75% of the books pitched were memoirs of one kind or another. And the winner, a woman who writes a column about being single, adroitly pitched her book more as an expose and social comedy, never mentioning the dreaded “M” word.

It was exciting to see the energy for writing and publishing brought by the attendees, and it was an honor in a way to listen to people present themselves and attempt to help them improve their chances. Set in an independent bookstore, the hopes and dreams of all those writers exerted a force.

The authors were also gathering email addresses and handing out cards for their author services company, The Book Doctors. Everyone who bought a book at the event was informed they were entitled to a free half-hour telephone consultation.

There were a number of members of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) there, and a few gave their pitch. One member pitched with her self-published book as a visual aid, and I was proud of that.

This was an evening for traditional publishing, and a valuable opportunity to peek into that world and see how decisions are made, how projects are evaluated. A lot of experience with the commercial end of selling books was in evidence, and that experience is invaluable.

Jill asked one of the authors—who said he had gotten hundreds of rejections over the years—if he had ever considered self-publishing. He looked at her like she had called him a dirty name, and said, “Of course not.”

On the whole, it was one of the most entertaining and interesting evenings we’ve had in a long time. If the Pitchapalooza tour stops near you, don’t miss it.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Jose Ruiz

    Many thanks for the awesome article. I just got a book published myself on
    http://www.amazon.com, and am now researching advertising (I’ve already checked your How to Write a Press Release article ;)

    Is there somewhere that I can get some good examples of what a ‘pitch’
    should looksound like? I know it differs widely from book to book, and what message you’re trying to get across, but I’d just like an idea of what a proper one should be, since I’m a tad clueless right now.


    Jose Ruiz

  2. bettymingliu

    this is so interesting! such fun when you cover events. people really do learn from observing and interacting with each other. thanks for sharing this!

  3. Mchael N. Marcus

    >>Jill asked one of the authors—who said he had gotten hundreds of rejections over the years—if he had ever considered self-publishing. He looked at her like she had called him a dirty name, and said, “Of course not.”<<

    That's pathetic and very 20th-century, but it means less competition for writers with more drive to have people read their work. Perhaps, after the first hundred or so rejections, the author should have realized that there would be NO contract.

    My first self-published book was a mostly funnny/mostly true memoir. I knew it had little chance of being published commercially and I was not going to waste years submitting it to agents. It has gotten great reviews from readers, the checks come in every month, and it led me to publish more than a dozen other books.

    In the 21st century, any author who does not consider self-publishing is simply not realistic or knowledgable about publishing. The recession, POD and eBooks have radically transformed the book business. Change is bad for some, and wonderful for others.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    • Joel Friedlander

      Good point, Michael. As I’ve often written here before, one of the reasons I advocate for self-publishing is that I know many people trapped in the same box and who are destined to “die with a book inside them” that no one else will get to read. The yearning for acceptance and external validation is very strong, however, so I don’t expect these attitudes to disappear, I just hope to move more people toward the possibility of taking control of their own creative lives, just the way you have.



  1. How to Write a Press Release—A Mini-Tutorial — The Book Designer - [...] is the press release, or media release. In an earlier article I talked about how important your book pitch…

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