Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Pitchapalooza Taught Me About The Art of the Pitch


For one whole minute, I felt like Kelly Clarkson.

A few years ago at the Mountain & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Conference, I participated in Pitchapalooza—a competition where twenty writers have exactly sixty breathless seconds to describe and sell their book concepts to a panel of industry experts. It’s been called “the American Idol for authors,” and although the judges were much kinder than Simon Cowell the competition was intense; many Pitchapalooza winners have gone on to be highly successful published authors.

The process helped each of us think about the essence of our books and distill the elements that were most compelling and salable. The prize was a coveted agent referral and a professional consultation with Pitchapalooza's creators David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, who co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. The dynamic duo, who are known in the industry as The Book Doctors, have written numerous books and helped many writers develop and sell their books.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry 

The pitches were terrific, from a Western legal thriller to an epic war novel to a surfing memoir. Sterry politely cut off anyone whose performance went over the sixty-second time limit. After each author took a turn at the podium, the judges critiqued the pitch on the spot and gave gentle suggestions for improvement. “Don’t tell us that your books are funny, heart-wrenching, thrilling or poetically beautiful,” said Sterry. “Instead, make us laugh in the pitch. Break our hearts. If it’s a thriller, make our hearts beat faster. Wow us with your beautiful poetry.”

“People sometimes over-hype themselves,” said Eckstut. “Don’t tell us you’ve written the next Harry Potter, or the next Eat, Pray, Love. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, we need three concrete, unique take-aways in the pitch that show what we’re going to get and how we’ll benefit—and why you’re the expert we should be listening to. And every pitch should give a sense of beginning, middle and end.”

All of that in sixty seconds—no problem, right?

Here’s what I pitched:

"Credit score of 720 or higher."
"No unruly ear or nose hair."

"In my novel 100 Things I Want in a Lover, thirty-eight-year-old Natalie Dare has given up on ever finding true love.  In the two years since she divorced her sex addict husband, she hasn’t gone on a single date.  Resigned to her unremarkable life, Natalie works a dead-end job at a Denver hemorrhoid clinic and spends her weekends fixing up her old house.

Then one morning she hears self-help guru Dr. Rhoda on the radio.  Dr. Rhoda says the key to manifesting a better life is to write a Life List of exactly what you want, “so the Universe can respond with abundance.”  Skeptical but intrigued, Natalie makes a list of one hundred qualities she wants in her ideal soul mate.  Little does she know that with that single, cautious act of faith, her once-dreary life will veer off on an unpredictable journey that upends everything she thought she knew about love—and propels her to figure out what she really wants."

After we’d all pitched our book ideas, the panel huddled together as we nervously waited. When the judges announced that I’d won, I was stunned. Any writer who has dreamed of a break will understand why I really did feel like the next American Idol. The unexpected vote of confidence was just the encouragement I needed, and my subsequent consultation with Sterry and Eckstut was invaluable in helping me understand all the steps I needed to take to get my book ready for publication.

After working with an editor and polishing my novel, Sterry and Eckstut referred me to several literary agencies representing women's fiction authors. I used my Pitchapalooza pitch in my query letters, landed two offers of representation, and signed with my hard-working agent Elizabeth Kracht at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Liz has further refined the pitch as she seeks the perfect publisher, and we used many of the same elements for the synopsis. In short, that sixty second summary I crafted about my novel is probably more important than any other paragraph I wrote.

Judges react to a pitch at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Conference Pitchapalooza

How about you—would you like to experience Pitchapalooza for yourself? The next one will be held September 16 during the Brooklyn Book Festival (details here). Even though you won’t get to hear Simon Cowell spout zingers like “You sounded like a cat in a vacuum cleaner!” it’s an entertaining, instructive competition for writers and readers alike—and for me, a moment I’ll never forget.

Eliza Cross is the author of seven books including her latest, 101 Things To Do With a Pickle, which will be released by Gibbs Smith this month. She blogs at and and is the founder of the bacon enthusiast society BENSA, which—unlike Mensa—welcomes members of all intelligence levels. She is currently working on her second novel.


Peter Hogenkamp said...

Great post Eliza. And I loved your pitch: you had me at "dead-end job at a Denver hemorrhoid clinic. Informative and funny.

Sue Coletta said...

Your book sounds amazing! I can't wait to read it. What a great premise!

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

A great blog for anyone getting ready for a conference. Heads up for those of you headed to Pacific Northwest Writers in Seattle next week. Thanks Eliza.

Eliza Cross said...

Thanks, Peter. I'm glad you liked the pitch!

Eliza Cross said...

Thanks, Sue, and I can't wait to read YOUR books. :-)

Eliza Cross said...

Thanks so much, Susan, and I hope you and Liz have a terrific time in Seattle!