Monday night I served on the panel of judges for Pitchapalooza here in Kansas City. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be great fun—and very useful to the people who attended from all the feedback I heard.
What is Pitchapalooza? It was billed as “American Idol for Books, only without the Simon Cowell.” Rainy Day Books, Kansas City’s top independent bookstore, brought in The Book Doctors, AKA Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, a married couple who wrote the book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It...Successfully! (Workman Publishing). To promote their book, the Book Doctors have been traveling the country offering Pitchapalooza.
People attend and buy their book. From the total number of book buyers, twenty-five people are randomly selected. These twenty-five writers have one minute—and only one minute!—to pitch their book to a panel that consists of the Book Doctors and two local writers or editors or bookstore owners. At the end of the minute, two members of the panel give feedback to try to help make the pitch more effective. At the very end, we would select the top pitcher, and the Book Doctors would make a connection for that writer with the editor and agent that they thought right for her or him. Last year’s Kansas City winner received a three-book contract from a major publisher, so the stakes were high.
For all the comparisons to American Idol, there was little similarity. We were not only kinder than those judges, but we gave feedback that was genuinely designed to help the writer making the pitch with little thought to how cleverly it was phrased or how snarky we could get. I was there to deal with those pitching novels while the other local member of the panel was a nonfiction editor at a local nonfiction publishing house. I was warned that most pitches were nonfiction, so I anticipated only having to give feedback once or twice.
Wrong! All but two of the pitches were for novels. So I was up just about every time. What they don’t tell you is how challenging this format is for the judges, as well as the writers who only get one minute. That’s all the time the judges had also to listen and understand, and we couldn’t have them repeat it. We didn’t have much time to give feedback, either, so we had to zero in right away on the major strengths and weaknesses. It was dizzyingly fast!
Still, it was fun to hear the different ideas for novels and characters, as well as to try to help them improve. I was pleased at the overall high level of the pitches. There are a lot of good writers out there. One of our twenty-five passed on his chance to pitch because he said he was learning so much from listening to everyone else’s and the comments. I was also surprised at how entertaining it was. Some of these pitches were very original.
In the end, we chose a lucky winner, and the rest of the writers who pitched got valuable assistance with their pitches while those in the audience were entertained and educated in the art of the pitch themselves. I came away with my brain spinning and convinced that Pitchapalooza is a great opportunity for writers. If you’re in a city where the Book Doctors bring Pitchapalooza, I’d recommend attending, even if only for the entertainment.