On October 25, 2015, The Book Doctors brought their nationwide Pitchapalooza tour to the Montclair Public Library in Montclair, NJ. Described as an “American Idol for books,” Pitchapalooza gives 20 randomly-chosen attendees the opportunity to pitch their book before a panel of industry professionals–in one minute or less.
There were a fair amount of people there (60, maybe more?), so only 1/3 of the room got to pitch. That’s okay; everyone who bought a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Published walked away with a 20-minute phone consultation with The Book Doctors, David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, to work on/talk about anything related to writing and publishing your book. Pretty good deal in itself, and listening to the critiques on everyone’s pitches was definitely an educational experience.
I would have been happy with just that. I didn’t know about Pitchapalooza until the day before, when my writer buddy Meaghan Myers asked if I was going. Even though it was listed on the NaNoWriMo calendar for our region, I hadn’t seen it. I hoped to get chosen, I was prepared to pitch (thank you, Kevin T. Johns, for having me do so much pre-writing work on my novel over the past few months), but so was everyone else. In my mind, I was here on a lark.
As the afternoon winded down, though, my name was called. I was one of the lucky few, with only two hopefuls left after me. I was grateful for the opportunity, nervous about the reception, focused on my delivery. I got through my pitch about a race of nature beings living on a snowflake with good pacing and clear diction. I stayed within the time limit. I didn’t trip over any words. Success!
But wait, there’s more: as I closed out my personal victory of just getting through the thing, the room erupted in applause and literal whoops and hollers. The encouraging-but-polite crowd transformed into enthusiastic concert-goers. The judging panel (composed of David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, Ylonda Gault and Joëlle Delbourgo) was equally expressive, commending my pitch with nothing but positives. The nervousness that I had held at bay throughout my pitch released and my body thrummed with blood rushing everywhere all at once. It was euphoric.
Soon after, they declared me the unanimous winner. Incredible. I’m still reeling. The validation from this esteemed group of professionals is a high I’ll be riding for awhile, which is perfectly timed with the upcoming NaNoWriMo thrust of 50k in 30 days. What’s more important than that, though, was the audience response: complete strangers, mostly adults, resonating with my middle-grade fantasy—a difficult category to transcend across generations. I’m writing to touch people, to change the way they see the world, from ages 9 to 90, and on Sunday, I did that. My story did that.
This past week had been difficult, a lost battle with my doubts and fears. As much as the physical solitude of being a writer can take its toll, the mental isolation is far worse. Some days, your story is beautiful and perfect and magical; you’re in awe of its power and humbled that it found its way to you. Other days, though, because it’s coming from your brain—and you are your own normal—the ideas feel small, infantile, and pedestrian. No one will ever find any merit in it, and it will go unread and unloved. These are the days that are near-paralyzing.
This event, and the subsequent overwhelming response to my story, came at the perfect time. I feel like the Universe opened up and smiled at me, reminding me why I sit down and write every day.
For my fellow writers out there: I was fortunate enough to receive this validation, but we are all working to bring to life the story that lives in our hearts. Don’t judge it by your own self-critical standards, by being too close to it. Let it live, let it breathe, and it will find its audience in time. I personally need to keep reminding myself of this, and I hope that someday this mantra won’t need to be a constant companion. Until that day, though, I’ll keep writing: word by word, line by line, and soon enough that will all add up to a finished book that contains the story of my soul. And that will be amazing.
The video embedded at the top of this post includes the audio of my pitch and critique. The critique itself is enlightening because it shares the panel’s views on what constitutes a good pitch, much of which they had also discussed in the other critiques of the afternoon (thank you, elbow stress injury, for forcing me to voice-record the event because I couldn’t take notes!).
The text of my pitch (because sometimes it’s easier to analyze written things) can be found on my NaNoWriMo novel page.