Got a book idea? Pitch it — fast

The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, are also the authors of ‘The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.’
The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, are also the authors of ‘The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.’

Everybody has a story. How compelling is yours?

The Book Doctors are here to let you know.

The good doctors — husband-and-wife team Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry — appear Saturday in Miami, courtesy of the Miami Writers Institute, a program of Miami Book Fair Year-Round, for their second Pitchapalooza here. Authors of the comprehensive The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, they’ve traveled around the country listening to book pitches, from the Brooklyn Book Festival to the Midwest to rural Alaska. They team up with local writers — this weekend, novelist and Florida International University creative writing professor John Dufresne will join them — on a panel that offers critiques, encouragement and, if you’re lucky, a better shot at getting your work published.

“We love doing this,” Sterry says. “Whenever we go to certain pockets of the country where we have great writers, we hear great pitches. Miami is one of those places. There are so many talented writers there who just don’t know anyone in the publishing business. And there are so many ways to get published now.”

Whenever we go to certain pockets of the country where we have great writers, we hear great pitches. Miami is one of those places.

David Henry Sterry, co-author of ‘The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published’

Here’s how it works: If you want a chance to pitch, sign up Saturday at the Books & Books at the Arsht Center and cross your fingers (because of the high demand, the panel can’t always get to everyone who shows up). Names are chosen randomly. If yours is picked, you get one minute to pitch your book.

Ideas for both fiction or nonfiction are welcome, but beware the popular category: “We get pitched so many dystopian young adult stories,” Sterry says. “Vampires still get pitched. If you’re going to pitch in a category that’s oversaturated, you have to say what’s unique. What are you bringing to the vampire table that we haven’t seen before?”

And don’t even think about rambling on; the panel will cut you off ruthlessly at the end of your 60 seconds.

“We have to,” Eckstut says, laughing. “Otherwise we’d be there for weeks.”

The panel then critiques each pitch and chooses a winner, who gets an introduction to an agent or a publisher. What everyone gains is valuable insight into the publishing business. Even in the era of do-it-yourself publication, the industry is a tricky maze to navigate, whether you’re looking for a big contract or an independent publisher or hoping to self-publish.

Sometimes, Sterry and Eckstut say, smaller is better. When they teach workshops, they always ask how many students are looking for a Big Five publisher (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette or Simon & Schuster).

“All the hands go up,” Eckstut says. “Everybody wants the big book deal. When we ask the same question at the end of the workshop, almost everyone has changed their minds.”

One Pitchapalooza success story, Ann Ralph, an arborist who worked in a Berkeley, California, nursery, realized there were no books about caring for backyard fruit trees. Her simple pitch — “It’s The Elements of Style for fruit trees,” Eckstut recalls — eventually led to Storey Publishing taking on her book Grow A Little Fruit Tree.

“Would Random House do a book like this? Maybe,” Eckstut says. “Would they care about it? No. It’d be the bottom of the barrel. But Storey is part of Workman, a larger independent press. The book went on to be chosen by The New York Times as one of the best gardening books of the year. It earned out its advance in a year. This publisher knows how to publish that book.”

As for self-publishing, it can be a good option — Eckstut says one Pitchapalooza, done via Skype in rural Alaska, unearthed many self-published Native American writers who had terrific stories to tell. But the Book Doctors warn that self-publishing can be deceptive and difficult.

“There are two categories of people in self publishing,” Sterry says. “One is people who want to give something to friends and family. The other is made up of highly entrepreneurial people who know how to do a start-up. They know how to build an audience, how to put together a product. So many people are dissatisfied with self publishing because it’s hard to have success. You have to be an extremely entrepreneurial being.”

Roxanna Elden, a Miami teacher, is another Pitchapalooza success story. Now the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers (Sourcebooks), and the children’s book Rudy’s New Human (Sky Pony Press), she also attended workshops at the Writers Institute with the Book Doctors and recommends their courses to aspiring writers.

“Take every opportunity to find out about the industry you’re entering,” she advises. “The workshops saved me so much trial and error.”

She is also a believer in the Book Doctors’ 60-second pitch rule (also known as the elevator pitch, as in: you run into someone in an elevator — can you sell your idea by the time you hit the bottom floor?). Being focused helps you understand what exactly your book is about, she says.

“Ever since I’ve been a published author, people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’ I say, ‘What’s it about?’ They can almost never tell me. This shows the person hasn’t thought their book through very well. In some cases, if it was a really good idea, maybe I would know someone I could introduce them to — I have an agent. But if they can’t tell me their book idea, I just say good luck.”

If You Go

What: Pitchapalooza

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Books & Books at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Cost: Free