The Pitchapalooza Experience: Before, During & After
Part One: Prepping to Pitch
I hate to start a post by tooting my own horn, but I must admit that I was totally prepared to pitch at Pitchapalooza. At least, that's what I thought before I actually, you know, pitched.
Now, granted, I had never attended Pitchapalooza in person, but I looked it up on YouTube and watched several sessions to get an idea of what it would be like to pitch to The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.
(How hard could it be, right?)
The Book Doctors: Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry
After watching all of the YouTube features, I wrote a mere 25 or so pitches and "test-orated" them for days. I even called my best friend (who lives in a different state) and phone-pitched her for hours. (I don't think she has called me since.)
I finally settled on (and perfected) a pitch that cleverly began with (singing) the first lines of the iconic Rolling Stones' song, "Sympathy for the Devil". It went like this:
"Please allow me to introduce myyyyyy-self . . .
I'm not Mick Jaaaag-ger,
But I can luuhhhkk
Just like hiiiim."
NOTE: Those last three lines are mine - not Jagger & Richards'. But (sadly) they are true. I should explain here that I was preparing to pitch my coming-of-age memoir which chronicles my teenaged years spent impersonating Mick Jagger and stalking the Rolling Stones with my girlfriends (in an unintended and uncool I Love Lucy fashion).
And yet, after all my thorough preparation, I began to have second thoughts about my rock-n-roll intro. Had I created a pitch intro that would bewilder people? Or, even worse, would I make folks squirm because I can't really sing and it's pretty hard for people to enjoy a pitch if they are too busy thinking, "Pleeeeezzzzeee! Make it stop!"
(I must also mention that my husband threatened to divorce me if I ever perform my MickPersonation in public because he doesn't want to be known as the man who married a woman that looks just like Mick Jagger. To be fair, I guess no man wants that.)
Photo evidence of my Mick-impersonating prowess at the age of Sweet Sixteen.
Now you know why my husband has threatened me with divorce proceedings if I am seen impersonating Mick Jagger out in public. It was kinda cool when I was a teenager, but as a woman over 50 . . . Umm . . . maybe not so much.
Unable to stop fretting about my intro, I hastily crafted a new pitch that didn't require any bad singing on my part. Unfortunately, my last minute rewrite (on the day before the conference) did not leave me enough time to memorize my pitch. I knew that reading a pitch was not optimal, but I figured it would still be acceptable as long as I had a smooth delivery.
During the three-day conference, I operated like a pro basketball player: I visualized myself giving a slam-dunk pitch on every stage in every conference room. Swish! I imagined myself orating like a smooth, polished, professional. By the close of the conference, I was totally prepared to take the stage in any room.
Unfortunately, when the session finally arrived, I was slightly mortified to discover that the contest would take place offsite in the nearby ballroom of the historic Hotel John Marshall (complete with chandeliers and a second-story wrap-around balcony). A hint of unease began to creep in: a grand performance venue was NOT something I had visualized.
No stranger to big stages, I told myself that I could handle it. At least, that is what I thought until I saw that there was no podium to hold my notes (or camouflage any serious knee-knocking). There was only a stand-alone mic on the corner of the stage.
Suddenly, I found myself feeling . . .
As a crowd gathered in the auditorium, I countered my mounting nervousness with more visualizing.
I pictured myself behind the mic . . .
Reading from my (conspicuous) sheet of paper . . .
Which I would be forced to hold in my (likely shaking) sans-podium hands . . .
While standing only five feet away from The Book Doctors (and two other unidentified panel members) . . .
In the swanky, cavernous (intimidating) space.
I was rewarded for all my mental preparation with a bad case of the jitters.
The room continued to fill (more intimidation) and suddenly the additional judges arrived and took their seats on the stage: Peter Knapp of Park Literary Group and Geoff Shandler (now with Harper Collins).
I had attended conference sessions with both gentlemen and, frankly speaking, they scared the CRAP out of me. That's when it fully hit me . . .
OMG! I AM COMPLETELY UN-PREPARED!
Since my usually-reliable mental prep wasn't cutting it, I was forced to retreat to my psychological "cop-out" level. I began to reassure myself that the chances of MY name getting pulled out of the hat were practically nil! "Surely," I thought, "I won't have to give my pitch at all! I don't even have to worry about it."
My heart rate lowered and I became calm. I was so successful at convincing myself of the impossible odds of my selection that I actually became a little disappointed at the karmic unfairness of being one of the un-plucked names left lying in the bottom of the hat, or bowl, or whatever container was being used to grant the golden opportunities. "Geez! After all my preparation! Life is so unfair!" I muttered to myself.
And then . . . My name was called. (I knew it! I knew my name was going to be called!) I was about the sixth (or ninth?) person to be yanked out of the hat. (Bowl! Coffer! Whatever!)
Part Two: Pitching a Pitch
I walked briskly to the stage stairs. (Tip: Brisk walking with certitude helps prevent knee-knocking. Until you stop walking. Then expect the knee-knocking to ensue again.)
As the next-in-line, I had the amount of time it took for the person in front of me to give their pitch (60 seconds) and receive their critiques (a few minutes) to ready myself. It was barely enough time to gulp the necessary quantity of deep breaths to guarantee that I only pitched my pitch and not my lunch. No one wants to see (or hear) that!
"Has that ever happened???" I found myself thinking. I didn't know and I certainly didn't want to be the one to personally introduce it to The Book Doctors and the Pitchapalooza forum!
Then time stopped and it was my turn. While waiting in line to pitch, I had mentally inserted two comparison titles into my pitch which I had previously (and foolishly) deleted to make certain that I completed my pitch in the allotted minute. As I walked to the microphone, my brain was still furiously doing the math of eliminating, adding and editing sentences as it searched for the optimal placement of the new content into my pitch.
Then I pitched. (Only the pitch, I'm happy to report. Lunch stayed down, thank God.)
Part Three: The Pitch Process Analysis
For those of you interested in the scientific aspect of pitching; I have to report that Einstein's Theory of Relativity did kick in, but it bent its own rules because as I raced against the clock (an actual timepiece held by Ms. Eckstut) I discovered that a minute has never felt shorter. But at the same time, a minute has never felt sooooo longggggg, so now I'm not so sure that Einstein got all his facts straight.
For those of you more interested in the psychological aspect of pitching, I have recorded all the "Thoughts I Thunk" during that minute-long time warp because it speaks to the proclivity of the human brain to go down rabbit trails the more you try to focus.
~ The Thoughts I Thunk While Pitching ~
I could HEAR myself saying the pitch with what seemed to be the proper cadence and tone - but I wasn't entirely sure of this because the sound of my heart pounding in my ears was much louder.
I WAS AWARE that the mic was picking up my voice at the proper decibels with no unfortunate reverberations. Whew.
I NOTICED David Henry Sterry laughing at some of my sentences out of the corner of my eye. (That was reassuring.)
I WAS MENTALLY REASSURING myself the entire time that the fact the paper was shaking in my hands was probably not noticeable to anyone other than me.
I was TRYING NOT TO THINK about the other people who had not managed to complete their pitch in under 60 seconds and how I might get cut off too.
I WAS ALSO THINKING; "I shouldn't be thinking about all these other things while I am giving my pitch. I should just be giving my pitch . . . But my brain just won't stop thinking about all these other things . . .
WHY ON EARTH can't my brain process this many thoughts simultaneously on a regular basis? It would be so flippin' useful!"
And then, lickety-split, my pitch was over. I had successfully managed to spit it all out in under 60 seconds. (The spit part is probably why the panel wisely chose to sit far away from all the PITCHers.)
Next it was my turn to receive a big, fat, reward for my act of bravery:
The next surprise was that my feedback only came from Geoff Shandler and Peter Knapp and not The Book Doctors. (I suspected that Arielle and David would be the warmer and fuzzier half of the panel and was scared silly when Geoff Shandler took the lead on the critique.)
I think I intuitively knew what was about to come before a single word was uttered. Mr. Shandler wanted to see me deliver a pitch that was "less technical" and "more edgy", but seemed (I think) to like my hook at the end. Mr. Knapp concurred with Mr. Shandler's analysis and summed it up like this: "I wanted you to be a little more rock-n-roll."
I had to laugh. Had I known that I was pitching to these two, I probably would have delivered my pitch dressed like Mick Jagger (and risked divorce). Because I had second-guessed myself, I had tossed my rock-n-roll approach and had shot myself in the foot. My takeaway: stick with my initial gut instinct in the future.
Part Four: And The Winner Is . . . (or Isn't)
Did I WIN the Pitchapalooza contest?
I was bested by a thirteen-year-old.
But that's not the first time I've been bested by a thirteen-year-old and it probably won't be the last. And though I did not win the contest, I certainly didn't feel like a "Pitchapa-loser". In fact, I was a winner in every way.
The critiques I received were spot-on and I also learned sooooo much from the pitches that other participants gave and their panel critiques.
(Plus, Peter Knapp said he wanted to read my book someday, so I floated out on Cloud Nine.)
Part Five: Tips For Pitching in Pitchapalooza
These are tips I gleaned as both a participant and observer of Pitchapalooza.
My inner-Yoda wanted to share them with all y'all future PITCHers.
I hope you find them helpful.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
1. ALWAYS pitch to the judging panel first; the audience second. Going with a "safe pitch" (like I did) is NOT the way to go at Pitchapalooza. Don't second guess yourself too much. Just have fun with it and rock-n-roll!
2. Practice, practice, practice . . . Memorize your pitch (if possible).
3. Time yourself. Be SURE that you have a couple of seconds to spare, just in case. You will be cut off if you haven't completed your pitch. It is important to finish and leave the panel with a great last sentence or "hook". So don't craft a pitch that forces you to talk so fast that you can't be understood. Just craft a pitch that is short enough to be spoken without "rushing" to squeeze it all in.
3. Visualize yourself on the Pitchapalooza stage beforehand, if you happen to know where it is. If not, just visualize yourself seeing the faces of an audience. You are less likely to get distracted by all those faces or being onstage if you have imagined yourself there.
4. Make yourself memorable. Perform. I noticed that the panel appreciated a little bit of theatricality (when appropriate). If your book is dramatic, be a little dramatic. Dress a bit for the part (but please stop short of looking like you are attending a Comic-Con convention). But if you wrote a Gothic romance, you may want to dress romantically-gothic. Be your Brand!
5. DO INCLUDE a couple of comparison titles. I had searched for years for book comparisons and came up with zilch. But I noticed that The Book Doctors mentioned the lack of comparative titles every time they weren't present in pitches. Since I didn't have book titles I included movie titles instead by saying: "Think Almost Famous meets Napoleon Dynamite." That worked for my pitch (and I saw David Henry Sterry nod and grin when I made that comparison).
6. Don't worry about winning! Just enter to learn! The feedback you get may be something that makes you rethink your entire book, not just your pitch. The panel may ask you questions about your book that you realize you haven't answered or even considered. You could walk away from the entire exercise with a paradigm shift regarding your work.
6. Final tip: DEFINITELY purchase The Book Doctor's book: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Eckstut and Sterry truly take out the "scary" from the overwhelming publication-preparation process. Reading this book is the equivalent of having a couple of warm, wise, and funny friends giving you all the expertise you need to get published. I'd read it for the humor alone!
(Click HERE to visit their site!)
And now . . .
GET OUT THERE AND PITCH!
You'll be so glad you did!
(And get back to me afterwards and tell me all about it!)