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McCallum: The Pitch

04/02/12 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(Host) Commentator Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and retired prison librarian who says that surveys show eighty percent of Americans dream of writing a book, but only about five percent of submitted manuscripts actually get published. Recently, she was among a group of Vermont writers who attended an event designed to help them get on the publishing highway.

(McCallum) It was advertised as American Idol for Books, and it tours around the country under the name Pitchapalooza - an opportunity for undiscovered authors to pitch their book ideas to a panel of judges before a listening audience.

The marketing brainchild of a couple of writers from New York, the event sells their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published , while encouraging would-be writers to hone their pitching skills to publishers. They call themselves the Book Doctors.

The events are held at bookstores, surrounded by thousands of new books that have made the grade - the brass ring nearly every writer reaches for. The gathering I attended was at Manchester's Northshire Bookstore, a readers' haven in southern Vermont.

Vermont is home to more writers per capita than any other state in the nation, so it's no wonder that more than one hundred of them showed up that day, hoping for a chance to do their literary song and dance. The lucky twenty whose names were randomly chosen got to stand up and pitch their product in 60 seconds or less. One syllable over the minute mark and they were cut off.

I was struck by the breadth, depth and richness of ideas, the diversity of genres, and the range of ages among the hopefuls. Their ability to boil down and distill their visions into One Vermont Minute made for great theater.

We listened raptly while a distinguished retiree pitched a comic memoir of his experience as a dean of a Jesuit and Catholic University. Next up was a woman who described her memoir as "the Eat, Pray, Love of an American Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s." A young hopeful pitched her College Graduate's Guide to the Kitchen , followed by a woman who extolled her book, called Surviving Your Husband's Retirement , as required reading.

Judges advised competitors to tout their books on YouTube videos, to Tweet about them on Twitter, and to blog them on Tumblr. "We want you to get published!" was their mantra. No surprise, as the promoters are not only writers themselves, but agents too, ever on the lookout for the next bestseller. It was a marketing feast, not to be confused with a literary one.

When one young man described his novel as literary fiction, the Book Doctors told him, "Remember, the more literary it is, the fewer copies it's going to sell." A sad new truism, as real as the demise of the bricks and mortar bookstore in our brave new digital world.

One plucky author ultimately won the grand prize of an interview with an agent, hopefully her kickstart to publication.

Afterward, it was heartening when the judges reminded the audience of what treasures bookstores are. "Make sure you buy something here today so that this community gem stays in business," they advised.

And I for one, couldn't agree more with that kind of marketing.
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