Judge Not…Unless, Of Course, You’re Invited To

Jury Duty: did having my own writing judged qualify me to sit in judgment of other authors?

Recently, I added about two dozen books to my ‘To Be Read’ pile. The funny thing is, many haven’t even been written yet.

Why, then, am I so keen to devour them?  Because I had the honor of being a guest judge as their authors pitched their book premise to The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry at last month’s Pitchapalooza event at the Jersey Shore.

Pitchapalooza, Jersey Shore style: More than 20 authors had 60 seconds to pitch their books to The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry and myself at the Brielle Library. The Book Doctors bill Pitchapalooza as “American Idol for Writers.”

And even though there could be only one winner (more on that in a bit), every writer had me at “My book is about…” Their ideas spanned genres: novels, YA, memoir, children’s books, self-help. Their subjects ran the gamut from childhood dyslexia to living with Crohn’s disease to caring for aging parents to teens aging out of foster care. Several pitches elicited tears from listeners.

Eckstut and Sterry have written the primer on shepherding your book to publication.

I knew well what was at stake for every nervous author who stood at that podium for that all-important minute. My 2012 Pitchapalooza win opened doors that led to the publication of my two novels, DELIVER HER (2016) and AT WAVE’S END (2017), by Lake Union Publishing.

Unfortunately, the clock ran out on some of the authors before they could completely articulate their book’s premise. But The Book Doctors kindly provided feedback on each pitch that authors could use to refine their submission for next time.

Ultimately, The Book Doctors chose Gerry Gribbon of Manalapan, N.J. as the night’s Pitchapalooza winner for his proposed book, “Soft Skills Shouldn’t Be So Hard,” about building strong personal brands. Gribbon said his book would detail the importance of soft skills such as communication, collaboration, teamwork, body language, eye language, handshakes and more.

And the winner! Gerry Gribbon (second from right) for his “Soft Skills Don’t Have to Be So Hard” self-help book pitch. The May 2018 event was sponsored by BookTowne of Manasquan.

Eckstut and Sterry commended the sales, marketing and leadership executive for his compelling subject, commanding presentation style and existing platform for book promotion, key elements publisher seek when evaluating new authors.

As the winner, Gribbon will be introduced to an agent or publisher most suited to his proposal to help guide him on his publishing path. He currently has an outline and framework for his self-help book.

Based on the passion of the night’s authors, I’m certain “Soft Skills” and many of the other stories pitched that night ultimately land on bookstore shelves. As for critiquing these fledgling writers, it was ironic and a little terrifying to be part of the jury. But long before winning Pitchapalooza, my writing had been judged A LOT…by agents, editors, publishers, readers. So I drew on that experience in the hopes of guiding these authors.

Read the winning stories, poems, essays and other submissions in the Summer 2018 American Writers Review.

Pitchapalooza wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to judge my fellow writers this year.  The publishers of the literary journal American Writers Review tapped me to critique fiction entries in its 2017-2018 contest. I read close to thirty stories, each one better than the one before.

Both judging experiences underscored for me the vast amount of untapped literary talent in the world, even in my own back yard. Congratulations to the winners, and to the rest of the competitors, KEEP WRITING and KEEP PITCHING. No matter how long it takes, your stories deserve to be told…and read!