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Pitchapalooza Comes to Illinois

By Joey Figueroa

Aspiring novelists had the chance to pitch their book ideas in front of an esteemed panel of writers during Illinois’ inaugural Pitchapalooza event in Lincoln Hall.

Created by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, co-founders of The Book Doctors, Pitchapalooza is a traveling nationwide event that challenges potential authors to wow judges and a live audience with their book pitches in one minute or less. When it reached Lincoln Hall Theater, 20 students—all that time allowed—spanning various disciplines seized the opportunity.

A student gives a 60-second pitch for his book idea during Pitchapalooza at Lincoln Hall Theater.

The panel of judges included Ecskstut and Sterry, as well as Illinois professors Gillen Wood, from the Department of English, and Walter Harrington from the Department of Journalism. Following each pitch, the judges gave their thoughts, criticisms and concerns regarding the pitch and the book idea as a whole à la American Idol.

After hearing twenty different pitches spanning a broad range of topics and genres, the judges selected Sophie Rodgers, a sophomore in English and creative writing, as the winner for her idea for a children’s book about catching the tooth fairy. Through Eckstut and Sterry, Rodgers will be introduced to a publisher and an agent en route to possibly becoming a published author.

Three honorable mentions were also announced: Jack Duffley, a sophomore in history and economics; Alessandra Lanier, a freshman in psychology; and Sharif Islam, a doctoral student in sociology.

Duffley pitched a book on how to lower college tuition that he’s been working on with his roommate and was greatly encouraged by the honorable mention.

“We are really excited to have received an honorable mention because it shows that people want to read our book,” Duffley said. “It’s giving us confidence as we go along writing it.”

Following the event, Eckstut and Sterry hung around to talk to students about bringing their books to publishers. Eckstut and Sterry have been holding Pitchapalooza events across the country for 10 years and said they are still thrilled to hear the varying ideas that come from each new location. This was their first time visiting the University of Illinois.

“It was wonderful to see so many people from so many disciplines come out that have an interest,” Eckstut said. “It’s nice to see that kind of variety, and that comes out of the fact that this is a school with so many different sub-schools. You get to see this great variety.”

Pitchapalooza judges: David Henry Sterry, Arielle Eckstut, Gillen Wood, and Walter Harrington

Prior to the event, workshops were held for prospective book pitchers to hone their craft before actually presenting. These pre-event workshops included a discussion on the process of publishing a book, a seminar on literary editing and a workshop on perfecting pitches.

Sterry was impressed from the outset.

“The books they were pitching were all completely different and the level of pitch was really high,” Eckstut said. “It was really exciting to watch these people who had clearly spent a lot of time thinking and writing about their books.”

Pitchapalooza was sponsored by the Department of English, the Department of Journalism, Career Services Council, The Graduate College and The Career Center.

Story and photographs courtesy of University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.