Pitch Week


Win a Traditional Book-Publishing Deal and a Shot at Having
Your Own Breakout Book!

Announcing, Pitch Week: A Twice-Annual, Juried Competition for Authors of Promise.



Today, almost anyone can publish a book, and hundreds of thousands of U.S. authors do each year! But getting your new title noticed by influential reviewers and then promoted by top booksellers (online and offline) is another matter, entirely.

Success comes down to this: With only a few exceptions, authors still need enormous help to launch a book to greatness. Behind most bestsellers and breakout books, you will still find top literary agents, respected publishing houses and savvy book publicists — all working together to build the credibility, buzz and retail presence required to drive sales.

Without such a united, team effort, even great books can languish in obscurity. Yet how many authors do you know who can pull such a team together? That may explain why the average non-fiction title today sells fewer than 250 printed copies – and why less than 1 percent of all books will ever surpass the 5,000 mark in sales.

Click Above to See Footage for a Proposed Television Series Based on Our “Pitch Week” Competitions.

An Alternate Path to Traditional Publishing Success

At When Words Count Retreat, we believe promising authors deserve a shot at publishing’s brass ring, and we have decided to do something about it. In September 2013, we launched and hosted the first of two, semi-annual Pitch Weeks – juried competitions, in which six finalists (all with books we believe in) come together to compete for what may be the best book-publishing prize ever offered: An all-star team, dedicated to making the winner’s book a huge success. We call this prize the “Literary Trifecta,” and it includes:

A five-judge panel of industry pros reads the best 25 sample manuscripts submitted by 100 Pitch Week applicants. (No more than 100 applicants will be considered for ANY Pitch Week Competition.) The judges rate the entries, according to their quality and market appeal, to determine our six finalists and two alternates. Then, prior to Pitch Week, they read the finalists’ entire manuscripts and grade them again, by secret ballot. At the finals, the Pitch Week contestants compete, before the judges, in four additional areas:

  • Book packaging
  • Book marketing strategy
  • The author behind the book and
  • Book-tour presentation and communication skills

Our judges score each performance by secret ballot. Then, at an awards dinner attended by the judges and contestants, we open the sealed ballots, tally the scores and declare a winner. Click here to read about the results of Pitch Week #1. (Pitch Week II takes place in June of 2014 and Pitch Week III will be held in September, 2014.)

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week

Meet our Judges & Partners in Pitch Week

The team we have assembled to judge the Pitch Week competitions, and to provide key components of the Literary Trifecta, includes:

  • Kenzi Sugihara, publisher and CEO of SelectBooks, Nancy Sugihara, Select’s Editor-in-Chief, and Kenichi Sugihara, Select’s Vice President of Global Marketing
  • Rachel Ekstrom, a top literary agent with IGLA and
  • Meryl Moss, CEO of Connecticut-based Meryl Moss Media Relations.

Here, in brief, are the highlights about each Pitch Week partner.

  • SelectBooks, a leading NY-based independent publisher, will give our winning Pitch Week contestant a pre-negotiated book deal. Select has a solid roster of non-fiction authors and is now actively engaged in broadening its offerings into mainstream fiction. Kenzi Sugihara, Select’s CEO, says the company is interested in publishing all types of fiction, with only two exceptions. Select currently does not publish children’s picture books or adult books with primarily pornographic content. Select is a family-run enterprise with a stellar reputation, in the publishing world, for taking good care of its writers. The company has extensive U.S. and global distribution channels.
  • Rachel Ekstrom, a highly sought after agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, NYC, will represent the winning contestant. Before joining IGLA, Rachel worked, for more than 10 years, in the book publicity departments of St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books and Penguin’s Dutton and Gotham imprints. She has an insider’s view of the publishing industry and has helped advance the careers of both debut authors and #1 New York Times bestsellers. Her broad interests include such popular categories as young adult fiction (contemporary and paranormal), women’s fiction, mysteries, thrillers, romance and non-fiction — among others. According to the IGLA website, Rachel is “looking for books that will make her heart beat faster than it does when she’s biking through Manhattan traffic.” Rachel is the second of our Pitch Week Judges.
  • Connecticut- and NY-based Meryl Moss Media Relations is a top literary PR firm that runs national book launches for an impressive roster of authors. Now, you may be able to add your name to their list. CEO Meryl Moss, our third and final judge, has agreed to provide our winning Pitch Week contestant with a National Book Launch Campaign designed to build enough visibility and buzz to catapult the featured book to “breakout” status.

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week

The Philosophy behind Pitch Week

Success, in today’s book-publishing world, depends, equally, on an author’s ability to write a great book and to promote it. Pitch Week acknowledges this new dynamic. It seeks to inspire authors to develop the necessary skill sets – and to reward those who excel at it.

We care greatly for all the authors we get to know during their stays at When Words Count Retreat, and we want to help as many as possible advance toward successful publication. (We also want to make the retreat experience, and the enhanced productivity, relationships and community it fosters, a central element in every author’s tool kit.) It was in this spirit that Pitch Week was born.

The Pitch Week Concept: Everyone Wins

Last spring, we selected six finalists (and two alternates) for Pitch Week 1 out of a pool of 100 authors, who visited When Words Count Retreat since we opened, in October of 2012. We selected them on the strength of their manuscripts, the likelihood that they would have completed final drafts ready by July of 2013, their personalities and our belief that they would represent themselves and their books well.

In the last week of September, 2013, four finalists arrived at the retreat for three days of boot camp, led by our book coaches, Steve Eisner and Jon Reisfeld, and immediately followed by the actual Pitch Week competition. Steve and Jon helped the contestants refine and strengthen their presentations one last time, before the judges arrived. Throughout the four-day Pitch Week competition, the contestants had repeated opportunities to shine, as they demonstrated:

  • Grace under pressure
  • An ability to think on their feet
  • Good public-speaking skills
  • Book-marketing acumen and
  • Plenty of charm, charisma and raw enthusiasm.

All Pitch Week contestants benefit from the experience. They emerge from the competition with:

  • Stronger manuscripts
  • More compelling bios and cover copy
  • Better book cover designs
  • Broader and more effective strategies for marketing their books and
  • Greater poise and self-confidence in both pitching their books and in leading public book readings

Most importantly, they get priceless, first-hand feedback from our judges, five industry pros, who have read their books from cover-to-cover. They also build personal relationships with the judges and network with them. In other words, everyone wins. (And it is possible that many of those, who do not officially “win” the competitions, may still be offered separate publishing/representation deals.) They also leave with books that they are now far more likely to place with other traditional publishers or to sell through their own self-publishing efforts.)

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week


Meet Our Pitch Week II Finalists & Alternates

Congratulations to each of You!


Here are Our Five Fiction Authors and Their Books:

  • James Pelton.Suspense/Thrilleer: A Hack Supreme, This financial suspense novel captures the intrigue, backstabbing and abuse of power by and among IT professionals — and others — operating at the highest levels of Wall Street and the investment banking community. Pelton, a top IT expert with the NYPD, uses his experience to build a realistic, compelling drama about a software firm M/A deal gone bad.
  • Summer Schmier. Young-Adult Fantasy: Lilah Keeper and the Deceiver’s Heir is a young adult coming-of-age fantasy novel and the first full-length book from this 17-year-old author. The story takes place in a walled-in town, whose imprisoned populace has been terrorized, for generations, by a ruling class of blind and cruel “Deceivers.” Through the plight of Lilah and her friends, we learn the painful, tragic consequences of the eternal conflict between dreamers and dream stealers.
  • Marie White Small.Literary: Stony KillThis lyrical, literary novel is steeped in storytelling, memory, and reconciliation. Joss Ryckman, a thirty-something baker from Brooklyn, New York, returns to her upstate roots. There, she navigates the kingdom of her violent childhood on the family farm with its tree house on the edge of a magnificent river. Her journey from bitterness to compassion examines mixed-up love, identity, grief, and broken families against the snows of January.
  • Caleb Christian. Urban Drama: A Beautiful Struggle is an urban action drama about the difficulties a bright, talented African American male faces as he attempts to break free from criminal life and the dangers, demands and self-destructive pressures of street culture.
  • Rebecca Theodore. Women’s Fiction: Escape Artiste. Theodore describes her main character’s remarkable journey from a childhood dominated by poverty and superstition on the island of Dominica to success, fame and self-actualization as a political columnist and media personality. The book, which is inspired by her own life, takes the reader through “a series of painful escapes” that Renee Pousaud has to engineer in order to break free from successive forms of captivity. First, as a child, she escapes the clutches of an insular church’s harsh, oppressive doctrine. Then, she finds herself imprisoned again, in the respected, high-paying, but morally compromised, position of research assistant, and secret lover, to a prominent Canadian attorney.

Now, please meet our non-fiction finalist:

  • Catherine Marenghi. Memoir: Glad Farm. The story of a remarkable woman, who rises from the abject poverty, mental illness and despair of her struggling, hardscrabble Italian family to firmly establish herself in a successful career and secure upper-middle class existence. Then, circumstances give her the chance to revisit, and make sense out of, her family’s tragic fall.

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week

Here are Our Two Alternates.

  • Devi DiGuida. Love Story/Suspense The Hybrid’s Cliché, is a contemporary love story/suspense novel about a 25-year-old, unemployed, down-on-his-luck, hearing-impaired college grad who is manipulated, by his ex-shrink, a best-selling sex novelist, into writing a graphic memoir that she plans to appropriate and turn into a novel. Events take a surpising turn, when he uses social media to reach out to his friends around the world, including his former girlfriend, to expose the doctor’s sexually abusive past.
  • Deborah Wilson.Middle-Grade Fiction Chapter Book (for Girls)A Gift of Sugar is the first in the Hip-Hop series of chapter books about ponies and the young girls who ride and care for them. All of the novels in this series are set in the 1970s, before the flood of modern, hand-held devices and social media alienated young people and “virtualized” many aspects of their lives. A Gift of Sugar tells the story a young school girl who dreams of owning and riding ponies and how that dream eventually transforms her life in ways she never expected.

James T. Pelton

Summer Schmier

Marie White Small

Rebecca Theodore

Deborah Wilson

Catherine Marenghi

Devi DiGuida

Caleb Christian

To learn about our four Pitch Week I finalists, please click here.

How to Qualify for Pitch Week

Pitch Week is a “by invitation only” competition limited to writers we get to know, firsthand, as guests at the retreat. But anyone, who has not yet had a breakout book and who is not contractually prohibited from benefiting from all aspects of our prize, may apply for consideration during any of our official Pitch Week Manuscript Review Periods. (Limit: one manuscript per applicant). THERE IS NO FEE TO APPLY FOR PITCH WEEK. AND ONLY THE FIRST 100 APPLICATIONS RECEIVED FOR EACH PITCH WEEK COMPETITION WILL BE CONSIDERED. To apply, simply:

  • Prepare a one-page, double-spaced synopsis of your book (200 words or less) and the first 10 pages of your manuscript (double-spaced — see our submission guidelines for details). The synopsis should be the kind of summary you would find on the back cover of a paperback book or on the inside flap of a hardcover book) Save these two documents into a single word document file and then upload the file, through our Pitch Week Potential Application form.
  • We will review your manuscript to determine if it has “Pitch Week” Potential. ( BECAUSE OF LIMITED STAFF TIME, ONLY 17 NEW PITCH WEEK APPLICATIONS WILL BE READ EACH MONTH. ADDITIONAL MANUSCRIPTS RECEIVED WILL BE READ IN THE FOLLOWING MONTH.

What Happens Next?

If we like what we read, we will place you on our “short list” and invite you to book a 4-day, 3-night stay at the retreat during one of our scheduled Pitch Week Prep Weekends (Maximum number of participants: 4 per weekend.(see our rates) Call us at 443-413-1596 for details.
During the Pitch Week Prep Weekend, our book coaches will:

  • Equip you with all the information you will need to know in order to compete, effectively, in Pitch Week.
  • Share important “lessons learned” by previous contestants as well as a list of Do’s and Don’ts
  • Guide you in developing/practicing the message development/presentation skills that form a critical part of each Pitch Week competition

They also will:

  • Meet with you in a private coaching session to give you their assessment of your sample pages and synopsis. If they believe your book needs additional work in order to compete successfully, they will offer suggestions for strengthening it. (There is no charge for this initial assessment, which represents a $350 retail value).
  • Make an on-the-spot assessment, before the end of the weekend, of your viability as a Pitch Week contestant. If they believe you have the personality and skills to be a strong Pitch-Week contender, they will invite to compete as a semi-finalist. If you accept, you will be asked to participate in a final 1.5 hour coaching session before you return home.

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week

We are Now Considering Candidates for Pitch Week IV (April-June of 2015)

  • Rolling Admissions. Throughout the Manuscript Review Period, which ends on October 31, 2014, When Words Count Retreat’s book coaches will assess the first 100 applicants and their manuscripts. They will move the 25 most impressive contenders into the next Pitch Week as semi-finalists until all these slots are filled, so it is wise to apply as early as possible within the Manuscript Review Period. In some cases, contestants may be tentatively assigned semi-finalist status, pending the timely and successful revision of their sample manuscript pages. At the conclusion of the Manuscript Review Period, all semi-finalists will submit their “final,” line-edited sample 10 pages and synopses, along with brief bios and digital head shots to us for forwarding to our judges.
  • During the next 60 days, the judges will independently read/score and return their sealed ballots to When Words Count Retreat.
  • Once all the ballots are in, we will open them and tally the scores. The top-eight scoring entries will advance in the competition. The six highest-scoring contestants will become finalists and the 7th and 8th highest scoring contestants will become alternates.
  • All finalists/alternates will advance through the entire Pitch Week training and manuscript development process, but the alternates will only participate in the final round of the competition if one of the finalists cannot finish. Otherwise, the alternates will be guaranteed slots in the next available Pitch Week competition.

Apply Now, for Pitch Week IV (April-June 2015)

If you think you, and your book, have what it takes to succeed in Pitch Week, and you want your shot at The Literary Trifecta, then, please fill out our Pitch Week Entry Form or, for immediate assistance, call 443-413-1596. One of our team members will answer any questions you may have regarding the Pitch Week Program. Or go to our FAQ page for answers to frequently asked questions about the Pitch Week Competition. (The Manuscript Review Period proceeds, on a month-to-month basis, until 100 applicants have been considered, or the 25 semi-finalist slots have been filled.

Those who miss the Pitch Week IV application period, may apply to compete in Pitch Week V, which will take place in July-September of 2015.

All Pitch Week finalists/alternates are required to stay at the retreat, at their expense, during:

  • A five-day, four-night preliminary meet-the-judges visit (several months prior to Pitch Week)
  • The actual, week-long (7-day, 6-night) Pitch Week competition

Any paid editorial, book coaching or design service assistance offered to finalists will be strictly voluntary, and optional, in nature. (Pitch Week competition rules may change at the sole discretion of When Words Count Retreat. Such changes shall be posted here, from time to time.)

Click Here to Apply for Pitch Week