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The Gong Show Pitchfest: Here’s How You Play

August 10, 2014

By Jennie Jarvis

Anyone born before 1980 should remember the television hit, The Gong Show. In this early precursor to such reality-competition shows as American Idol and America’s Got Talent, a contestant would begin performing some kind of bizarre routine. After about 30 seconds, the celebrity judges could “GONG” an act if the performer failed to meet the judges’ wacky standards.

Need a reminder? Check out this video from a 1977 episode, featuring a very young Pee Wee Herman.

Fast-forward to October 2014. At the Annual Florida Writers Conference, we’ll have a Gong Show of our own. We’ll have a host, a “celebrity” panel of judges, and a lot of talented people doing their best to beat the Gong.

Here’s how it works: Each attendee has the opportunity to volunteer to “perform.” Don’t worry; you don’t have to sing or juggle. Your “performance” is pitching your work-in-progress (novel, screenplay, memoir, etc.). You continue to pitch until a GONG stops you. In control of the Gong, our “celebrity” panel is the powerhouse collection of agents and acquiring editors attending the conference. If they choose to stop your pitch, they will give you constructive feedback on how you can improve. After you get your feedback, you may either sit down or go to the back of the line and try again once your turn has cycled back around.

It’s that easy!

Unlike the 20th century version of the Gong Show, our contemporary version is unique in that everyone who participates is a winner. You get firsthand feedback on how you can improve your pitching skills – a prize worth fighting for!

If the idea of getting up in front of the room and pitching your story with the threat of a Gong hanging over your head is too much to bear, never fear. You can get plenty of practice by attending our Thursday night Pitching workshop with Hollywood powerhouse producer Jillian Stein. She will give you all the tools you need to prepare your pitch.

If you are still nervous, you don’t need to pitch during the Gong Show, but do sit in the audience. And be sure to schedule a private interview with the agent/publisher/producer of your choice for some time during the conference. We’re scheduling interviews for all our faculty. Space is limited so sign up quickly.

GONG! Oops. Guess my time is up! Hope to see you at the Annual Conference in October.

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Jennie Jarvis is a former screenwriter turned literary writer. She is co-owner of and regularly conducts writing workshops. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest magazine and The Florida Writer, and she teaches screenwriting at Full Sail University. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. You can contact her at


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