How To Pitch, Part II
I left a few pieces out of my last post, “How to Pitch.” What follows is a round-up of items that should have made a showing in that first round.
Research the Individual You’re Pitching
Check the individual’s status. A few years ago I managed a history web site. Three years after the gig ended, publicists were still sending me books — and I’m still receiving e-mail pitches.
When you research that individual, make sure they’re still doing what you think they’re doing. Don’t rely on the Internet. Pick up the phone. The receptionists at news outlets won’t always put you through to the person, but often they will confirm if the person is on staff, as well as the bureau and address of the building in which they work.
Know the Outlet
This past week I spoke with a publicist who asked if Steve would write a review of her client’s book and run it on Steve’s site. Her messaging made it clear that she hadn’t broken through the surface of Steve’s site. Had she gone deep, she would have known that reviews aren’t a part of the site.
Watch Your Word Count
My dad was in intelligence for the military for 30 years and a war strategy instructor for another 20. The best advice he ever received was when he just starting out and had to present in front of the big wigs and the biggest wig stopped him and said “you have one minute to tell me why I am here and one minute to tell me why I should stay.”
This is the version of the elevator pitches authors are advised to create — an explanation of their project that is short enough to be given within one elevator ride (between two floors, not between floor one and the top of a skyscraper). The minute Michael’s father mentioned is generous. Olympic athletes break records in a matter of seconds. What can you do in the same amount of time?
Don’t Name Drop, But Do Name Drop
Telling me you know God isn’t going to get me to watch your new movie, but if you tell me you know my mom . . . That’s a game-changer.
This is another one Michael Thompson reminded me I’d forgotten to include in the first post:
Another great piece of advice that I have used successfully when trying to meet new people is “My name is Michael. I think we have some friends/contacts in common.” Try walking around from that question. Of course you need to have a few contacts in common, but if it is for an elevator pitch you should already know about the people you are seeking out.
He’s right. If you have a personal connection, you’ll automatically have bonus time. But, you better make sure the connection is strong and appropriate. Telling a former-playboy-turned-born again-straight-edge politician that you’re friends with Lucifer, too, won’t likely help your cause.
Look Like A Yes
No one is waiting around for you to fill their day. If you make an ask, be ready to go. If what you’re requesting is half-baked, do not pass go.
Following is a good example of half-baked. The producer starts off making his case and then in the second paragraph notes that the host isn’t even on board. If you want someone to give you their time, make sure you’re ready to go before you ask.
I am the Producer for the podcast XXX and handle booking all of the guests. I wanted to reach out and see if you were interested and available to be on the podcast. XXX focuses on art, design, and the business surrounding it and also incorporates guests from various career paths. The show is hosted by ZZZ ZZZ whose sense of business and humor keeps each episode focused, but entertaining, with a conversational tone to each interview as opposed to a rigid question and answer format. We put up five episodes a week and each episode averages over 3,000 downloads from our listeners and paid subscribers. Our social media reach continues to expand every day with multiple posts for each episode promoting the guest and the show itself.
If you would like to be on the show please let me know. I think you would make a great guest and have a unique story to tell with your work. Once I know you are on board I will run everything by ZZZ, tell him your story and why I picked you to be on the show, and once I get his approval will email you back with a few dates we have available.
Know the Difference Between Want and Need
What’s the goal behind your pitch? What do you want to have happen and what do you need to have happen?
Do you want a Nobel Laureate to write an endorsement for your book? Sure, it would feel good to receive her stamp of approval, but what you really need is to sell books.
Do you want a journalist to write about your plan for world peace? Yes. Would be great to have your work in front of the journalist’s audience, but what you really need is for people to put your plan in action, rather than just changing their Facebook thumbnail to reflect the colors of different flags.
If you are going to ask something of someone else, make it about a need. Make it worthwhile.
Two things that are NOT worthwhile:
1) Asking well-known individuals to tweet or like or post about your project.
A few years ago, the marketing director for an organization run by one of my clients told me it was “unconscionable” not to pitch Huffington Post. His mentality was that the site has a huge audience, which in his book meant it was worth more than sites with smaller audiences. He was looking at the number without understanding what the number meant — that high numbers don’t equal high value.
What that marketing director — and YOU — need to consider is what investors consider when they look at market caps for various companies. Not familiar with market caps? The following is from Investopedia, which does a nice job of explaining market caps (and which you NEED to understand):
Market capitalization is just a fancy name for a straightforward concept: it is the market value of a company’s outstanding shares. This figure is found by taking the stock price and multiplying it by the total number of shares outstanding. For example, if Cory’s Tequila Corporation (CTC) was trading at $20 per share and had a million shares outstanding, then the market capitalization would be $20 million ($20 x 1 million shares). It’s that simple.
A common misconception is that the higher the stock price, the larger the company. Stock price, however, may misrepresent a company’s actual worth. If we look at two fairly large companies, IBM and Microsoft, on February 15, 2013 stock prices were $199.98 and $28.05 respectively. Although IBM’s stock price was higher, we can see that MSFT’s market cap of $234.6 billion was actually larger than IBM’s $225.1 billion. If we compared the two companies by solely looking at their stock prices, we would not be comparing their true values, which are affected by the number of outstanding shares each company has.
A large circulation or Twitter following or whatever other number you’re looking at is just a number. It isn’t a golden ticket. What you need are numbers that have value — that might not be as large as other numbers, but which have greater value and do create movement. The example I always give of this is from a few years ago, when a project Steve shared on his site was mentioned by Crossfit, and how that mention moved the needle more than mentions in the New York Times or Washington Post.
2) Do not ask a stranger to make a decision for you.
Steve routinely receives e-mails like this one:
I really enjoy your work! You’re the reason I got into living my life as a warrior. ‘The Warrior Ethos’ has changed how I look at life everyday.I’m also diving into “The War of Art” at the time I’m writing this email. I realize your time is very valuable, so I was wondering if you could answer a quick question I’m struggling with.
I’m writing my first book. It’s a book I’ve always wanted to read. It’s been pouring out of my head and it’s even been helping myself out with some of my own problems! I want to share this book with people, but I don’t know where to start.
“In your professional opinion, should I self-publish my first book and market it myself through my blog, or try to go with a publishing company?”
And this one:
“So my question to you, Steve, is how long should I stay at bay before I get going on the next project? The next day? The next week? Or the next month? I know the sooner I get on it, the better. However the last project took a ton out of me, and I’m simply out of ideas. So in other words, what can I do when the creative well runs dry?”
And this one:
This email is choppy im sorry mostly because it’s difficult to say what I want to say. I hate school and I’m wondering if sticking it out is what should be done or should I take a left turn off the highway into no mans land and try to reach my goals another way.
I have only a few months left, I graduate in August. Most people say to stick it out.. Because it is the logical thing to do- it’s true, it is. However… That’s months of my life that I am going to feel very pissed off and stressed over whether or not I used APA format properly… Months that I could be using to enjoy learning valuable things rather than meeting deadlines.
I’m sorry if this email is all over the map! You seem to have a good grasp on things and I would just like to hear your perspective… If you have the time.”
Two ships can sail the exact same course, but depending on the make of the vessel, the time of year, the crew on board, the number of storms, and other variables, the decisions in need of making and the experiences will be different. For this reason, only you can answer questions that relate to your life.
Along these lines, in his article “Cheat Sheet,” Shawn wrote about sharing a business idea with a respected business leader. What he realized after their exchange was that his ask was really an ask for a cheat sheet, for the leader to tell him exactly which decisions to make.
In Shawn’s words:
So after my thirty-minute spiel about my concept of a “Book Black List” and becoming the publisher dedicated to building one, the powerful acquaintance was quiet for about thirty seconds.
That doesn’t sound all that long a time, but just sit quietly for thirty seconds right now and you’ll see that it’s an eternity between two people.
When he finally spoke, here’s what he said:
“It’s a good idea. With dedication and enough time and money to buy a few breaks, it will work.”
That’s all? That’s it? That’s all this genius had to tell me?
I pushed him a bit… “Well, if you were to start up something like that, how would you do it?”
“How I would do it isn’t going to help you. I would not build that company because there are other projects in my life that I find more interesting. If this idea consumes you, I say plunge right in…but there is one question I’d ask of yourself before you jump… Why do you want to do it?”
(Read the entire post. It’s one of my favorites from Shawn.)
Another example lives within a scene from the film Field of Dreams, via the character Terence Mann. Terence is an award-winning author and former activist who left the spotlight decades before we were introduced to him. He and the main character Ray Kinsella are at Fenway Park, where Ray promised something great would happen:
Ray Kinsella: So what do you want?
Terence Mann: I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.
Ray Kinsella: No, I mean, what do you WANT?
[Gestures to the concession stand they’re in front of]
Terence Mann: Oh. Dog and a beer.
Let the artists you admire do their work. Don’t ask them to think for you. You have a brain. Use it. And if you make a request, make it something that is really worthwhile — something you really need.
Try Wearing Their Shoes
Think about how you’d respond to your own pitch.
The someone you are pitching is receiving other pitches just like yours. Like you, he has a family and deals with the same highs and lows of all families. When he’s not with family, he’s working (which is most of the time), trying to carve out some time at the gym, helping friends and colleagues, and dealing with water-pipe breaks, broken refrigerators, flat tires, and all the day-to-day crap the rest of us deal with. People magazine might make it look like the famous have someone handling everything for them, but that’s not always the case. They aren’t all Randolph and Mortimer Duke, with servants available to address every need. They change diapers and take out the trash, too. There’s actually a great story of Larry Bird mowing his own lawn in the documentary A Courtship of Rivals, about Bird and Magic Johnson. Point is, he’s taking care of his own stuff and fans are wasting time, watching him, finding it hard to believe that someone at the top of his game mows his own lawn. Imagine that!
Bottom line: Bird and others are busy. Why should they pay attention to your pitch? Why should they want to work with you?
When you answer that question, be clear to answer what you both get out of it — and PLEASE DO NOT self-talk your way into suggesting that you offer more to the person than he or she offers to you. There will be some exceptions, but in general, the person doing the requesting will always receive a greater benefit than the one being pitched. I hit this one in the previous post, but it’s worth repeating:
Do not infer that someone will benefit if they work with you unless you can prove it — and guarantee it — in advance. And DON’T tell them what a great opportunity it will be for them. That’s an old — and often brimming-with-bullshit — line. (more on “opportunities” via Jon Acuff).
Here’s an example from the music industry:
A friend of mine is the tour manager for a music legend — while shepherding an up-and-coming band on the side. The latter has led my friend back to her start, of setting up small-venue events. She likes the intimate feeling of some of these venues and suggested that the legend do a few — that they’d be a great way to connect with fans.
The legend said no.
This was a story shared a few years ago, so don’t quote me, but it came down to the fact that the legend spent years at the beginning of her own career doing the grueling small-venue route. A lot of time goes into planning and traveling and performing. It’s tiring and will knock the life out of you — and it takes away time from family and art.
Larger venues offer more bang for the investment of time and money, leaving the legend available to be with friends and family, and new projects.
It has nothing to do with not wanting to meet fans (which the legend does all the time) — or with not wanting to support small, up-and-coming indie venues. It has to do with her time. She’s older, which means saying a permanent goodbye to older family members and spending time with the younger ones. Then there are all of her projects.
Saying no isn’t about those venues, it is about her life. It makes more sense to say yes to opportunities that will offer larger returns when it comes to her work, so she can have personal time available.
So when you pitch her, or someone like her, you HAVE TO understand what you are asking within the context of her life.
When you ask her to read your book and send you her thoughts on it, you’re asking her for a two-day-minimum commitment. Why should she do that for a stranger when she barely gets time to see her own kids?
Why should she do an interview with you just because you feel like she should support up-and-comers? Do you understand that she’s receiving hundreds of requests from other up-and-comers every week, and has supported up-and-comers her entire career?
Bottom line: Think of what you’d be willing to do for a stranger and then say no to yourself — and then figure out what would have to happen for you to say yes. And: don’t play the pity card. I’d bet big in Vegas that there’s someone in this world who is worse of than you. Stick to the facts and reality.
I hit what “no” means and your reaction to “no” in the previous post, but … A few loose strings to tie:
I don’t have any scientific proof to back this, but my experience is that “no” hurts whether you like what you’re doing or not — but is easier to handle when you’re passionate, because you know a yes exists somewhere.
Robin Fletcher left a comment on my last post, which led me to ask about her experience with rejection. The first part of her answer:
I’m selling a software technology that is good and could genuinely help this business that I’m contacting, but I’m not super passionate about the product personally. This particular individual, after hearing my pitch, was cutting and criticizing to the point of being mean. It was as if he gave me the time of day just so he could cut me down for his enjoyment. Quite painful. After the conversation, I shrunk in my seat, feeling not only belittled by his comments, but ashamed that my coworkers witnessed my response to it. After some reflection, I realized that while he was a pill of a person and I shouldn’t take it personally, what really bothered me most was that I didn’t really care about the thing I was selling. Soon after, I quit the job, preferring to put my ego on the line for something that I cared about.
I’ve been there.
In 2000, when I was on staff in a publishing marketing department, I was pitching books on aromatherapy and Wiccans. I knew there was an audience, but it wasn’t my “thing.” It was what my boss had assigned. Painful work.
I still cringe when I think of pitching the one naked image of the Wiccan Witch author to Howard Stern. It wasn’t porn, but a tastefully done picture of the author, doing her thing in nature. Howard Stern was one of the author’s targets, which in hindsight wasn’t realistic. Wiccan Witches weren’t his thing, but he’d had a few naked women on, so… I should have pushed back on my boss — and should NEVER have pitched Stern. His team didn’t bite and eventually the project ended and I could move onto the next book on aromatherapy for horses… It was a lesson on how hard it is to pitch something you aren’t passionate about — something you’re just doing for a paycheck.
Think of all the telemarketers. When they catch you on the phone, some have it together, but most don’t know how to counter your questions. Instead, they quit. They don’t have it in them to fight for something in which they don’t believe.
No Sometimes Means This Isn’t The Right Time
In the second part of her answer to my question, Robin shared that after she quit her job:
I started a project called “Peace Puppets” a couple of years ago in response to the war between Israel and Gaza. After collecting hundreds of puppets and creating a fair amount of buzz in the media, the biggest challenge was getting someone to help get those puppets across the border between Israel and Gaza. I contacted at least 30-40 NGO’s (here and abroad), gov’t agencies and non-profits, all of whom told me that it was impossible to do. But I just couldn’t accept that its impossible to get loving and gentle puppets into the arms of children at a time like this. In other words – the thinking of the adults in power is unacceptable at the cost of a child’s joy. Whether I was wrong or right, this mission became my `why’, that made it impossible for me to give up, regardless of feeling rejected over and over.
I finally did find an organization (called Rebuilding Alliance) who agreed to help ship those puppets along with items for survival. But the key to this was the connection I had with the org’s founder. She got my pitch immediately. There was no “selling” going on because we were so quickly aligned…I just had to find her.
This is a good example of why it’s important to research the individuals and organizations you’re pitching. If you approach someone whose beliefs and actions are aligned with yours, you’re more likely to get to yes.
I used to joke that I’d pitch someone until I received a “yes” or a restraining order. I learned that in some cases it works, and in others it backfires.
In my last post, I mentioned T.X. Hammes’ book The Sling and the Stone and how it was in almost every edition of The Atlantic for a year. Much of this was because of James Fallows, who at that time was writing about topics about which T.X. was an expert. I bugged the hell out of Jim until one day he wrote, “uncle” in an e-mail and said he was interested in connecting with T.X. Within about two years, though… Jim headed to China, and wasn’t writing about the same topics. I know because I tried to pitch him similar authors and subjects in the years that followed. At that point, I could have channeled Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption and written a letter a week, but it wouldn’t have worked. His work changed.
You’ve got to know when to push and when to back-off. And, as in Robin’s example above, you’ve got to realize that sometimes it is a matter of time, not a matter of worth.
There’s a nice quote from Will Smith that sums up our experience with the chase and how it relates to Steve’s The War of Art in particular:
Don’t chase people. Be yourself, do your own thing, and work hard. The right people… the ones who really belong in your life, will come to you. And stay.
The War of Art sells more now than it did when it was released almost 15 years ago. Oprah had her own show when it was released, but she and Steve didn’t connect until over a decade after the book hit shelves. For me, the interview they did together is an example of what working hard and doing your own thing can lead to — for both of them. Oprah’s success wasn’t achieved overnight any more than Steve’s was.
Don’t Be Greedy
We send free books all the time. What bothers me is when I receive a “Yes, please send free books — and by the way, can you sign them all?” No.
A few years ago that tour manager friend of mine was working with a musician that a friend of a friend was obsessed with. The friend asked if I could obtain a signed picture of the artist. My tour manager friend said yes, but her boss wouldn’t do anything personalized. It takes time to sign your signature. Imagine the time to personalize every picture. Becomes a full-time job.
Another example from Field of Dreams:
Ray Kinsella: I did it all. I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what’s in it for me.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: What are you saying, Ray?
Ray Kinsella: I’m saying, what’s in it for me?
I’m not saying the people you want to pitch are sitting around asking “what’s in it for me?” every time they are pitched, but… That question exists. It’s probably a good one to ask yourself before you write that pitch letter.
What’s in it for me? What do I really want and what do I really need?
Next up: What you should include with your pitch letter or e-mail.
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