How to Pitch
[This post first ran March 11, 2016. Bringing it back for a re-run today.]
You have a new book or film or album you want to promote — and you’re waging a letter/e-mail writing campaign to garner support.
The following is what you need to know before you get started.
Bottom line: You want something.
You want to recommend someone or something, or you want someone to recommend you.
You want an endorsement, an interview, a keynote speaker, a job, something for free, someone to make a decision for you.
Start with a thank you:
Thank you for your work.
Thank you for your article “X.”
Thank you for finding a happiness pill.
Thank you for being the only ethical elected official in office.
State your purpose:
I’m writing to request a review copy of your book.
I’m contacting you to ask for your endorsement of my product.
I’m reaching out to you to obtain a bulk discount.
State why you think the recipient of your pitch might be interested:
I read your article titled “X” and thought my book on the same topic would resonate with you.
I’ve read about your service with the Marine Corps and hoped you’d have time to speak with some of the younger men and women of the Corps.
My book is a history of lying politicians, which might add perspective to your coverage of the presidential campaign.
State who you are:
I received the Pulitzer Prize for my coverage of the presidential scandal X.
I’m an 18 year-old student at Y High School. My dad has been sharing your books with me since I was a kid.
Like you, I spent my summers as a caddie. Similar experiences, but I went into business and didn’t commit to writing as early as you did.
State the time, date, address, etc.:
The workshop takes place December 14, 2016, in Hawaii.
I’m available for interviews throughout the campaign cycle.
My address is XXXX
End with a thank you:
Thanks again for your article — and for your time and consideration of my request.
Thanks for your work.
Thanks for _______
Start with a thank you. State your purpose. State why you think “it” would be of interest. State who your are and date/time/address information. Thank the recipient. *Include smooth transitions between each of these. One should run into and relate to the other.
Before you start your letter:
1) Research the individual you’re pitching.
If a health reporter just wrote an article about a 92-year-old, barbell-lifting grandma, he’s not likely to do a follow-up feature on the 92 year-old barbell-lifting grandma you represent, but he might do a piece on what programs work best for specific age groups. You can target something that the reporter showed an interest in, and then suggest an extended conversation.
2) Know the outlet.
Confirm that your project falls into the interest area of the outlet and/or individual you’re approaching. Just because the outlet ran a feature last year, which relates to your subject area today, doesn’t mean they’ll be interested. Same with reporters, which might cover one beat for ten years and then switch to another. Look for current coverage trends to gauge their interest.
3) Consider the placement.
Around the 2000 period, I started pitching military books I repped to features and op-ed sections instead of to book review sections. Military books didn’t receive play in book review sections — and the death of book review sections was on the horizon anyway… Instead of pitching the book, I pitched the person — an expert, who could speak to X, Y and Z, who also happened to be the author of XYZ book. Around the 2004 period, The Atlantic Monthly featured the book The Sling and The Stone in all but one issue within a 12-month period. The book never hit the review section. Instead, the author was interviewed as an expert source for numerous articles, and his book was mentioned every time. Rather than one shot coverage, the author and the book received year-around coverage.
4) Be Ready In Advance.
Watch any of the broadcast news programs and you’ll notice that the experts being interviewed are often authors. This doesn’t make the expert the best person to answer questions about the headline du jour. It makes the expert the one with the fastest publicist and/or the author with materials ready in advance.
For example, there are always more stories related to veterans around November 11th, weight-loss features always hit heavy around January 1st and historical anniversary stories often receive play depending if it is a 50th anniversary vs a 14th anniversary. Then there are the other predictable stories: a politician will be caught with his pants down or his hands in someone’s wallet. A teacher in one location will make a positive breakthrough with students, while a teacher in another area will face jailtime. There will be a blizzard or a drought or a flood, and there will be a recall on one product or another.
Know the news cycles and be ready.
This is harder for fiction, but in some cases it still works. In 2006, around the release of The Afghan Campaign, we placed Steve’s first op-ed. The book was fiction, but the history on which the book was based related to current events.
5) Watch your word count.
If you can’t make your pitch in 300 words, go back to the cutting board.
6) Don’t hide your purpose.
Steve often receives requests that are hidden within blocks of text. The letter below should have started with the interview request and why Steve was being contacted. Instead, it ran on and on about the host.
Dear Mr. Pressfield,
I am reaching out to you on behalf of XXX XXX. XXX is the vice president of XXX as well as a bestselling author and business owner. He has written numerous books with XXX, chairman of the board and co-founder of XXX. Their most recent book, XXX, reached #1 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list and has been featured on more than 235 bestseller lists including The New York Times and USA Today.
XXX is the host of a monthly webinar which is marketed to our existing database including more than 130,000 XXX associates. XXX itself was recently named the #1 XXX organization in the world across all industries by XXX magazine. In addition, XXX is often invited to speak to corporations and associations around the world regarding XXX. As result, our database/audience is expanding outside of the XXX industry and resonating with the business community.
Given XXX is such a big fan of your book, XXX, and the content aligns with many of the concepts in XXX, he would like to extend an invitation to be his guest on one of our webinars. This would also be a great opportunity for you to promote your work to a large audience. I have included the link to our Website below, which will provide you with access to our webinars if you would like to listen to a sample.
We would be honored to have you as a guest, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Side note: 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).
7) Avoid making demands and trying to make an emergency on your end an emergency on someone else’s end. The following is a recent example:
I’m emailing on behalf of Prof. XXX XXX of English at XXX College.
She wants a desk copy of “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, as she has already adopted the book for an English XXX course, and she needs the book quickly.
Is there more information needed about the course, in order for her to get a desk copy?
The writer wants a free book. No, “May I have a copy?” or “Do you provide desk copies?” No please. And: No address.
As a side: Schools tend to place orders late and seem the least in-tune to saving money. The person placing the order will stick to the 7-copy order the professor requested, even though she’d save money if she placed a 10-copy (or more) order, which is when Black Irish Books’ bulk discount kicks in. Seven copies of THE WAR OF ART go for $90.65 at the $12.95 per book cover price. Ten copies go for $58.30 at the $5.83 per book bulk rate.
Here’s another that falls under throwing your looming deadline on someone else:
Should you decide to provide an endorsement, I would be pleased to offer you a gratis copy of the book as a token of our appreciation. If at all possible, we would like to receive the endorsement by November 25th.
The request arrived a month before the deadline, which hit during the holiday season, during which many of us are busy with personal obligations, in addition to our work. Bad timing.
Also: Don’t tell someone you’ll offer a gratis copy in exchange for an endorsement. That’s something that should be a given, an unsaid that’s understood because it is the right thing to do. When the book is released, it should be sent to endorsers with a thank you. And, the manuscript should be sent MONTHS in advance if you’d like someone to consider endorsing it. No one is waiting around for your book to pop up and fill in their time.
8) Don’t go for pity.
This one arrived after we offered the Mega Bundle for Writers last year. The bundle included about $200 worth of books for $35. The package weighed eight pounds, with a $12 shipping charge via FedEx Ground (a charge Black Irish does not mark up).
Dear Black Irish,
Yesterday, used up $47.00 of $47.17 in account with 17 cents remaining, the shipping was a surprise.
Thus If you can throw in the WARRIOR ETHOS with today’s order, that would be extremely appreciated by this starving artist.
If you are a starving artist and have $47.17 left in your account, please use it for food. While books are important, food would be a better choice.
Along these lines, if you’re going to ask for something related to your work, don’t play the pity card. There are millions in this world in need of help. Trying to guilt someone into sharing your product won’t work. You might guilt someone into helping to raise money for a child’s medical bills, or to help rebuild a burnt-down school, but guilt that will result in your personal gain is a long-shot.
9) Don’t misspell names.
We still receive requests for Stephen instead of Steven — and for Pressman instead of Pressfield.
10) Don’t play word games.
In the past year, it seems like everyone contacting Steve about a speaking event is hosting a “summit” or “telesummit.” If you’re holding a meeting or workshop, just call it what it is. Unless a state head is there, summit sounds like the popular term to use, rather than the correct word to use. (As I write this, my daughter is holding a summit in her room with her stuffed animals.)
Your Response to the Response
Whether you receive a yes or a no from someone, write a thank you letter in response. It is one more opportunity to put your name in front of them and forge a connection — and something most of us appreciate.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you know that Steve doesn’t do speaking events and he rarely does interviews.
The reality is, if he’s speaking or interviewing, he’s not writing. And, if he’s not writing, he’s not doing the work he was meant to do.
This means we end up sending out a few “no” letters almost every day. Depending on where he is in the world, or at what stage he is with a project, Steve will handle some and I’ll handle the others.
The letters always start with a thank you to the writer, because it was nice that the writer considered Steve as someone to interview, someone to blurb her book, or someone to speak at his event. If the person has said something nice about Steve’s work, I’ll thank the individual for his kind words, or for her thoughts on Steve’s work.
The next line is short and to the point.
Steve is not scheduling speaking events or interviews.
This is followed with a “however.”
However, if you’re interested, Steve would be pleased to donate books for giveaway at your event. While I know this isn’t the same as speaking with him in person, much of what he’d say in person can be found within the pages of his books and/or on his site.
The “however” is an offer to help, though not in the manner requested.
Years ago, I tried to make each of these “no” letters unique. In the interest of time (and having exhausted the options for changing up the letters), they’re all the same, with the exception of the opening thank you addressing the individual’s original letter.
The getting personal part comes during part two, if the letter writer responds.
If the letter writer replies with a thank you, it’s often the start of a long-term connection. I keep track of books sent to them, correspondence and so on. These notes help jump-start my memory when it fails. I’ll remember a name, but not a conversation. After checking my notes I’m on my way again. And if they stay in touch, I respond. Often, I’m still saying no to interviews and speaking events, but if Steve, Shawn or I can help in other ways, we will.
And if you do choose to respond, avoid the actions of a guy Steve wrote about a few years back, in his piece “An Ask Too Far,” which he ended with a retelling of a “No” he gave to someone to whom he’d already given a ton of “Yeses.”
“One guy wrote me out of the blue; I did a long interview for him, wrote a foreword for his book, and even gave him an intro to my agent. Finally he started asking for favors for his friends. This was an ask too far. When I said no, he wrote back: “I always knew you were a Hollywood a*#hole.”
“Dude! I don’t live anywhere near Hollywood.”
Imagine if the guy had responded with a thank you instead — or if he had considered what “no” actually means. Might still be in contact.
In 2013, Seth Godin posted an article titled “What No Means.”
What “no” means
I’m too busy
I don’t trust you
This isn’t on my list
My boss won’t let me
I’m afraid of moving this forward
I’m not the person you think I am
I don’t have the resources you think I do
I’m not the kind of person that does things like this
I don’t want to open the door to a long-term engagement
Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don’t want to deal with
What it doesn’t mean:
I see the world the way you do, I’ve carefully considered every element of this proposal and understand it as well as you do and I hate it and I hate you.
Don’t get offended.
In a spin I did on Seth’s post, I wrote about a post I’d read, from someone I’d told “no.” He made a comment on his site, along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here):
“Pressfield’s booking person declined an interview with me a while back and, at the time, I bet that if Oprah called, he wouldn’t say no to her. Well . . Guess who did an interview with Oprah?” Then he went on to say he receives books from other authors every day who are interested in working with him and he’ll support them instead . . . (again, paraphrasing, based on my interpretation and memory . . . )
It was painful to read because I understood where he was coming from.
No feels like a personal rejection. He made the no about him. And then he made Steve’s yes to Oprah about him, too. Those answers weren’t about him. They were about Steve, his time and his work.
The Wrap Up
I can’t promise you a “yes” to your pitch, but I can promise you that everything mentioned above has worked the past 20ish years. It hasn’t worked with everyone, but it has worked. Timing often plays the largest role — as have the shifting roles within the media industry. But, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Keep it short.
Keep it to the point.
Keep at it.