By Judith Briles
Authors for decades have asked me, “How did you get on TV so many times? How did you get major coverage in the print for your books? How did you get on radio? Who was your publicist?
The answer is: I worked at it. It became part of my job as an author. I identified shows I thought would be a fit. I watched them if available—I wrote down the producer’s names that scrolled at the end. I found the main phone number and I called. And called. And wrote segment ideas. And, I was the publicist.
At the time I published Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support, I only published with New York—the William Morris Agency represented my work. It was 1987. I quickly realized that no major publisher would pick it up (major publisher I was currently with was Simon & Schuster) because of who my agent was pitching to—women. I had, in fact, held a mirror up in front of their face. Naive me had exposed how so many of the editors were undermining each other. As one at Warner Books said to me who wanted the book, even pursued it, “There’s a cloud over us since the manuscript has been passed around—I can’t get the sign off.”
At that time, I was a publishing snob—only legit books are published from New York was my belief … a belief that disappeared when I crossed the independent publishing bridge in 2000, creating my own imprint. I knew that a second tier publisher was what I would have to settle for. My work/book was ground-breaking. I knew it was controversial. It was the first book of the topic based on my dissertation- Ethics: Do Women Undermine Other Women? for my doctorate in business administration. The genesis came from a business transaction with a female business partner. She had embezzled moneys from a construction loan I had personally guaranteed for a project I was a general partner in. The result was in excess of $1,000,000 in personal losses in the early eighties. I went back to school to learn how to resurrect the project that was quickly sinking when I took it over.
After receiving 28 rejections (one from Doubleday saying that the book would never garner any publicity and therefore, it was declined), I accepted an offer—a very small one—from a New York press that wasn’t afraid of the controversy that the book unfolded. In fact, it was enthusiastic for it. My working title was WSW … Women Screwing Women and on the flip side, I wanted WSW … Women Supporting Women to just Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support I liked the “sabotage” in the title but was always partial to the hook of WSW … I saw a black cover, red letters … and I hated the initial cover, but it was New York, right?
I had no idea how many would be upset with the book that sprang out of it including Gloria Steinem. We were both speaking in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—she was the opening speaker; I was the closing. After Gloria heard about my next book, she suggested having dinner. Over it, she told me not to publish it—it will harm women; it will give “them” (meaning men) more ammunition to use against us (we women). I reminded her that her Ms. Magazine was failing because of the topic. She acknowledged so … but still … “Don’t publish it.” As much as I was a fan of hers, I ignored her advice and went forward.
No longer did I have a “major” publishing operation behind me or an internal publicist who would be promoting and pushing me out to the media outlets. If publicity was to be, it was going to be up to me.
There wasn’t social media when I started my publishing journey in 1981. Nor was there email—and although started in 1983 with dial-up (remember), the true use of Internet didn’t take off until the early nineties. I had the phone and snail mail. Today, it’s easier … and difficult. Easy, because an author can track who to contact quickly and get those phone numbers. And difficult. Real people hide behind voicemail and emails. Deleting yours is a piece of cake. The competition is far more crowded even though there are a zillion outlets to pitch to.
Publicity and Pitching 101
Initially, I stumbled. I made a lot of mistakes. Learning how to:
- tweak a press release
- create media questions that had a pop and a hook
- track down decision makers and producers
- lure a producer in and then keep my mouth shut
were all essential. And when I did, it was a publicity and media jackpot.
The media success for Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support had started with honing my pitch for its:
- Reveal of the controversial study results that earned my doctorate in business administration
- Puncturing the myth that women unilaterally supported other women
- Willingness to include my personal betrayal from a business partner resulting in a $1,000,000 loss, all assets to be liquidated and that left my family homeless
- Inclusion of real life stories of woman who had experienced a variety of betrayals and offering them as show guests on key TV shows
- Being on the alert to media news that would tie into results and re-pitching (i.e. when news broke of the betrayal of Linda Tripp toward Monica Lewinsky, I became the recurring expert on many shows)
The critical element was learning how to connect and talk to producers. The talk was my opening pitch. Stumbling in the beginning: I and it was too long, too wordy, too unfocused; didn’t get to the point; and hadn’t developed my hook. It evolved from my initial theme of: Women are undermining women. And my opening salvo to a producer that I had identified as being connected to a show was something like this: Women are everywhere and they undermine others differently than men do and they will need and want my book to find out what to do … it’s just awful … blah, blah, blah.
Depending on the day, this could easily produce a giant yawn. It was way too much … way too broad … and way too boring. I had failed to narrow it down and find the sweet spot to hook the producer. After all, how do you find/reach every woman; and does every woman care?
I quickly learned how to create three short points that I would lead / “punch” out my opening comment after introduce myself …
“Hello—I’m Dr. Judith Briles, author of the new book Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support. Based on my national study of over 1,000 women, I’ve proven that contrary to popular opinion and belief, women discriminate. Men don’t.”
And I would go silent, waiting for them to counter me or say Tell me more or some version of it. I would get comments like: What … what did you say? … Wait a sec, everyone knows that men discriminate …
What I was after was a conversation—I had thrown something into their everyday routine that had a twist to it and would allow me to say my next point because they wanted the Tell me more. Next out of my mouth was,
“My study and book show that women target their own gender—men will discriminate against anyone.”
And again, and I would go silent, waiting for them to counter me or say Tell me more. My third add would be:
“If a woman is a saboteur, their style is covert, behind the scenes. Men are direct, blatant—even telling you the time and day they will shaft you …”
By then, I was hearing “their” stories. I was sympathetic … a relationship was seeded. My hoped for “one minute of the producer’s time” if they answered the phone routinely turned into 30 minutes. I had delivered the “unexpected” for a producer’s everyday need of finding something that competitors don’t have or to get the expert on a topic that everyone is buzzing about. The segment was booked. Or segments. As my contact at CNBC said to me, “Being able to have this discussion shows me that you can respond quickly, know your topic and have plenty of energy. I’m going to want you several times.” And she did.
I had an old-fashion file with show names, producers, phone and fax numbers, addresses—and notes along with a spread sheet that I could refer to. I was a one-person “pitch me and my book” fest that I would dedicate two hours of my regular work day to.
If I couldn’t get a producer LIVE, I left a short message. I followed up. I would send a postcard—whether I got them in person or voice message—with just a few lines on the back—the cover of the book was on the front. Either a re-pitch or a thank you for his or her time. If I saw any media that flirted with my topic, I would fax a new pitch in. One time, I sent a fax early one morning. In 10 minutes, a phone call came in from a Geraldo producer—could I come to New York in three days for a show? Yes, I could and I did.
Who were my personal favorites? Phil Donahue was at the top of the list. And Joan Rivers.
Where did the Woman to Woman pitch take me? Over 1,000 media outlets cover it. Yes, biggies were in play.
For TV, there was:
- Joan Rivers
- Regis & Kathie Lee
—if I was in a city that had a morning show, I was on it.
National coverage expanded to:
- and the major local regional coverall throughout US
- the National Enquirer (yes, I survived it just fine)
- a variety of Business Journals throughout the country
- USA Today
- the Wall Street Journal
- Washington Post
- Los Angeles Times
- Chicago Tribune (it became the Chicago Tribune’s Business Book of the Year)
- People magazine (pulling down a four-page spread and cover mention with photographers in my home)
- Ladies Home Journal
- Working Woman
- Women’s Day
- Good Housekeeping and other magazines
Many were up in arms that I dared write anything negative about the sisterhood.
One, the Ladies Home Journal, challenged me with my results, even saying that they must have been manipulated. Would I be willing to share my data? Yes, I was. To its credit, it did a parallel study and Aha … its results duplicated mine! They reported what they found in a press release, a main page mention again in USA Today: “Their results duplicated what Dr. Judith Briles revealed in Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support eight months ago.”
On one of the many Donahue shows I was on, Phil asked me to stay on stage just before the last segment was aired. “Could you stay after they show? My audience wants to talk with you—they need to hear more …” And yes, I gladly did.
Three years later, the Linda Tripp / Monica Lewinsky mess broke. Woman to Woman went through an evolution and Woman to Woman 2000 … Becoming Sabotage Savvy in the New Millennium birthed in 2002 … the media was back, and I was ready. My new pitch was on the women: Linda Tripp sabotaged Monica Lewinsky; Monica Lewinsky sabotage Hillary Clinton; and the Big Cheese Bill Clinton stood alone.
Make Your Pitch Memorable
When you are putting together your opening line to any media contact, or audience to gather attention, it needs to be memorable. Consider:
- Making it rhyme
- A controversial or contrarian statement
- Creating an instant visual
- Being succinct
- Something familiar
- Having fun
Positioning Yourself and Taking Control
Where does my journey leave you and what does it have to do with your book? Let’s go back to my opening questions:
Q – How did you get on TV so many times?
A – I learned how to pitch with pithy and luring statements. And, I understood the shows I was targeting and only pitched to the ones whose demographics matched who my book was for. I asked the producer to describe their typical viewer. After appearing, I sent a thank you note always adding that I looked forward to working with them again.
Q – How did you get major coverage in the print for your books?
A – I created/sent a press release plus after I snagged a few features, I would copy a few of the articles and include when I re-pitched. After the interview, I sent a thank you note adding that he/she could contact me if help was needed or to find an expert resource in another area.
Q – How did you get on radio?
A – I created/sent a press release plus a list of up to 10 questions to ask me along with the time it took me to respond to each. And another plus, I asked for referrals to other shows from the producers.
Q – Who was your publicist?
A – It was all me.
My questions now are for you
What are you doing to support your book?
What are you doing to look for ways to tie it into breaking news?
What are you willing to commit in time and energy each day or week to keep your book alive?
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