The Most Important 15 Seconds in the Life of Your Book

by | Dec 12, 2016

By Joan Stewart

Fifteen precious seconds.

It isn’t much time. But it’s all you get if you want to convince a bookstore to buy your book, prove to a journalist that you’re worth interviewing, or persuade John Grisham to write a blurb for the cover of your mystery novel.

In the world of book publishing, asking people to help you publicize, promote and sell your book is known as pitching.

Do it wrong, and you blow a chance to get in front of thousands of people. Do it right, and that tiny window of opportunity could turn into the most important 15 seconds of your book’s life.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, understand the value of a killer pitch. They host Pitchapalooza events in which anyone who has an idea for a book can pitch it to a panel of judges.

The winner receives an introduction by Eckstut and Sterry to an agent or publisher who is appropriate for their work. Here’s their explanation of why a winning pitch is so important to every author, including you:

“A great pitch is one of the most powerful and underestimated tools any writer can have in his/her quest to be published successfully. From landing an agent and a book deal, to self-publishing well, to getting traction online, to attracting media, to convincing booksellers that they must carry your book, to letting readers know why they should buy your book, the perfect pitch is the goose that will lay your golden publishing egg.” 

At Pitchapalooza, where the judges are focused on you and your idea, you can take a full minute to explain your idea. Not so if you’re emailing a story idea to a busy journalist who is racing through her email and giving your message, if you’re lucky, only five seconds of her time before she hits “Delete.”

A Must-Learn Skill if You Want to Sell Books

The most successful authors who sell thousands of books pitch a wide variety of people: bloggers, podcasters, retailers, librarians, meeting planners, reporters, book reviewers, radio talk show hosts and freelance writers.

But most other authors avoid pitching either because they’re introverts and afraid someone will reject them, or because they don’t know how to ask for a favor without sounding like they’re begging.

During my newspaper career as an editor and reporter, I was on the receiving end of thousands of pitches. Today, as a publicity expert, authors still pitch me, hoping I’ll mention them in my email newsletter, my blog, or in articles I write for other websites. The pitches I loved when I worked as an editor and the pitches I treasure now—the ones that make me snap to attention—have two important elements, the same two elements your pitches should include:

1. The pitch must be short.

If you’re emailing or calling, give just enough information to let the recipient know what you want. Your Number One goal during your first contact is to encourage them to say, “Tell me more.” If that’s what you hear, deliver another chunk of information to keep the conversation going.

Too many authors prattle on nonstop and try to tell “the whole story.” Give just enough facts to pique the other person’s curiosity without wasting their time.

2. The pitch must explain, up front, that you know who they are, you’re familiar with what they do, and that your expertise or your book will be of interest to them or their audience.

Nine out of 10 pitches I receive miss the target. People pitch products or services I don’t care about. They want me to promote them to my email list without knowing what my customers want or need.

Some are so lazy they don’t bother to learn my name. The email begins, “Dear PublicityHound.com,” a dead giveaway that they scraped my email address and that I’m one of a hundred other people they’re probably contacting.

I don’t bother reading any farther. I hit “Delete.”

A Great Pitch Looks Like This

Then there are pitches like this one that I received yesterday. It made me sit up, pay attention and respond. My comments are in red:


Hi Joan, (He knows my name.)

I’m putting together an expert round-up on lead generation and (naturally) wanted to reach out to you. (By using “naturally,” he lets me know he knows that this is a topic I love.)

The question is: What are your top 3 tips that freelance copywriters can use to generate leads? I know you’re busy so a lengthy response isn’t necessary (100 words is totally fine). (He states what he wants in bold type and lets me know it will be easy for me to respond.)

I’ll obviously include a link to your site and Twitter profile in the post. (He will promote me, and I’ll get another inbound link to my website.)

Many thanks, (He’s appreciative.)

(Name)

PS: We’ve already received responses from Bob Bly, Jeff Bullas, Alan Forrest Smith, Dave Rogenmoser, Daniel Priestley and Heather Lloyd-Martin. I’d love for you to be involved.
(I know that Bob Bly and Jeff Bullas are heavy-hitters, and I’d be thrilled to have my comments appear with theirs in an article. I’m jumping on this and responding immediately.)


You Can Write Pitches Like This Too!

Ready to learn how to do this yourself?

Join me from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, April 27, when Joel and I will present 60 minutes of free training on “5 Steps to Pitching Your Book to Anyone, Anywhere.”

I’ll explain my five-step formula that has sold thousands of books for thousands of authors, and we’ll take your questions.

Register here: “5 Steps to Pitching Your Book to Anyone, Anywhere.”

See you on the webinar!

Joan StewartJoan Stewart, also known as The Publicity Hound, is a publicity expert who works with authors, small business owners, nonprofits and organizations that need to use free publicity in traditional and social media to establish their credibility, enhance their reputation, position themselves as experts, sell more book and services, and promote a favorite cause or issue—even without a publicist. Sign up for her always useful Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week or visit her blog at The Publicity Hound. Joan is also the author of our very popular Media Kit Templates for Indie Authors and other digital products at AuthorToolkits.com.

Photo: Steve Schlafman | Lean Startup Machine Rotterdam

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2 Comments

  1. Don Merrill

    Hi Joan:
    I’m writing a book about the public radio pledge drive, and have been learning how to create a marketing mix. A pitch like the one you’ve described will be in front of every press release, mailing list letter and contact with a social media influencer. This was very helpful. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Kathy Steinemann

    Thanks, Joan!

    What about the elevator pitch? Every author needs a shorty. “You’re a writer? Neat. What have you written?”

    Reply

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