24 Tips for Pitching Books to Media

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September 2015
by Brian Feinblum

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There are many ways to pitch the multitudes of news media people. Here are two dozen that generate good responses. Individually they may not seem like anything special, but collectively they have worked for me and many publicists I have managed over many years.

Pitching the media has always been as much about your attitude and state of mind as it is about the facts and details of your pitch. I first began pitching news media in 1989. Fax machines ruled the day. No Internet or e-mail yet. People still used phones and the post office. Cable TV and daytime talk shows were the hot properties back then. Network morning shows, the world evening news, the New York Times, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Howard Stern, and Larry King provided huge media outlets. Oprah was poised to overtake Phil Donahue as talker supreme.

It was a different world than the one of Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Pinterest, and dot-everything. But the principles of pitching the media have generally held true over time; the core basics stay the same. You are seeking to influence another person about a book, hoping to convince that person, with help from the currently available tools, that your book deserves attention and coverage from a particular media outlet. It doesn’t matter who the editor, producer, blogger, podcaster, or whatever is. It doesn’t matter whether the media outlet gets tons of views/readers/listeners/viewers. If you want to be discovered by targeted people and to get targeted gatekeepers to say yes to your message, you should heed the following advice.

  1. Tease to please. Use a strong lead, or they won’t read. The first sentence or paragraph has to captivate the reader. Making outrageous statements, raising interesting questions, or showcasing the credentials of a giant in a particular field will suffice. Throwing in qualifying words and terms such as “award-winning,” “bestselling,” “with 30 years of experience” will help you establish a strong foundation.
  2. Style gets attention, but substance solidifies impact. Offer something that sounds powerful, concrete, and useful. How about this: “Sexpert So-and-so promises to show your viewers how to capture a man’s heart just by wearing the right accessory.” Or how about: “Are you tired of losing weight on a new diet only to see yourself gain it back and more? Well, physical fitness instructor So-and-so, with 20 years of experience in helping literally thousands of people reshape their bodies—and lives—tells your listeners how to lose 10 percent of their body weight in just two weeks—without supplements, diet pills, or gimmicks.”
  3. Offer a scoop or exclusivity—make it seem urgent.
  4. Show how you fill a need for the media. Let media people know that you have something they need—or should want. Explain how your expert compares to other similar experts or what your expert provides that’s better than what comparable experts have shown or done in the media of late.
  5. Use visuals to support your message. They can be photos, drawings, videos, charts, graphics, or statistical tables. Nothing cheesy or irrelevant, please.
  6. Sound empathetic; let media people know you understand and appreciate their work. When you talk to them, try to relate to them at a human level. Let them know that you imagine their job is challenging and consuming and that you hope to make things easier for them.
  7. If the person you pitch says no, ask what would get a yes. Also, ask if there’s someone else at their outlet who should be pitched. Your goal is to find the person who wants what you have to offer—or to offer what the person you find wants.
  8. Hijack the news and convert what’s in the news into a story you or your author can speak about as an expert. For instance, earlier this year, you could have tied a book about the environment to the pope’s encyclical announcement that more needs to be done about global warming. For a book about relationships or gay rights, you might have linked your pitch to the landmark Supreme Court decision. For erotica, you might have tried to take advantage of the release of Grey, the sequel to the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Talk as if you are the expert, as if you have insight on the hot topic that people want to know about.
  9. Timing is key. Know a media outlet’s deadlines, lead time, and news cycle. Call at a time when people will be more receptive to you. For instance, many radio stations are on the air with a morning show from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. locally. Call the producer after 10 a.m. in the time zone where the show is based; otherwise, you won’t get beyond a voice message system. Similarly, don’t call newspaper people in the late afternoon when they are up against deadlines.
  10. Clearly present what you have that is new, unique, and substantive. Keep the hype and rambling to a minimum.
  11. Expand your outreach to major media outlets—be bold, take a chance, and think big. Go ahead and pitch the Today show, USA Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, the Huffington Post, and the other biggest media outlets out there. They may be long shots, but they are worth trying for.
  12. Pitch like a tombstone. Be brief and to the point. Summarize a life or a book in just a few words. You don’t need to include a lot of details—just give the highlights. You don’t want to be in a position where you have to explain a lot of things.
  13. Think like a TV producer or journalist as you package a story. Make it easy to see how you offer ideas and even other experts along with yourself or your author to pull off a great segment or story.
  14. Prioritize pitch targets for each day. Focus on the people you have the best chance with and also on the long shots that can yield a windfall.
  15. Jaywalk through the media; ignore red lights and rules that hold you back. Think green light all the way when aggressively tracking media people down and pitching in a way that leads to results.
  16. Don’t overthink your pitch—get it out there. Some people take forever to craft and send their pitches to the media. Don’t strive for perfection. It’s never possible, and you just end up delaying things unnecessarily, often wasting valuable time. Perfection doesn’t exist, and if it did and you stumbled upon it, you would probably reject it as not good enough.
  17. Attitudes are infectious. Give off a good, happy vibe and others will react in kind. Speak with energy, conviction, and passion, but don’t come across like an evangelical cult leader.
  18. Approach media people with the mind frame that they will say yes. Try the assumptive close—act as if you assume they will agree to cover your book and the only question is “When?” Always pitch with confidence. Don’t ask questions. Just make assertive claims.
  19. Don’t assume media people know everything about what you’re talking about. Explain things in a way that sounds as if they should know but that also fills in likely blanks so they are not left guessing.
  20. Localize your angle for local media outlets if that’s possible, and demonstrate how your topic meets the demographic needs of readers/listeners/viewers in a particular area. You can localize a pitch by tying into what has been in area news. If the city has been referenced in statistics or studies, tie into that as well. Appeal to common ground by finding things of interest to the residents of that city. Also if possible, highlight a tie you have to that place.
  21. Often, less is more. Be succinct in your pitch. I know it is hard to take a book or a lifetime of experiences and ideas and shrink it all down into a 15-second verbal pitch or an e-mail that is only a few hundred words long, but that is exactly what is needed here. You need to tease and invite, not to go into great detail.
  22. What sells? Controversy, news, sex, money, kids, and celebrity. Latch on to one of those. Tie your pitch to one of those topics. Add in health, travel, and sports, too.
  23. Tell media people what they will agree with and want to hear. You can’t change the way they think—or the way they believe they know what their consumers want.
  24. Educate yourself about every media outlet and person you are pitching. Appeal to what you know of their past media coverage or private lives.

About the Author:

Brian Feinblum has been in book publicity for 25 years, working for the past 16 as the chief marketing officer for the leading nationwide book promotions firm Media Connect. He reports that he has worked with thousands of authors as an editor, publicist, and marketer, and that he has posted more than 1,600 articles on his four-year-old blog, bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com. To learn more: brianfeinblum@gmail.com.

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