The Art of Pitching
There are two things that take up the bulk of a publicist's time. One is writing pitch letters and the other is getting on the phone and cold pitching. I loathe it. OK, perhaps not as much as calling 500 media people after I send stuff to follow up on it, but still it is hard work.
As we've discussed in the last lecture, pitch letters are a lot like
query letters. The big difference is that you are selling yourself for
an interview instead of your book to an editor. Very similar in purpose
to a query, the pitch letter is meant to gain a media person's attention
and make them ask for more. Unfortunately, there are plenty of books on
how to write a killer query and virtually none on how to write a perfect
First things first - format: A pitch letter, like a query, should be limited to a single page. Limit your prose to three paragraphs and keep them clean, concise and direct. Use one inch margins and print it on letterhead or nice quality stationary. Make sure you have called ahead of time and gotten the correct spelling of the person's name and his or her title. If you aren't sure whether the person is a Mr. or a Ms., ask. If you don't know who you're looking for, ask. It is perfectly acceptable to say, "Could you tell me who books talent for the Leeza show? Do you know how far in advance they book a show?" It is better to play dumb and ask lots of questions than send your material to the wrong person. If you think the slush pile at a publishing house is ominous, it is nothing compared to a producer or editor's collection of daily pitches and press packets. A pitch letter can be sent alone or as a cover letter to your press release/press packet.
Content: The first paragraph should introduce yourself and the subject. This is where you need a hook, but one that explains exactly what you have to offer, who you are, when the event is happening and where it will be. These are known as the five W's of journalism and should be included in every pitch letter and press release you write.
The second paragraph should explain why the producer or editor/reporter should have you on the show or include you in an article in their publication. For city and regional media, give them a local angle. It can showcase you as a local person, give a local example of a national incident or trend, or be related to the community. An example would be if you saw an article in the Wall Street Journal touting how writing a book can be a quick road to success. Copy the article and attach it to a pitch letter that offers to give the reporter an inside look at what really happens to authors from a local source.
For national television, radio and print media, tie yourself to a national trend or incident. Remember that reporters are always looking for material that can be tied to a holiday, is timely or gives a new slant to a current trend or issue.
The third paragraph explains how you can be reached. Give them phone numbers and voice mail even if it is already printed on your letterhead. If you plan to contact them, tell them when.
Above all, make sure that what you are pitching is what the media person needs. Don't pitch your book signing to the gardening editor or the financial editor, you'll only make enemies. Research is important. Look at back issues of a publication or watch/listen to a show before you pitch. Get to know what types of people they interview, what topics seem to repeated often and which journalist is the one reporting. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But thorough investigation will pay off in better responses from the media. Their number one complaint is that they receive material which is not suited to their publication or show.
Media people need and want fresh ideas for their publications and shows. If you give them what they need, and make it easy for them, the more likely they will be to use your material and possibly interview you. Remember to think like a journalist on a deadline when you're writing a pitch letter. Keep it clear, concise and direct and your pitch might give you a home run.
So how do you do this? How much information is too much? What is the best way to hook them? How can you make sure they'll read through to the end?To answer these questions, one of the students in the class has kindly given me permission to go through her class assignment and analyze it for you so you can see the process I go through when writing a pitch letter.
SAMPLE PITCH LETTER VERSION #1
What about choice?
I've often wondered why the minority rule. Why is it two or three outspoken people can control a situation? Because they instill fear? Because they're obnoxious? Or is it just easier to give into laziness rather than argue with them?
As the author of the children's book series, Fortune Tellers Club (Llewellyn Publications), I have dealt firsthand with situations of exclusion because of this blunt minority. I've been denied book signings by store managers, both chain and independent. I've been shut out of school presentations. I've been told no too many times, based on the objections (or possible objections) of a select few. Why? Because my twelve-year-old book characters solve mysteries using divination.
As a parent, I believe we should review what our children are reading
and help them to make the right choices. However, I feel parents have
a right only to choose for their own children - not mine - not the neighbor's
- not everyone's. It is wrong for an author to be denied the opportunity
to sell her books based on one or two parents, who feel the content is
inappropriate for all. This is clearly a form of censorship, and denial
of my first
I'll be contacting you next week about a possible interview for your
Censorship comes in all forms. Awareness is the key to freedom. It's
ANALYSIS OF SAMPLE PITCH VERSION # 1
Second thing that grabbed my attention was that the real meat of this story that makes it different from anything else, is buried at the end of the second paragraph. The fact that people are scared because the children use divination in the book is fascinating. What about it scares people so much they'd have this reaction? What does that say about our society? Personally, I'd push that to the front for my hook. It's different, fresh and can get a lot of people talking about something that they are passionate about--freedom of religion, freedom of speech. In fact, if you wanted to, you could even put a post war spin on this thing and get some stunning results!
Third item is the tone. Much of the word choice in the letter pointed to anger, frustration and a feeling of injustice. These aren't real high on ringing the sympathy bell with journalists. It comes across as whining, even if you don't intend it that way. They figure if you are whining in the letter, they don't want to hand you a mic and have a half hour of it on the air.
Fourth is turning the driving home point away from yourself and toward the journalist. Rather than wrapping it up with your thoughts, get them thinking. Show them what you can do to bring heat and juice to their show.
The contact paragraph was fine. I also liked that she included her message points toward the end. The end is what people tend to remember most, if they get that far in the letter.
Here's how I'd solve the issues above and rewrite the letter:
Flame's licked at the edge of the Harry Potter book, curling it quickly into charred black remains. Book burning is alive and well in our country. On March 26, 2001, 45 members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn Township threw books, CD's and other items they found offensive to God into the flames. They were only oneof hundreds of groups across the country. Unfortunately fires aren't the only agents of censorship. During Banned Book Week, September 20-27, 2003, show your readers just how far people are willing to go to censor their reading materials.
Today censorship is as close as your child's classroom. Stories with any fantasy element like Harry Potter or those found in the Fortune Tellers Club, a group of young sleuths who solve mysteries using divination, are considered too risky to be read and therefore banned or blocked by bookstores, school programs, libraries and more. Are you aware of who's deciding your child's choices? What are we so afraid of? What can we do?
As a multiple-published author of children's fiction I can give first hand accounts of what's being done currently to ban books that don't fit the conventions of a few, and share with your audience what they can do to protect their children from censorship. Awareness is the key to keeping the freedom of choice we enjoy in this country.
I'll be contacting you next week about a possible interview. A full press kit is available upon request or available online at my website www.unconventionalfictionauthor.com. You can reach me at 555-321-1234 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In advance, thank you for your time and consideration.
Please feel free to post questions regarding this so I know you completely understand the difference and hopefully can see the process behind it. Again, thank you to the student willing to share their work and have it critiqued in public.
Now I'm going to move into phone pitches.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes public relations professionals make is not followingup on every item they mail out. Too many pitch letters, press releases and press kits go unnoticed because there is no follow up call made, and that, is money wasted.
As an author working on your own public relations you will need to make "the call" to a reporter, editor or producer at some point in time. When you make your follow-up calls, the following techniques will make you sound like a PR pro:
· Know what your key message points are ahead of time and write everything down on a paper you keep near the phone. Many times you'll have to leave a voice mail and will have the reporter/producer/editor call you back. Having the information at your fingertips will prevent you from getting flustered when they call back.
· Practice in advance what you are going to say and how you say it. Use a tape recorder to help you if you're not confident about how you sound.
· When you talk on the phone, SMILE. You can hear a smile! Standing up also changes your demeanor on the phone.
· Immediately state your name.
· Always check to see if you are calling at a good time. Some media are on deadline and will not be receptive no matter how perfect your material is for them. If they say no, ask them when would be better to call them back, then do it.
· If it is a good time, get to the point by telling the producer or editor who, what, when and where of your pitch.
· Be enthusiastic, energetic, chatty, upbeat and personable. You can talk passionately and freely, but keep it brief and sincere.
· If you've got their attention with your hook, but haven't locked in an interview, tell them a story related to your hook. If they seem interested, but not hooked, offer a no-strings-attached interview for five minutes.
· Remember that no doesn't mean no. It may really mean not right now, or it isn't right for my section or show. Be persistent without becoming obnoxious. Don't give up until they say DON'T CALL ME. And even then don't take it personally.
· If you get voice mail make sure you have a script written. Give your name. You then have 20-30 seconds to pitch yourself and tell them why their talk show or magazine needs you and what you can offer. Tell them what you've already sent and then restate your phone number. Here's an example:
Along with these "do's" there are some definite "don'ts"
when it comes to making follow-up calls.
Talking with these folks isn't as daunting as it may seem. The practice of making follow-up calls on each and every piece you send out also teach some discipline. After all, if you have a choice of sending out 500 or 200 press kits and are trying to decide if it is worth the extra money, you can balance that choice with the time and effort it will require to make the phone calls for each of those kits.
Do public relations professionals actually make that many calls? You bet! Even if you dread doing it, it is well worth it. Once you start making the calls, you'll get a flow going and it will become easier. With practice, patience and persistence you should see more interviews being booked or publicity increasing as a result of making "the call".
I hope this more in-depth discussion of pitching has been helpful and
given you new insights.