Thursday, October 19, 2006

Flip the Script Fridays: The Windup, The Pitch

Today is the second in a series of Friday posts dedicated to the art of basic promotion. I'm off to my alma mater's homecoming, JMU. Good friends, good fun, pretty mountains. GO DUKES!

So, you've written a great press release. It has a good hook and it's so head spinningly awesome that Jane Pulitzer Prize Reporter is going to ring you up and say, "Hey, I'd like to talk to you about, New Awesome Book: The Next Bestseller."

Ummm...probably not.

Remember, PR folks are paid to write relases and pitch stories to reporters.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news - but a release doesn't go very far without the pitch.

Fellow freelancers are used to the pitch. Although mostly called a "query," in writing circles, queries and pitches are similiar. It's the creation of a story idea and the art of convincing an editor to buy it.

Where pitches and queries differ:

With a query, the editor gets back to you with a yes or no and either you have a new clip to show for your efforts (and a couple of extra bucks) or another rejection to add to your pile.

A pitch requires more intimacy. Therein lies the scary part.

But us writers, we're used to rejection. Right?

Damn straight. And all that tough skin we've grown from agents and editors and their "not for me's" will come in handy on pitch day. So wo(man) up, people, it's time to get take our press release from paper to print.

Have the following tools handy:
* Two phones
* Your press release
* A one pager highlighting your key message point and angle
* Your media list,complete with each reporter's name
* A pen (or pencil, if you're old school)
* A scratch pad
* Vodka, Rum or your choice of spirit

NOTE: Do not consume the spirits until after the day's pitches are complete.

Take your tools and hole yourself up in the office.

If ever there was a day you needed, peace, quiet and concentration, today will be it. Pitching is unsettling. You will have a very small window of opportunity (if any) to sell the reporter on your story. This isn't the day for the kids to run in and out of the office asking if it's cool to give the cat a mohawk.

Review your media list. If you haven't already, prioritize it based on which media outlets you'd really like to see an article featuring your book.

Now take that list and put those outlets last! You don't want to start off with the Washington Post. You'll be nervous and first time out, your pitch will likely sound more like:

"Hi...I'm Author...I mean, my name is...Debut Author and I sent you...yesterday, or was it two days ago? I sent..."

You will be nervous. That's okay. Knowing you can be shot down to your face (as it were) can do that to you.

So take the outlets that may be smaller fish in the media ocean and consider them "practice" runs.

They aren't really. But it's better to start out with smaller outlets because...

1) They're more likely to say yes. Smaller papers and community papers love soft news and will likely be glad to hear from you.

2) If they say yes or a nice no, your confidence will soar, making the next five or twenty calls much easier to make.

Often you'll run across voice mail. LEAVE A BRIEF DETAILED MESSAGE.

Sounds like an oxymoron. Note, I did not say pitch the voice mail. But do let the reporter know that you're following up on a release about XYZ and you can be reached at 123-456-7890. You'd be surprised how many reporters may actually call you back.

Thus the reason for two phones. You'll want one phone to call and the other free to take other calls or to take return calls.

As I mentioned, last week, many reporters will say they didn't get the release. And you'll have to play the re-fax or re-email game, which will require another day of follow-up.


But keep trying until you get a firm, "You know, sorry we're not interested." -OR- "That sounds great. I need more info."

This means that Pitch Day could turn into Pitch Days. Not ideal, since pitching tends to eat up mental energy and time. But we gotta do what we gotta do.

So, what do you say when you're pitching?

Do NOT simply regurgitate what your release says. Consider the release the bones, the basics. The pitch is the meat, the refined and smooth gem that a reporter can build a story around.

If the reporter does not have your release in front of them, but is still willing to hear your pitch, reference your one-pager and release. You'd be amazed how much of your own information you'll forget once you're on the clock to talk about it.

If the reporter has indicated they have seen the release or have it in front of them, only hit them with the highlights from the one-pager. This page should contain info that is not within the press release.

Overall, the pitch should be multiple angles or story suggestions. You're trying to convey to the reporter all of the great ways your book can/will make an article of interest to the paper's readers.

Although the reporter will ultimately decide how to best pitch this to their editor, your initial job will be to provide them as many story angles as possible or as many as the reporter will allow before shooing you off the phone.

In other words, do some of their job. They'll love you for it.

Next week: The Press kit

I know. It seems a bit backwards to discuss the press kit after the pitch. But forgive me. I just calls 'em as they come to me.


Blogger stephhale said...

Good advice, Paula. I'm still sweating just thinking about calling my cheesy local paper though. :)


2:48 PM  

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