Authors: Don’t Pitch Your Books as Story Ideas

When I speak to groups of professional speakers, authors and small publishers throughout the U.S. and Canada, they look at me dumbfounded after I tell them the Number One thing they must do if they want more media attention for their books and programs.

They must stop pitching the books and programs as story ideas. Immediately.

With an estimated 175,000 news book titles published last year, and millions of presentations given by speakers and trainers, is it any wonder we’re turning off journalists by pushing our books and programs?

When I worked as a newspaper editor, we routinely hauled boxes of unsolicited new books to the local library or Goodwill. If we were in a hurry, we threw the books—complete with expensive, gold-embossed press kits—into the wastebasket.

I know this is painful to hear. But unless you’re contacting a book reviewer, few if any media people care what’s between the two covers of your book.

What the media do care about, however, is what’s between your two ears. They want to know about your expertise. They want to tap into your brain. They’re overworked and underpaid. And they’re eager to know how you can help them do their jobs more easily.

• Can you help them write a good story?

• Can you give a lively radio interview without constantly hawking your book?

• Can you offer free advice for their audience?

• Can you create a clever quiz on your topic of expertise for a national magazine?

• Can you talk in pithy sound bites that will make their viewers smile?

• Can you take a strong position on a controversial topic that will make their readers angry?

• Most importantly, can you offer solutions to people’s problems?

If so, and if they cover you, guess what they’ll probably mention in their article or on their program? Your book, of course.

While others are zigging, you should be zagging. So position yourself as a valuable source that reporters flock to again and again. The following strategies will really catch the media’s attention.

Promote your expertise

Media people seek out, interview and want to stay connected to experts.

Yet many authors are either reluctant to position themselves as experts, or they call themselves experts when they really aren’t. Read the excellent White Paper titled “The Expertise Imperative” written two years ago by five members of the National Speakers Association, some of whom are authors. It outlines the six levels of expertise and what you need to do to get to the next highest level.

You’ll see that expertise isn’t only about how much you know, but how much you do.

Once you become an expert, tout it in your email signature file, your media kit and on your other marketing materials. Make sure the homepage at your website states your expertise.
For example, my homepage has this statement at the top: “Publicity expert Joan Stewart shows you how to use free publicity to establish your credibility, enhance your reputation, position yourself as an expert, sell more products and services, promote a favorite cause or issue, and position your company as an employer of choice.” When a reporter Googles “publicity expert,” my website is usually at the top of the list.

Go deep, not wide

Too many authors make the mistake of playing the lazy numbers game. They wimp out and waste money by relying only on blast fax services to distribute their news to a gazillion media outlets. Truth is, blast faxes are effective in only a small percentage of cases.

Why? Because when you send them, you treat the media like cattle—herding them all into the barn at the same time, force-feeding them from the same trough, then herding them back out again, all with the same story.

You must convince each media outlet that your story is customized only for them. But you can’t do that if you’re targeting 3,000 media. So start by hand-picking only 20 or 30 newspapers, magazines and TV stations. I call this creating a Top 20 Media Hit List.

Let’s say you’ve written a book on customer service. Choose 20 metropolitan newspapers and write a news release that’s almost identical for each newspaper. But in the release you send to the Chicago Tribune, name three Chicago companies that you think treat their customers like royalty, even if those companies aren’t mentioned in your book. Mention three San Francisco companies in the release you send to the San Francisco Examiner. And so on.

Each newspaper will immediately notice “the local angle.” And that makes your story stand out from the rest.

Ask the magic question

While lots of other authors are trying to cram their books down the throats of talk show hosts, assignment editors and beat reporters, you will stand out if you take a different approach.

Start by developing a relationship. Call a media contact, introduce yourself and explain your areas of expertise. Then ask the most important question you can ever ask someone in the media. “How can I help you?”

Repeat after me: “How can I help you?”

Media mutts never ask that question. Publicity Hounds always do. Pay attention to what the journalist tells you, then help however you can.

When I worked as a reporter, my best sources were those that would let me call them at home late at night, when I was on deadline, to ask a question about a complicated topic I didn’t understand. Other golden sources let me check in with them every few weeks and pick their brains about trends they were seeing within their industries. Position yourself as a valuable source and the media will come back to you again and again.

Publicity Hounds use these other magic phrases to build the media relationship:

• “What kinds of sources are you looking for? Perhaps I can help you find them, even if the story doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

• “If you have a last-minute cancellation, call on me to fill in as a talk show guest. I’ll move a mountain to help you.”

• “On a slow news day, call me if you’re desperate for story ideas.”

• “If I find articles in my trade magazines that I think would help you cover the banking industry, is it OK if I send them to you?”

Create your own holiday

Pick a day and make it yours. Or create your own week or month of the year, then use it as a springboard when you pitch story ideas.

My friend Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert, christened the month of July as “Cell Phone Courtesy Month.” As a result, she generates mountains of publicity. USA Today Publisher Al Neuharth even mentioned her a few years ago in his column.

Once you’ve created your own holiday—or day, week or month of the year—submit it to Chase’s Calendar of Events at Chase’s publishes the annual reference book that’s used by journalists all over the world. (See “Special Report #45: How to Generate National Publicity from Your Own Holiday or Day, Week or Month of the Year).

Then just before your holiday, submit letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. Mention your special day at the top of a tip sheet that gives eight or nine tips related to your topic such as “8 tips on how to…” (See “Special Report#16: How to Write Tip Sheets That Catch the Media’s Attention”)

Pitch stories on controversial issues. Be willing to take a strong stand. Offer the journalist contact information for people who would be willing to debate you in print or on the air. Wimpy media mutts never want to be involved in anything controversial. Smart Publicity Hounds do.

One of the best ways to generate publicity in a national magazine is to tie your holiday to a true-or-false or multiple-choice quiz. Editors love quizzes because they’re short, fill odd-size holes on a page, and engage readers. Remember, however, that many big magazines work four to six months ahead of the publication date, so contact them early.

Know when and how to pitch

Contact media outlets during times when most other people don’t. Those include:

• Major holidays

• The days before and after major holidays.

• Weekends. (Ever wonder why TV news is so boring on the weekend?)

• The weeks before and after Christmas.

Don’t use the same method of communication for every journalist on your media hit list. Most don’t want phone calls or faxes. Some would rather receive a pitch via email. Still others want snail-mail letters. When compiling your hit list, call your key contacts and ask how they want to receive your news. Then follow their wishes.

Now get going. Somewhere out there, there’s an underpaid journalist who needs a valuable Publicity Hound just like you.

Joan Stewart publishes the free ezine “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week,” which gives you valuable tips on how to generate thousands of dollars in free publicity. Subscribe at