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The Phone Pitch

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The ideal procedure for pitching a story to the media is usually summed up as: phone, mail, phone. That is, phone first to make an initial contact or determine who’s the right person to receive your materials, and, if it’s appropriate, to give a quick pitch. Second, mail your press materials. Finally, follow up with a phone call to confirm receipt and give your pitch for a booking or article.

Publicists rarely have time for all these stages. When time is limited, they generally omit the first call and rely on the accuracy of their list and the power of their press materials to make a strong first impression. If they are dealing with a breaking story and snail mail will miss the window of opportunity, they might call, fax, or e-mail.

Such tactics should not be abused, however. The first rule in doing phone work with media people is to respect their time. Like everyone else in the modern world, reporters, editors, and producers are being asked to do too much in too little time. In addition, they are constantly dealing with deadlines that can’t be fudged. If they are preparing for a show that goes on in an hour or completing an article that goes to press before lunch, they don’t want to talk, and they will resent your intrusion. So, when calling, be sure to ask if this is a good time to talk. Then be prepared to make your pitch clearly and succinctly.

Start with Seven Words

As with a piece of writing, the first sentence of your phone pitch is the most important in capturing interest and attention. It should express the essence of the book. I usually call this the seven-word test, though there is no magic in the number seven. It could be six or fivV/zr eight, but the shorter the better.

In formulating your one-sentence pitch, try to imagine that someone has asked you: “What is this book about?” or “What does this author have to say?” or “Why do I care what’s in this book?” Imagine as well that you have only one declarative sentence–without independent clauses–in which to answer.

Your answer should look like one of these:

      • This book shows how Chinese herbs can prolong your life.
      • Jane Author gives six clear rules for winning at office politics.


  • Sheroes


      offers women 200 models of courage.

You don’t want to say something like, “Over thousands of years, Chinese medical practitioners have developed a system of medical wisdom that delineates this and that and so forth.” This might be OK for your second or third sentence, but the first sentence needs to define the topic and tell the producer what you are offering. If the show doesn’t cover health topics, the producer doesn’t need to hear more about the book and will say so. You can thank her for her time and move on.

Segue to 21

If, on the other hand, you reach a show that often does cover relevant issues, then your opening line should produce the response, “Tell me more.”

Now you can aim for about 21 words of information–significantly more but still not a lot. Stay focused on your main point and try to offer a choice illustrative tidbit. For instance, with the office-politics book, you might say: “People fail at work because they don’t recognize certain unspoken clues–who the boss relies on for information and how budget decisions are made. Jane Author shows how to use this information to advantage.”

Actually, I’ve just used 35 words, but at this point I should have an interested producer or editor who will probably want to know about the author’s qualifications and/or how skilled the author is on the air.

Where to Go from No

If, having heard my pitch, the person at the other end says, “Sorry, I don’t think this one is right for me,” I don’t argue, and I don’t try to talk producers or editors into anything. I do, however, take the opportunity to ask who else at the station or publication might be appropriate for my story. Sometimes the second or third person along the line will pick it up, but even if not, I have the opportunity to add a couple of names to my media list and make valuable contacts.

I also take a moment to ask what kind of stories my initial contact is interested in and would like to hear about. When media people have a moment to talk, you can also offer information about your line of books. They just might express interest in a recent backlist title, or even better, one that’s forthcoming. Now you have someone asking for a book instead of rejecting your pleas.

Send the book when it comes out, and include a personal note recalling your conversation. This is how you build relationships.

Remember that a pleasant and effective phone manner–a light touch and a sense of humor–will create opportunities, and even where nothing is forthcoming at the moment, will at least open the door for future contacts. Also remember that it really helps if you are honestly interested in what your media contacts are doing. Like you, they are people at a job, and like you, they probably don’t get enough appreciation. Your interest and your care count.

This article is adapted from The Complete Guide to Book Marketing by David Cole, available for $19.95 plus $5 shipping and handling (NY state residents must add sales tax). Order toll-free from 800/491-2808; by mail from Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd St., New York, NY 10010; or via www.allworth.com.

David Cole provides business plans and brokerage services through his consulting firm, Gemini Marketing & Communications (www.geminicole.com), and is principal of Bay Tree Publishing (www.baytreepublish.com). He can be reached by phone at 510/525-6902 or by e-mail at dcole@geminicole.com.

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