Pitching Books to Mainstream Media Outlets

14:00 EST - Aug 14, 2019

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Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of the webinar that took place on Facebook Live. We've also tried to edit the video to make it easier to watch — but you'll have to forgive us for some of the grainy footage. 

My only real job ever was as a sports writer and editor for what I'd call a mid-tier sports blog. It had about 3 million monthly unique visitors a month. It was called Sports Grid, and that's relevant for this because it's basically where I learned how the media works and why I've been able to successfully pitch mainstream media outlets because I understand what it's like to be a blogger, what it's like to be a writer, a journalist, an editor, and it's not really what I expected when I got into it.

I stopped that I think five years ago or so. It wasn't for me. Self-published a couple of books since then. The first one was on sports betting. The second one was on self-publishing, and now I run a small, independent publishing company called Platypus where I help people, like all of you guys, write and publish their books and especially help with marketing, which I'll be talking about today.

All right, so just a quick bit of background. One of the latest books I've worked on at Platypus, it's called Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together. It's by Trevor Kraus. Highly recommend it. Don't have a stake in it. It's just a really good book, so that's what I'll be pitching live to a few media outlets, and a little background on Trevor.

He is I believe 28. He's an English teacher in Spain, He has pretty much no online platform. Super talented writer but just hasn't spent the time building up an audience or anything, doesn't work for any big company, so at a bit of a disadvantage marketing-wise, but we've been able to get him a bunch of mainstream media attention. The first big one was ESPN Radio. I don't know if any of you guys are sports fans, but it was an interview with this guy, Jeremy Schapp, who's one of the most well-respected sports journalists of all time, so that was super cool there.

The Daily Beast, Yahoo Sports, BroBible. Not the most prestigious, but it is pretty mainstream, and a bunch of other places, so I'm going to teach you how I did that by pitching some new places because he could always use some more attention. Why not? The first step, obviously you want to know, why do I want USA Today's attention?

And I get into this deeply in the course, but just briefly, the main reasons you'd want media attention are, one, for social proof. Notice how the first thing I mentioned when I was talking about Trevor's book was he's been featured at ESPN Radio, Yahoo Sports, and whatever, and the truth is most of those events didn't actually sell a tonne of books, but they sound impressive, and unfortunately, this is a game you have to play, especially if your book is self or independently published.

Pitching to USA Today

You want to signal to people you take it seriously and whatnot, so that was our initial purpose for pitching all the places we did, but now we've moved into just the pure book sales phase, so that's not really what I want here with USA Today. If I want to get on this site, I just want to poke around, so the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to go to the sports section. I'm going to try to find like a list of people, so I might poke around a bit, read some pages depending on how well I know the site.

I don't follow it that well, so I just know that they're a newspaper. I have an idea how newspapers work, but I don't know how likely we are to get covered or if they're just going to be covering the normal things, just normal news stories, like a book is not going to fit into this. We have to find someone who is actually likely to cover it. I won't waste your time showing you how I poked around, but basically, I found a writer: Dan Wolken. He covers more timeless things versus timely, so you can see he's got about 85,000 Twitter followers. He's pretty big, but he's not unreachable.

He's a national columnist. I don't know him super well, but I'm just assuming, given the few things I've read from him, the fact that he's a national columnist, he's been there for I think over a decade, that he probably has a lot of play, so if I can convince him that Trevor's story is interesting or that there's an angle that's interesting, I'm pretty confident he has the sway to pitch an editor.

Now, if I'm working with someone smaller who wouldn't have that sway, I would want to find the editor themselves. This is super easy because he actually has his email address listed here. Most people don't, so whenever possible, find someone who has their email address listed, which I will do later. I'll show you how I find email lists, email addresses from people who are really tough to find. All right, so as you can see, we've got "Hey [Name]." That's a super easy one. We're just going to go with:

Hey Dan.

And templates can seem impersonal when you're looking at them, but you'll notice there are a lot of opportunities for personalization here, so that's where your bread and butter is going to be. I haven't been taking the time to actually read something yet, but I highly recommend you spend 30 minutes on each pitch and really get to know the person and their outlet versus doing what most people do and spending 30 seconds and making it clear that you don't know them. I'm just going to pretend that I did read something, and I highly recommend you actually do it.

I loved your recent piece on getting college basketball players paid. I've been a big fan of yours for years and finally have something to add.

All right, so now I've got a specific compliment. Always start with a specific comment, and then go into this what I would call a social proof pitch.

My client, Trevor Kraus, has snuck into the Super Bowl and the Masters, World Series 7, Wimbledon Final, blah, blah, blah. He tells his stories...

...so this is a little long, but I'm only talking about things that they may actually care about. It's setting him apart. It's showing that he has an interesting story that's unique. It's showing that people cared about it because they say it's a number one new release, and they're going to know all of these sites. They're going to know all of these writers.

This is going to catch their attention, so once we do that, I want to keep it super simple, super short.

We'd love to share some of his crazy stories with your readers/viewers/listeners.

In this case, obviously, readers.

I'm confident they'd love it. Click and share.

Oh, that's a super important thing. You have to understand the incentives of the person you're pitching. Most of them obviously are in this for the stories, but they get paid for the clicks, so make sure you appeal to both of those important things.

And then I will always write something like, say, three sample headlines. I'm just going to do this off the top of my head, but let's say it's Super Bowl season, which it's not right, so I would say, "How I snuck into the Super Bowl and you can too," because that's super clickable, and in that case, it would be timely headline.

Then, let's say, "Dozens of people are sneaking into the Super Bowl. Here's how they do it," those are kind of simpler. Then, I would want to do something totally different. You want to give them three slightly different angles, but if you know what you want to pitch them on, then obviously keep it relatively similar. What else would be related? In this case, because the Super Bowl one is kind of straightforward, I would just pitch something different like,

Or if you're more interested in college football stuff, he can tell his story about sneaking into the 2012 game of the century in Alabama.

Super simple.

Then, I'll mention interview availability, or if this is more about a guest poster excerpt, which this one is not, basically here I'm pitching an interview, so I'd say,

He's available for an interview or is happy to share some excerpts. Do any of those seem like a good fit for your audience?

Always end with a super simple yes or no question, and then I would always offer them a free digital or paperback copy to show that you're just being generous here.

Getting a testimonial from someone famous

Next, we'll go with Jay Bilas. This one's going to be more difficult. Dan Wolken had his email address listed in his Twitter profile, which is not super common, especially for bigger personalities like this, so we lucked out there. Now, if we go to Jay Bilas' Twitter, you will see he's a pretty big deal. Does not have his email address listed. He does not have his DMs open, and if he did, I don't think he would answer me. The first thing I always do is go to a site called hunter.io, which is just a great way to find email addresses.

Jay Bilas works for ESPN, so you type in espn.com, and it will show you all the email addresses.

But what you'll find out in a second is that it doesn't work that well for an absolutely massive company like ESPN. Jay Bilas will not show up here, probably because he doesn't want to show up there, and he's good at hiding it. But what you'll notice is all of these people follow a very similar like email scheme here, so we've got [first name] dot [last name]@espn.com, and a few of them have their middle initial, so now I know if I can potentially find his email address, it's probably jay.bilas@espn.com, or I may need to find his middle name, which I don't know if I'll be able to do. I might want to search Jay Bilas middle name, and the whole point of this and why I'm trying to show it to you is that you have to improvise.

Every single pitch I've done is different, and I've pitched two people with the same thing, and one has been upset, and the other person has loved it, so you really have to take it by a case-by-case basis. You have to keep iterating based on the feedback you get, what works, what doesn't. You have to try someone from one angle and then try them again. Here, I found his middle name, so I can guess it's probably jay.bilas@espn.com or jay.s.bilas@espn.com, but in this case, I think we have a decent chance at getting his attention, but I just want to show you one more thing just to mix it up here. I think we have a decent chance at getting his attention via email because he's not a writer, and he probably doesn't get a tonne of pitches.

He probably just gets fan mail sort of things, but I still want to show you guys. He has his Instagram listed here, so click on Instagram. See if you can find someone from a different angle, and you'll see he only has 30,000 followers on Instagram, and you can't see it on my computer, but his DMs are open on Instagram. And again, my guess is that a TV personality who doesn't really do profiles or anything, there's a decent chance he's going to see my Instagram message if I send that to him, so I'm going to write it in my email. You want to obviously tailor your message to the platform you're using.

On Instagram, you want to be super short, super direct, super informal, so I would just be like,

Hey, Jay. Huge fan.

Let's see. Honestly, I don't even know if I would mention my client here because I would want to be super informal. I would actually probably tell Trevor to write this one, all right, so I'll say,

Hey, Jay. Huge fan. I wrote a book about how I snuck into...

...and now notice how I'm going to use college basketball terms instead of the Super Bowl, so Assembly Hall is a big one, Cameron Indoor Stadium, so I'm just going to mention a few college basketball places that he would know about immediately, and March Madness.

Jeremy Schapp [who is his colleague] had me on his show and loved it...

...and now because he doesn't do profiles or anything like this, and he's not going to get us on TV, at least not if we don't build a relationship first, what I'm going to do is I just want to get a blurb from him. That's the one thing he could do for us, and that's the one thing that he would probably enjoy.

And if you're asking someone important like this for a blurb, I would not ask them straight out. I would just try to get him to skim the book, and if he skims the book and he likes the book, then you can ask him for a blurb. This is a bit of long shot, a long-term play, but if we get it, this is an absolutely, absolutely huge blurb.

Jeremy Schapp had me on his show and loved it. I'd be honored if you checked it out. Could I send you a paperback or PDF?

Super short, super simple, and with an easy, direct question, and he can always say no, and it won't be that big of a deal. But I think we have a pretty good chance of at least getting a response here.

"Hey, sorry. I'm busy, or, "Sure, I'll check it out." Then, once he gets it, we can follow up, see if he actually read it, see if he liked it and eventually, if he did, we can maybe get that blurb. This is something you'd want to do early on in the process and see if you can eventually do it. That's how I would try and get a blurb from a super, super famous dude.

Getting on a podcast

Cool. All right, so let's go to Lifehacker because we've done a bunch of sports ones, so we're going to go to lifehacker.com, and this is an interesting one because, again, they have a few different potential options. You go to lifehacker.com, and I'll notice that they don't make it easy for me to find how to contact them.

There's nothing on the bottom. The top is just all these other sites, so it's like, "What the heck do I do?" As I do in most of these situations, I just wind up going to Google, typing every permutation of how to get on the site, guest posts, podcast appearance, contact editors for a certain series, for a certain section, so here, again, won't waste all of your time searching through all of those things, but it basically turned out, hold on a second, so I found their About page not directly on their site, but by Googling.

It almost looks like it's an old About page. I don't even know if it's the right one. Oh, no, it's from 2019. We've got, "Got a tip or hack?" I never recommend emailing the tips. That's a last resort if you can't get anyone's attention because generally, they're only looking for super urgent stories and tips, and a lot of those things just kind of get lost.

But here, they have something specifically listed: pitch a guest for a podcast and writers pitching stories, so we have two options here, and I get into this as well more in the course, but in general, I think podcasts tend to have better conversions just because they're more intimate and you get more time with the audience, so basically, I'm going to pitch him for The Upgrade, the Lifehacker podcast. Obviously, I would recommend you check out the podcast if you haven't before. I would recommend you listen to at least one episode. And again, when you're writing this compliment, people can tell when you fake compliment just like they can tell when you're sending a mass email, so even though we're using a template here, I always give a super genuine compliment that I actually mean, and people really appreciate that.

And at the very least, they'll usually give you a polite "no." We've got a few names we could potentially address this to. My guess is that they have a producer, so I would probably go poke around and find the name of the producer, but for now, we'll just say, "Hey, Lifehacker," and that' a super important thing. If you're pitching a bigger podcast, if they don't have a form like Lifehacker does, you're going to want to find a producer.

I've actually gotten in touch with some super big producers at ESPN basically by finding a big personality again on Twitter. All media people are on Twitter. Always look there first. Find them on Twitter and see who they follow. Jay Bilas will have 1.9 million followers but, usually, people are following 100, 200, 300, 500 at most, and you can flip through those people, maybe do a Ctrl-F for "producer", and you might find their producer because they'll usually be following them. [editor's note: Jay Bilas follows zero people, but that's an anomaly]

I'll write a pitch. I'm going to say something super similar here. I won't bore you with it too much, but,

I love your recent episode on how to do nothing. Show's awesome.

Something like that. And this one that I just wrote right now kind of sounds like I'm pandering a bit, and I didn't actually listen, so I would mention something specific civic from the show, like, "I loved the story about X." I would mention a specific story.

And remember who you're pitching. Since Lifehacker is not a sports blog, I would probably take out this Pat Forde guy because I'm sure any of you who are not sports fans probably don't know who he is. I might leave Jeremy Schapp because he's got some crossover appeal, but that's up to you.

He'd love to share some of these crazy stories with your listeners. I'm confident they'd love it.

Click maybe is not as good, but we can leave it. Some ideas on what we can talk about, so I'm just doing these little tweaks based on because it's a podcast, and for Lifehacker, I would probably do something a little different, so, "How you can sneak in anywhere from the world's greatest gate crasher," because one outlet actually called him the world's greatest gatecrasher, so put it in quotes. Why not?

See how I made this a little more generic and non-sports based, or the Super Bowl one tends to have very big name appeal, so I will usually mention the Super Bowl one even if they don't like it. It'll just kind of get their attention, so, "How I snuck into the Super Bowl and you can too." And then maybe I'll write one more.

Following Up

One thing I wanted to show you is follow-ups. I have a whole lesson on this in the course, but basically, I would say, I haven't tracked the exact numbers, but well over 50 percent of my yeses have come from follow-ups, so a few cool things that you can do. I personally use Boomerang for Gmail.

There's another one called followup.cc  You can do some stuff for free, and some of it's paid, but basically what you can do is say I was going to send this. I'll send it to myself instead of them. I'll send it. Send it to myself, click on it, and then I can go Boomerang. I usually do the first follow up three or four days after, so I'll say four. You do if no reply, with a note, and I can just write my follow up in this note. Usually, I'll just say,

Just bumping this up your inbox

So something super informal and short just to get their attention because media people are super busy.

I also mention this in the course where authors and more traditional writers work in cycles of weeks, months, years even, where a lot of these media people are working in cycles of days, hours, and even minutes. Something is newsworthy at 3:15 PM, and at 3:20, it's completely irrelevant, and so they're getting constant pangs in and out. They're glued to Twitter. They're glued to Reddit. They're glued to CNN or ESPN or whatever it is that they're covering, so definitely follow up. If you don't get an answer, it's probably not because they didn't want it. It's probably because they didn't see it, so always follow up. I'll save this, and then in four days it will come back to me, and it will boomerang right back to me.

One last thing

I'll show you one quick thing. Bomani Jones. We've actually reached out to him in the past and didn't get his attention, but he shared something Trevor wrote a few years ago, so I know he has some interest, but my guess is he's just inundated with responses, so what we're going to want to do is find a producer. Like I said, you can see who he follows on Twitter. You can go to LinkedIn and search around. His show's called The Right Time. You can Google it: "The Right Time Bomani Jones producer". And usually someone could be a producer of a super big-time show, someone could be a producer of Good Morning America or whatever, and they'll probably have, you know, 500 followers on Twitter because they aren't public-facing people, so they're really busy, but they're not always that hard to reach.

You can a lot of times DM them, email them, whatever, and the tool I wanted to show you is called the rocketreach.co, so basically you can copy-paste and it is free. They just try to get you to sign up for their upsells, but basically, you can copy paste a LinkedIn profile, and the success rate with getting their email is super, super high.

I won't show you the details but just trust me on rocketreach.co, so that's what I would do for him is I would email his producer, and then I would mention that he tweeted about Trevor's article and said it was awesome a few years ago. I would probably include a screenshot in there just to show that I'm not full of crap and this actually did happen. And that's the main thing I wanted to share there.

To learn much, much more, you can sign up to Matt's free course on Reedsy Learning. It's called How to Get Your Book Covered by Mainstream Media at it covers everything in this webinar and much, much more.

You can find out more about Matt on his site or contact him through Twitter.

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