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Sarah Gerdes

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Effective publisher cold-calling techniques
by Sarah Gerdes   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

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The single sentence: 10 words or less to differentiate yourself and your book

Ever wondered why you can’t get past the receptionist, don’t get a return phone call for weeks or have someone say “I just don’t get it?” Perhaps it’s time to consider the single attention-grabbing sentence you’re using to convey the unique value of your property (book). Forget the 30-second snippet that tells a complete stranger about your product in such a concise manner that he/she gets it immediately, generally known as the 'elevator pitch'.  In my experience, no-one in today's world is going to give you 30 seconds unless you are truly stuck in an elevator and have a captive audience. I've found that ten words is the max for an effective pitch.


Old Habits Revisited

About three weeks ago I began lending assistance to a project that's required me to cold-call, pitch and close over a fifty companies from thirty different industries. The brands range from Dior to sports like K2 skis, Fox Racing motox and just about everything else one wears, rides, eats, drives or flies.


Feeling a bit rusty after my 2 year hiatus, I fell back into the ‘elevator-pitch’. This lasted through a half-dozen calls until an EVP of global marketing at an well-known bike company interrupted with “so it pushes business through our dealers increasing revenue?” Yes, I responded, a bit mortified. I'd wasted my time and his when I could have gotten straight to the point.


The experience made me go back to my successful pitches over the last two years, and sure enough, the ones where I got past the gate-keepers and talked with producers, editors and bookstore owners were when I'd used the revenue-producing pitch versus the 'my book is unique because.." line.


Think on it. Have you ever used the following lines in your pitch?

My book has proven to…..

  • Appeal to an untapped genre of romance novels
  • Draw in book club readers in the southern states
  • Extend from books to the world of on-line gaming
  • Break into the 3million plus home-school market
  • Appeal to a segment of a much larger audience

Neither had I until I got wise and put a little business-acumen into what I call "the business side" of writing.


Factual vs hypothetical

If you are an author with great facts, such as "I completed X events in Y months resulting in N requests for my book, then you can follow this up with...."proving a viable market opportunity for my book." Compare this with statements that begin with "I believe", "I think," or "I expect". Those are sure to bring either a swift conclusion to the phone call, or more questions as to the evidence that suggests your belief, thought or expectation. If you fall in the latter camp, ready your list of evidence points to share with the editor. If not, identify why you believe, think or suspect your book will stand out. Examples of this include quotes from librarians, bookstore owners and readers, if the numbers are substantial enough.


Here are a few questions to answer:

  • How many books have you sold?
    How many review copies have been out?

  • Have you ever thought of a 'rating system' for your reviewers...e.g. 5/7 gave it 5 stars?

  • Have you provided the book in electronic format (or hard manuscript) to libarians, book club leaders etc. to gain statistics about how many would buy, the price point, and the reasons?

  • If you're self-published or already published but want to switch publishers, what type of data do you have? Specifically, do you have email lists of the buyers?

  • Do you have a newsletter? and if so, at what rate is this opt-in list growing by day/week/month/annual?

  • How many web sites or external marketing channels do you have? And what is the draw from each one?

  • How much are you promoting your book (dollar spend, days per year) and what is the traction in a particular market?

The answers to some or all will give a nice picture of your efforts, the result and most important, the momentum you can build for your product. Take this information and distill it into 10 words or less. It should come out to something like this:

  • My database has been growing by 30% a month, or...

  • Downloads of my electronic book tripled after my last marketing program

  • Adoption of my book in book-clubs has averaged 3 a day for 30 days (then go on to say average book club size, such as 15= total number of readers)

You get the picture. The fact is the data, and the evidence point is the details. It doesn't take more than a couple of bullet points to capture the attention of editors trying to filter down prospective talent.

Pitching in person

Don't have any of the above? Try pitching in person vs over the phone.


A lot has been written about pitching an agent or editor at a conference. The agent (and editor/publisher) can see how you present yourself along with the info about your book. Pitching in person is nice because of the natural reluctance someone might have has to walk away while you are mid-pitch; the equivalent of hanging up on you. David Hale suggests that a three minute pitch, or 3 to five sentences is perfect for an in person pitch. In this same article, writer Su Fagalde Lick quotes agent Jillian Mannus that 'writer's who can't describe their work in four or five lines don't have a clear idea of what they are writing." Agreed. But this doesn't help if you can't make it past the front desk or the exec admin to describe your book!


The Summary

If you're starting out, read up on the basic tips, since I generally assume that most authors have done some amount of pitching. If you need more guidance, write me. The part of being a shameless self-promoter is I'm always willing to share the war stories along with the success stories.

Reader Reviews for "Effective publisher cold-calling techniques"

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Reviewed by Ron Karcz
Dear Sarah,

Great advice! I loved this piece.

By the way, I used to live on Chinook Pass...pretty close to you except for a few hills and gullies.

Good luck to you!

Ron Karcz
Reviewed by John DeDakis
Sarah..... lots of good, practical stuff here. Thanx!! JD
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