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John Kremerís Book Marketing Update
This Month: Finding a non-fiction pitch for your novel.These 5 Steps Make Pitching Fiction a Breeze
Last issue, we discussed some of the unique challenges facing those of you who market fiction. In this issue, we're continuing that discussion with some tips from Jodee Blanco, author of The Complete Guide to Book Publicity and a professional book publicist with a long track record of successfully publicizing fiction titles.
The key to Blanco's approach is a five-step formula that helps authors uncover the hidden angles most likely to attract media attention. "The biggest myth is that you can't publicize fiction," says Blanco. "But that's just not true -- and anybody who says different is wrong." Blanco says promoting fiction is easy once you understand what producers and editors are looking for, and then figure out a way to deliver what they want. "You have to find a non-fiction angle," she says. "The media is in the business of telling the news, so you have to dig a little deeper to find the angle they're going to pick up on." Once you've found that angle, there's very little difference between publicizing fiction and non-fiction.
Front-door vs. side-door pitches
Most non-fiction (and some fiction) will have what Blanco calls a "front-door pitch" -- the obvious, straightforward media angle. But more often than not, fiction requires a "side-door pitch." Pitching via the side door requires you to come up with an angle that's not immediately apparent. Here's an example. Let's say you've written a Jaws-like thriller. If you're a retired shark hunter, you can use a front-door approach. Your past experience directly connects to the book. It's an obvious angle. On the other hand, if you're a housewife who's never seen a shark except on TV or in the movies, you're going to need to go through the side door.
How do you find that perfect non-fiction angle for your fiction title? Here's the system that works for Blanco.
Step 1 -- Conduct your own interview. Sit down with a trusted friend and have them interview you. The goal in this first step is to unearth all of the possible angles that you might use to attract media attention by focusing on your life experience and how it connects with the fictional story you've written. Questions should be open-ended and leading. Why did you write this book? What are the most prominent issues in the book and why did you choose to write about them? Do you identify with the characters in the book, or is anything about the story autobiographical? Record the interview and then play it back, writing down all the possible angles that come out. One of them is going to be the key to publicizing your novel.
Step 2 -- Analyze your information. Now that you have a list of possible angles, start to think about which one would be the most intriguing for an editor or producer. Here's how this might work. Blanco was did publicity for an author who wrote a thriller set against the backdrop of televangelism. The author, a truck driver, had no real connection to the subject matter at first glance. But, during the course of an interview it came out that the author's mother had once given away all of her money to a televangelist, forcing the family to live in poverty for several months. That's the perfect side-door pitch. Blanco got the author on talk shows by dubbing him the "exorcist of televangelism" and inviting producers to have him on their shows to debate and challenge televangelists on their true mission. This is one of the most common angles for most authors -- there's something in the book you identify with that is autobiographical.
Step 3 -- Determine your credibility. The first thing a producer will want to know is why you are an authority on the subject you're pitching. The angle you come up with has to allow you to claim some measure of expertise on the subject. Remember, this doesn't have to come from academic or professional experience, it can also come from personal experience. For example, if you've written a thriller about a strange virus that infects a large city, you'd have instant credibility if you were a molecular biologist. But you'd also have credibility if you became sick for an extended period with a virus that doctors couldn't identify.
Step 4 -- Combine your angle with your credibility. The final step in developing your pitch (Step 5 concerns how to get the media to pay attention) requires that you link your credibility with your angle. Don't be too quick to dismiss some good angles because you think you lack the credibility to be taken seriously by the media. To go back to the example of the thriller about shark attacks, you'd have credibility if you interviewed marine biologists or shark-attack victims in doing the research for your novel, even if you had never seen a shark or known anyone who had been a victim prior to writing the book.
Step 5 -- Target the proper media outlets. The final step is singling out the most appropriate reporter or producer for your pitch. This might require a little creativity on your part, since the most obvious outlet isn't always going to work out. For example, Blanco once did publicity for a novel about drug cartels written by a former DEA agent. The obvious pitches to drug and crime columnists didn't pan out, so she pitched the high-school sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times with the angle that the author could help parents and coaches discern the warning signs that kids were using illegal drugs to enhance their athletic performance. Not only did the reporter write a story about that subject, he also wrote a sidebar in which he reviewed the novel. Five hundred other papers picked up that story, and soon radio and TV producers were clamoring for an interview. Blanco has also had success pitching romance novelists to food writers and cable TV's Food Network and American Movie Classics. The angle? Recipes that can help seduce your mate.
* One final tip: Ask "What if?" If, after all this, you're still having trouble coming up with an angle, take a lesson from the publicity campaign for Jurassic Park. The premise of the book, that it would be possible to clone dinosaurs from fossilized DNA, is certainly controversial. To promote that book, publicists interviewed top biologists around the world and asked for their opinions on whether or not this would actually be possible. Their comments were then packaged together and pitched to science writers. If you're stuck, try asking "What if?" about your own book. What if a mysterious virus attacked New York? What if a new breed of shark began terrorizing a beachfront community? What if a meteor crashed in Los Angeles? If you can find experts to interview, the resulting debate could just be the pitch you're looking for.
Jodee Blanco can be reached by phone at 610-807-5361, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from a recent issue of John Kremer's Book Marketing Update newsletter, a twice-monthly publication which reports on book publicity and sales opportunities, as well as case histories of successful book promotion campaigns. To get a trial subscription to the newsletter, along with a transcript of their recent telephone seminar, "What Bestselling Authors Do Differently," go to www.freepublicity.com