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Bookmarks for December 24th through January 1st

These are my links for December 24th through January 1st:

How to Pitch Podcasters

In my experience, pitching yourself as a podcast interview subject is very different from pitching your book to a publisher or getting on television, with one exception: you have to do your homework.

Pitching your manuscript to a publisher requires a formal proposal containing certain elements, such as a marketing plan and a competing and complementary books section, in addition to sample chapters. Talk-show hosts like Jay Leno have very specific guidelines for would-be guests, along the lines of “You must use our e-mail submission form and you must send video a particular format.” And, of course, for print media coverage, there’s the traditional press release and its social media variants.

Take a Personal Approach

Because most podcasts are a personal and informal medium, most podcasters are suspicious of marketing-speak and press releases, especially if the pitch looks like something that’s been sent out on a massive scale. Most podcasters have small, vocal audiences, people who think of them as friends and who will let them know in no uncertain terms if they don’t like a show. There’s a strong sense of community among podcasters and listeners, and when it comes to doing interviews, podcasters prefer people who are part of that community to people who aren’t, unless the interviewee is extremely well-known.

Like bloggers (and many podcasters are bloggers), podcasters are as likely to lambast a bad pitch to their listeners as to simply trash it and ignore it. To learn what not to do, take a look at the Bad Pitch Blog.

Picking Podcasts to Pitch

In April 2006, FeedBurner reported that it was publishing 44,000 podcast feeds. That’s good news: it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever you’re writing about, someone is podcasting about it. And no, you won’t have to listen to all 44,000 in order to know which ones to pitch.

Remember the audience profile you had to create when you created your book proposal? You want to find podcasters whose audiences are the same as your ideal reader. These are more likely to be podcasters who talk about the same subjects as your book than “book review” or “literary” podcasts, though you shouldn’t overlook those, either.

To find podcasts on the right subject, check out podcast directories like iTunes and Podcast Alley, which allow listeners to rate and review podcasts. Read the descriptions and the reviews and make a shortlist of the most likely candidates.

And, of course, don’t overlook any podcasts you’re already listening to.

Joining the “In” Group

So what do you do after you’ve gone through and found the highest-rated podcasts on subjects related to your book? First, listen to the podcast. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast and listen to several shows. Read the show notes and the comments. Find out whether interviews are a regular part of the show. (Some shows feature interviews every week, others occasionally, and some not at all.)

Next, start commenting. When you leave a comment on the show’s blog, you can enter the URL for your book instead of your home page for some subtle self-promotion, but the important thing is to respond thoughtfully to something in that episode. Write a paragraph or two that continues the conversation and shows that you know what you’re talking about.

Genuine Connections

While podcasters don’t necessarily expect people they’ve interviewed to listen to every show from then on, they’ll shy off anyone whose interest seems too self-serving. Just because a podcast has a lot of listeners doesn’t mean that you’ll like the show or the podcaster. If you don’t, don’t try to fake it in order to reach a potential market for your book. Make sure the podcast and its host(s) are a good fit for your personality before you try to line up an interview.

It’s That Simple

You’ll probably have to do this more than once before the podcaster asks to interview you, but if what you say is interesting enough to the listeners (who will usually hear it read out in the next episode as well as having the opportunity to read it on the show blog), the podcaster may contact you immediately. If not, keep listening and commenting for a few shows, and strike up an e-mail correspondence with the podcaster.

Once you’re sure that the podcaster and the listeners know who you are and find your comments interesting, volunteer yourself as an interviewee. And as long as there’s enough time before the interview date, send the podcaster a copy of your book. Even if the interview isn’t about the book itself (and it probably won’t be), having the book in hand helps the podcaster to come up with interview questions.

Keep the Discussion Going

Naturally you’ll want to listen to the episode with your interview in it, but don’t stop there. Check the show notes to see what listeners have to say about the show. Is there anything you can pick up on and respond to?

It’s also a good idea to listen to the next episode for more feedback, and to send in any answers you have to questions which might have come up. Some questions might come directly to you, but many listeners feel more comfortable dealing with the podcast host(s).

If enough listeners want to know more, you might get invited back for another interview.

Side Benefits

Some podcasters also review books. Indeed, there are book review podcasts out there, and it doesn’t hurt to search for them. A podcaster who likes your book might also write up a short review on the show blog and include an Amazon affiliate link.

One of the nicest things about podcast interviews, though, is that you can link directly to the episode from your own website without having to worry about how to handle the audio file at your end. (Very often, though, podcasters will give you permission to repost the file on your own site if you wish to do so.)

Best of all, though, you don’t have to go through layers of screening to get access to a podcaster—which is part of why podcasters have such dedicated fans.

Straight from the Agent’s Mouth

To find out what literary agents and acquisitions editors are really looking for, read their blogs. Or rather, their LiveJournals, in many cases. LiveJournal and Blogger/Blogspot seem the platforms of choice. Blogger is both simple and free, though it lacks the ability to tag or categorize posts, making it hard to search by topic. I’m not sure what the particular appeal of LiveJournal is.

No matter where and how they’re published, these blogs are full of insights and inside tips on what the agents want—and what they don’t want. They also provide glimpses into the publishing industry that you won’t get elsewhere. If you’re an author in search of a publisher, check them out. They’ll open your eyes, save you from serious mistakes, and give you some good laughs at the same time.

Anna Louise Genoese (editor at Tor Books): http://alg.livejournal.com/

Maybe it’s something about LiveJournal that inspires all the dining and drinking chat in addition to the gems about the publishing industry. Maybe it’s something about the publishing industry—agents and editors do attend a lot of conferences and have a lot of lunchtime meetings. In any case, it’s well worth sifting through the irrelevancies for gems like the Publishing P&L, which has garnered a massive 289 comments so far, mostly from people with dropped jaws who might have harbored some illusions that there were profits in publishing.

Evil Editor: http://evileditor.blogspot.com/

Evil doesn’t divulge his name or workplace, but he reposts some real howlers of queries and invites readers to ask questions and submit their own queries to be critiqued. Those queries end up as “Face Lift” posts: first the original query, with comments, and then Evil Editor’s revised version. This sort of enlightened self-interest seems far from Evil to me. As of May 5, 2006, there are 13 of these “Face Lift” posts and answers to several questions.

Agent Kristin Nelson, Pub Rants: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

The subtitle of this blog is “a very nice literary agent indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry.” Agent Kristin’s dislikes include middle initials and being labeled a “Chick Lit” specialist. Her likes include successes for the authors she’s representing. Each post starts with a status (mood) update and the song currently playing on her iPod. (You mean people use MP3 players for music?)

Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary Agency, Et in Arcadia Ego: http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/

Start with the Anatomy of the Submissions Process, where you’ll find a lot of other agents chiming in along the lines of “me, too.”

Nadia Corner of Firebrand Literary, Agent Obscura: http://agentobscura.livejournal.com

In “How to Get Rejected” Nadia Corner reveals that using Agent Wizard puts you on the fast track to the round file. So if you were considering one of those automated submission tools—don’t.

Miss Snark, the Literary Agent: http://misssnark.blogspot.com

If you only read one agent’s blog, it should be this one. Merciless to anyone who falls into the “nitwit” category, Miss Snark provides hilarious commentary and helpful tips in between trips to the gin pail. (Her readers can be fairly witty, too.) You never have to wonder where you stand with her, and she makes it very clear what not to send her. Now if you only knew who she was…

Terry Whalin (fiction acquisitions editor, Howard Books), The Writing Life: http://terrywhalin.blogspot.com/

Now a fiction acquisitions editor for the Howard Books imprint of Simon and Schuster, Terry Whalin is also the author of more than 60 nonfiction books, including Book Proposals that $ell—which probably won’t do anyone submitting queries to him much good, since new fiction authors need completed manuscripts rather than proposals. Terry started “The Writing Life” in December 2004, with the injunction “If you have no publishing experience, then you need to make a conscious effort to get some publishing credits.” He does tend to plug his own books and services, but still offers a lot of useful information.

As blogging gains in popularity, you can expect to see more and more agents and editors online—though how they find time to blog in between handling all those queries, proposals, and manuscripts, I can’t imagine.

Originally written for Women’s Radio.

Get Them Hooked On Your Book

A hook is a one-line zinger that describes your book in a way that would let anyone’s grandmother in Topeka understand not just what the book is about but why she should buy it.

Without one, it’s very difficult to sell a book to a publisher. That’s because the editor your agent approaches at the publishing house has to sell the manuscript to her colleagues, and the publishing house has to sell it to the reader.

The author who has just cranked out a 75,000-word manuscript may have a hard time distilling the essence of that book into 25 words. (“Hard time” may be an understatement: if you could say it in 25 words, would you have written 75,000?) But without a hook, your book could languish unpublished on your hard drive.

So how do you create a hook? Enlist some help.

Method I

First, find five or six people who are familiar with the genre you’re writing in. Give them copies of your manuscript and ask them to complete the sentence “This book is in the tradition of…” with the names of the best-selling books or authors they think are most like yours.

You can also work on this exercise yourself. Is your book a cross between two bestsellers, or even two best-selling genres? Tee Morris describes his novel Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword as “The Lord of the Rings if Mickey Spillane had written it.”

Method II

Next, find some grandmothers in Topeka and ask them to read your manuscript. (Unless, of course, the grandmothers of Topeka are the experts in the area you’re writing in; the point is to find people who know next to nothing about your subject area.)

The feedback of the totally ignorant is helpful for many reasons. For one thing, if they don’t understand the book at all, it’s a sign that your book isn’t suited to a general audience. Some books (say an advanced physics text) aren’t aimed at the general public or meant for mass-market distribution—but those books don’t usually need a hook in the same way commercial books do. Unless you’re only selling to specialists, make your writing clear enough so anyone can understand it.

Don’t provide your test readers with any background about your book; the point is to get them to tell you what the book is about. Invite them to compare it with movies, TV shows, or other works of popular culture—the more popular, the better. Another good question to ask, particularly for nonfiction, is “What can people who read this book do that they couldn’t do before they read it?”

The Results

Your test readers may not describe your book in anything like the terms you would have used yourself. It’s also possible that no two of them will agree on which other books are most like yours.

If every single reader gets your book “wrong,” then you may want to take another look at the manuscript. (This is also true if every agent or editor who rejects it mentions the same problem.) If one or two people completely misunderstand what you meant but the rest seem to “get it,” don’t worry about the discrepancies.

Distilling

It’s possible that among your test readers you had a brilliant guinea pig who came up with an absolutely perfect hook. If so—congratulations: you’re ready to go. But even if you don’t think any of the descriptions or comparisons you got back is exactly right, you have something to work with. You can look at what you’ve gotten and say “No, it’s not like Lord of the Rings, it’s more like Narnia” (to extend Tee’s metaphor a bit further). Or even, “It’s not like Lord of the Rings; it’s like The Da Vinci Code.”

When you have a hook you think will work, try it out on a few people and see how they react. If the response isn’t “Wow, that’s interesting, tell me more!” (or better yet “I need that book!”), brainstorm about how you can refine it.

When you come up with a line with the impact of a left hook to the jaw and the effect of a grappling hook pulling potential readers in, you’re ready to go fishing for publishers.

Keys to Pitching: Why Publishers are Like Talk Show Hosts

Random House and Oprah Winfrey have more in common than you might think. Hopeful authors see both as the route to fame and fortune, and besiege them with proposals. And both publishers and the media reject—or even ignore—most of the pitches they get.

This isn’t just because proposals outnumber available TV segments (or publishing slots), either. Many would-be authors or talk show guests are “subject matter experts” but not media experts. In spite of having good book or show ideas, they deny editors and producers the chance to hit home runs for them by pitching wide of the plate.

Here are some tips to help you avoid striking out.

Do Your Homework
Unless you want to be classed with telemarketers who try to sell replacement windows to people who don’t own their homes, you need to find out as much as you can about the agent, editor, reporter, or producer you’re planning to approach. If the agent doesn’t handle science fiction, sending your Star Wars-meets-Harry Potter novel can only end it rejection. If the publisher doesn’t accept unagented submissions, an unsolicited manuscript will land directly in the recycling bin. If your story isn’t the kind of thing Oprah Winfrey’s audience likes, your chances of getting on the show are nil.

Before you approach anyone in the media, make sure you listen to or watch the show or read the reporter’s columns. That way you’ll know which topics are appropriate. The same holds true for publishing houses and literary agents. Don’t just send blanket submissions to everyone whose address you can find. Read other books produced by the house; find out which authors the agent represents. Otherwise the people whose good will you depend on for success will see you as an amateur—or worse, an annoyance.

Follow the Directions
Submission guidelines exist for a reason. Ignore them at your peril. If the publisher wants three sample chapters and you only send one, you’re undermining your chances for success, particularly if it’s a first book and you’re not an international celebrity. If the agent asks for unbound manuscripts and you send yours with a spiral binding, you’re just making the agent’s job harder. (That manuscript has to get photocopied so it can go to multiple publishers.) TV producers who insist on videos want to make sure that you’ll come across well on television.

Find out what format the publisher or producer wants, and send your pitch in that form. This is easier if you’ve done your homework to start with, rather than assembled a fancy print press kit only to discover later that Jay Leno wants an e-mail cover letter and a VHS tape, or that ever since the anthrax scare Oprah only accepts queries through her website.

Because they get so many submissions every day, most of the people you’re pitching to don’t have time to read anything that’s in the wrong format. They need to disqualify inappropriate material as quickly as possible. Send the wrong thing and your package will land in the recycling bin less than six seconds after it hits the editor’s desk.

Become Mediagenic
If you’re already an international celebrity, you’ve got this one down. Otherwise, consider some media coaching. Even experienced platform speakers sometimes need practice with their interview skills. Publishers view marketing as the author’s real job (writing is secondary), so they look more favorably at proposals from those who already have media experience and connections. You don’t have to rush out and get plastic surgery or replace your entire wardrobe, but you do need to learn to speak in sound bites.

Show Them What You Can Do for Them
Talk-show hosts are not in business to boost your career. They’re after top ratings, and they get those by providing exciting, interesting, and helpful stories to their viewers and listeners. Focus your pitch on what you can provide the audience and how you can make the show’s host look good. Does your story respond to a crisis or deal with a perennial problem like weight loss or divorce? Can you show the audience how to achieve business or personal success in the five or six minutes you’ll get on the air? Can you answer burning questions?

These are all things your book will need to do for its readership, so when you prepare your book proposal, you’ll want to hit many of the same points. What demonstrable need does your book fill? Why will people want to buy the book? It’s really the same question as why people will want to watch a TV show with you as a guest.

Know Your Stuff
Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions about your topic. The more expert you appear, the more likely the media is to come back to you for future stories. And think how much better it will look to publishers if you can say that you’re a frequent guest on radio and television shows. You don’t have to know about everything, but you have to know your subject well and to know what to do if someone asks you a question you can’t answer.

Don’t stop learning when the first book is finished, either. Publishers like series authors, because they’ll make more money on the spin-offs and sequels than they do on the first book.

The Big Difference
The only important difference between pitching publishers (or agents) and pitching to the media is that the media doesn’t want to hear about your book. When you pitch to the media, you’re pitching a story, and your book or other products and services are just part of your credentials. When you’re pitching to a publisher, your book is the star.

Note—this post is only slightly edited from Susan’s original e-mail advertisement. I’ve signed up, and would encourage anyone who’s planning on writing a book to do so as well.

Join Susan Harrow, author of the new e-book Get a Six Figure Book Advance, and ghostwriter Mahesh Grossman on Thursday, 4 August for a free teleclass.

You’ll learn how to:

* Develop an irresistible platform.
* Create a publicity plan that will wow! editors.
* Entice agents to pursue you.
* Avoid the pet peeves of editors at the major New York publishing houses.
* Use strategies to create an auction so your book sells to the highest bidder.

When: Thursday, August 4
4:30pm PT, 5:30pm MT, 6:30pm CT 7:30pm ET, and 12:30pm UK No cost
1 hour

To register send a blank email to:
oprah-118104@autocontactor.com

IMPORTANT: You will get a response with all the information you need to join the class when you register by using the above email address. As this response comes from an autoresponder you must allow an email from: newslettereditor@prsecrets.com. Please whitelist or add this email address to your address book ASAP or you will NOT receive this information.