Ten tips for pitching your book to newspaper or magazine editors

By Patti Thorn

If you’re looking for publicity for your self-published book, chances are you’ve considered phoning or emailing the editor of a newspaper, magazine or online publication and suggesting an interview. But editors are a touchy lot, and the wrong approach can kill the deal before it’s even on the table. Don’t go in without some know-how.

Here are 10 tips for self-publishing authors from someone who sat in the editor’s seat at a major daily newspaper for 17 years:

1. Don’t try to be chit-chatty with an editor. Editors are busy people. They are managing a staff of reporters, following the day’s breaking events, fielding dozens of emails, working with artists and designers and, amidst all this, trying to, well, edit. They don’t want to get to know you — unless you have something that can help them do their jobs. Keep your pitch short and professional — and don’t overplay the story. (I once knew a publicist who would call up every time with the same pitch, “Patti, have I got a story for you!” After a while, every time I heard this pitch, it was like nails on a blackboard. I kept thinking to myself, “Well, I’ll be the judge of THAT!”

2. Don’t send long, drawn-out emails. See point no. 1. The long email is akin to the person on the phone who seems to have all day to get their point across. In other words, an unwelcome intrusion. I can honestly say that I often screened emails simply from the initial three lines or so that showed up on my computer screen. I didn’t have time to click through and read each one. Make your best pitch in the subject line and the first few sentences, and keep the rest of the email as brief as possible.

3. Know the editor’s name and the section he or she edits. Not only are editors busy people, but the number of requests they get from the public tends to inflate their egos to the size of a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. They expect you to know who they are and what areas they cover. Do some research before you call; check the publication’s masthead, at the very least, in order to get the right person the first time.

4. If an editor asks for follow-up information, don’t delay. Not only are editors busy people, but did I mention they have egos the size of a float in the Macy’s parade? If they say jump, and you don’t say “how high?” they are likely to discount how seriously you want this story done and how much you’ll be willing to cooperate in order to make it happen. Equally important, editors don’t have time to call and remind you to send something you have promised to forward. Get on it the minute you hang up the phone.

5. Know what the publication has covered in the past — and don’t try to duplicate. Often, people see a story about their subject area and a lightbulb goes off: “Hey,” they think, “I could get a similar story written about my book!” Maybe. But chances are if a publication has thoroughly covered a certain subject recently, it isn’t going to run something similar until some time has passed. Beware of pitching an editor a story just like the one he/she just ran.

6. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but not often. OK, it’s true that every once in awhile, a person is so persistent that an editor will agree to assign a story, just to get that person out of his/her hair. But it’s just as true that when an editor senses a person is determined not to take “no” for an answer, that editor becomes equally determined to thwart them. Persistence is a virtue — until it’s not. If an editor has turned you down nicely several times, and you sense the tone in his/her voice is getting less accommodating and more annoyed, it’s time to back off. Editors are an independent lot. They don’t like anyone telling them what to do — least of all a random person pushing his book.

7. Flattery works. Mention how much you love the editor’s section. Tell that person about a column they recently wrote that you particularly enjoyed or a story they recently ran that was particularly intriguing. If you aren’t just blowing smoke — but can talk with actual knowledge, mentioning specific details — there’s nothing more enticing to an editor. (Remember those egos the size of Macy’s floats!) If an editor senses you are a true fan, he will go the extra mile to be as accommodating as possible.

8. Go ahead, send the book and don’t worry about the money. If you are pitching a story based on a book, don’t tell the editor you’ll send the book once she has considered the idea. Send the book right away, and let her know it’s on its way. Editors don’t have time to take that second step — and most likely won’t. Saving money this way is penny-wise and pound foolish.

9. Don’t try to manage the story. Editors like informed sources that can help their reporters do their jobs. They don’t like pushy people who want to know how the story will be played, what other sources will be included, what types of pictures will be used and so on. Offer your services, be as accommodating as possible and let the editor take it from there.

10. Don’t call every week, asking when the story will run. Editors expect you to read their publication routinely and assume you will know when the story runs because you will see it.

Patti Thorn was an assistant entertainment editor for 5 years and book review section editor for 12 years at the Rocky Mountain News. She is a co-founder of BlueInk Review.