Pitching in a Pandemic

I’ve read the New York Times article. It certainly doesn’t look great to be sending out media and sales pitches as if all were normal, and as much as I admire the work being done in the #booksareessential campaign, the image of someone holding a book up to their face to mimic a mask makes me a bit uncomfortable. Books are essential, but they are not N90 masks.

As a society in this pandemic, our hierarchy of needs has shifted. Physiological and safety needs are not a given; anyone who has had to go to five different stores to find toilet paper or has had to call the unemployment office for days on end can tell you this. I am telling you this.

To sit down and construct a publicity pitch feels utterly frivolous—more than usual. I love the work I do because I get to communicate with people every day about the books that Ooligan has created. I get to connect with media outlets and people who write stories that I admire and tell them a story of my own about our most recent title, yet right now I struggle to contextualize the necessity of the work I do in the wake of this pandemic. I am not an essential worker, but the books I am tasked with informing people about are still launching and I need to continue with my pitching.

So, after some long reflecting I came up with a few rules to live by in the weeks and months to come.

  1. Don’t act like all is normal. Address the person you are pitching with this in mind. Send them your best wishes and tell them to take care. If ever there was a time to truly personalize and value the human you are speaking to over email, now is it (but in all seriousness, you should be doing this outside of pandemics too). In times like this, small signs of caring can make a big impact.
  2. Be generous with follow up deadlines and emails. With everyone working from home, emails are piling up in inboxes. It is easy to lose track of those you have replied to and those waiting for a reply. We can’t possibly know what is going on in the world of the person who is receiving our email, so be kind when following up on requests.
  3. Avoid the typical pitch-writing techniques. Be clear and communicative about your goals. Speak to your shared interest and try to be helpful. For example, if you want your book on a listicle or gift guide, help the media outlet you are pitching by having something already prepared. Work right now is stressful for everyone, and if you are being helpful the chances of your email being welcomed are greatly improved.

And please remember that books are essential, but they aren’t the essentials. Books can give comfort in difficult times and allow for us to feel connected when environmental factors like this pandemic keep us apart, but they do not usurp safety and health. Avoid hyperbole and do not overstate the importance of your book. There will be many days in the future for that!