Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Selling Yourself With A Sound Bite by Deborah Blumenthal

           You’ve sold your book and pub date is approaching. What do your friends and fans want to know?
What’s it about?
Can you answer in a sound bite?
If not, you’re selling yourself short, some marketers say.
With the March 1 pub date of my latest young adult novel, THE LIFEGUARD, approaching, I Googled sound bites and bingo, Susan Harrow, a sound bite guru. 
(And no, I’m not connected to her financially, and we’ve never met.)  An edited version of her article is below. Then comes our online exchange, because how could I resist picking her brain to help boost my marketing savvy?  

Sound Bites for Authors
By Susan Harrow

If you think sound bites are just for the sleazy and slick, you’re missing out.
In today’s world, where people’s attention spans are the size of a tweet, sound bites can make or break a deal, a sale, or even a casual encounter. Authors need to be at the sound bite ready in every situation—because you can make a connection anywhere with anyone at any time that could result in a life-changing shift.

I was reminded of the importance of sound bites on a recent call with an author who became a client. She nattered on and on in her emails writing me several detailed pages before we even set up an appointment to see if we were a match. Not a good strategy. I took her on because she really has something to say to the world—she just takes way too long to say it. That’s why she hired me.

On our initial call I had to corral her over and over again in order to discover what her book was about. It wasn’t easy or fun. This is something that I should have been able to discover in 20 seconds. She was about to embark on a book tour so we had much work to be done before her book published.

Your audience wants to have a good time with you. It’s your job to deliver only the information they need to know at that instant—and deliver it in a concise, entertaining and elegant way.

Being able to get to the essentials of who you are, why you do what you do, and what your book is about, is critical. To whittle your words into sound bites takes practice. Lots of it. But once you master this kind of messaging you can use it across all mediums from your social networks, to a media interview, to a chat in line to get the latest iPhone.

The problem isn’t that authors don’t have plenty to say—it’s that they have too much—and they have no idea how to organize their thoughts or content into tightly crafted meaningful messages that leaves their audiences begging for more. It’s like taking Tolstoy’s War and Peace and turning it into Haiku. It’s a huge task and one that is best done with a sound bite buddy or media coach.

To get into the habit of speaking in sound bites before your book tour—or before you talk to a literary agent about taking you on as a client, I suggest that you create at least six sound bites using the following formulas (each of which is accompanied by an example).

Story of Origin: Kristen Scheurlein left a multi-million-dollar business as a graphic designer to become what she calls The Blanket Lady.
“I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur, but it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a shoemaker. In the Depression, he saw that many people couldn’t afford shoes. He traded chickens for shoes to make sure that none of the children in the village went shoeless. I didn’t realize that I was following in his footsteps when I began my business, which will become a complete non-profit in five years, but I am. We give away blankets to churches, charities, homeless. In essence, I’m trading chickens for shoes.”

Statistics Connected to Your Book or What You Do: Self-employed people, whose numbers continue to grow, have almost doubled since 1980 to over 17 million. One of the biggest challenges of the self-employed is the lack of structure and accountability to follow through on important tasks. Many complain that they feel like they are “all alone” in their business lives. Extreme Success gives self-employed people ways to develop the support they need and proven strategies to stay focused and effective on their most important goals.

Fact: 100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.~Wayne Gretzky
Vignette: Baby shoes for sale. Never been worn. ~Ernest Hemingway
Anecdote: I am walking down the street in Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in the lower sixties, women with shopping bags on all sides. I realize with some horror that for the last fifteen blocks I have been counting how many women have better and how many women have worse figures than I do. Did I say fifteen blocks? I meant fifteen years.~Pam Houston

Analogy: Driving down Hollywood Boulevard is like riding through a sewer in a glass-bottom boat. ~Author unknown
Aphorism: A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses. ~Chinese Proverb.
Acronym: F.A.S.T. Fix American Schools Today.
Through training and practice you move these key phrases into the conversations you have at networking events, with potential clients, buyers of your book, the media, and anyone who you want to give an experience of who you are and what your book is about. It’s important to be prepared for any personal and professional opportunity that comes your way, which can happen at any time.

Me picking Susan’s brain:

In blog interviews I've been answering the question, "Tell us a little about your book?" this way:  

The Lifeguard  is my new young adult novel about 16-year-old Sirena Shane who is sent off to spend the summer at the Rhode Island shore with her Aunt Ellie, because her parents, at home in Texas, are going through a difficult divorce.

It’s a summer that will transform her life – forever. 

She moves into a beach house filled with ghosts, falls hard for a mysterious lifeguard with extraordinary looks and mysterious healing powers, and meets an 80-year old Brazilian artist and shaman who bequeaths her an unusual gift

How am I doing? Any suggestions for adding more sizzle to my answer?

Susan: Let's work on a different question. One that 99% of interviewers ask. Why did you write your book?

I remember growing up and always eyeing the good looking lifeguards at the local beaches, so I thought it would be interesting to add a girl who was in a very vulnerable state – because her parents were getting divorced  -- and then taking the life-saving abilities of my lifeguard one step further and into another dimension by giving him magical healing powers.   (Too long winded?)

Susan: No, actually it needs more depth and description.  Can you be more concrete, enticing and compelling. Can you develop it more? Make it more personal? Why was this important to you? Are you sharing any lessons for girls? This first sound bite is your foundational sound bite that sets the tone for the whole interview and hooks the audience and makes them want to hear more.

My rewrite: I remember being a tall, skinny, unpopular 16-year-old eyeing the ripped, blond gods on the beaches during summer vacation, so half a lifetime later I thought it would be  interesting to explore what happened when a young, girl in a vulnerable state - because her parents were getting divorced - meets a lifeguard who not only pulls people out of the ocean, but also has magical healing powers. How would she react to him? How would he change her life?    (Better?)

Susan: Yes. And. Why would your audience want to read it? What are you going to give them that no one else can? How have you transformed? Can you tell of one time when you saw the ripped blond gods had a big impact on you? Some kind of wish or aha moment?

Why would your audience want to read it?

The Lifeguard is a summer book that transports readers into a new world of  infatuation, first love, and the mysteries of shamanic healing, with some ghosts and mysteries along the way.   

What are you going to give them that no one else can?

 I’ve always been fascinated by stories of the healing powers of shamanic figures from different parts of the world and I think this book combines some of that power and mystery along with romance.

How have you transformed?

The book is about both the transformative powers of art and the mysterious powers of healing.

Can you tell of one time when you saw the ripped blond gods had a big impact on you? Some kind of wish or aha moment?

I wish I could say that some blond god swooned over me, but alas, that isn’t the case. One time my friend and I approached two lifeguards after she cut her foot on the beach.  They were totally unsympathetic. “Sand will help coagulate the blood,” one of them said.
So much for fantasy.

Susan Harrow is an influential media coach, marketing strategist and author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul (HarperCollins). You can learn to speak in sound bites to get what you want in business and in life from her self-paced online course here: http://prsecrets.com/soundbites_course.html


  1. Thanks for sharing the tips, Susan--really helpful!

  2. Fascinating. Lot's of food for thought.

  3. The tips are great, and the samples put them into perspective. Thanks for an insightful article.

  4. A post I really needed to read. Thanks for the information...I tend to blather on and on and on....