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One key to becoming a bestselling author is the selling. And one element of sales is the sales pitch. Sometimes authors think pitches are only for traditional authors pitching agents at writers conferences. But you use your sales pitch whenever you talk to someone about your book. 

You might pitch your book in person, online, on the radio, on the back cover of your book, or on TV. Your sales pitch convinces readers to care about and read your book. The stronger your pitch, the better your sales. 

I’ve talked a lot about pitching novels in the past. This is the Novel Marketing Podcast, after all. But how do you pitch a nonfiction book? There is a powerful recipe for pitching nonfiction that works so well that it can even work for fiction. 

You can download the companion 8-page worksheet below. Filling out the worksheet will help you prep your nonfiction pitch, and signing up to receive it will get you on the Author Media email list, which gives you access to our popular email newsletter. 

I will present this recipe as if you are writing a nonfiction book, but I want you to think about applying it to your fiction. At the end, I’ll explain how to apply it to fiction, but I want you to try to unlock it for your book on your own before you get to the end of the episode. 

Step 1: Prep the Pitch

Before you can cook, you must clean the kitchen and acquire the ingredients. Your preparation makes the cooking easier.

The same principle applies to prepping your nonfiction pitch. Before cooking up a pitch, we need to prep the ingredients. 

Consider the answers to the following questions as key ingredients you will need to prepare before you create your pitch.

Look at Your Timothy 

  • Who is your Timothy?
  • What are his frustrations related to your topic?
  • What is he curious about?
  • What is his primary pain (physical, financial, psychological, spiritual, etc.) related to your topic?

For more on learning about your target reader, whom I call Timothy, listen to How to Find Your Timothy.  

Below, I will demonstrate these steps based on the perennial bestseller What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Affiliate Link). For the sake of the subject matter, we’ll name our target reader Elizabeth instead of Timothy.

Who is Timothy? 

Elizabeth just found out she is pregnant with her first child. 

What are his frustrations related to your topic? 

Elizabeth is frustrated and overwhelmed by the amount of contradictory advice for pregnant women. 

What is he curious about?

She is curious about nutrition, the development of her baby, and how her body changes during pregnancy. 

What is his primary pain (physical, financial, psychological, spiritual, etc.) related to your topic?

She is scared because she doesn’t know what to expect. 

Look at Your Book

Answer the following questions about your book:

  • How does it address the pain?
  • Why should Timothy read this book rather than similar books? 
  • How is your book unique? 

How does it address the pain? 

This book will show Elizabeth what to expect while expecting a baby.

Why should Timothy read this book rather than similar books? 

Everything in this book is based on the latest scientific research and has been reviewed by OBGYNs. The top OBGYNs in the country recommend this book. 

How is your book unique? 

This book covers everything, with a chapter on each month of pregnancy. But the best part is the question-and-answer format in each chapter. Readers can quickly find their questions and the corresponding answers. 

Example: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Affiliate Link)

Look at Your Competition

Evaluate other books in your genre that are addressing the same topic:

  • Why are they successful? 
  • What are they missing?
  • What does your book do better?

Example: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Affiliate Link)

Why are they successful? 

There is a massive demand for this kind of information. Women get pregnant every day, and all of them want to know what to expect. 

What are they missing?

The other books on the market are either too academic or too anecdotal. 

What does your book do better?

This book combines the latest scientific discoveries with a format that is easy to reference and a friendly conversational tone. 

Look at Yourself 

Example: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Affiliate Link)

Why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?

I’m a mom and an OBGYN who has helped thousands of women through pregnancy. 

What is your unfair advantage in writing this book?

I’m great at making complex topics easy to understand. I also understand that expectant mothers want more reassurance than knowledge.

Step 2: Write Your Hook, Credibility, and Benefits

Hook

Begin your nonfiction pitch with a powerful hook to catch readers’ attention in a noisy world.  

Your hook could be a: 

  • provocative question 
  • a surprising fact
  • a bold claim

The goal of the hook is to shock Broca. To learn how to shock Broca, check out my episode on How to Get a Reader’s Attention by Shocking Broca.

Credibility

Your credibility is your answer to the question, “Why should we listen to you on this topic?” 

Internal Credibility

Generally, tangible results are the best credibility. Results prove you know what you are talking about and can help the reader.

Surprisingly, academic degrees are the worst form of credibility. There are thousands of PhDs in your field, and most will never write a successful book on your topic. Many readers assume that PhDs are too academic to be helpful. Academics have knowledge, but they rarely convey it in a way that is easily digested. 

Some authors exclude the PhD from their name on the book because they don’t want readers to think their book is academic.

External Credibility

You can demonstrate external credibility by using the journalistic approach. Instead of being an expert yourself, you rely on interviews with others to gain credibility. 

For more on establishing your credibility, check out my episode on How to Become a Big Name Author (Marketing Psychology: Authority).

Benefits

One of the classic blunders in marketing is to sell features rather than benefits. For example, you could talk about how “this oven uses convection to cook food faster.” Or you could call it an “air fryer” that uses air to “fry” things without using oil. A convection oven and an air fryer are the same product, but one name focuses on features (convection), and the other focuses on benefits (frying without oil!).

When you talk about your book, make it an air fryer and not a convection oven.

Some Features That Don’t Matter

  • Topic: There are 100 other books in your same category on Amazon.
  • Page Count: Unless it’s short.
  • How long the author spent writing the book: Readers don’t care how the sausage is made. 
  • Endnotes/Footnotes: Most readers ignore these. There are good reasons to include them, but they don’t matter for marketing. 
  • Author’s unrelated background: The fact you are a hot air balloon pilot is cool, but it doesn’t make your book about business management more appealing.  

What should you focus on? That depends on the book.

To identify the benefits to the reader, answer these questions:

  • What pains/fears/frustrations does your book alleviate?
  • How does your book make gaining the desired knowledge easy?
  • How does your book make someone’s life better?
  • How does your book save your reader time/money/pain/frustration?

For more on finding the reader benefits of your book, check out my episode titled Marketing 101: How to Create a Value Proposition for Your Book.

Step 3: Write the Core Pitch

Now that you have set the hook, it’s time to get to the core of your pitch. Most nonfiction pitches fit into one of the following four pitch formats. 

Format #1: Overcomer Pitch 

Format: 

“I was a sad loser, but then I learned to become a winner. If you read this book, you can learn how to become a winner too.”

Example: Can’t Hurt Me (Affiliate Link)

I was a loser.

For David Goggins, childhood was a nightmare — poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse colored his days and haunted his nights. But through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work, Goggins transformed himself from a depressed, overweight young man with no future into a U.S. Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes. 

I became a winner.

The only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him “The Fittest (Real) Man in America.”

You can too.

In Can’t Hurt Me, he shares his astonishing life story and reveals that most of us tap into only 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this The 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential. 

Credibility 

  • New York Times Best Seller
  • 5 million copies sold

Format #2: Problem Cause Solution

The problem-cause-solution format is the classic formulation. 

Format: 

“There is a big problem. It is causing you pain, and you are not alone in that pain. The good news is that there is a solution to that problem, and this book will show you the way.”

Example: Slow Productivity (Affiliate Link)

Problem / Hook

Our current definition of “productivity” is broken. It pushes us to treat busyness as a proxy for useful effort, leading to impossibly lengthy task lists and ceaseless meetings. 

Cause

We’re overwhelmed by all we have to do and on the edge of burnout, left to decide between giving into soul-sapping hustle culture or rejecting ambition altogether. But are these really our only choices?

Long before the arrival of pinging inboxes and clogged schedules, history’s most creative and impactful philosophers, scientists, artists, and writers mastered the art of producing valuable work with staying power.

Solution

In this timely and provocative book, Cal Newport harnesses the wisdom of these traditional knowledge workers to radically transform our modern jobs. Drawing from deep research on the habits and mindsets of a varied cast of storied thinkers–from Galileo and Isaac Newton to Jane Austen and Georgia O’Keefe–Newport lays out the key principles of “slow productivity,” a more sustainable alternative to the aimless overwhelm that defines our current moment. Combining cultural criticism with systematic pragmatism, Newport deconstructs the absurdities inherent in standard notions of productivity and then provides step-by-step advice for cultivating a slower, more humane alternative.

Format #3: Dream to Reality

This is the inverse of the problem-cause-solution pitch in that it opens with the solution rather than the problem. 

Format: 

“Do you want to be a winner? You can! This book will show you how.”

Example: Never Split the Difference (Affiliate Link)

Hook/Dream

A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations—whether in the boardroom or at home.

Credibility 

After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. 

Reality

Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles—counterintuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.

Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, deliberating with your partner. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion.

Note: I pulled this description from the Amazon page, so you’ll notice they’ve used a lot of keywords to help potential readers find this book. However, if you’re giving this pitch in person, you don’t have to stuff it full of keywords.

Format #4: Curiosity to Realization

“Here is a curious thing. How is that thing? Why is that thing? Read this book, and you will learn about this thing.”

This pitch will cover any kind of historical or nonfiction narrative books, but it can also cover current events.

Example: Bad Therapy (Affiliate Link)

Hook 

In virtually every way that can be measured, Gen Z’s mental health is worse than that of previous generations. Youth suicide rates are climbing, antidepressant prescriptions for children are common, and the proliferation of mental health diagnoses has not helped the staggering number of kids who are lonely, lost, sad, and fearful of growing up. What’s gone wrong with America’s youth?

Here is a curious thing.

“In Bad Therapy, bestselling investigative journalist Abigail Shrier argues that the problem isn’t the kids—it’s the mental health experts. 

Credibility 

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with child psychologists, parents, teachers, and young people, Shrier explores the ways the mental health industry has transformed the way we teach, treat, discipline, and even talk to our kids. She reveals that most of the therapeutic approaches have serious side effects and few proven benefits. 

Why is that thing?

Among her unsettling findings:

  • Talk therapy can induce rumination, trapping children in cycles of anxiety and depression
  • Social Emotional Learning handicaps our most vulnerable children, in both public schools and private
  • “Gentle parenting” can encourage emotional turbulence—even violence—in children as they lash out, desperate for an adult in charge

Mental health care can be lifesaving when properly applied to children with severe needs, but for the typical child, the cure can be worse than the disease.” 

Curiosity is the key to this formula. If you can make readers curious about your book, they will want to buy it.

Step 4: Add a Call to Action

At the end of your pitch, reiterate the value of your book and call readers to buy it. Give them one final hope that:

  • the pain can go away 
  • the problem can be solved
  • the dream can be achieved 
  • their itch of curiosity can be scratched

This could be as simple as saying, “Buy now to start learning/understanding/improving [whatever your book offers].” This is your chance to restate one of your benefits connected with the call to action.

Step 5: Put it All Together

Connect the hook, core, benefits, and call to action into one full pitch. Then, polish it to reduce repetitions and give it focus. Work on removing every unnecessary word. 

Example: Atomic Habits (affiliate link)

Hook

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Core

James Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, listeners will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

Benefits

Learn how to:

  • Make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy)
  • Overcome a lack of motivation and willpower
  • Design your environment to make success easier
  • Get back on track when you fall off course
  • And much more

Call to Action/Summary 

Atomic Habits (affiliate link) will reshape the way you think about progress and success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits – whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.

Step 6: Polish Your Pitch

Your pitch is written, but you are not finished. The next step is to refine and polish it. 

Get Feedback 

  • Ask your Timothy 
  • Ask fellow authors
  • Ask industry professionals

Get feedback on how your pitch can be refined. Since a pitch is only a few paragraphs long, it doesn’t take much work for someone to read it and share their feedback with you. 

After a round of revisions, it’s time to test your nonfiction pitch.

Test Your Nonfiction Pitch

  • Test your pitch with blog post titles
  • Test your pitch in email subjects
  • Test your pitch in Facebook ads
  • Test your pitch in person

With Facebook, you can create two different ads targeting the same group of people. Each uses a different element of the pitch or different wording. After a few days, see which ad gets more clicks. That will tell you which element or wording resonates more with your Timothy. 

The gold standard of testing is to test your pitch in person. Consider attending a book fair where you can test your nonfiction on readers in real life. You will quickly get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. For more on how to pitch in person, check out my episode on How to Sell Your Book In Person.

How to Make This Nonfiction Pitch Method Work for Fiction

Readers read fiction for “nonfiction” reasons. For example, Amish fiction gives readers a break from future shock. Fantasy makes people feel like they can slay dragons. Mystery provides the fun of solving puzzles and the comfort of knowing justice wins in the end. Once you identify the psychological motivation that brings readers to your genre, you can employ this pain-relief pitching technique. 

If you want help discovering why readers read your genre, check out my episode, The Psychological Reasons Readers Read Books. Once you understand why readers read, you can use any of the pitch formulations for your fiction book.

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