We were honored to speak with Jeff Haden for this week’s installment of our “Five Questions with…” series. Jeff is columnist for both the print and online editions of Inc. He is also a LinkedIn Influencer, a ghostwriter, and a speaker.
I have long been a fan of Jeff’s writing (particularly his Inc. column), so I was thrilled when he agreed to speak to me for the series. Here is what he had to say about books, pitches, and working with publicists.
1. What is your biggest publicist pet peeve?
Boilerplate pitches. The press releases that accompany books may be ever so slightly helpful if I decide to write about the book… but they do nothing to get me interested in the book. Neither do the boilerplate emails that are usually just summaries of the larger press release.
I don’t write about a lot of books, and when I do, I don’t do book reviews. I pick out something actionable/useful/helpful to entrepreneurs, feature that, and hopefully my readers will think, “Hey, that was pretty awesome… I need to check out the book.” While some authors wish I would just do straight-up reviews, that’s short sighted, because articles with useful information get a lot more play. (Plus I stink at writing book reviews.)
Know what I’ve done recently. It’s easy to think, “Hey, he recently wrote about mission statements… I should pitch a book that includes helping companies develop their mission statements!” Nope. I just wrote about mission statements. I’m good for the next year or so. Don’t assume one article indicates an abiding fascination with a particular topic.
On the other hand, feel free to pitch if you aren’t a member of the choir I just preached to. Different points of view catch my attention; same old same old does not.
And while I know it requires a little work, know my interests. You certainly don’t need to know I enjoy late-night walks on the beach. (Hey, who doesn’t?) But skim a few posts and you’ll know I like fitness, like personal productivity, like performance improvement, and am always up for new takes on leadership.
So if you really want to attract my attention, don’t use the tried-but-in-no-way-true “mention something the writer recently wrote about and how you really enjoyed it” approach. Instead put your effort into finding an angle that may appeal to my interests. If you can’t be bothered to do that you don’t really want press – at least not from me.
2. What gets your attention in a pitch?
Short, sweet, to the point, and in my wheelhouse.
I got one recently that said, “Here are ways to have the conversations everyone else avoids.” That’s literally all it said (other than an author bio.)
That’s perfect for me. I know it sounds odd but when I’m onstage at a speaking engagement I don’t lack for confidence; otherwise I’m shy, tend to avoid confrontation, am a little insecure, especially around people I don’t know well … and if you read any of my stuff you pretty much know all that.
So, saying, “Hey, here’s one that’s right up your alley,” and then backing that up with a sentence or two that proves it’s right up my alley is all you need to do.
For me, less is definitely more. Give me too much to read and I won’t read any of it. So don’t pack a lot of stuff in hoping that something will catch my attention… because that ensures nothing will.
3. What causes you to pull a book out of the stack?
I leaf through every book I receive. I want to find something I can use. I write 15-20 columns a month for the website, one a month for the magazine, and five or six a month for LinkedIn Today, so I’m always looking for great material.
Unfortunately, at least at first glance, many of them seem like same stuff, different day.
But I always look. I feel I owe it to every author who puts him or herself out there by writing a book.
4. You regularly offer readers career and productivity hacks, but you also write quite a bit about kindness, gratitude and happiness (one of the reasons I love your column). Why do these topics get so much ink in your column?
We all want to be happier. We all would like to be kinder and more grateful for what we have. Those topics are universal.
So while we can’t all benefit from reading about, say, social media strategies, we can all benefit from learning simple techniques that improve our lives or the lives of people we care about.
Plus I’m always fascinated by the inner lives and journeys of entrepreneurs. Nuts and bolts are interesting, but feelings and motivations and goals and dreams, all the things that make us people, that stuff is enthralling.
Bottom line, we can’t all be wealthier but we can all be kinder and happier.
5. What is the best business book you’ve read lately?
Ditch the Pitch by Steve Yastrow is great. While theoretically “just” a sales book it delves into understanding people and their real needs and interests so you can make a genuine connection.
Everyone gets hung up on perfecting their elevator pitches, but at its heart business is two people coming together and extending trust. Steve does a nice job of showing how, if you want to influence and persuade, you don’t have to become a different person… you just need to adapt to those around you and let who you really are shine through.
Another is Confidence by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. Most advice regarding confidence can be summed up as, “Tell yourself over and over: ‘I’m awesome! I’m awesome!’” Of course that doesn’t work. Confidence is built, not adopted, and Tomas explains how anyone can become more confident.
It doesn’t hurt that I’m shy and insecure. Like I said, speak to my interests and I’m a fairly easy pitch.