Sound Bites for Authors

For the next nine days of Write Nonfiction in November, you’ve got to wear your writer’s hat while you work on your writing projects. But when you read this final series of blog posts, you must put on your business hat.

I know that’s not something writers like to do, but it’s a necessary part of become a successful writer—a published writer who sells books or any type of nonfiction work, such as articles or essays. It’s even necessary if you want to blog a book or monetize a blog. So, put on that business hat and make sure you don’t suffer from what Ted Koppel calls the MEGO factor (My Eyes Glaze Over).  This is important stuff.

First, Susan Harrow, media coach and marketing strategist extraordinaire, and author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul, tells us about sound bites, small messages we offer to the media as well as to potential readers (buyers), agents, acquisitions editors—anyone we meet—about ourselves and our work. When we can create a pitch, an elevator speech, or sound bites, we can effectively communicate our most important messages, and we can brand ourselves. Most writers don’t ever try to brand themselves, and if they do they do so too late.

So, read Susan’s guest blog post carefully and take her expert advice to heart. I’ve been a student in her classes and know her lessons work. Learn how to use sound bites and then go out and use them.

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.

While one of the participants in my sound bites course was waiting in line to buy an iPad 2 she sold over 250 books from the trunk of her car and closed a speaking engagement worth thousands of dollars. How? By speaking in sound bites in casual conversation.

You too can master speaking in sound bites to engage your ideal audience to buy your book, build your business, and create a lasting connection.

About the Author

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:


Don’t miss the final telesminar of this year’s WNFIN event on November 30th, “Content, Character & Connection: Becoming a Successful Writer in a Bottom-Up World,” with Michael Larsen.  To be register, click here.

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