Pitching Books: Selling Kids and Their Peers on Reading

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SWBAT pitch books using strategies from Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human"

Big Idea

We're all selling something, whether ideas or products.

Pitching the Lesson

5 minutes

I begin the lesson by telling students that last year I read Daniel Pink's book To Sell is Human and that in the book Pink tells us "we're all in sales." By that he means that we're in the business of selling ideas. Pink, I tell students, offers six ways to "pitch" ideas. After reading Pink's book, I decided to use his ideas as the basis for a lesson idea for "pitching books." 

Then I show students the blog post I wrote about the book and tell students that Stenhouse Publishing picked up my blog post and published it in their newsletter. From there, the blog post found its way to Pink, who retweeted it to his over 250,000 Twitter followers. Tweet Image shows the Daniel Pink tweet mentioning my blog post.

My students would be more impressed if they actually knew who Pink is, but that's okay. Many will discover his brilliance in time. 

Next, I tell students to get out a piece of paper, and I'll walk them through the construction of their book pitches. 

I use the document Book Pitches to show students Pink's approach to the pitches. I use both these and examples for a book to teach students how to pitch books. 

Finally, I discovered a fabulous visual book review of Pink's book that inspires me to consider other ways of pitching books and which offers a nifty introduction to the book for those unfamiliar with it: To Sell is Human Visual Book Review.mp4

Pitching the Pitches

30 minutes

The first pitch is the One-word Pitch. As an example, I share with students the pitch I wrote for Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, a YA novel.

  • One-word Pitch: Freedom

I give students a couple of minutes to encapsulate their book into one word. 

Next, we move on to the Question Pitch. Again, I share with students my example:

  • Question Pitch: What would you do if you were accused of being an enemy combatant or a terrorist? 

Again, I allow a few minutes for students to compose their question pitches.

We then move on to the third pitch, which is the Rhyming Pitch. Since we don't all have devices on which to connect to the internet, would allow us to connect to the Rhyme Zone website, I make this pitch optional, but I share the rhyming pitch I wrote with students. 

  • Rhyming Pitch: Whether terrorist or combatant, teens so labeled are no longer by The Constitution enabled. 

Then we move on to the Subject-Line Pitch. I explain to students that this pitch is modeled on the subject tag in an email and that our goal is to get the recipient to open the email, which is no easy task. Once more, I share my subject-line pitch, which, again, is based on Little Brother.

  • 12-year-old labeled terrorist turns tables on government agency.

The fifth pitch is the Twitter Pitch. This, I tell students, must adhere to Twitter's 140 character limit, including hash-tags, which I tell students they must include. I read my Twitter pitch and explain to students that it needs a rewrite because there is a dangling phrase. 

  • Little Brother: Teen hacker Marcus is accused of terrorism when bomb explodes Bay Bridge & jailed at Gitmo by Bay w/out legal rights #titletalk #engchat

I tell students that #titletalk is a monthly discussion for sharing and discussing book titles and that #engchat is a Twitter chat each Monday evening. 

Lastly, we move on to the Pixar Pitch. In his book, Pink talks about Pixar's requirement that all project pitches to them follow the formula. Before reading my pitch to students, I share the formula for writing a Pixar pitch and tell them that they must follow this format in composing their Pixar pitches.

  • Once upon a time _______________________. Every day, _________________. One day _____________________. Because of that, _________________. Because of that, _______________. Until finally ________________.

Then I share my Pixar pitch with students: 

  • Pixar Pitch: Once upon a time, Marcus, a seventeen-year-old high school student, regularly hacked into his school’s security system so that he could override it and, thereby, manage to slip out of school undetected by the administration during the day. Every day, Marcus manipulated the school’s computer system and incurred the wrath of the assistant principal who was determined to “bring him down.” One day Marcus and some friends hacked the system and traveled to downtown San Francisco for an event, but the Bay Bridge exploded just as they entered the subway, causing them to reverse course and head back up to the street against the flow of bodies. Because of that, the authorities working with Homeland Security determined that Marcus and his friends bombed the bridge and arrested them as enemy-combatants. Because of that, Marcus was tortured and detained without legal representations on Gitmo by the Bay. Until finally he and his accusers came to a final reckoning, which I shall not reveal to avoid spoiling the novel for future readers.

I tell students they have 10-15 minutes to complete their pitches. I set the timer for 10 minutes. 




Pair and Pitch: Working Through the Rotation

15 minutes

Since composing book pitches is about sharing our reading lives with one another, I give students 15 minutes to pair and share their pitches with one another. I tell them to keep their papers and to verbally share because like the "elevator pitch" of "Mad Men," selling often requires us to use our voices.

At this point, I need to explain "elevator pitch" to students as it is an unfamiliar idea to many. I tell them that often the length of an elevator ride is all the time one has to get someone to listen to a sells pitch. I hear some say, "ah!"

When given choices, students choose from an amazing array of genres, from the classics to books with co-writers. One student chose one of my favorite Jane Austin books to pitch: "Sense and Sensibility" Book Pitches. Another student chose a book from the popular Mortal Instruments series: "City of Bones" Book Pitches. Still, another student, who has a football scholarship, read Merrill Hoge's (former pro football player) book, probably because Hoge graduated from our school and has a nephew who has committed to play football for Notre Dame: "Find a Way" Book Pitches

These three students demonstrate how pitching books works for many genres, from the classics to YA dystopian literature to nonfiction penned with a co-author.