This summer I led a Tradeshow Bootcamp webinar on how to pitch stationery and gift products to Chronicle. Collaborating with independent artists and brands to develop gift products is the main part of my job as a senior acquisitions editor here, and one of my favorite things to do. Since artists often ask me questions about the best way to pitch us, I thought I’d share some advice here.
This post is all about pitching us art-driven gifts. For more information on pitching your book idea, check out this post. When I talk about gift product, this could be a blank journal, a guided journal with prompts, stationery and notecards, art or food or craft kits, games, temporary tattoos, punch-out animals, pop-up books, and basically whatever other kinds of gifts you can dream up.
They’re often paper based, but not always. They’re clever, package-driven things that have object quality. Gifts you would buy for friends and family. Things you’d discover in a museum gift shop or at your favorite boutique. We are always looking for new ideas and ways to expand our gift publishing into new formats that we’ve never made before.
Here are some things to consider before you pitch:
1. Research your competition.
Go to bookstores and your favorite gift shops and get to know the products in your category. Identify what you love about likeminded product. Make lists of what they offer so you can figure out what you can make that someone else hasn’t already. Also look online to see what reviewers say about your competition—maybe they’ll point to a missed opportunity you can seize.
2. Think about what value your product offers.
You want to focus on something that makes sense for your brand and is what your fan base has come to expect from you. But also think about what value your product offers and how that presents a need to buy. Why would someone (who doesn’t know and adore you) buy this? Of course we all love beautiful stationery, but how much beautiful stationery can one person purchase? What will make yours stand out and feel essential to a consumer? I would encourage you to think about content concepts to add to your artwork. Can there be a function or interaction to the product? What does the consumer get from it? A consumer is likely going to invest in something they can refer back to again and again, something that fills a need they had, something that makes them laugh (more than once), or something that has an irresistible object quality they can put proudly on display.
3. Target a specific consumer.
This is potentially most important: think about who specifically will buy your product. Beyond making something just pretty or cute or clever, can you come up with illustrations or content that more specifically targets a type of person or a gift-giving occasion? Go so far as to typecast your consumer: the Francophile who buys everything about Paris, the word nerd who loves literary themes, or the graphic designer who’s obsessed with all things typographic. Your product should overtly appeal to a type of person who will pick it up and know they have to have it—or they’ll pick it up and immediately know the Francophile or word nerd in their life to gift it to. It’s a crowded market and we have to feel we really understand and can reach the intended audience in order to commit to a project.
4. Quantify your target audience and your following.
Give us a sense of who will come to this product. While we like you to quantify your target audience, not all 85 million moms in America are going to buy your business planner for moms. Think about your realistic ability to reach potential consumers. For example, “the 20K people who read my blog and follow me on Twitter, especially entrepreneurial, crafty women who have left their full time jobs and want to feel fulfilled creatively.”
5. Pitch one specific idea rather than many undeveloped proposals.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had 10 good ideas all at once. Pick your best idea it and polish it into a cohesive, thoughtful pitch. Because it’s OK if your idea isn’t perfect. If it’s well thought through and nicely presented, I’ll encourage you in a direction that might be a better fit for our list. And please don’t just send me a link to your site or portfolio saying you’d love to work together; spend the time to think about and pitch the idea you think makes sense for Chronicle’s list. (To that end, definitely spend time on our site to familiarize yourself with the formats we publish, what we’ve made recently, and what our bestsellers are.)
6. The more visuals the better.
Since we’re talking about art-driven gift products and you’re an artist or designer, I would hope your proposal would be chock full of compelling visuals. You don’t have to have the product fully realized. Sketches plus visuals of existing work go a long way in conveying your look and concept. And mock it up if you can! We’ll be thinking a lot about how well something will merchandise in store, so we love seeing prototypes. Some successful pitches have taken an existing product of ours and wrapped their visuals around the physical package or digitally mocked up their artwork on top of the format—that’s showing me you know our list and understand how your product could happily exist in formats we know how to produce. Thinking in 3D is a wonderful way to communicate your idea’s object quality. Ultimately your editor will pitch your product to a larger group who weighs in on the acquisition decision, so the more compelling visual ammunition you provide, the better.
7. Keep it simple. No glitter bombs.
I like to get a single PDF that I can easily print out. Or, a package in the mail with samples and/or prototypes—as long as it won’t explode with glitter when I open it. The PDF or package should convey your aesthetic and your tone so it feels uniquely you. Succinctly explain what the product is. (Imagining the few lines of copy that would print on the package or in our catalog might help.) Think of your proposal as writing a formal business letter meets email to your best friend. Editors at Chronicle gets tons of proposals each week. So yours should stand out both in concept, but also in tone. Make me feel like what it would feel like to walk into your studio. If your products will be funny, be funny in the proposal. If it’s serene and sweet, include visuals and language that convey that mood.
8. It’s stationery with an “e” not stationary.
Questions? There’s so much more that I haven’t covered, so feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll answer as best I can. And, as always, thank you for your brilliant ideas—coming soon to a gift store near you!
Credit for these beautiful slide backgrounds goes to the fabulously talented and prolific Julia Rothman.
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