Lessons I’ve Learned from Shark Tank
by Katrina Shawver
I can watch Shark Tank again and again. This business-themed reality television show allows entrepreneurs to pitch their business plan to a panel of five self-made titans in various industries in hopes of gaining a strategic partner (the Shark) and a crucial financial investment in their company. After watching dozens of episodes, I have gleaned several key analogies between Shark Tank and launching and marketing a book.
Know your pitch and keep it short. Rehearse every word. Less is more. As the entrepreneurs walk into the room, the announcer gives a one-sentence introduction. The entrepreneurs then have one to two minutes to present their product with sufficient credibility to interest the potential Sharks. Similarly, I have a synopsis in multiple lengths: one-sentence, 50 words, 100 words, and 250 words, and have employed all of them for different scenarios. They are the core answer to: “What is your book about and why should I care?” The elevator pitch still rules, and first impressions do count.
Research the Sharks before you enter the Tank. Determine in advance who will be your most strategic partner(s). Closing a deal with a Shark is about more than the financial investment. It is about partnering with the best match for you and your business. Do they have a personality you can work with? Do they have the business experience and personal connections to match your genre and target market? If a Shark makes you an offer, there is usually very little time to make a decision. Waver too much and they may withdraw the offer. Similarly, before I sent queries for my book to agents and publishers, I thoroughly researched who they were, who their other clients were, which genres they represented, and then targeted specific ones. For me, a deal with the wrong publisher would have been worse than waiting for the right deal.
Know what you are willing to give up to get the deal. Negotiations have to include the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for the other party. The Sharks only offer deals they will profit from and believe in. Similarly, most publishers, agents, and bookstores considering hosting an event for an author need reasonable assurance they will sell enough copies of your book that it is worth their time and effort to partner with you. On the darker side of negotiation, be careful about which rights you’re willing to give up in order to get the deal, and be sure you can walk away if you do not benefit from the deal. On the show, some Sharks often demand fifty-one percent of the company to assume control. Essentially the entrepreneur would no longer be the primary owner and decisionmaker. This can be a deal-breaker for some, but I’ve seen others readily take the deal. Forty-nine percent of a $2 million business is far more than 100 percent of a $100,000 business.
Be professional and do not argue with the Sharks. This rule should seem obvious, but I have watched many entrepreneurs argue with Sharks, become defensive, or even speak while the Shark is talking. Listen to what the Sharks are saying. It is one thing to make a reasonable counteroffer, and often Sharks admire that, unless the Shark clearly makes a take-it-or-leave-it-decide-now offer. Just as when a Shark says “I’m out,” if a publisher or agent turns you down, say thank you graciously and consider any other deals still on the table. The sharks watch to see how the entrepreneur will act in a high-stakes business negotiation. Arguing with potential investors or customers will gain you nothing. Publishing, like many businesses, is a small world. People will spread the word about authors who are difficult to deal with.
I continue to learn the business of publishing and marketing a book, and I am still fascinated by watching the decision process of self-made millionaires and billionaires when making a deal. While I am passionate about my story, I know publishing is also about the numbers. For bookstores, publishers, and agents to want to work with me, they must believe I have a quality product that matches their customer base, and that I am willing to expend the effort to sell enough books to make it worth their time and money to invest in me.
Katrina Shawver is the author of Henry, A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, officially released on November 1, 2017. The book is published through Koehler Books and is available in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats on most book sites worldwide. Visit KatrinaShawver.comwhere she blogs regularly.