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Making It
Author profits with perfect pitch

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sam Horn is an expert at getting noticed, professionally and personally.

The author, speaker and consultant, whose latest book is about naming and pitching products, always wears a black hat, so people can easily spot her at crowded conventions.

A Southern California native who now lives in Reston, Sam majored in recreation administration at Sacramento State and managed sports clubs, including the former Regency Racquet Club in McLean. In 1978, she began working in administration at the Open University of Washington, which by athletes who cited concentration as a critical element in their performance, Sam designed and taught a class on the subject, based on discussions with athletes, executives and entrepreneurs. "I don't read other people's books," she says. "I interview people."

In 1981, Sam moved with her then-husband to Hawaii, where she taught continuing education classes on concentration and confidence and added courses on how to communicate with difficult people (which she called using "Tongue Fu"). In 1984, she started speaking to companies such as the Bank of Hawaii and Kaiser Permanente, and at business conferences, "and that was what really started my speaking career," she says. In the early '90s, when her two sons were young, she began writing so she could be home more, and she has published books on concentration, "Tongue Fu," confidence and bullying.

Sam, 56, divorced and moved to Fairfax County in 2000 with her sons, who are now college graduates. But she remained involved in the annual Maui Writers Conference. In fact, she found the inspiration for her latest book in the authors she met there, who had worked years on manuscripts but didn't know how to pitch them. "The agents' and editors' eyes would glaze over, and they would talk themselves out of a deal," Sam recalls. She decided she could create a system for coming up with a pitch, title or tag line without "spending a lot of money, having an MBA or sitting around and hoping creative lightning will strike."

The result, in 2006, was "POP!," which stands for Purposeful, Original and Pithy, and was published in paperback this year. In it, Sam shares her expertise in "listening, noting and then packaging [a book or company] in a sound bite that will get people's attention."

One approach Sam details is to focus on catchphrases, as she advised a career-change expert who titled her book "I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This" -- a sentiment she had often heard from her clients. Other strategies, and examples Sam cites, are to list core words and run them through the alphabet to find something catchy (thus happy hour for dog lovers becomes Yappy Hour), to play off cliches ("Squeeze the Day," a book title) and to use alliteration (Bed, Bath and Beyond).

Sam continues to travel all across the country to speak and consult on various topics; closer to home, she has appeared before organizations such as NASA, the National Association of Counties and Capital One Bank. She brought in about $300,000 last year, of which $100,000 was profit after costs such as travel, literary agents and Web site maintenance. Sam doesn't expect to do as well financially this year. Still, she says: "I feel incredibly fortunate. Every day, I get to work with people who thrill me and help them crystallize what they have to offer."

Are you succeeding with a new and unusual career, invention, business or creative endeavor? E-mail changb@washpost.com.

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