I did an interview with Erica Sadun and she delivered with lots of tips that will definitely help you.
If you don’t know Erica, she wrote the iOS Developer’s Cookbook series, Writer at TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) and iOS Developer.
Most of your pitches to review sites get unanswered and that is because of some tiny thing you left out.
She gives you tips on how you can make sure your email doesn’t get ignored so your app gets featured on a review site.
Apps that get featured on TUAW see a lot of downloads, so you don’t want to miss this interview. The pitch process starts around 6 minutes into the interview
She even gave a sample pitch that will almost guarantee success, if you follow the pattern,
Important: Please leave a comment to thank Erica. That way she may be willing to share more with us in the future.
Get the Pitch Perfect Book
Erica and Steven Sande have launched a book that goes into more detail on the getting reviews for your app. It is called Pitch Perfect.
Tope: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this interview today. Today I’m speaking with Erica Sadun. She is a very versatile human being. She’s an author. She’s a developer. She’s a writer. She wrote the iOS 5 Developer Cookbook Series and then she has a couple of live apps live . She’s also a writer for the Mac Rumors website which I’m sure a lot of you know.
So Erica, I mean you’re very versatile. Which of these do you actually like the most?
Erica Sadun: OK. I do have to interrupt and tell you it’s The Unofficial Apple Weblog. I have not written for Mac Rumors. I’m so sorry.
Tope: Oh, sorry.
Erica Sadun: It is close. You got it really close now.
Tope: OK. You know what? Let’s just continue. I’m not going to edit this out and let you everyone know what a noob I am– anyway, so let’s continue. So tell me about what do you like – which of these do you like the most? Which of these hats are you wearing the most?
Erica Sadun: It’s so hard because I’m the sort of person who will put on more than one hat at a time, not literally, just figuratively.
Erica Sadun: Although literally would be very amusing.
Erica Sadun: But figuratively, most of what I do is I’m a fulltime mom.
Tope: OK. OK. Wow, that is – oh my …
Erica Sadun: So that’s the basic reality of my life.
Tope: Let me add that extra hat to it. Fulltime mom, OK. How do you manage all this?
Erica Sadun: I don’t.
Tope: OK. All right.
Erica Sadun: I mean it’s as simple as that. I simply do not. It’s a matter of putting out fires which is why it’s usually very easy to get my attention because my attention span does tend to be limited to about two to three minutes at a time.
Erica Sadun: But fortunately, I type very quickly.
Erica Sadun: And typing quickly seems to be, I would say, my number one technical skill in terms of what I accomplish in life.
Tope: OK. OK. All right. Nice. So what challenges do you like – let’s say as a developer because a lot of us here are developers. What challenges do you go through when you develop apps? What challenges would you see?
Erica Sadun: Mostly when it comes to both writing and app development, there’s this idea in your head and you know that idea is – two to three minutes down the line, it’s going away. Remember that timeline I talked about.
Tope: Yes, yes.
Erica Sadun: And it’s a matter of getting it out of your head into either Xcode or a text editor so that you can move on with life.
Tope: OK, OK.
Erica Sadun: Which is why the typing speed really matters.
Tope: So you mean this is at the idea stage. You mean like when you have an idea for an app, while you’re actually developing the app as well.
Erica Sadun: Really most of my apps on App Store in the cookbook and so forth, I would say have a range of under half an hour between idea to finishing debugging.
Tope: OK. OK. OK.
Erica Sadun: They’re very short. They’re very centered. They’re one big idea. I rarely have time to really sit out and expand it and when I do have that time, it’s really a pleasure. There are a few apps I have on App Store that I’ve really been able to do design over a longer period of time. That would be Draw and Whiteboard.
Erica Sadun: But for the most part, due to my time constraints, what I put up is usually a single concept and that’s why the cookbook itself is tied into this notion of here’s a single concept that you can then appropriate and use in your own apps. So they have to be focused.
Tope: So talking about the cookbook, like taking on kind of the books we have, as you said, you have all these single concepts. How would you say is the best way to consume the book? Do you have to go from front to back or is it possible to just pick out what to read? Yes, go ahead.
Erica Sadun: In its current incarnation, it’s kind of a Frankenbook.
Erica Sadun: The first four chapters are my editor’s desire to make the book readable in normal format.
Tope: All right.
Erica Sadun: So the first four chapters are really the tutorial chapters. They go over Xcode. They go over Objective-C and over Interface Builder and the idea is that you can actually read through those. There are examples and walkthroughs and so forth. Those are the traditional chapters and they were put there in order to have a classroom context for the book.
Tope: Yes, yes.
Erica Sadun: But most people who buy the book, who use the book, it’s a reference book.
Tope: Yes, yes. That’s what I found out as well too. You can easily basically flip through to a chapter and then find out exactly what you want. The good thing about it is you also have the code on GitHub. That’s really, really very interesting because you can easily pull it down, take on the code and then use it immediately as you wish. That’s great. That’s good stuff.
Erica Sadun: My vision for the book was always help people get past their current problem.
Tope: Yes. OK, OK.
Erica Sadun: Not necessarily have them figure out what problems they have but I need to do this. I can’t figure out how to do it. I can spend a billion hours trying to figure it out myself or I can just look it up in the book. Oh, yes. That’s how you do it. Use it and buy it to get on with the rest of their work.
Tope: Oh, nice, nice. So talking about the apps that you’ve made, a lot of questions I obviously get from developers asking me is how to get the word out about the applications. So what tips would you give developers and marketing of promoting the applications?
Erica Sadun: It’s really hard to market well. It is so hard and assuming you don’t have a built-in bully pulpit, what you’ve got to do is then go to websites and pitch your app and you want to go to all the major tech and Apple websites and you want to basically tell them why your app is exciting and people do this very poorly.
The biggest problem when picking your app is that you may have spent months, maybe even a year developing this thing. You love it. You have put your heart into it. You have put your soul into it and then you shoot an email off to a website like mine, like The Unofficial Apple Weblog and your email reads, “Please review my app.”
Now, when I get 5000 “Please review my app” emails, you know what’s going to happen. Yours will not stand out. There is a skill.
Tope: So how do you make it stand out? What subject line would make you click and open that email?
Erica Sadun: Name it, name your app. Tell me what your app name is. Put that into the subject line. Tell me what it does and why I should care and that’s all within about 80 characters.
Tope: Yes. How do you fit all that into 80 characters?
Erica Sadun: OK. Give me the name of an app.
Tope: OK. I have an app called Time Boss.
Erica Sadun: What does it do?
Tope: It tracks time. You can track – as a freelancer, you can track your time, track your hours, send invoices basically.
Erica Sadun: OK. So you have a time tracker app.
Erica Sadun: What makes it pop? What differentiates it?
Tope: The design and the simplicity. A lot of other apps out there are very cumbersome and they look very ugly. Mine, I’m very proud to say looks good. Anyway, go ahead.
Erica Sadun: Time tracker app. What’s the name again?
Tope: Time Boss.
Erica Sadun: Time tracker app Time Boss simplifies billing for busy contractors.
Tope: So I’m getting where you’re going at. So basically in the subject line, say what the benefit of your app is. I mean what people will start to benefit from using your app.
Erica Sadun: You’ve got to have one benefit. You have to have one point, one pitch point, something that makes your app stand apart from all other apps. In your case, it’s the simplicity of doing the billing or it’s the simplicity of doing whatever, the tracking.
Erica Sadun: But you must find that one distinguishing point and that’s what has to sell your app.
Tope: OK. All right.
Erica Sadun: And it must sell it in the subject line and if you’re not doing that, you’re not selling your app properly because the entire reason you send a pitch letter is to grab somebody’s eye and it’s that thing that sets it apart, that thing that’s novel, better, exciting. Something about that app that makes it worthwhile for you to have invested all of your time in building it, that’s what you have to communicate, that excitement.
Tope: Yes. All right. So I’m guessing all this has to start from the pre-concept phase, right? We need to have that extra edge, that unique point, unique selling point for your app so that you can …
Erica Sadun: Absolutely. Because why build something which is exactly the same as what’s out there?
Erica Sadun: My app is different because …
Tope: Because, yes.
Erica Sadun: And if you can’t answer that question, then you should not be spending your time on that app.
Tope: OK. So let’s say I have a nice subject line. It has made you click, made you read it but I mean at that point …
Erica Sadun: Right. And you want to know what comes next.
Tope: No, no. Yes. Well, I mean the email is OK. You read it and you liked it and maybe you have a thousand other emails to answer then you forget about it. OK? Now comes the time for me to remind you. How is the best way to remind someone without not sounding like …
Erica Sadun: I have bad news for you. The answer is if you didn’t sell it in your first letter, you’ve lost. You’ve lost. However, you want to make sure in your first letter, in that very first pitch, that you have absolutely everything there that we need. So fortunately, I happen to be writing a book about exactly that with Steve Sande.
Tope: Oh, really? That’s nice. What’s the book called, if you don’t mind?
Erica Sadun: We’re calling it Pitch Perfect right now.
Erica Sadun: Yes, I know. It just happens that we’ve been putting this together for a while. So we talked about the motivating subject line, right?
Erica Sadun: Because remember, subject lines are the elevator pitches of blogging.
Erica Sadun: Do you know what an elevator pitch is?
Tope: Yes, the 15-second pitch basically.
Erica Sadun: Right.
Tope: Before the doors open and they would have to go somewhere.
Erica Sadun: So you have to motivate and sell the app in 80 characters or less. OK? So that’s the subject line. Then here’s what you need to give us. Ready?
Tope: Yes, go ahead.
Erica Sadun: The name of the app. Do you know how many times people ask us to review the app and don’t bother to tell us what the name is?
Tope: Really? I mean people actually forget to put the name?
Erica Sadun: Yes. They say, “I have got a great video app. Would you please review it?” and that’s their entire pitch.
Tope: Yes. Let’s forget about those guys. Anyway, let’s go back to the ones …
Erica Sadun: OK.
Tope: All right.
Erica Sadun: The name and it has to be the proper name. This is the name that is used on the App Store whether it’s the Mac App Store or the iOS App Store or if you’re selling it through Amazon or whatever. We need the full name with a proper spelling, proper capitalization and all that because that’s what we will use for the write-up. That’s what we will use on Google to search for it because we do searches.
Erica Sadun: And so name of it. Then price. You wouldn’t believe how many people forget to tell us how much it costs.
Tope: How much it costs. All right. OK.
Erica Sadun: Because that’s a big part of the app story too. If you’re selling something for $39.99 versus selling something for 99 cents, that’s telling us a lot about the app.
Tope: OK, OK. All right.
Erica Sadun: Always include two links. OK?
Erica Sadun: Link number one is to your product page. That is your page. It’s the page that you built on your website that tells about the app, might provide facts and support and things like that. But you also want to include the link to the iTunes product page.
Tope: All right.
Erica Sadun: So we want both. Make sure you include both of those in your pitch. Screenshots, OK? Now, some people send us no screenshots and some people send us 20. Both are wrong. OK? What you want is one, maybe two, really good screenshots and no more than that.
Erica Sadun: Remember, bloggers have the attention span of a flea. You can’t assume that we’re going to look through to every screenshot. One screenshot tells us a story. Twenty screenshots make us go into la-la land.
Tope: Yes, I understand. Definitely. OK.
Erica Sadun: So you’re working within the human limitations of the blogger and if you assume that you’re writing to a kindergartener, you’re probably in the right realm of who you’re writing to.
Tope: So basically making it as simple as possible.
Erica Sadun: Yes.
Tope: All right.
Erica Sadun: Video. Always, always, always – maybe I should emphasize this a little bit more but always include a video.
Tope: Some people would say a video – you’re not going to sit down for five minutes and watch every video they send to you, right?
Erica Sadun: Oh, we don’t. We don’t. Video should be no longer than 30 seconds to one minute long. We do not care if it’s well done. It does not have to be public. We just want to see what the app is about without having to download it, without having to try it out. Thirty seconds plus the screen shot, it tells us the story.
Tope: Oh, now I understand. So it’s not really about demoing the app. It’s about telling the story and for you, it’s easier to grab. Is it a story worth telling on your blog, right? Basically.
Erica Sadun: I mean yes, basically.
Erica Sadun: But if you look at a game, what’s the game play? If you got us an app that is doing time tracking, show us how easy it is.
Tope: Yes, yes, definitely.
Erica Sadun: You don’t have to send the videos. Just a simple link. Put it on YouTube. Make it private. You know how with YouTube you can set it up so only people you send the URL to can see it?
Tope: Yes, exactly.
Erica Sadun: Do that.
Erica Sadun: We do not need professional, well-lit or well-composed videos. We do not care. We just want to see it and we just want to be able to initially assess the app.
Erica Sadun: And this is what tells us, “Is this app worth downloading? Is it worth testing further?” I will tell you once again, all the people who come to us and they say, “Oh, we will have the video in a week. Do you mind waiting?” you have so lost the story there.
Tope: Yes. I guess that does not cater to the attention span of a flea, as you said it.
Erica Sadun: Exactly. Bingo.
Tope: Yes, I understand what you mean. So basically have everything in hand in one picture.
Erica Sadun: In one picture. Then we need a description. OK?
Tope: Description. All right.
Erica Sadun: We want a concise, one-paragraph description of your app. And when I say a paragraph, I mean a concise paragraph, not a paragraph that runs on for a page and a half.
Tope: OK. OK.
Erica Sadun: OK. In your paragraph, this is what you got to do. You have to say what is your app, who your audience is. Oh my gosh, that is so important. We want to know who the app is for. Please, please, please tell us.
Erica Sadun: Tell us how your app sets itself apart from the crowd. What functionality powers your app? What features differentiate it? Because without that spark, without that differentiation – and again, this reflects what you’ve already said in the summary, in the subject line. Without explaining that, we don’t care. We get 50, 60, 70 pitches in an hour in a morning.
Tope: Wow. That’s …
Erica Sadun: What’s going to set you apart? What’s going to make your app pop? Well, we’re looking for things that are different from what’s out there. We’re looking for things that do something that everybody else does but does it better or we’re looking for something that’s newer and funner. We’re looking for something that just sounds like it’s an app that we ourselves would want to buy.
Erica Sadun: If you can’t describe that though a quick paragraph, maybe a short bulleted feature list, then why are you even selling on App Store to begin with?
Tope: Yes, definitely.
Erica Sadun: And then here’s the really good bit. Contact information. If you give us an email and we reply to it and it bounces, don’t use fake emails when you’re pitching your app.
Tope: Do people do that?
Erica Sadun: I don’t know why people do this. Yes.
Tope: Why would someone use a fake email?
Erica Sadun: You know, we have gotten things from NoOne@Sorry.com and I tell you, if you use a return address of NoOne@Sorry.com, we’re going to forward it to NotGoingToBe@Reviewed.com.
Tope: Yes, that’s not going to work out. That’s not going to work out.
Erica Sadun: No. The rule is no valid email, no review. But please also include Skype information, URLs, Twitter IDs, any way we could get in contact with you. Do you know how many times people are reading about an app that they use – not necessarily the developer but somebody uses an app. They come to us. They say, “Oh my gosh, you got to try this app.” We go to their webpage. Now, imagine you’re a blogger with that three-second attention span. You go to that webpage. And what is the first thing you look for? It’s “contact us”, right?
Erica Sadun: And it’s not there.
Tope: OK. So …
Erica Sadun: What do you think the chances are that that thing is going to get reviewed? If we can’t go out and figure out how to get a copy of the thing, you’re out of luck. Make sure you have “contact us” on your website. Make sure, make sure, make sure. And you know what? We much prefer real email addresses over contact forms.
Tope: OK. Yes.
Erica Sadun: You know the contact form thing on webpages?
Tope: Yes, yes, yes.
Erica Sadun: Nobody ever really believes it’s going to get anywhere.
Tope: Yes, because I mean it probably goes to like an inbox that people don’t normally check, right?
Erica Sadun: Exactly.
Tope: Yes. OK. I mean I want to go quickly recap what you just told me. Is there more?
Erica Sadun: Oh, there are tons more but you can go ahead and recap because I could go on for like hours on this stuff.
Tope: I mean we always get these ideas that people say that you shouldn’t send long emails because if you send long emails, people don’t tend to respond immediately. So now, what you told me can easily fill a couple of pages. Is that OK or do we just add everything in an attachment for example or what’s the best way to package all this information?
Because now I have the name, the price; two links, one to the product page, one to the iTunes product; screenshots, one or two; videos, 30 seconds to one minute; a description, one paragraph of what the app is about; who the audience is and some contact information, Skype information as well. So what is the best way to do that?
Erica Sadun: I would say the thing should run one printed page. Basically if you were printing it out, if you were printing out a press release, it takes a lot pretty much the whole page.
Erica Sadun: But it should be well-structured. If you take a look in the Skype screen, I actually pasted you a sample pitch which covers everything.
Tope: OK. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that. Is this public information? Can I give this to people on the website as well? So they can have like something to work off of.
Erica Sadun: Sure, sure.
Tope: Great, great. That’s good. That’s good. So this is definitely something that I’m sure people would like to get. Well, that’s good. That’s good information.
Erica Sadun: But if you take a look at the sample I sent, you will see that there’s a short subject. There’s a one-paragraph intro. There are a couple of bullet points.
Erica Sadun: And it covers all the things that I mentioned too. Here’s a link to iTunes. Here’s a link to the website. Here’s a link to video and there’s not much more to it. It sounds like a lot but it really does condense down.
Tope: Yes, you’re right. Like a short blog post, a short press release basically and it should be scannable as well. I see that. Well, that’s good. That’s good. OK. I’m going to add this to the resources at the end of this post as well.
Erica Sadun: OK.
Tope: When is the book coming out? Because I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to …
Erica Sadun: That you’re going to have to bug Steve Sande about because it’s basically in his lap right now and he has just been swamped. So the reason it hasn’t come out yet is because he has to deal with that.
Tope: All right. But I’m sure when it does come out, we will all know about it. I mean I am subscribed to your feed on The Unofficial Apple Weblog so I’m sure if it comes out, that will be there.
Erica Sadun: Possibly. We’ll definitely tweet about it.
Tope: OK. All right. Then we will find out about it.
Erica Sadun: He’s Steven Sande and I’m Erica Sadun.
Tope: Yes. OK, on Twitter.
Erica Sadun: On Twitter.
Tope: I’ll add that as well. I have a couple more questions but I’m not sure how we’re doing on time. Do you have a couple more minutes?
Erica Sadun: I’m totally relaxed.
Tope: Nice. That’s good. So that’s about pitching the app now. So now, let’s talk about some beginner developers now. So if someone wants to start to learn how to develop apps, what would you say is the best way to start? Like tutorials, websites, to go to – what is the best way to actually go into developing apps?
Erica Sadun: The first thing is you have to come in with some language skills and some development skills.
Erica Sadun: It’s as simple as that. If you don’t know how to program, you need to go out and take some classes in basic programming and there are excellent ones given at community colleges locally, plus there’s iTunes U that will help with that. There are lots of resources.
Tope: OK, OK.
Erica Sadun: So before you get to actual development, you do need to have that as your basic skill set.
Tope: Yes, the basics. All right.
Erica Sadun: Then once you know how to program, you can usually transition from most languages into Objective-C pretty quickly because you already understand things like object-oriented issues. You already understand things like iteration and conditionality and what is storage and so forth. If you have those basics, going into Objective-C, not a huge deal.
Erica Sadun: And then the whole point of my cookbook is to give you completely functional working things that you can then adapt.
Tope: OK, OK.
Erica Sadun: So my idea there was that, if you have the skills to develop, then you could take something that works and is functional and tweak it until it becomes what you need it to be and it becomes a learning process there as well.
Tope: OK, OK. All right. That’s good. So when we actually pick up stuff to develop, it’s best to go with examples, you would say or…
Erica Sadun: Well, I think – which is why I work in that arena. People have different learning styles but I think for many developers, for many people who just think in terms of programmatic units, I think my approach really has worked well for them.
Tope: Yes, I think so as well because when you see something working and you find out how it works under the covers, I think that’s a good way to learn. That’s a good way to learn.
Erica Sadun: Plus because I focus on one idea at a time, if you need to learn how to do a table, you just learn how to do the table. If you need to learn how to do a text field, you just learn how to do the text field and then I trust you yourself know how to blend those things together.
Tope: Exactly. Exactly. All right. That’s good. That’s good. So one last question I have now is, “This big brouhaha going on about people gaming the system with paid downloads and stuff, what do you have to say about that?”
Erica Sadun: We live in a world that is not perfect and were it perfect, it would be far less interesting.
Tope: Basically, I mean is there a way for honest developers like us?
Erica Sadun: OK. You have kind of faded out so I didn’t hear most of that question.
Tope: I meant, is there like – your question was honest [Phonetic] developers, right? So what chance do they have to succeed in the App Store?
Erica Sadun: It is hard to be an honest [0:26:07] [Phonetic] developer and make a go out of it but it’s not impossible. If your app is clever and noteworthy and eye-catching and ear-catching, it will find itself an audience.
Tope: All right …
Erica Sadun: It’s not easy but good apps, exciting apps, they find their audience and they always will.
Tope: That’s good to know. That’s a lot of encouragement for people out there. So I think that’s a good way to end this. Thank you very much, Erica, for speaking to me.
Erica Sadun: Thank you for giving me a platform to chat.
Tope: My pleasure. Where can people find you? Where is the best place to connect with you?
Erica Sadun: Well, Twitter is great. I’m Erica Sadun at Twitter. I’m Erica Sadun at Google+ because this is exactly how imaginative I get. But if you want to keep on track of what I’m up to, the best place to tune into is The Unofficial Apple Weblog. That’s TUAW. That would be tango, unicorn, alpha …
Tope: No, we can’t say alpha. Apple …
Erica Sadun: Whiskey?
Tope: Apple, whiskey.
Erica Sadun: Apple, whiskey.
Erica Sadun: I’m pretty sure U is not unicorn either.
Tope: I mean it’s alpha definitely but I mean I’m just thinking it has to be Apple because of the context. Anyway, forget about it.
Erica Sadun: Yes. But what is U?
Tope: Uniform. I think it’s uniform.
Erica Sadun: Is it uniform? OK.
Tope: I don’t know.
Erica Sadun: So it would be tango, uniform, Apple …
Erica Sadun: … whiskey.
Tope: Thank you very much, Erica, and it was nice to talk to you. [0:27:48]