Get Your Book Noticed
You put your life on hold so you could finish writing your book. Now, you can sit back and relax while the sales roll in, right? Wrong! Developing a publicity strategy is critical to your book’s success.
Ever since I was a little girl, I was surrounded by books. My mother was an English teacher and both she and my dad, who are now in their mid-eighties, support their local library as voracious readers. And dad just asked for a Kindle. School itself was not a favorite activity of mine—I absolutely hated tests. To this day if you ask me the value of “x,” I will tell you I really don’t care.
But college was a different story. All of my professors let me prepare essays instead of taking tests. I was in heaven. I majored in English with a specialization in publishing, and minored in speech, communications and psychology. When I graduated, I found a job in the publishing industry within two weeks. My career surrounded by books had begun. I have been involved in book publishing since 1979, and in book publicity since 1980. Oh, how the industry has changed, both the publishing side and the publicity side. It’s been fascinating and exhilarating keeping ahead of the curve.
Turning a New Page
In the late 1980s, I worked at William Morrow, and then spent 20 years at a boutique book publicity agency in New York City. Then, on October 21, 2010, my world came to a screeching halt. Three weeks after my son’s 22nd birthday, he was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor . . . and I never returned to my job in the city. As we sat in the hospital, my son questioned why I wasn’t going to work. At that time, he had no idea of the seriousness of his illness. I explained that he was going to need a lot of help and treatment and that I needed to be with him. Then, he uttered those fateful words, “Well, you need to work. Why don’t you start your own business?” And so I did, from a chair in the corner of his Neuro-ICU room, using LinkedIn and my iPad®. The need to create a sense of normalcy was so strong that it helped us both stay on firm footing for the battle of his life. Fast forward to today. He’s doing very well—and so is my business.
Book publishing these days is comprised of many moving parts, as is book publicity. There are still plenty of books coming from the traditional publishing houses, and there are many more books being self-published. Both types of books can be promoted the same way, as long as the self-published book has been professionally edited, has a professional jacket design, and doesn’t look like it was printed for distribution among family and friends. The only real difference is that there are still a few print outlets that won’t review self-published titles, and many bookstores won’t carry self-published books without some type of special agreement with the author.
Authors write for lots of reasons, but when you get right down to the nitty gritty, no matter what an author says— whether it’s because they just want to be read or all they really want is to make a difference. In the end, all authors want to sell books—lots of them! I have worked with bestselling authors throughout my career, including John Irving, Gail Godwin, David Halberstam, Marcus Buckingham, the late Stephen Covey, and many more. But more frequently, I work with mid-list authors, trying to help them break through the noise, sell books, and leverage media coverage to attract clients and speaking opportunities. Book publicity has many different facets, including press materials, print interviews, book reviews, guest articles, radio interviews, television interviews, online interviews, guest blog posts, and social media, to name a few. Some authors handle publicity themselves or via an internal staff member. Some are lucky enough to have a publisher with a topnotch publicity department. Others hire a publicist or public relations agency that specializes in book publicity. The type of publicity an author is willing to do is a personal decision. I worked with one author who only wanted print and online coverage, but excluded doing any podcasts from the mix. Another author wanted radio interviews as part of the mix, but only terrestrial stations; no satellite and no Internet radio. Others are willing to do anything and everything to promote their books, no matter how small the outlet. Some authors want to promote a book for three or four months, and others want to do publicity for a year or two. Where do you fit in to the mix?
Here are some key considerations:
- Have you decided what you will and won’t do to promote your book?
- Do you have the time to write guest articles?
- Should you have your own blog?
- What about Facebook and Twitter?
- Who is advising you on these decisions?
Making Hiring Decisions
Hiring a book publicist is fairly typical these days, to either implement an entire campaign or to supplement what is being done by the book publisher. Do you need to hire a book publicist, and how do you decide which firm to go with?
Working with a public relations firm should be a partnership—a constant exchange of ideas and suggestions. You need to work with a firm where you feel a connection with the people you will be working with. But there also need to be realistic expectations of what can and cannot be done. There are no magic wands in book publicity (though I do keep a bag of them in my office and send them out on a regular basis). And there are no guarantees. Just because a publicist has known a reporter or an editor or a producer for 20 years, does not mean that a media placement will definitely be forthcoming. That’s not reasonable or ethical. But it might mean the pitch has a good chance of being heard or read. There are no guarantees, but you can always place an ad. An ad will run no matter what. A story or an interview may not.
There’s a lot of talk about the criteria for hiring a public relations agency, but agencies often have criteria for taking on clients. For me, the best client is one that has a full-time job or career, excellent credentials, and has written a non-fiction book in his or her field of expertise. I could go on and on, but I have a press release to edit, a proposal to write, and a couple of interviews to set up, and that’s on a Sunday!