Publicity has become more important as books compete with other mediums for a precious share of the passive entertainment market (I just coined that phrase, feel free to use it–Kathleen). It’s also one of the most misunderstood and feared aspects of industry. The days of letting the publisher take care of promotion are mostly over. Authors need to take an active role in promoting their own books, but most writers didn’t get into fiction to hawk books but to write them.

Enter the professional publicist. Therese and Kathleen had the pleasure of interviewing Theresa Meyers of Blue Moon Communications for insights on promotion, marketing, and something that could build an author’s long-term prospects in a competitive marketplace: author branding. Theresa works mostly with romance fiction novelists, but her approach is applicable across the genres.

UPDATE: Theresa has agreed to answer YOUR questions about marketing, promotion, and author branding. Leave a question in the comment area and she will do her best to reply. Please note: she’ll only be able to do this for a few days, so get your questions out there early!*Also note: If you’re having trouble posting a question on Bugger, send it to us at writerunboxed and we’ll post it for you.

Part 1: Interview with Theresa Meyers

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background in promotion and why you’ve decided to concentrate your public relations business on fiction authors.

TM: Before launching Blue Moon Communications in 2001, I spent over ten years working in public relations at corporations, agencies and publishers garnering millions of dollars in media coverage for her clients on national television and in daily newspapers. It’s what I went to college for and I hold an honors degree in Mass Communications. In 2002 I secured placement for Carly Phillips as the third pick of the Kelly Ripa’s Book Club on LIVE! With Regis and Kelly and in 2003 Vicki Lewis Thompson was selected for the club as a result of my efforts. My clients have appeared in national magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Complete Woman and Publishers Weekly and on radio nationwide. I work with New York Times bestsellers, new authors and many of the largest fiction publishers in New York including St. Martins Press, Warner Books, MIRA Books (Harlequin), NAL, Dorchester and others. A former journalist and magazine columnist, I turned my interests to promoting fiction because I was looking for a challenge. It’s very easy to get a non-fiction author in the media, because the book is the message. Crafting a message and platform for a fiction author is much more difficult and rewarding. It also helps that I write fiction and had been a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) since 1993 so I felt I knew precisely what clients needed to make a mark.

Q: Most writers write the book and think that’s all they need to do, assuming that the publisher will take care of promoting the book. Can you explain why that’s not the case anymore?

TM: There are actually several reasons. One is the market has changed and become more competitive. Books aren’t competing with other books, but all forms of media and entertainment. The other half of that equation is that most book publishers are now owned by larger corporations that see bottom dollar and are demanding publishers perform for the shareholders. Having a good book isn’t enough, you’ve got to be able to market it and sell it. If you don’t make a big splash, and start earning out, you’ve got far less time to prove yourself before your publisher will drop you. What was once a slow building career over five to eight books has been compressed into one to five books.

The second reason is that your in-house publicist is overworked, period. She or he has upwards of 25 or more books to promote every month. They simply don’t have the time or resources to completely commit themselves to every book with the same passion the author would.

The third reason is a matter of perspective. Most publishers are completely focused on promoting the book. Which is great. That’s what they should do. They are not, however, out to promote the author’s brand. That doesn’t come until the author’s brand has become well enough known that it out paces the books in terms of market value. (In other words until you are big, they are just going to push your book.) The problem with this is how can you expect to build a brand when no one knows about it? There are so many more components at work in promoting an author brand, than there are in promoting only a book.

Q: What is author branding and why should authors do it?

TM: I usually give a month long class on this! Simply put your author brand is made up of a number of factors including what you write, how you act, speak and look in public, and how you present yourself in places like blogs, your website, advertising, etc. All of it is done in an effort to mold people’s perceptions about you as an author. For example if I say Stephen King, do you have an instant perception of what he writes, who he is and a slew of ideas related to him? Of course you do. The same thing happens if I say J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts. These authors are recognizable brands. How do I know? Look on the back of the latest Nora paperback and you won’t even see a back cover blurb most of the time, just her picture. That’s because people will buy whatever she writes. They don’t care what the story is because they believe in the author brand to deliver no matter what. That’s what a strong author brand can do. It builds loyalty, strengthens market share and brings in dollars. What author doesn’t want that?

Q: What’s the best use of promotion money?

TM: This is probably the most often asked question by authors. I’m going to give you the mental checklist I go through before I ever spend a dime of my client’s on an item, project or mailing. This checklist is very general, but it also gives you some guidelines to use in evaluating what you spend, before you spend it.

Theresa’s Checklist of Promotion Spending Questions:
1. Does it support your branding?
2. Does it fit the Rule of Three?
3. Can you do it cheaper with someone else or by doing part of it yourself or is it cheaper to hire out?
4. Will it be something they reuse and remember?

Let’s tackle them in order.

1. Does it support your branding?
You should have a solid author brand before you ever begin promoting for it to be cost effective. Don’t have one? Don’t know what your brand is? Don’t stress, you can always work on that, but at least be aware you need to figure it out. The point is all your materials and activities should support your brand and contain the taglines or message points of your brand whenever possible.

2. Does it fit the Rule of Three?
I have a rule that I share with all my clients called the Rule of Three. Simply stated, it’s this: If an item or action does not fulfill three purposes, do NOT spend money on it. You know how the scenes in your book need to be doing more than one thing at a time to be effective? It is the same with the money you spend on promotion. If you are only buying bookmarks or keyrings or mailing out postcards because you want people to know about your book, you only have one good reason for spending that money. Don’t do it! Have three good reasons. For instance, if you purchase bookmarks, because you are 1) planning on sending them out in bundles to bookstores that you have personal relationships with that have requested them, 2) are using them to send out to reader’s groups that love bookmarks and will chat up your book to get grass roots buzz started and 3) planning on giving them away as autographed incentives with a SASE to build your mailing list, then you have three good reasons.

3. Can you do it cheaper with someone else or by doing part of it yourself or is it cheaper to hire out?
In general one thing holds true with publicity and promotion: you can either spend time or money, but you are going to invest in one or the other. In the beginning many authors have the time and not the money. It is easier for them to spend eight hours stuffing envelopes (or getting free labor from their kids to do it) than to pay a professional an hourly sum to get it done. As your career progresses, you will find that time becomes your single biggest commodity. Your time is worth more to you when it is spent producing your product (because no one else can do that for you) than it is on tasks other people can do. Only you can decide which is worth more, your time or your money. It will always vary, but it is a major factor in deciding when to spend and when not to spend.

4. Will it be something they reuse and remember?
Many authors are in such a hurry to get something out there, that they don’t think about how it will be used or remembered. The single biggest waste is something that gets used once or tossed out. Now this can vary. Some people collect bookmarks, some people toss them. The point is you want to only send the bookmarks to the people who collect them and send something else to the other people. One of my clients said the single biggest waste of money she ever spent before working with me was some mints with her name, book and release date printed on the packaging and set out at a large conference in the goodie room. Everyone loved the mints. They all got taken. But the problem was that the moment they opened that mint, what did they do with the wrapper that had the vital message on it? Tossed it in the trash! It’s better to spend money on items that will have a longer life, even if they cost a bit more in the beginning because every time they use that nail file, or coffee mug, they’ll be getting an impression from you.

The point of all this is there is no one magic item for authors to spend their money on to promote. What works for one author isn’t going to be a good fit for another. Play to your strengths. Are you better at public speaking? Then go get speaking engagements. Hate to be seen in public? Think radio (no one sees you.) Do you love contests and actively send out mailings to your mailing list? Then consider using mailings and contests to get the word out to different mailings lists that are out there.

Anything and everything is a possible tool. The professional publicist sees everything as an opportunity if you can just slant it the right way. Anywhere you can connect with people who read is fair game. Look for state book fairs, book clubs, writing groups, civic groups, schools, women’s expos, whatever works. If you write in a genre, find out what magazines do the best reviews or include interviews for that genre. Romantic Times Bookclub does 250 reviews a month in all different genres. Romance Sells is only open to members of Romance Writers of America but goes out to more than 10,000 booksellers and librarians nationally. Go talk to your booksellers as far as you can drive in your area and introduce yourself. Go make ARCs of your books at Staples or Kinkos and send them out. (Julia Quinn said she spent the majority of her first advance making ARCs of her books that she sent out to the top booksellers in the country with a personal letter introducing herself and her book and that it was the best money she ever spent.) Make sure you look for unusual opportunities that perhaps your publisher isn’t considering. One of my clients has a Wine Lover’s Mystery series. She contacted all the wineries with wines mentioned in her books, scheduled book signings at wine shops, has done tastings at society dinners, all kinds of things and it’s done an amazing job in selling her books!

As far as materials, everything is possible from piggybanks to pens, crystals to box cutters. Just make sure you include your author website and a tagline that grabs their attention and if you can make the item something with a cute connection to the book, so much the better. But once again, I’m going to remind you that if it doesn’t fit the Rule of Three DON’T SPEND YOUR MONEY on it!

Click the link below for Part 2 of our interview with Theresa!

Photo credit: Lee Isbell, Studio 16.

About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She has written two novels under the pseudonym Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins. Her current project, Slumber, under the pen name Tamara Blake, released July of 2013 and is a dark suspense fantasy novel for teens.