INTERVIEW: Theresa Meyers, Blue Moon Communications

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@writerunboxed.com 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.

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About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as 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, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Theresa,

    Thank you so much for answering questions. The Q&A was very informative. My question for you is about PR careers. I do public relations and communications for a university, but I have thought a lot about changing my career direction to author promotion and publicity. What are some skills and experience you recommend someone have before making the industry leap within PR? Thank you!

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  2. says

    Love the portrait. It’s one of the nicest I’ve seen in a long time.
    Theresa, thanks for giving us this opportunity. I’m quite ready to rush out and start pumping out sales by the millions. Oh, I guess I have to find an agent first, but once I do, do I need a publicist or does the agent help with publicity?
    Franny Armstrong

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  3. says

    Hi Theresa, thanks so much for answering our questions. I’m a new author with one ebook out and one coming out in October. I’m a big believer in getting my name out there as much as possible. I have two questions: at this point in my career, what do you think would be the best things for me to do to promote myself? And since my book is currently only available in eformat, what can I do to get the word out offline, as in real life?

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  4. says

    This is a message from Eugenia O’Neal:

    My problem is that I’m looking to redo my website which is a bit dry
    but I’m not sure how given that I’m published in contemporary romance fiction and in non-fiction while the manuscripts out on circulation are a women’s fiction and a historical romance. I know newbies like myself should stick to one genre and get known in that before branching out – it sounds like perfectly good sense but I just can’t seem to get my muse to buckle down to it.

    Anyway – I’m interested in any suggestions.

    Thanks, Theresa, for doing this.

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  5. says

    Great information Theresa.

    You might remember me, I interviewed you for our book, “The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them.” You provided some valuable insight then as now.

    I know branding is important. I just have no clue as how to brand myself as an author. I’ve written three nonfiction books, the one mentioned above and two business books.

    I’ve also written one romantic adventure that I’m trying to find an agent for and working on a romantic thriller. I’ve got a website, http://www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com and a blog.

    How to I integrate my nonfiction personna with my fiction to come up with a brand?

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  6. says

    For Lisa Pulliam:

    Lisa, you’re going to use the same skills for pitching to mass media that you do now, the biggest difference is that you’re going to have to learn how to come up with news angles and hooks for a client that have nothing to do with their book and everything to do with their brand.

    You’ll also need to decide if you are going to focus on non-fiction or fiction, because you promote them very differently. Once you’ve decided that, then you’ll need to take a look at the market for your core clients so you can target the appropriate audiences for readers, others in the industry, booksellers, librarians, etc.

    Before making the switch from corporate and agency PR, I worked at a publisher for awhile, I also took courses from some of the big names in book PR. The biggest help, however, came from the fact that I also am a fiction writer. At night I sit on the other side of the desk, so I completely understand where my clients are coming from as fiction writers.

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  7. says

    For Franny:

    Thanks, Franny! Your agent and your publicist perform very different functions on your team. You are likely to want one of each. The agent negotiates your contracts and deals with your editor when things get sticky in your career. Your publicist is there to advise you on strategic planning, image, and groom you for interviews with the media. One is about money, the other is about image.

    That said, there are some agencies that have public relations departments or can refer you to publicists they often use. So you’ll want to get that agent first and then see where you want to go from there.

    Thanks for the question!

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  8. says

    For Madison Chase:

    Hi Madison. With a book already out and another one coming, you don’t want to wait to promote! For e-books online promotion is vital. See what you can do to get interviews on blogs, guest chats and participate in online groups you belong to.

    You can also post banners and take ads in various locations online depending on your genre to reach readers.

    Offline, you can still do booksignings. Burn your book to a CD in an easily read format like a pdf file that can be read on Adobe Acrobat. You can use the cover to create a printed CD label with your website information and name on it and sell these at booksignings. Consider setting up sigings with multiple authors, since that tends to drive more traffic to the signing. Also don’t forget to get out in your community. Can you speak at your local high school to the English class? What about talking to a writers group or your local rotary club? People are always curious about writers.

    My first book, The Spellbound Bride, comes out in May 2007, so I’ll be right there with you in the book release jitters.

    Best of luck!

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  9. says

    For Eugenia:

    Wow, you do have a lot of things out there! Honestly I’ve found in working with clients that the majority of them have a brand theme or core to their writing no matter what genre or subgenre it is in. All their stories wrap around that core in their writing. It’s a natural extension of their voice.

    Once you discover what that thematic core is for you, (there was a fabulous article in the Aug. edition of the Romance Writers Report about it)you can direct people’s awareness of your work to your brand, not the book itself.

    Let me give you an example. Stephen King’s thematic core – You can overcome your worst fears. Nora Roberts – You have to discover who you truly are to find what satisfies you.
    Michael Crichton – How far is too far in science?

    Once you find out what that core is, you can go about promoting your author brand rather than the individual genres you write in.

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  10. says

    For Dee Power:

    Hi Dee! Of course I remember you.

    I’m glad you asked the question on branding. The reality is you have two different brands. You have your expert in publishing brand and you have your fiction author brand. The reason we know these are two different brands is because the cross over of one to the other isn’t big. You may have some, but in general you aren’t leading them from one to the other and back again.

    That said, you’ll need to develop two different brands for yourself.

    I know, this seems like a lot of work, and it is, but really it’s the only way you’ll come across credible in both. Hence the reason my “PR” brand is tied to Blue Moon Communications and the http://www.bluemooncommunications.com picture looks different as is the website from my author brand http://www.theresameyers.com. Go ahead and look at both sites and you’ll see the approach and the meassage points are very different for each.

    Hope that’s of some help. Good to see you here!

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  11. says

    Thank you for the information. It has been helpful and I have taken notes. My e-publisher is also a print publisher and they are publishing with Ingram, meaning I can get into bookstores nationwide. I spend a good deal of time and money in my local bookstores and the managers there are eager to buy and do books signings this fall when it releases, but how do I outreach to others? I searched 100 mile radius of my home, my inlaws in Ct. and my family in Ky, for all Walden/Border, Books a Million and Barnes and Nobel. What is the best method of contact? I am an eager new author trying to get myself out there and get my e-publisher those 5,000 copies sold of my book because I want to be the one to get them RWA certified, and I also myself into a major publishing house.
    Thank you for yout time, this is very kind of you.

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  12. says

    Hi Theresa,

    Thanks for taking the time out to answer our questions. I have a plethora of questions, but I’ll stick with only one. How do you and your authors measure the effectiveness of your marketing/promotion ideas? I know increased sales is one way to tell, but I was wondering if you’re able to measure how a specific promotion affected sales.

    Okay, and I’ll throw out one more question. When you contact Kelly Ripa’s show, was it just by sending a press kit? Did you make calls? Send promotional items along with a copy of the book?

    Thanks,

    Farrah Rochon
    http://www.farrahrochon.com

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  13. says

    For Cara North:

    Cara, you’ve already taken the step of reaching out to bookstores. That’s great! Do you have a website up? Are you approaching groups to be a speaker (where you can have your books for sale afterward or a signing linked with your presentation)? Have you considered where your books are being reviewed? More reviews might give you more exposure. You might also consider going in with three to five other authors and doing group promotion to lighten the costs on all of you, such as splitting an ad in Romantic Times. Have you thought about sending out a letter to readers groups? What about sponsoring a contest for an e-reader to boost your mailing list?

    There are publicists who specialize in promotion online. My affiliate Lisa Renee Jones does this for Blue Moon Communications and she’s simply brilliant at it. She makes sure that authors are posted at many places online, gets them online interviews and is great about organizing online chats and online events with multiple authors. There are lots of online communities you can network with to get people interested in your book all over the country.

    Also don’t pass up the obvious. If you belong to an RWA chapter, see if you can be part of a holiday signing event with other chapter authors.

    Best of luck with your promotion!

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  14. says

    For Farrah Rochon:

    Ah, two questions…

    Answer part one – Measuring effectiveness is the golden grail of public relations. The entire industry would like to know how we can prove our existance matters to our clients. The hard part is you might do all the right things and all the work and still not get the results you’re after. It’s all a roll of the dice of fate. For example, I had a client scheduled for a morning television interview on the NBC affiliate in Phoenix. The producer called me the night before to tell me they had to scrap the interview. Her executive producer told her that because the President had declared war the day before that they’d have to cancel anything that wasn’t war coverage or related to war coverage. I managed to save the interview by pitching her a different slant, explaining that statistics show people read more fiction when there is a national crisis or disaster because it helps them to psychologically deal with the harsh reality. Based on that pitch, the client got to keep her interview.

    The best way I’ve found to measure things is to look for specific goals that can be obtained. Do we want to push for more members on a client’s mailing list? Do we want to scheduled X number of speaking engagements? Do we want to cement relationships in a particular geographical area? Do we want to hit an untapped market for booksignings? Have we seen a measured increase in sales after and event? These are things we can impact and measure. Can we measure getting someone on a list? No. There are too many factors invovled and we’re only one of them.

    Answer part 2 – Getting on to the Kelly Ripa Bookclub was a long process. Carly noticed they were joking about starting a club on air (she watches the show regularly). I called the show and asked if they were really doing it and got told no. It was only banter. I called back two weeks later. Were they considering it and did they have a producer? Yes, they were considering it, but no producer had been assigned. I called back again a week later…you get the idea. Four weeks into it, I finally had tracked down the name of the producer and sent in a book and press kit as requested. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. We followed that up with a cookie basket where the cookies were shaped like lips (just like the kisses covering the book). In each cookie I had the company write a little phrase (A medling mother, a confirmed bachelor, one of the reviews on the book) and had them package it along with a copy of the book directly to Kelly. Normally stars aren’t going to turn away gift baskets, they’ll at least look to see who sent them. I continued to follow up with the show for another three weeks before we got the call saying we’d made it into the final set. Two weeks after that we found out she’d been selected. Public relations is a lot about timing, but its also a lot about being persistent.

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