GIVEAWAY: In celebration of the Aug. 1 release of my new humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL , I am hosting a giveaway with this post. After one week, I will choose three (3) random commenters as winners, and those winners can chose any one of my books that they want to receive as a prize. Good luck to all! (UPDATE: Ronda R, Kenny K and Cathy won.)
Only 8 days (!) remain until the release of my latest political humor book . That means it’s a time for me to do what I can concerning promotion and publicity in support of the project. A bit of good news for me is that I’ve been down this road before. In 2010, my first humor book about garden gnomes  was released and I got a close look at how the publicity machine works and why writers get coverage in some outlets but not in others. So as I start down this path a second time, let me share 7 pieces of advice concerning book promotion and publicity  — all of which were shaped from what I learned during my first go-round in 2010.
1. Coverage is insanely hit-and-miss, so don’t be afraid to fire in multiple directions. After my book got mentions in Reader’s Digest and AOL News, I thought it would be a shoo-in for coverage when I notified the local media. Not so. The fact is: You never know who will be interested in your book, so your only option is to blast numerous outlets, big and small, local and not. (I often compare trying to garner book publicity to a blindfolded person firing in all directions.) That said, remember to personalize all your communication. Sending out a press release accompanied by a short, personal note will be much more effective than just a cold press release.
2. Your connections matter, so reach out to friends. Eventually, after contacting a dozen or so local media outlets, I finally did get print coverage in a magazine and two newspapers. So why did these particular outlets choose to help me while the others passed? Simple — I knew the editors! I used to write for these publications, and my former editors were happy to share news of the book. So work your connections. If you don’t have media pals, put out a call to your friends and family, and ask for introductions. If an old college buddy knows a local morning show producer or a relative knows a writer at a weekly newspaper, utilize those leads!
3. Bookstores cannot return signed stock, so autograph books where you can. In the bookselling business, stores can ship back all unsold titles to their respective publishing houses for a refund. This means that while Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million will order and stock your book, you get no money unless the books actually sell. But authors need to know that autographed copies with a sticker on the front cannot be returned. So every time I travel out of town to writers conferences  to present, I stop by large chain bookstores and offer sign my books.
4. You want to get on TV as soon as possible, so never turn down an invitation to be interviewed. When How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack  came out two years ago, my literary agent  got a call from a major late night talk show inquiring about me and the book. The show’s producers wanted to see some prior footage of me being interviewed on television. But wait a second … waah-waaaaah. That wasn’t going to happen because I had never been interviewed on TV before. After hearing I was an on-camera newbie, the producers’ interest dissolved. This lost opportunity is what drove me to try and secure some on-camera time in 2012 so I had video clips on file for the future. In the summer of 2012, I was interviewed by a local news morning show  and got permission to share the clip. Success.
5. Radio interviews are easier to secure than TV appearances, so seek out local stations and blog radio outlets. The simple truth is that books are not visually exciting and do not often translate well to the medium of TV talk shows. When my first book was released, more than a dozen radio stations interviewed me, but I did not appear on television once in support of the book.
6. Book signings are also hit-and-miss, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Almost no authors these days go on book tours. Unless you’re selling thousands of units each week, an ambitious self-funded tour is not financially practical. If you’re considering planning events, I suggest doing a few local and regional signings/readings (such as a book release party) to tap into your network of friends, relatives, coworkers and acquaintances. But once you start organizing readings beyond those local shindigs, it’s not uncommon to have 25 people show up for one out-of-town signing, then 3 at the next. And if you’re not attracting big numbers at a book signing two states away, you end up losing money on hotel and gas costs. To strengthen your sales, consider hosting “group events” — where several authors (connected either by region or genre) all participate in a single bookstore event. You’ll work together to promote, and fans of one writer quickly become fans of another.
7. Time is limited, so understand your publicist’s roles and responsibilities in the promotion journey. With both of my humor books, I have been assigned an in-house publicist who helps promote the book . If you are assigned an in-house publicist, or you hire an independent publicist on your own, the most important thing is to understand what each of you brings to the table. When Gnomes came out, my publicist handled all the “big” media. She was in charge of contacting national outlets and big TV shows and such. It was her efforts that led to press in USA Today, The New York Times Book Review, and more. My own promotional work complemented hers. I was in charge of contacting as many garden bloggers as I could and assembling a large list of names and mailing addresses for review copies. I was also in charge of contacting my own local media, as I had established connections from before. Because my publicist and I understood each others’ roles, we were able to work simultaneously and effectively without hindering one another by accident.
Remember that writing the book is only the first step of your journey. Writers must do what they can to help spread the word about their books. If you’re currently promoting your own books, I wish you good luck!