You’ve done the hard part and written the book(s) – okay, well maybe you’re procrastinating a tad bit by being online reading Writer Unboxed when really you should be polishing off that manuscript. All is forgiven, however, because you’re here, getting a leg up by reading about your book’s publicity – something that, far too often, is thought about late in the game.
Or maybe you have a book that’s currently out (congrats!) making its way in the world and you’re feeling ho-hum about the publicity it’s getting or that your publicist in general is not doing enough (or is she?). It’s a competitive, changing market, after all, and it’s just so darn hard to get the word out about a book these days. I mean, we can’t all give away a new car on Facebook (and readers are becoming blasé about Facebook contests anyway) nor can we all be so lucky to have Jennifer Weiner sit on national TV and say our book is the book to read this summer now can we? (side note: congrats to Tayari Jones, fellow Arizona State grad – go Devils! – her novel Silver Sparrow is really breathtaking!).
Regardless of your situation, you’re here reading about book publicity and instead of relying on my expertise alone (I’m always up for learning from the masses!), I’ve tapped some other fabulous outside publicists to help give you (or your publicist) a leg up.
Here are 5 MUST-DO tips for book publicity in today’s market:
#1 Make it Personal
The days of mass email (or mass anything, frankly) are over. As a publicist, it’s personal relationships that count, which means mass email blasts about your book or product aren’t going to get you anywhere. Sure you want to reach as many people as possible, but don’t you really want to reach people who might actually write or talk about your book instead of harassing totally non-relevant media outlets? Talk to your publicist about strategies for reaching media with individualized pitches. Smart, targeted pitching will get you more coverage any day than any sort of bcc blanketing. – tip from Sarah Burningham of Little Bird Publicity.
Note from Crystal: I love this tip from Sarah because I know exactly what she’s talking about! Not only am I a publicist, but I’m a former book contributor to The Indianapolis Star and still contribute books coverage to SheKnows.com – the #1 website in the world for women. As such, not only do I pitch media daily but I am pitched daily – by publicists everyway (including the gals on this list providing tips and your very own publicists – yes, you there! Your publicist pitched me just yesterday!). You would be surprised how often I get a mass email pitch that is not addressed to me at all. The ones I respond to? When they are personal! When the publicist addresses me personally, makes note of my recent coverage and articles, makes a thoughtful remark about why I would like this book she’s pitching and how it fits the SheKnows’ audience. Bingo! That’s what makes me say, “Why yes, I would absolutely be thrilled to read and cover this lovely book!”
#2 Timing is Everything
The strategy for your book release needs to happen AT LEAST 6 months before your book goes on sale. And frankly, 6 months is cutting it close. Dealing with pre-sales (which are important, no matter what anyone tells you), long lead media outlets that are planning their coverage at least 5-6 months ahead of the calendar, and even shorter lead media coverage, takes time. The more time you give yourself and your publicist to develop a solid plan for launching your book, the better chance it has at succeeding in a very crowded market. Don’t let our fast-paced, ADHD world where yesterday’s news is old before it’s even yesterday, convince you that it’s possible to make your book an overnight success. Overnight successes take months, and often years, to build. You just don’t see that part. –another tip from Sarah Burningham of Little Bird Publicity.
Note from Crystal: Sarah, I could just kiss you right now! Very brilliant tip and so articulate. All too often it’s not understood how critical it is to be this far out in the calendar from pub date. Lately, even publishers are waiting longer and longer to have galleys ready and sent to media. Final books are coming 2 weeks before pub date! I find, even online, some of the most popular blogs are booked 2 to 4 months out. Timing is everything indeed!
#3 One Pitch is Never Enough
Just like buying a fabulous new dress for a very important event, you want to try different styles, textures and colors to flatter. I find it essential with any book promotion—with any PR client for the matter—to alter pitches for new audiences, play around with lead sentences and tweak email subject lines. If your client is evolving, so should your pitch. – tip from Ann-Marie Nieves of Get Red PR.
Note from Crystal: Ann-Marie, first of all, have you written a book? I think you should! Very well-written tip my friend and I love the way you put it in context of the dress. I can attest to this awesome tip as well – many times I’m pitched once and then the publicist lets it drop. They have too many books they are working on and so much to do that they never really have proper time to come back and check in (one of the many great reasons to hire an outside publicist by the way). Journalists get busy too, they are pitched all day long! Maybe they just haven’t had a chance to look at your pitch and when you, respectfully, come back and check in, you may be surprised what you hear. Publicists (especially young ones) are afraid to pick up the phone to follow up because of fear of rejection. But let me tell you, I have never gotten a major media opp for one of my clients by pitching just one time. It takes many, many pitches and phone calls to secure even one story or blog. It sometimes takes months of back and forth with a journalist and it also requires tact and the know-how to straddle the line between persistence and annoyance – a skill that not all publicists have mastered.
#4 Think Like a Journalist
One of the best things you can do, when promoting your book, is to think like a journalist. You have a beat to cover and that beat is you and your writing. Look for stories that pertain to the subject matter in your novels, the themes you explore in your work, or your own personal background and try to expand on them in a way that would have mainstream interest.
Start every day by scanning newspapers, major online news sites and news programs. Stay alert to what is relevant, what news stories are trending, and where the interest seems to be. If something comes up in any one of these outlets that you feel pertains to your work, your writing or your life, start jotting down ideas. Write about it in your blog or mention it on one of your social media sites (Facebook, Twitter). Stay curious and alert at all times because all it takes is one story or “hook” and you can get exposure that will help increase the visibility of you and your work.- tip from Jocelyn Kelley from Kelly & Hall Book Publicity.
Note from Crystal: Jocelyn, this is such a critical tip and I’m so glad you contributed! This is something I learned at my first PR agency job. It is one of the most important things I took with me. We were required to come in everyday and read the newspaper/magazines before turning our computers on (yes, this was back in the day when news was not quite online everywhere yet, Hotmail was just being born for goodness sakes! I am dating myself here …but all for the greater good.). If we were going to pitch a journalist for a client, we had to create a briefing book on that journalist first. The briefing book contained the journalist’s bio, beat, history, recent articles plus any notes from fellow PR co-workers on their own experiences pitching that journalist. Before I picked up the phone to talk to that journalist, you can bet I read that briefing book cover to cover– and, yes, I still do this today! Being up on the latest news, technology, tools and media outlets is critical to being the best publicist you can be. If you’re pitching a magazine – read that magazine from cover to cover, every month. There’s so much out there, it takes time, but it’s time well spent. It’s where ideas and inspiration come from! Read the news, find the stories, find your clients’ stories and help craft them. It’s the best part of being a publicist!
#5 Let it Go
I recently wrapped up a campaign that I put my heart and soul into, a campaign that by all standards was successful. I was very happy with the results and thrilled to be part of the book launch. I always get emotionally invested – maybe that’s something I should have asked Sarah, Ann-Marie and Jocelyn (though I would bet that all of them would say yes; after all, they are amazing publicists and in order to be amazing at what you do, you have to be invested). And if your publicist is not invested in your work, I say find someone who is.
When a campaign ends, I always ask myself: Did we get all the coverage we wanted? Did we get all the coverage we could have? Did I do everything I possibly could have? What could I have done better? There’s always more, always better, always harder. Publicity is very hit or miss, there’s no guarantee, there’s the rare instances of getting a “gift” like having a bestselling, powerful novelist get on TV and rave about your book and the rare “breakout” novel of the year situations. In most cases, though, there are just really good books out there, making their way in the world written by amazing authors who simply had to get the story out.
Inevitably, we don’t always get everything we want when it comes to publicity. We try, we try so very hard, we follow these amazing tips and more and it still won’t guarantee coverage or sales or success. If you’re publicist is guaranteeing any of those things, then I say find another publicist. After all, you want reality and hard work and emotional investment on your behalf. This is your novel you’re selling to the world, sharing with the world. Not a used car.
So after it’s all said and done and you’re reflecting on the publicity and the efforts and if you’re unhappy or wanted more or worrying you or your publicist didn’t do enough or what else you or she could have done, then I share this quote from a dear friend of mine, a brilliant writer, a beautiful, inspiring woman:
“It seems to me that a writer has to have a certain amount of faith that things will work out when they are meant to work out, whatever ‘working out’ means, or how that is defined. And a challenging but necessary part of this process is in fact Letting Go.”