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Communications in 2020: What Do Authors Value?

Photo by Retha Ferguson

I think constantly about value. What will bring value to my client’s book—the write-up in People, the outreach to book clubs, the branded swag for influencers, a radio satellite tour to bring a specific message to a large audience. What is the marketing communications mix for my client? How will I generate conversation, drive influence and sales, gain the implied endorsement from a reputable source, build an online buzz.

I recently spoke with bestselling historical fiction author (a Get Red PR client)  Camille Di Maio on Instagram [1] for her book industry interview series about the ins and outs of PR and what’s changed through the years. While each day something will happen that will make me squeal with delight, and I say that because I’m a big believer in small victories [2]. The rejections are also daily and sometimes another ‘no’ leaves me weakened and tending to wounds that I know will heal but for the briefest period are unbearable.

The next day, I sit at my desk and do it all over again, because no matter what, I love what I do. The conversation I have with myself about value starts again.

I decided to ask a few authors and a veteran literary publicist—with many books to their credit—their their thoughts about value. Specifically, how have their marketing communications efforts evolved through the years, and what are some of the big differences between their various book releases.

ROBYN HARDING [3], Internationally Bestselling Author of THE SWAP, out now

I published my first novel in 2004, before social media was widely used (or even created in most cases), so I was at the mercy of my publisher’s in-house publicist to promote my book. She arranged local television, newspaper, and radio interviews for me, and put me in touch with several online book bloggers. (I still remember being asked: What do you consider to be your best feature? I didn’t bat an eye then, but I would now.) My next few novels were promoted the same way. After taking a break to explore screenwriting, I returned to publishing with my first domestic suspense novel, THE PARTY, in 2017. The world of promotions had moved almost completely online, and I had much more opportunity to participate in my own publicity. Now, my in-house publicist gets my book into the hands of print and online publications for inclusion on lists and round-ups, which I share on social media to amplify their reach. (I’ve had my books in big traditional publications like People and Entertainment Weekly, but it didn’t seem to impact sales.) I usually write a few articles that tie into the theme of my book, and my publicist will place them. In 2017, I didn’t have Instagram or Twitter, so I was trying to promote a book and develop a following at the same time. Since then, I have found an amazing book community online, and have developed friendships with many bookstagrammers. When my latest novel, THE SWAP, was published on June 23, I felt such incredible support. I spent the entirety of pub day thanking people on social media. It was pretty great.

CHRIS BOHJALIAN [4], #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of THE RED LOTUS (which came out on March 17, 2020 when the world shut down); look for the special 25th anniversary edition of WATER WITCHES on June 30

My 21st book was published on March 17, 2020, so the differences between my most recent release and the twenty that preceded it is like comparing apples and oranges.  It makes more sense to compare (for instance) my 20th novel with my first.  I have been writing since the Mesozoic era, and the big changes between publishing a book in the late 1980s and the present include:

— The dramatic decrease in newspaper and magazine coverage of books;

— The decrease in television coverage of books;

— The rise of the online book sites and the way readers give books one to five stars;

— The rise of thoughtful book bloggers and passionate book blogs;

— The rise of the social networks to sell books;

— The increase in small, dedicated book groups that meet in living rooms across America;

— The increase in national book clubs hosted by smart celebrities who care passionately about good books;

— The way digital audio has fueled monumental growth in audiobooks;

— The way eBooks have rendered book tours less fiscally viable;

— The way streaming networks have adapted books into limited series that really give a book a chance to breathe on the the screen;

— The way that online bookstores have made ‘discoverability’ of a new book more difficult for book browsers, because there are fewer bricks and mortar bookstores and they have smaller inventories.

I’m sure there are others, but these are off the top of my head.

And then, of course, there has been the publishing chaos caused by Covid-19.  That has obviously reshaped everything — especially discoverability and what people want to read.

And so while the most important part of my job has not changed — writing books — I have a feeling that the people at my publisher have to work harder than ever and be smarter than ever, and constantly invent and re-invent how to get attention for a new book.  I have no idea how they stay sane and do such fantastic jobs, but day after day and book after book, they do.  Really: I am dazzled daily by the team at Doubleday and Vintage and consider being published by them one of the great blessings of my professional life.

DAVID BELL [5], USA Today Bestselling Author of THE REQUEST, out on June 30

Social media has grown in importance and evolved with every book I’ve written. I certainly think Instagram has continued to grow in importance due to the gigantic community of book lovers there. A large number of people who love books can quickly share an image of a book cover and brief reviews in advance of the release of a book, and that helps to get the word out to a lot of people. I also think Instagram and Facebook stories have grown in importance. Those quick stories are a way to get a lot of eyes on a piece of news about a book–or just about an author’s life. And those are ways to more closely connect and interact with readers.

I also think social media is a way to build a core group of readers who an author can keep informed. Those readers go out and buy the books first and spread the word to their friends and followers.


LIZ FENTON AND LISA STEINKE [6], Bestselling Authors of HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, out on July 14

Successfully marketing a book has become a moving target in our increasingly digital world. Since launching our debut novel six years ago, the veil between author and reader has become razor thin. We love this, as we enjoy interacting with and getting to know readers!  Book clubs, Facebook reading groups and Bookstagrammers now wield more influence than most trade reviews, and these relationships are paramount to any marketing campaign. We are constantly brainstorming new ways to collaborate with these vital partners and are incredibly appreciative of the work they do to increase literacy and drive book sales.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN [7], USA Today Bestselling Author of THE FIRST TO LIE, out on August 4

When my first book came out, in 2007? I remember sitting in my living room stuffing printed news releases Into hand-addressed manila envelopes to send to the newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in New England. Typing, printing, collating, stuffing, licking envelopes , stamping, walking to the post office. And then—crossing fingers. It felt like a real roll of the dice, with no efficient way to follow up, and no way to measure success.

My publishers have always been terrific about publicity, but I know I am just one of many authors, so early on, I hired a publicist. Back then, she spent a lot of time getting me on the radio and television. (We had many “discussions” about print advertising, because I was —and am—a great believer in it. )

The power and reach of social media—Facebook and Twitter at the beginning, and now focusing on Instagram—changed everything.

I think the key now is the super power of readers. The influence of their outreach is enormous, and incredibly important. The phrase “opinion leader” used to be reserved for someone whose job it was to shepherd readers to what they should read, and what  books they should choose. Now — because communication and connection is so instant – – the value also comes from what feels like listening to a friend.

Because now it is all about access—to the author, and to the books.  BookBub and Goodreads became increasingly important. Even the access to Netgalley has made a huge difference.

As a USA Today Bestselling author with 12 books and counting now, I truly embrace the voice of the people—and understand the delicate and complex task of spreading the word but keeping a balance.

ARIELE FREDMAN, Associate Director of Publicity, Atria Books [8] | Simon & Schuster

Of course, every author and genre is different and building an author’s “brand” takes time, so there are definitely going to be differences in promoting authors who have 2 books under their belts than 19. You will always want to reach out to those tried and true fans (and media partners), but hopefully the author will give you the material within the book to go searching for a new audience. Undercurrent of mystery in book 7? Great! Let’s try the mystery market and see if we can bring in some new fans! Same old, same old plot components in book 12, but with an older character in the mix? Alright, let’s target different media and see if AARP bites. A creative publicist should be able to find even small ways to expand a brand author. Meanwhile, the outreach definitely becomes cyclical for long term authors but is always on. Marketing can and should be active year round – possibly online ads running for backlist as you start to promote a new book – that way you’re always working on building the fan base, and you’ve got an even broader audience primed to buy the new and exciting book that’s about to release. Publicity and marketing go hand in hand and there should be a strategy for all books that’s shared, whether a debut or an established and beloved author.



About Ann Marie Nieves [9]

Ann-Marie Nieves [10] (she/her) is the founder of Get Red PR, and an award-winning communicator with experience across a broad range of industries in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business sectors. She has experience within all communications platforms including public relations, advertising, marketing, copywriting, website development, community relations, and social media.