This article first appeared 8/12 on the Hazel and Wren website
The following tips are my Hit Parade – the things that I find myself repeating over and over. So often, in fact, that I started teaching a class at the Loft covering them, and eventually started this website.
My main mantra is: Early, early, early. You cannot start promoting your book early enough. By promotion, I mean all types of things: coming up with your elevator pitch, having giveaway items made, telling everyone about your book. Publicity, to be clear, is part of promotion. It has to do with getting your message out through any medium, usually for free. (On the other hand, advertising, where you are guaranteed placement and message, costs – lots.)
A year before your book comes out is not too early to start. The basic timeline for promoting a book in the old-school world is pretty much controlled by the NYC publishers. They have loooong lead times, so they have somehow hoodwinked media into thinking that the media need to have the book three to six months before the book comes out. And guess what? It has worked. We’ve all fallen in line. The main reason publishers want to get their books out to media early is so that all resulting reviews and interviews hit during the launch month. The consumer is bombarded with this book over a short period of time. That’s one of the basic tenets of marketing – repeating the message.
Getting coverage for a book after it is out is very difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. If you are promoting your published book, find a news angle, a holiday or other observance, or some way to link it to current events, to make it “newsworthy.” Give yourself a new “launch” date and operate accordingly. If your book received scant attention the first time around, the new angle and target date will give it a fresh appeal.
Here is the bottom line: Your book has to be something that can be talked about in order to get media coverage. What’s your angle? What’s your platform? There has to be a hook. Fiction may be more difficult to pinpoint in this way, but there’s always some aspect of the book that can be discussed. Maybe it’s the extreme research you did. Maybe it’s the character based on your estranged father and the story of that separation, the writing of which resulted in a reconciliation after thirty years (don’t roll your eyes, this happened). Whatever it is, you need to figure it out. The media will not figure it out. Do not – I repeat – do not expect them to read your book and simply want to talk to you because it’s the Best Story Ever. Not gonna happen.
Remember, your relationship with the media is a partnership. You are providing them content. They are not doing you a ‘favor.’ And you are not pitching a book to them – you are pitching a story. Your story. Know who you are pitching to – check out their websites, and whenever possible, watch or listen to the programs, or read the publications. Make sure you know why their audience would care. Give them ideas, and try to be creative. Be as specific as possible: if you want a review, say so. If you want a profile, say so. If you want an on-air review, ask for that, or if you want an on-air interview, ask for that. Don’t make them guess how they can use you or your book.
Efforts = Expectations
Once you’ve figured out where you are in the timeline, and you have your angle/news hook/platform, you need to determine what you are willing to do in order to make this happen. Do you want to be the Next Big Thing? Then you’d better be willing to log lots of hours sending e-mails, making calls, doing research, and basically chasing around to get your book in front of the right people. If you cannot do all that, figure out what you can do yourself and what you can afford to hire someone else to do. Or maybe you don’t want to be the Next Big Thing, but simply want to make a decent showing in your hometown. That requires a different amount of effort, but similar skills. Just keep in mind that you are very unlikely to become the Next Big Thing if you are not willing to put in the effort necessary. Your effort has to match your expectations and your expectations have to match your effort.
Things You May Need
You will need something to dangle in front of that contact. It may be a press kit, which usually includes some kind of news release, author bio, and most often a Q&A piece, but mix it up with something fun too – a Top Ten list or some other thing you invent. I recently worked with an author who did character interviews. We distributed them to bloggers. It was lots of fun. For nonfiction, a table of contents may be handy in the press kit. Pull out a nice excerpt, too.
Other things that may be handy: bookmarks, postcards, images of your book cover, an author photo, and some kind of small giveaway item that relates to your book somehow. You can start handing out bookmarks as soon as your book cover is final. It doesn’t matter if that book won’t hit streets for a year. Get the ball rolling. The thing I have heard authors lamenting most often is that they felt they were too stingy with review copies. Print lots, and give them away with boundless enthusiasm. Try to be strategic, but keep in mind that you never know who will become your next Super Fan.
Another thing you can do really early – if you haven’t already – is get to know your local book freaks, er, I mean book folks. If you do not know the librarians at your local branch, what are you waiting for? Get over there and introduce yourself. Give them a stack of bookmarks. Same for any indie booksellers. Hey, these guys are your buddies. But you don’t have to take my word for this – here is an article via BookRiot that sums that it up pretty well.
Alas, there are no guarantees in life – and publicity is no different. No publicist on the planet can give you guarantees. Even if the producer on the Today Show is their mother, they cannot control the winds of the world, and other news has a way of happening just when you are scheduled to appear. For instance, something like sixty authors were cancelled on the Today Show after the 9/11 attacks.
But you can hedge your bets by doing different things. Mix up your portfolio – do lots of publicity (which means send out lots of review copies, press kits, and e-mails). Do a little advertising in strategic spots. Join a group or two – like a trade association, or a networking group. Schedule some events (the lead time on these is becoming longer, too). Use your personal contacts. Most of all, get yourself out there and take every opportunity that comes your way.
What Publicity Can Do for You
Publicity does not necessarily equal a certain number of books sold. But it’s hard for people to buy your book if they don’t know about it. Publicity can help you get to the top of the attention span of your audience. It can cause them to search out your book, or to have it top of mind when they next walk in to a bookstore.
Whether you are self-publishing or pursuing the route of traditional publishing, you should know the basics of how publicity operates. Many publishing houses want to see that you have some kind of marketing plan before they will take your work. If you are self-publishing, be sure your budget includes a line item for publicity. At the very least, budget for review copies and copies of your press kit. Include it in your marketing plan.
To sum it up, here are three big pieces of advice: be civil, be patient, and move on when you need to. I always say that publicity is equal parts tenacity and patience. Kind of like writing.