Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fine Art of Persistence in Successful Book Publicity

An author asked me recently what I consider to be the most important characteristic to look for when hiring a publicist to promote a new book. I explained to her that while certain factors are crucial – being able to write a good press release, having lots of media contacts, knowing the ins and outs of a particular genre, and being honest, professional, and personable – I believe that the most important characteristic of a good publicist is persistence. For while industry savvy and a long list of connections are the general hallmarks of most experienced PR professionals, those who are really successful are the ones who have made it their business to keep asking for a yes until they hear one.

There is a fine line, of course, between being professionally persistent and being an annoying pest. Booksellers, reporters, and media producers are busy people, and many of them will not mince words if they’re in the midst of a deadline or are dealing with a rush of customers.

And timing is equally important. Call too often, and you can be branded as a stalker. But call too little, and chances are you might never have the opportunity to make your pitch.

What’s important to remember is that bookstore managers and media reps are looking for ways to draw an audience to their bookstore, publication, or news program. They know that their customers love to meet their favorite authors and, for media types, that their viewers want to hear all about what’s hot in the publishing world. But because booksellers and media pros are busy people, we publicists (and authors who do their own book promotion) have to learn to create good pitches and follow up until we have a chance to give them.

As in any business where you’re requesting or selling something, the secret to hearing a yes is to be persistent in a professional manner. And it doesn’t matter if you’re being persistent by telephone or in writing. I prefer to make my initial contacts by telephone. If I’m successful in reaching the person I’m calling, I’ll have my pitch organized beforehand, so I’m ready to pass along the information as succinctly and clearly as possible. If there is interest, I usually send pertinent information (press release, bio, author photo, and book cover art) by email immediately after I call. And I’ll follow up as much as necessary until I have a definitive answer.

Even if I get an immediate yes to my initial request for a signing or interview, email follow-up is crucial. I’ll contact the author to find out if the proposed appearance date and time will work, and then send a confirmation email to all concerned. I’ll also indicate if the author will be bringing material prior to the signing, or go over protocol and content prior to an interview. And I’ll set up a tickler in my calendar to make a follow-up call close to the appearance date (usually the week prior) to ensure that all the details, including event set-up, book orders, time limits, travel arrangements, driving directions, parking, etc., are covered.

If the person I’m trying to reach isn’t available when I make my initial call, I like to leave a brief message explaining who I am and why I’m calling. I then try to get an email address where I can send the relevant information and follow up again in a day or so.

If a person says she’d like to think about offering a signing/interview/media appearance, I try to give her a respectable amount of time – anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks – to do so before calling again. Sometimes, as in cases where authors are coming to the U.S. from overseas, the timing might be more urgent. I try to account for scheduling crunches by making my initial calls with as much lead time as possible, so that I have enough of a window in which to call back if a contact is difficult to reach, or to follow up if the arrangements are complicated or require some time to nail down.

There is a always going to be the occasional person who will rudely state that his store doesn’t do signings because they’re a waste of time, or the producer who will claim that your client and/or his book are just plain not interesting. But in over 20 years of working in marketing and publicity, I can honestly say that those individuals are the exception, rather than the rule. Most of the book sellers and media personnel you’ll deal with are professionals, and if you are honest and courteous, they’ll respond in kind.

As an example of how being professionally persistent can work, I once had one of my clients call to say that she was going to be in Washington D.C. in a week and could I please set up a couple of book signings for her. A week is generally not enough lead time to set up any type of event, but this particular author was up and coming, with more than one book in a popular genre, so I told her I’d do my best. I managed to set up a library signing, but had no luck with any booksellers. During the last call on my list, I spoke with a bookstore manager who passed on doing a signing, and then mentioned that one of the store’s book clubs would have been interested if my client were coming later in the month. I thanked the bookseller for her time and asked if I could email her some information about the author to pass along to the club anyway. The next morning, the bookseller called me back and said that she’d given the club members the info I’d sent, and they were so impressed with it that they’d decided to move their monthly meeting up a couple of weeks so they could host my client.

The moral of this story is that if you’re organized and professional in your approach, you can usually obtain the publicity you’re looking for. The bottom line is to be persistent, thorough, and respectful of the people you’re contacting. Consider how you prefer to be approached and, when in doubt, treat booksellers and the media accordingly. And, as Winston Churchill so wisely advised, “never, ever give up” until you get the yes you’re looking for.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Marketing 101: Ten Tips for New Authors

I’m often asked by debut authors what they can do on their own to promote their books. Assuming they’ve written the best books they possibly can and built their platforms as much as possible, here are my top ten recommendations for first-time authors with a new book to sell:

1. Write a dynamite press release and post it on free news wire sites.
I usually won’t call a bookseller or a media contact until I have the following at hand: a headshot of the author, a jpg of the book cover art, an author bio, and a press release. Of all of these items, the press release is the most important. Why? A good release is like a complete news article: it contains the title of the book, the ISBN number, the release date, and any other relevant information about the book itself, along with a brief description of the book, a quote from the author, and a one-paragraph bio that includes the author’s background, relevant expertise, and any awards or achievements tied to the book. If you write it well, media experts with little time and news slots to fill will often publish it verbatim, along with any photographs you send.
Once you’ve created your release, be sure to place it on online news wires for distribution. There are a number of free sites where authors can post releases (two of my favorites are and
2. Create a website.
I’m amazed at the number of authors I meet who don’t have a website for either themselves or their books. A website is like an electronic business card – it functions as a place where readers, booksellers, and media persons can return to find more information about you and your book, including contact and sales information. Many authors who are published by small presses think it’s okay to have their book listed on their publisher’s website. That’s fine, but I still think it’s important that each book have a web presence all its own. If cost is an issue, there are many low cost and free website services available online; look for sites that offer good telephone support and are easy to update and maintain.
3. Create a blog.
One of the most powerful ways to let readers know about your book is to create a blog and update it regularly. Your blog can be about anything: your thoughts on writing, your book and events connected with it, your next book, etc. The important considerations are to a.) give your readers something to think about or some information they can use, b.) blog often, and c.) be sure to comment on other blogs with links back to your website and blogsite.
4. Make yourself known on social networking and reader sites.
Although this can be time-consuming, it costs nothing and is easy to do. Create a Facebook and Twitter page for either yourself or your book and spend time cultivating relationships and inviting friends to join. Look for sites that are related to your book or to writing in general and list your book there. Likewise, explore sites like Goodreads, Red Room, LibraryThing,, etc., and do your best to stay current with other reading and writing sites that offer opportunities to tell readers about your book.
5. Work your niche.
If you’ve written a book that is of interest to a specialized group of readers, be sure to capitalize on that as much as possible. Whether its genre fiction like romance, fantasy, or mystery, or non-fiction targeted to a specific audience, having a niche can present unlimited opportunities for marketing your book. Create lists of websites, groups, professional organizations, festivals, conferences, etc., that are oriented toward your book and make contact with each of them to see what marketing opportunities they might offer.
6. Work your local booksellers.
Even if you’ve self-published, your local booksellers can be the go-to place for signing opportunities and advice on how to market your books. Talk to both traditional and independent booksellers and see if they’re willing to offering you a signing opportunity, or if they’re willing to order a couple of copies for their shelves. If signing and ordering aren’t options, ask if they host book clubs who might like a speaker, or if they’ll be willing to keep your bookmarks on the counter to hand out to customers. Offer to donate giveaways you’ve created for your book (posters, bookmarks, fact sheets, magnets, etc.). The more you’re willing to offer them, the more apt they are to respond favorably to requests to help market your books.
7. Think outside the box.
For self-published authors who can’t get their books into mainstream bookstores, consider other opportunities for selling your books. These might include sharing tables at book festivals, farmers markets, swap meets, or street fairs, finding venues that will let you sell your book after a presentation or speaking engagement, teaching classes at community colleges and adult education sites, appearances at professional organization meetings, political gatherings, or church functions, or any other place where readers in your niche would be interested in meeting you and buying your book. Join local writers groups and participate in organized events for promoting your book.
8. Don’t forget your local library.
Libraries are a wonderful resource for authors and many of them are willing to schedule individual book signings for local and visiting authors. Some libraries invite writers to open houses and specialty events, and some hold author exhibits. Many cities have both county and city library branches, so be sure to search for info on both when doing your contact research.
9. Enter contests and go back to step 1 when you win.
There are a number of established local and national contests for published authors and many of them hold annual competitions. New authors should be sure to enter their books in as many contests as possible and create a press release announcing any awards they win.
10. Find a group of like-minded authors and meet regularly to swap ideas and tips.
A good book promotion group is just as important as a good writing group. If you can’t find a promotion group for published authors, don’t be afraid to start one yourself (advertise for free on Craigslist and through your bookstore and connections). Meet regularly to share promotional experiences and advice and, as author Carol Newman Cronin mentions in her blog post on the subject, bounce around ideas.