Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Watch Your Backside: A Publicist’s Advice on Back Covers

I was dismayed recently to receive a number of books from prospective clients (including three from a small press) that had nothing on the back covers other than the Bookland EAN barcode and a brief paragraph about the book.

That’s it? A bar code and a paragraph?

Some of these back cover paragraphs were poorly written and riddled with typos. One included a glib attempt by the author to downplay his writing skills with self-effacing humor. One had no description of the book, but instead listed a 16-line quote by a reviewer. Another filled the entire space of the back cover in an illegible, shadowed font.

It’s hard to believe that in today’s crowded market, authors willingly choose to ignore the valuable marketing space on their books' back covers. Because that’s what a back cover is – an opportunity to sell your book to a potential reader. But in order to sell, the back cover must be professional in design and compelling in its content.

Here’s what I like to see on a back cover (in addition to the Bookland barcode), preferably in this order:

1. An intriguing, well-written one or two-paragraph summary about the book.

If the book is fiction, think of the summary paragraph as your chance to hook your prospective reader. Focus on the meat of the story: WHO has to do WHAT to cause WHAT to happen/not happen? Then add details that will appeal to your target audience.

If you’re writing non-fiction, describe your book’s contents in a way that sets you apart from any other books on the topic. What makes your book different? What special expertise do you bring to the subject matter that will entice readers? And what will readers learn after reading your book?

When you write your back cover copy, think about what your reader is looking for. Describe the story – or in the case of non-fiction, the book’s content – in such a way that the person reading it feels compelled to open the book.

2. At least 3 one or two-sentence blurbs from reviewers your target readers recognize and respect.

The more well-known your reviewers, the more likely readers are going to want to take a look at what’s inside your book. Network with your friends and fellow authors to locate reviewers who will appeal to your target audience. Send the reviewers copies of your manuscript and ask them to write a blurb for you. When you receive the blurbs, parse them down to one or two sentences that do the best job of relaying what’s good about your book. Remember that endorsements are especially important to media folks, so it’s worth the time and effort to try to obtain blurbs from readers who are well-known.

What if you don’t know any big names who can endorse your book? Ask your writing group members, fellow authors, friends, and even family members if they’ll read your work and give you an endorsement. Choose people who are good representative readers, and/or those who will give you a well-written, pithy quote. A good review from a reader who represents your book’s target audience may be the deciding factor in motivating an interested reader to open and/or buy the book.

3. A headshot and bio.

Readers like to know something about the authors of the books they might buy. By providing a small photo of yourself, and a brief, one-paragraph bio, you are using yourself as a selling point. Be sure your headshot is professional-looking and include the most important facts about yourself and your platform in the bio. Also, list your website and other social media sites where readers can find more information about you.

Your headshot should appear next to the biographical paragraph and should be small enough to fit the space next to the bio, but large enough that your features are recognizable.

In addition to the bar code and pricing information, you may want to include listing the book’s subject category (usually this appears in the upper left-hand corner of the back cover). Doing so helps staff members at bookstores and libraries know where to shelve your book.

Finally, think of your back cover as prime advertising space and use as much of it as you can, with proper attention to design and legibility. If you have won awards, be sure to list those on the back cover, as well. But most important, design your back cover so it inspires your readers to buy. Give them a glimpse of your voice and style with an intriguing, well-written synopsis. Let them know that your work is important and endorsed by others with a few positive blurbs. And introduce yourself and your platform by including an author photo and a brief bio.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Introverted Author & the Art of Co-Promotion

Some authors are natural show persons; they love working a crowd, and have no problem speaking in front of groups, walking up to strangers to offer a pitch, or singing their own praises on the Internet.

You know the type – these are the authors who give multiple presentations at writing conferences, blatantly self-promote at family gatherings and business meetings, post daily blog articles about any topic related to their writing, and forgo the 80-20 rule on multiple social media sites in favor of 100% “me” talk. They’re the ones who have no problem, no matter what the venue, proudly exclaiming, “Hey, I’m an author and you must buy my book!”

We have to give these authors their due, not only because they often lead the way in demonstrating how to self-promote, but because many of them have become really successful as a result of their outgoing personalities. They manage to sell, in many cases, not because of their books deserve to be read, but through the sheer force and dynamism of their promotional efforts.

But many authors are not built that way. A good number of them tend to be shy and fairly humble about their achievements. Even if they have no problem being friendly and outgoing in their personal and business lives, when it comes to their books, they hold back. This is a common tendency of authors who are new to the game; oftentimes they’re unsure of themselves and/or their work, are not certain about how to promote, or just don’t enjoy being in the spotlight. In my publicity business, these are the clients who hire me to set up an aggressive speaking and media tour and then, once the scheduled dates get close, cancel their appearances one-by-one. I can’t fault them; they know they need to do publicity in order to sell their work, but when it comes time to take the stage, they just can’t do it. In truth, they prefer to work quietly on their books and, when finished, are hard-pressed to venture out to promote them.

Some would say that if these shy authors want to sell books, they need to get with the program and learn to be show persons. And speaking from a publicist’s perspective, I have to agree that it’s fairly difficult to obtain exposure for authors (many who don’t have much of a platform to begin with) who prefer not to do book signings or speaking engagements, who refuse to travel, who have no interest in setting up websites and blogs, and who are uncomfortable with promotional efforts that involve pubic exposure of any kind.

But I understand where these authors are coming from – they are first and foremost writers, not public speakers or social media experts. They prefer to complete a book and get on with the business of writing the next one. And they don’t want to change who they are in order to sell their work

So, what can these shy authors, especially those who are new to the game, do if they’re not natural show persons? If you’re the retiring and humble type, how do you get around your natural inclinations when it’s time to sell your work?

My answer for shy writers is to consider co-promotion. If you’re the type who really, truly hates being in the limelight, then promoting jointly, with the help of someone else, might be the solution. That someone else can be a friend or family member who is more outgoing, another author (or authors) with similar book(s), or hired professionals who can help handle day-to-day promotions.

Co-promotions can include joint or group book signings, promotional events, and tours. If you are shy about appearing on your own at a signing or speaking opportunity, teaming up with another author or a group of authors for an event might be a good way to go. Your coauthors will bring people to the event, and if you share a common topic or genre, you might feel more comfortable about selling your books to the event’s attendees. Another option is to ask friends to host events for you; a private gathering in someone’s home may feel less threatening if you’re the kind of author who is naturally shy.

Likewise, if you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of groups alone, consider being part of panel presentations, where you can hang back or stand out as much as you like, and punt any question you don’t care to answer to the rest of the panel sharing the stage with you.

Don’t like working the crowd at an event? Ask others who are more outgoing to come with you to work the room or help out with the speaking/demonstration portions of your talk.

If you’re uncomfortable appearing before live audiences, consider taping interviews or presentations and posting them on YouTube and on your web, blog, and social media sites. One of the nice features of video clips is that they can be edited to make you look better, to erase mistakes or speaking glitches, and to add in information that you might have overlooked.

If you’re shy about your personal appearance, consider creating podcasts of your work, and share those on the Internet on your own website and at other places where readers can listen in. Don’t forget to mention your book, and describe where readers can go to hear more or purchase the book. Seek out radio interviews and ask if you can give them by phone, rather than appearing in-studio, or pursue online interviews, where you can send information via email.

Those who are okay with being seen and heard, but who prefer not to travel for public appearances might consider speaking to book clubs and other organizations via Skype. You can give presentations, take questions, and have pretty much the same interactions with readers that you would at an in-person event or signing without having to leave the comfort of your home office.

Teaming up with other authors or using videos and other electronic means of communication are not the only way to co-promote. You can gain incredible traction for yourself and your work on the Internet by participating in group blogsites or guest blogging on other people’s sites. The same is true for social media sites; if you’re not comfortable with creating your own, consider teaming up with someone else to share a Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads account,

If you’re uncomfortable making personal announcements about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, a good option might be to use dashboards like HootSuite, where you can upload announcements and schedule them at a pace that feels right to you, interspersing them with other information so that they appear on your social media sites at strategic times. You can even hire professional social media experts to help create content for your sites and post that content for you.

Those who aren’t good at speaking in public, but would like to become so, might consider working with a professional coach to learn good speaking and interview techniques. There are also organizations like Toastmasters, local business networks, and other professional groups and clubs that provide opportunities for free networking and feedback to help you hone your speaking skills.

Finally, if you’re not comfortable doing your own publicity, you might consider hiring a publicist and working with her to create a promotional plan that fits your personality and budget. If you prefer not to tour or do any public speaking, be sure to indicate that up front. Discuss the options for other ways of gaining publicity. A good public relations professional should be able to help you identify unique ways to promote your work that fit your personal style.

There are a number of successful authors (many who have a long list of publications under their belts) who have become literary media darlings and are so comfortable being on the public stage that they spend the majority of their time there. Their success can be intimidating, especially to new authors, who haven’t yet developed extensive platforms or significant numbers of readers, or who struggle with being public about their work.

But authors who aren’t comfortable in the spotlight can still be successful at promoting; they just need to identify creative ways to get their message out. Ultimately, we all want authors to do more of what they’re good at, which is writing. No shame, then, for those authors who know their limits as show persons, and who find creative ways to promote their work so they can spend their time on what really matters: writing good books.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Authors: Be Prepared to Speak!

Photo credit: Author Amy Snyder gives a presentation on her nonfiction book, Hell on Two Wheels, about the Race Across America.

Speaking engagements are great ways for authors to get the word out about their books. Nonfiction authors, especially, can develop a number of talks about their topic and hit the speaking circuit to develop a name for themselves while promoting their work.

Many fiction authors also find public speaking to be a successful way to promote their books. If your novel or short story collection has a topical subject matter, or if you have a special area of expertise or a solid platform in a subject area, you should be able to find opportunities for speaking engagements where you can promote your work and/or sell it afterward.

But arranging speaking appearances is not always easy. For those who are considering going on the speaking circuit, here are some tips to help make the experience easier:

1) Develop a number of presentations around your book’s topic and write brief, one-paragraph descriptions for each of them. The more options you can offer a venue or organization, the more likely that you will have something they’re looking for and be hired to speak.

2) Start early – some venues, including professional organizations, colleges and universities, reading clubs, and museums and libraries, book speaking events many months to a year ahead of time.

3) Keep a list of the talks you’ve given, including the cities where you’ve appeared, the dates for your appearances, and the title of the presentations you’ve given. Organizations will want to know where you’ve spoken before, and having a list to give them shows that you are experienced and a proven commodity.

4) Likewise, get testimonials from those who have hired you to speak. Some organizations will want to check your references to verify your experience and track record.

5) Be prepared when you speak. Do whatever research is required, make notes, and practice before your appearances. Also, be sure you know your audience, including how many people will be there and their demographics – age, sex, expertise, etc. – and plan your talk accordingly.

6) If needed, make arrangements for a/v equipment and always have a backup (your own laptop, printed handouts, etc.) ready in case the equipment is not working or is unavailable the day of your presentation.

7) Bring material to distribute or leave behind at your talk. Prepare handouts, bookmarks, business cards, etc., and find out the number of estimated attendees ahead of time so you have enough copies for everyone in your audience.

8) If you are speaking about your book, have standing posters of the book cover made and bring one with you to mount on a table or podium. Also, check with your host to see if s/he would like any material beforehand to create a display or do general promotion for your talk.

9) If your presentation is open to the general public, be sure to touch base with your host about what kind of media work s/he is doing for promotion. Do your own promotion, as well – create and distribute flyers, sent email invites to friends and relatives, announce events on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and send press releases to content and calendar editors at news media offices and websites.

10) If you are going to do some media promotion for your speaking engagements, be sure to contact editors, reporters, and producers for print, radio, and television about two-three weeks prior to your event. Create a press release specifically for your event and, if possible, tie it to national or local news headlines that are relevant to your topic. Also, have a head shot of yourself, your book cover art (jpg files are best), and a presentation summary or description ready in case your media contact requests this info.

11) Be sure to take a camera or video recorder with you and have a friend or someone in the audience take photos of you while you speak. You can place these photographs and clips on your website, and the video clips will also come in handy for those venues that require seeing a clip before hiring you to speak.

A final note: many authors have asked me about the protocol for being paid for speaking engagements. In general, I’ve found that due to the state of our economy, most venues (aside from large corporations) do not pay honoraria for speakers. You should always ask, though, because many organizations might be willing to pay a nominal speaking fee, and even if it is a small one, it may help defray the costs of getting there. Most venues are willing to negotiate, and if they can’t offer honoraria, they are oftentimes willing to provide coverage for travel costs, money for gas, or a meal at the event.

If you are promoting a book, you’ll want to be sure to discuss the possibility of selling books after your presentation and make arrangements for how sales are handled. If the venue is a library or museum, you can ask about having your booked stocked on the shelves or in the museum bookstore. You’ll also want to be sure that you have books there at the event; if the venue won’t order them, then make arrangements to have them shipped ahead of time or, if convenient, carry them with you.

Finally, be sure to collect business cards and contact information from everyone involved in setting up your speaking event and send thank yous after your appearance. Even if your event was not the most organized or well-attended, you still want to show gratitude for being given the opportunity. A thoughtful thank you is a sure way to show your host(s) that you are a professional and will help keep the door open the next time you want to give a presentation there.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Importance of Professional Editing

Comma splices. Sentence fragments. Cliché expressions. Missing words. Commas and periods set outside quotation marks. Overuse of exclamation points. Misspellings. Passive voice.

Authors, please understand – errors like these will kill your writing. It doesn’t matter how compelling your storyline is; if any of these problems appear on the page, guess what your reader is going to remember?

As a publicist, I beg you to do the following:

Before you send your manuscript to an agent, publisher, or publicist, have it professionally edited.

Before you place a book online in any format, have it professionally edited.

Before you send your manuscript out to be printed, have it professionally edited.

Let’s talk a bit about editors.

Even though it helps to have people you know (i.e., friends and family) read your completed work, there is a huge difference between having your book read by your Aunt Martha, and having it read by someone who specializes in English grammar. Unless Aunt Martha is a professional editor, don’t go there. Even if she is an avid reader of books or a writer herself, don’t go there. Hire someone who has some credentials and understands proper grammar and punctuation.

If you can find a professional editor who has experience in the publishing industry, that’s even better.

Most editors will read books for content issues (this is known as a developmental, substantive, or content edit) and for grammatical/structural flaws (a copy-edit or detailed line-edit). You want someone who will do both, because a book with plot, character, and continuity issues can be as problematic as a book riddled with grammatical errors.

If you are a fiction author, a professional content editor will be able to tell you if your characters are believable, if they’re likeable, if their dialogue is appropriate, if your book’s plot makes sense, if you have a proper beginning, if your story contains enough conflict, if your protagonist and antagonist finally confront each other, and if you have a proper ending.

If your book is non-fiction, a professional content editor will help ensure that the book is factual, properly researched and annotated, timely, and contains information that makes it a worthy contender in its category.

How do you find professional editors? Here are some suggestions:

1. Ask professionals in the industry (agents, publicists, independent press owners, etc.) who they recommend. Most publishing industry pros have worked with editors and can recommend good ones to their clients.

2. Search online for professional editors who are experienced and can give you client references. Be sure to do your homework and contact those references before signing a contract. Ask to see samples of work they’ve done on documents similar to yours.

3. Place an advertisement on online job boards such as monster.com, careerbuilder.com, or ifreelance.com, or post locally on Craigslist or in your local newspaper.

4. Ask fellow authors who they’ve used. Be sure they’re recommending professionals and not inexperienced friends or family (like Aunt Martha).

Finally, be clear about what you want an editor to do with your manuscript. (Note: You may want to consider having a contract if you’re going to hire someone for a substantial amount of work on your project.) I recommend having a content edit done first, so that you can correct those issues and rewrite the book before spending dollars on final copy-editing and proofreading.

Of course, it’s crucial that a book be completely edited, but if budget is an issue, consider having at least a portion of the book professionally scrubbed. If you find yourself having to cut costs, go with the first three chapters, since those are the most important for creating a positive first impression and engaging your reader.

Finally, once you’ve had your manuscript edited for content and grammatical issues, be sure to have the final version proofread (professionally, if possible) one last time for any items you might have missed.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Here is a list of websites with info about editing/editors (Disclaimer: The following is just a taste of what’s available on the Internet, and does not imply any specific recommendation):

Society for Editors and Proofreaders http://www.sfep.org.uk/pub/dir/directory.asp
American Copyeditors Society http://www.copydesk.org/
Book Editing Associates http://book-editing.com/

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reaching Out to Booksellers: A Publicist's Advice

I was heartened today to see that Success Magazine has named Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle as one of its American Comeback success stories, especially since a number of my clients have appeared there over the years. One of the reasons for the Elliott Bay Book Company's success is that the managers there, like many other booksellers who are struggling to stay alive in the current economic climate, have realized that hosting author appearances is a great way to get people into their stores (and to sell books).

Although in recent years many booksellers (and even some of the larger libraries) would not consider shelving books by self-published authors, the changes in the industry have forced them to reconsider. This is good news for authors and their publicists: it's now much easier to place both traditionally published and self-published authors in stores for signings, especially if they have written books that appeal to niche audiences or have compelling and/or newsworthy platforms.

Because of the enthusiasm booksellers are beginning to showing for author events, and because there's a good chance that more brick-and-mortar stores will go by the wayside in the future, authors should seriously consider doing a book tour now. Bookstore appearances provide authors with a vital opportunity to network and connect with readers. They also give booksellers a chance to meet authors directly and learn about their books first-hand, so they can promote those books to store customers when the signing is over.

There are some changes in the way bookstores handle author signings that are worth noting. Many independent booksellers are beginning to charge admission fees for author events. Generally, these fees are nominal (usually in the $10 range) and can be applied toward the purchase of a book. And others require that publishers and/or authors pay co-op fees (typically between $100-$200), to help offset the store’s promotion costs, including designing and sending eblasts, printing posters, drafting releases for local media, staffing, and clean up. While some consider these requests controversial, the decision to agree with admission and coop fees is entirely up to the publisher or author and is something to be aware of when booking events.

For those authors considering appearing at bookstores (and, again, I encourage all authors to do so before more brick and mortar stores close), here are a few tips on how to best reach out to booksellers:

Start with a good publisher
Avoid known vanity presses and be sure that your publisher is able to provide your book through the distribution channels that booksellers use to buy books (these include distributors/wholesalers like Baker & Taylor or Ingram).

Be professional in your approach
Show that you respect a bookseller’s time by being professional and courteous when you call. When phoning a bookseller, try not to waste time with small talk (avoid empty phrases such as, “Hi, how're you doing?”). Instead, tell whoever answers that you are an author interested in appearing at the store and ask to speak with the person who handles events. When that person is available, introduce yourself, state the name of your book and the ISBN number, and tell him or her what you’re looking for (a reading, a formal talk, a general book signing, a meet and greet, etc.). If there are specific dates when you’ll be available, have those in front of you so you can provide the information quickly. Be ready to describe your niche/audience and how many people you think you can bring to your event. If you’re offered a date, follow-up with a confirmation email message, so that the manager has all of the relevant info about your event in writing.

Be flexible
Many booksellers can’t afford to pay for shipping on books that they know might be returned. Be willing to bring books if a bookseller doesn’t want to order from the distributor or publisher. Negotiate for a percentage of sales (I’m seeing many booksellers be very generous with their terms, with some even allowing the author to keep all proceeds and decide themselves what percentage to offer the store).

Also, be flexible about dates and times for appearances. The bookseller will know the best times for traffic in the store, so go with his/her recommendation for your signing.

Target cities where you know people
The idea is to bring a crowd to the store, so unless you’re a celebrity or a known author with a following, try to book in places where you have friends or family who can help build an audience for your event.

Help drive traffic to your event
Offer to provide promotional material (standing posters, bookmarks, giveaways, etc.) to those booksellers who are willing to set up a display in their stores. Also, be sure to offer to contact local media, including print, radio, and television, a few weeks prior to your event.

Be courteous and memorable
Show up on time and do your best to provide a well-thought out and rehearsed presentation. Be courteous to those who take the time to attend your event; even if only one or two show up, give them your best presentation –- you never know what connections those individuals might have that can help spread the word about you and your book. And always bring extra copies of your book in case you have a higher turnout than expected.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Use the event as a marketing tool
Advertise your event on all your social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter,Goodreads,etc., and be sure to write about it afterwards. Take photos and post them on your web and blogsite.

Express gratitude
Be sure to take the time to thank the bookstore managers and staff for hosting your event. Collect business cards and/or take note of the names of all the staff members who help out at your signing, and be sure to mention them in your thank you note.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Please Read This Post Before You Send Me Your Book

I am blessed. I have a wonderful job (I get to read and promote books for a living!), incredible clients, a great family, terrific friends, amazing students (I teach a class at a local community college) and colleagues I adore.

And these blessings make me one busy gal.

Even so, I do the best I can to make myself available to authors who call or email wanting info on promoting books. And I’m always ready to read whatever is sent my way.

But, if you’d like me to consider taking you on as a client, I have a few favors to ask:

Please be sure to let me know ahead of time if you plan to send me a book or ms.
I can’t tell you how often I have books sent to me out of the blue, with no prior phone call or email message to tell me why the book is being sent my way. Why do you want me to read it? And what should I do with it once it’s been read? Please don’t make me guess about something so important; call or send me an email message before you send a book, so I will know what it is you’re looking for in the way of publicity and what to do with the book when it gets here.

Please be sure your book/ms has been edited before you send it my way.
If you want me to take you and your book seriously, then I strongly urge you to have it edited by a professional editor before you send it to me to read. If there are typos, POV shifts, missing words, incomplete sentences, sentence fragments, improper pronoun agreement, etc., chances are good that I’m not going to read your ms/book all the way through. And I probably won’t take you on as a client.

In other words, get your book read by as many people as you can before you send it out to anyone (including me).

Please don’t send manuscripts by email.
Printer cartridges are expensive, so I beg all interested authors to please call or email me first and then, if we both agree that I might be the right person to help promote your work, send a hard copy to me via regular mail at the following address:

Paula Margulies
8145 Borzoi Way
San Diego, CA 92129

And finally, please, please, PLEASE, be sure to include your contact info when you send me a book/ms.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is my number one pet peeve. I can’t let you know what I think of your book if I can’t reach you after I’ve read it. So, be sure to include your name, email address, and/or telephone number with the copy of your book (I don’t need a cover letter; a Post-It note is fine, as long as I can read what’s on it).

Thanks for humoring me with these requests. I’m looking forward to reading your work!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How a Publicist Chooses Which Books to Represent

Ever wonder how a publicist decides which books she’ll agree to promote? Here are a few items that factor into a publicist's decision when considering a new client:

1. Is the book good?
Believe it or not, having a well-written and professionally published book is the number-one criteria for taking on a client. If the book isn’t good (i.e., is poorly written, hasn’t been edited, is riddled with typos, has a cover clearly not designed by a professional, etc.), it will be difficult to find a publicist to represent it. This fact is sometimes hard to hear, especially for those authors whose work has been already been rejected by agents and editors. Chances are, if your book is not good enough to be traditionally published, you may want to look at improving it before asking a publicist to look at it. The business of publicity is all about generating word-of-mouth buzz about your book. But, a bad book will not generate buzz, no matter how much exposure a publicist is able to obtain for it.
But, you ask, what if my book was rejected by agents and editors, and I want to self-publish it? Will a publicist still be willing to take it on? The answer is oftentimes yes, but be sure your book is the best it can possibly be before the publicist sees it. A good publicist is going to agree to represent books that are well-written and marketable; even if your book is self-published, you’ll want to make sure it has been professionally edited, designed, and printed, and that it has proper distribution.

2. Does the author have a platform?
This is the second most important criteria for taking on a client. Having a platform means that you, the author, have some kind of background or experience that is marketable and newsworthy. Publicists will want to know what it is about you that is interesting or notable, and this background will be crucial to obtaining media interviews for you.
How do you develop a platform if you don’t have one? Take classes and go to workshops that will help educate you in your book’s subject area (this is true for both fiction and non-fiction authors). If you have expertise, develop speaking topics and give presentations and workshops. Create a website and a blog, and make sure both are informative and educational. Become an expert in your subject area by blogging about your book’s content. Use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to develop a following. Write articles and publish essays on your content area. Enter contests and do as much as you can to become a known and sought-after entity in your subject area.

3. Is the book with a reputable publisher?
While it’s possible for a publicist to promote a self-published book, it can be a bit more difficult to do so if a book is not with a reputable press. There are a number of self-publishing entities out there that exist mainly to make money from writers. These entities are known in the industry as vanity presses, and some of them have unsavory reputations. Before you sign with a publisher, especially if you’re self-publishing, you’ll want to make sure that your publisher has a good reputation. Do background searches on the Internet and check with other writers and writers’ forums to see if the press you’re considering is a good one.
Also, be aware that most booksellers will not shelve books that are self-published. And even though booksellers are struggling and may soon become a thing of the past, there are still many independent and chain bookstores in existence that sell books to readers. If you want your book to be available through a bookseller, do all you can to have the book traditionally published. If your book is self-published, be sure it is available through distributors like Baker & Taylor or Ingram, or through independent distributors, if you want booksellers to stock it in their stores.

4. Is the book ready for distribution?
I get many calls from writers asking about publicity services months before their books are ready to be distributed. While it’s good to start early with publicity efforts, authors should take care to time their promotions so that their books are available when readers hear about them. I usually recommend that clients wait to start a publicity campaign until at least one or two months before their books are available through their distributors; otherwise, the booksellers I call cannot find the books in their listing services, or they’ll turn down opportunities for events because they see that the books are not yet available for ordering. If your publisher is producing advance review copies (ARCs), then we’ll be able to send copies to interested booksellers and media for review ahead of time. But if you don’t have review copies available, it’s best to wait until your book is listed with a distributor and very close to being available in print before starting your promotional efforts.
What if your book is only going to be available as an ebook? I hear from many authors who choose not to offer printed versions of their books. If that’s the case, then promotional efforts can begin as soon as the book is available for download. My only caution is to be sure that the book is ready to be read – publishing an ebook that is poorly written or has not yet been edited, can lead to weak reviews and no word-of-mouth buzz from readers. Make sure it’s truly ready for public consumption by having the copy professionally edited, the cover professionally designed, and obtaining back cover blurbs and endorsements from as many credited authors and readers as you can.

5. Does the author know what s/he wants in the way of publicity?
A publicist can recommend a game plan for promoting any book, but it helps to work with an author who knows what s/he wants in the way of publicity. Do you want a book signing tour, a blog tour, book reviews, media interviews, or all of the above? And what kind of budget do you have? Knowing the answers to these questions beforehand can help give a publicist some direction for the work she does, and will help ensure that you get what you want in terms of promotion for your book.

6. Is the author open to new ideas and possibilities?
I sometimes encounter authors who want publicity for their books, but are not willing to do much to help make that happen. A publicist can set up signing engagements, book tours, and line up media interviews, but it is up to the author to fulfill these engagements. An author who limits what can be done for his book, will limit the amount of reach the book has with readers. Likewise, an author who does not want to speak publicly, is unwilling to travel, and/or refuses to pursue social networking for his book, is not likely to be successful. Good promotion requires spreading the word to readers, and that requires reaching out to them in as many ways as possible. A good publicist will urge her clients to think outside the box and expand their promotional reach as far as possible; clients who are unwilling to do so are not likely to be good candidates for a publicity campaign.

7. Is the timeframe reasonable?
One of my favorite characters, Varuca Salt, in Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is famous for her demanding cry, “I want it now!” Many authors are excited once their books are finally published and, in their haste to get promotional programs moving, demand instantaneous results from their publicists. But publicity can be a painstaking and time-consuming business. Oftentimes, scheduling events and interviews for clients can take numerous phone calls, email messages, and meetings to bring the sought-after press to fruition. Authors should realize that it may take days and sometimes even weeks to get agreements for events or media articles and interviews. The wise author will allow his publicist the time s/he needs to pursue promotional opportunities and know that having patience generally pays off with a yes nod for coveted media spots.

8. Is the author willing to work hard at promoting?
It doesn’t matter how good your publicist is – whether your book makes it or breaks it will depend on how hard you, the author, are willing to work. A good publicist can open doors and set the stage for you to inform others about your work. But, ultimately, it is up to you to make the most of those opportunities. Whether it is giving a talk at a professional meeting, doing a book signing, speaking at a trade show, or giving a radio or TV interview, the energy and professionalism you put into your performance is the most important factor in influencing readers to buy your book. Likewise, your willingness to put long hours into developing a professional and engaging website, create an active blog, work the social networks, and get out there and meet readers, is crucial to your book’s success.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Goodreads Giveaways a Good Way to Go for New Authors

Note: Following is a guest post on his experience with Goodreads by one of my clients, Greg Fournier, author of Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, a wonderful coming-of-age story about a young man who experiences first-hand the prejudice and civil strife that led to the race riots of the sixties. You can find out more about Greg and Zug Island at Greg's blog, Fornology: News and Views of Gregory A. Fournier.

Goodreads Giveaways
By Gregory Fournier

Authors without a powerful publishing house behind them find getting publicity and exposure for their books a slow and expensive process. For the cost of as little as one book and postage, an author can run a giveaway on www.goodreads.com by agreeing to a few reasonable conditions.

I have found this promotion the best offer an independent author can find to bring readers to his/her website and book title. My giveaway promotion for Zug Island ran two weeks and attracted 674 participants.

Sixty people have added my novel “to buy” and a like number have placed it on their “to read” lists. That is a combined 18% potential sales conhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifversion rate. I have read that 7% is a healthy number.

If you have a book coming out soon, or have a book that has been out six months or less, it is easy to run a giveaway. Register with www.goodreads.com, set up your profile and an author’s page, then run your contest. It is that easy. When all is said and done, you will be the big winner.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Can I Do with $600?

A self-published, first-time author recently contacted me about publicity for her YA novel. “I only have $600 to spend on promotion,” she told me. “What can I do with that?”

Well, there’s actually quite a bit of exposure that can be obtained with very little cash. I charge $50 per hour for my services, so $600 will buy 12 hours worth of work. There is much that can be accomplished in 12 hours – I can generally get a news release written and up on the news wires, book signing events for a few months out (depending on the author’s platform and willingness to travel), and possibly even squeeze in a little media work.

It’s most important that authors get out there and let readers know about the book. I tell writers that book promotion is like dropping a stone in a pond – the more they get out and talk about their book, the more readers who hear about it will tell others and the word will spread from there. Many authors put their books up on Amazon and create a website or blog and think their work is done. But without some face-time with readers, the books most likely won’t have the word-of-mouth ripple effect that comes from hearing other readers talk about it.

Despite the increasing dominance of the ebook market, authors can still sign at bookstores, and I urge all authors to do so now, while there are still some stores out there (they won’t be around in the future, if current market trends continue). Although most remaining Borders stores have embargoed book orders, there are independent bookstores and other chains, like Barnes & Noble, that are still hosting authors. Many libraries will host book signings for authors, and authors should consider appearances at non-traditional venues (schools, colleges and universities, stores, airports, professional organizations, literary and street fairs, etc.) where their book and subject matter have a fit.

Generally, when I take on any new client, the first thing I do is write a press release announcing the book’s publication and get that up on the newswires. Next, I like to book events, usually for six months out. Once the events are lined up, I will call media (usually about three weeks prior to each event date) to line up print, television, and radio spots. It’s best to have some events to promote, as well as the author and the book, when calling local media, so I find that having events scheduled is extremely important before lining up media gigs.

Having an online presence is important, too. I urge my clients to create active websites and blogs and set up accounts on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and reading/reviewing sites like Goodreads, Library Thing, AuthorsDen, and Shelfari.

Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have written a good book. Even if an author were to spend $600 to do some event and media bookings, it’s all for naught if the book is poorly written or riddled with errors. If an author hasn’t had a professional editor work on it, I generally recommend that s/he spend the $600 on having the book professionally edited, rather than waste it on promotion for a poorly written book. Likewise, I recommend that authors hire professional designers to create their book covers and professional photographers to take their author photos. Having a book that is well-written and professionally designed will help make an author’s $600 publicity expenditure worthwhile.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sorting Hat Settles at Centrum

"Oh you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see; I'll eat myself if you can find a smarter hat than me."
—The Sorting Hat, opening lines of the 1991 Sorting Hat song, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I live many lives.

By day, I’m a San Diego working mother of two – I run a busy freelance book publicity business and teach communications classes at a local community college. By night, I’m an active mom and wife, cooking dinners, driving kids to sporting events, overseeing homework and social activities, washing clothes, grocery shopping, etc. For each activity, I wear a different Harry Potter-style Sorting Hat: advisor, nurturer, consoler, communicator, parent, and partner.

But my other life is a more personal one; I have been a writer for almost ten years, and somehow managed to get one novel written and published despite the many other hats that find their way to my head. With the writing came some wonderful benefits: a number of lively and friendly writing groups, three artist residencies, all in beautiful places (Oregon, Hawaii, and Vermont), connections with other authors, publishers, agents, and, since my book was a Native American story, the local Pala Indian community, who welcomed me with warmth and generosity. The writing hat fits well, indeed.

But this past year has been a tough one on my writing life, as both of my kids are getting ready to leave for college – one this year, and one the year after. It’s been a hectic time of softball recruiting visits for my daughter and college visits for my older son. But both are finally settled on the schools they plan to attend, so when a friend invited me to apply for an artist residency at Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington, I agreed. The time slot that Centrum offered us fit perfectly with my teaching schedule (it was, luckily, the same time as spring break), so I left my many-sided life in San Diego and have been here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, joyfully allowing the writing hat to slip back onto my head.

The Centrum campus is located on the grounds of Fort Worden State Park, a lovely wide-open green belt, with old-style military barracks, cabins, and apartment buildings scattered across the grounds. There is a youth hostel here, along with some mansion-sized homes and tiny wooden huts. I was first housed in one of the older, two-story apartments, but the building's rickety heater pumped heat non-stop (there was no thermostat in our unit). After two nights of sweating and incessant rattling noise, I asked to be moved to one of the cabins, and that’s where I sit as I write this post.

Fort Worden Park sits on a bluff above Admiralty Bay and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center beach and pier. The views are stunning – from my former second story apartment, I could see almost all of Whidbey Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which glitters in the sun and turns moody and sullen when the sky is cloudy. In my new cabin, I have even more impressive views overlooking the grassy cliffs and the bay down below. The cabin is peaceful, and the heat is – blessedly – controllable and quiet.

Centrum is a beautiful place; it bustles with the comings and goings of visiting artists, writers, and musicians (we saw a magnificent choro -- Brazilian jazz -- concert performed by some of the greatest folk musicians in the world two nights ago). The park also houses families and guests who rent the buildings to explore the Victorian harbor town of Port Townsend. So, there are children here, running across the grounds with their Frisbees, footballs, scooters, and bikes. The place teems with twittering birds and a few well-fed cats, yet it also has a quiet ambience, reinforced by the stately views of the sea and the elegant deer that tiptoe across the grass in the morning to nibble at the clover blossoms. The sun sets later in the day here, bringing with it a clarity and warmth that is soothing and breath-taking at the same time.

I’m happy to be here, in this lovely, northern world. I do miss my husband, kids, clients, and students (and, of course, my own bed), but I know that all the other hats I wear will be waiting for me when I return, refreshed and eager to pick up where I left off.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Complications: A Doctor's Love Story

I have been meaning to write updates about my clients' books and have been so busy lately that my good intentions have fallen by the wayside.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I've decided to hold true to my resolutions and begin with my wonderful client, Dr. Linda Gromko, and her memoir: Complications, A Doctor's Love Story.

I'm writing with a heavy heart because Linda's husband, Steve Williams, passed away today after a long battle with kidney failure. I didn't know Steve, but I have known Linda for almost two years (we met at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in August, 2009). After meeting Linda and working with her to promote her book at bookstores and kidney dialysis conferences, I heard all about what a smart, funny, courageous, and kind man Steve was. He and Linda were certainly well-matched, for she has the same intelligence, warmth, and tremendous wit that he is famous for. My heart is breaking for Linda and her family at his loss, and I hope that she can find some comfort in the outstanding life and wonderful memories that she and Steve created over the years.

Linda's book, Complications, is part love story and part history of Steve's struggle with kidney failure. Though realistic about the rigors of life with kidney dialysis and heart disease, Complications also offers readers a wonderful portrait of sacrifice and hope.

Dr. Gromko’s true story begins with an implausible inheritance from a former patient and her first meeting with Steve, a businessman who is “gifted at banter, irreverently funny, and loyal as a beagle.” Soon after the couple decide to wed, Steve's history of diabetes and high blood pressure leads him to fall precipitously into the abyss of kidney failure. Written from a doctor’s perspective, the book takes the reader on a tumultuous course of medical and personal trials, as Dr. Gromko exerts the most powerful advocacy of her life for the man she loves.

Joe Piscatella, author and President of The Institute for Fitness and Health, endorsed the book with these words: “Dr. Linda Gromko has written a gritty, realistic piece about true life with kidney failure and heart disease. If anything makes a case for prevention and a healthy lifestyle, this book delivers!” And best-selling author Elizabeth Lyon noted: “Dr. Gromko explains everything about the realities of kidney disease, and in a way that readers can not only easily understand, but will also feel on the edge of their seats awaiting the next diagnosis, procedure, victory, or complication. Ultimately, this memoir is a stirring account about hope, commitment, sacrifice, and love.”

I urge all of you who might be interested in kidney disease, dialysis, and modern-day love stories, to purchase a copy (softcover or Kindle) of Complications. As you read, take the time to reflect on the courageous and loving life this couple built together, and send your best thoughts and wishes to Linda Gromko and her family.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Team Truimph

I don’t have a lot of knick-knacks on my desk (I prefer a clean surface when I’m working), but there are a few treasured items that reside along the perimeter of my work area: photos of my husband and kids, my Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference mug, a banksia nut candle that Dan brought me from one of his trips to Australia, and my prized possession, a small digital clock that I won as a team competition participant in the Coors Light Biathlon.

I won the biathlon prize many years ago, when I was in my twenties and lived in Santa Barbara. An avid cyclist, I spent long hours training and competing in centuries, triathlons, and biathlons along the California coast. My team partner, Deirdre, was a co-worker and a lithe, athletic runner with great speed, who had done triathlons with me in the past. She convinced me to enter this race, arguing that we had a chance to win based mainly on the strength of her running prowess (she was right about that).

Winning this particular competition almost didn’t happen. On the last lap of the cycling portion of the race, the gear-shifting mechanism on my bicycle sheared off as I approached the runners’ transition line. No longer able to make the bike move forward, I ended up running the last few yards on foot, stumbling along in my cycling shoes to hand off the baton to Deirdre. We won the competition by seconds; I imagine that we would not have succeeded if my bicycle’s gears had failed any earlier in the race.

I treasure this particular win, not only because it was one of the few competition victories I can actually claim (I was a decent rider, but by no means a star), but because I won as part of a team. Victories are sweet when they are hard won, but I believe they’re even sweeter when they come as a result of team effort. There’s something uniquely special and uplifting about winning a challenging fight with a colleague at your side. It’s the group mentality, that feeling of connecting with another person and fighting together, that brings about a unique sense of joy that only athletes who participate in team sports can realize.

This sense of team accomplishment carries over into many areas of life, including work and career. Like the world of sports, the business world can be just as competitive (and physically and mentally grinding) as a sporting event. With an accomplished team, all of us are more likely to succeed – we bring our individual talents and strengths to the situations we encounter and, in addition, we are there to prop each other up, cheer each other on, and celebrate our victories together.

I like to think that the author who has a team working with him is damn lucky. My sense is that the most successful authors have agents, editors, designers, publishers, and publicists all working on their side. Without this kind of team, the author who tries to go it alone is like the athlete who competes by himself – success is possible, but the achievements and victories are oftentimes fewer realized and even less acknowledged.

With a good team behind her, however, an author has a much better chance of succeeding on a big stage. Some authors may manage to take the publishing world by storm on their own, but most of the successful best sellers are so because they are published and promoted by the best agents, editors, and publicity people in the business.

One can argue that going it alone has its upside: there is no one to answer to, fewer time delays, and certainly never any argument about how a work should look, what it should contain, or how it is promoted. But the person who chooses to do the writing, editing, cover designing, publishing, and promoting himself, had better be damn good at all these things. Most are not, and the staggering number of poorly written and designed self-published books bears evidence to this fact.

But the author who chooses to build a strong, professional team around him has a good chance of being a winner. Like their athletic counterparts, authors who have talent, train hard, and surround themselves with the strongest teammates in the business, have a much better chance of standing out in the brutally competitive world of publishing than those who choose to go it alone.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Be Focused, Be Prepared, Be Committed – Steps to Take Before Hiring a Publicist

Most prospective clients who approach me about publicity are new authors who have never worked with a publicist before. Whether self or traditionally published, many of them write to me with questions, the most common being: What would you charge for promoting my book?

My response is always the same: What is it you're looking for? A book tour? Media coverage? Internet exposure? All of the above? And how much do you want to spend? Without knowing what it is an author wants, it's difficult for me to put a price on how much I can do for him

It's also difficult to say how much publicity an author is likely to get without having read the author’s book or knowing a little about her platform.

So, for new authors who are thinking about hiring a publicist, I've composed the following tips on items to consider before calling or sending an inquiry email to a PR expert:

1. What kind of book have you written?
With over 288,000 new titles released each year, it's important to know where your book fits in to the overall market. Is it a young adult novel, targeted for teens, or would younger kids, say 5 -9 year olds, be more likely to read it? Does your mystery fit more in the true crime or detective category? Is your love story a traditional romance or does it fit more under the women's fiction heading? Knowing what you’ve got to sell will help you pinpoint what you have to do (and where you have to go) to sell it.

2. Is there a market for it? If so, who and where is that market?
Once you know what you've written, you need to decide who would read it. Is your audience both men and women, or are only women likely to be interested? Are there targeted niche audiences for your book? If so, where can you best reach them? Be ready to discuss with your publicist who your audience is and where you’re willing to go to get their attention.

3. What kind of experience/expertise/knowledge do you have that can be used to promote your book?
Having a platform is essential for both fiction and non-fiction writers, especially when promoting your book to media producers and reporters. Platform has to do with you (the author), your background, and the level of expertise or recognition you have in your subject area. Before you hire a publicist, ask yourself the following questions: Are you a recognized expert in your field? If not, would you be willing to educate yourself and/or work to establish yourself as such? What is it about your background and experience that makes you an interesting interview for the media? Are you willing speak, write, and blog about your book/subject area? When you speak or meet with your publicist for the first time, be ready to describe what you bring to the table in terms of background and experience.

4. How much are you willing to spend on publicity?
Before you hire a publicist, sit down with your spouse or significant other and decide how much you can afford for book promotion. Review items 1-3 above and decide what will give you the most exposure for your type of book and audience(s). Decide if you're willing to travel to speak, tour, and/or sell your book, and figure out how long you are willing to do that. Plan to create web, blog, and social media sites for your book and estimate the expenses, both time and money-wise, for those. Finally, create a budget that factors in costs for printing and shipping copies of your book, creation of promotional items (bookmarks, posters, fliers, etc.), website development and hosting, travel, hotel, and food expenses for signing and/or media tours, booth space fees, postage, advertising, etc. Also factor in the cost of hiring a publicist (see my post entitled Straight Talk on Book Publicity Costs for more on that) or other professionals (graphic reproduction, ebook formatting, legal, etc.) you might need to help with your book's promotion.

5. How committed are you to doing what your publicist recommends?
I'm always surprised at how many of my clients do the groundwork of hiring me and then, once we begin their promotional tour, panic when they achieve some level of success. As many authors realize after trying to do it themselves, it’s extremely difficult in today’s noisy and crowded publishing landscape to get attention from booksellers and the media. It can take an experienced publicist repeat contacting and hours of follow-up and pitching to get a bookseller, reporter, or producer to agree to an event or interview for a client.

But, despite their desire for exposure, there are always a few authors who balk at doing signings or radio and television interviews once they get them, which is frustrating on many levels. It can be awkward for a publicist to go back to booksellers and the media to say that a client is passing on an event after working so hard to get them to agree to it in the first place. It's also time-consuming to have to revisit plans and goals with authors, who say they want publicity and then waver on following through. Yes, it can be scary to be in front of the camera for the first time or, for some, to have to stand up in front of a group and speak. But a good publicist can provide helpful tips for overcoming those early jitters, and most authors agree that, like any other activity, they get better at it the more they do it. And successful authors know that without that kind of outreach, they would not be able to generate the essential word-of-mouth ripple effect that comes from continued audience exposure.

It's a shame to waste opportunities, especially if an author has done his footwork and has spent the time and money to get the hard-won exposure he needs to successfully promote his book. Be committed to your book’s success, and if you hire a publicist, follow through on her efforts to obtain the promotional attention you seek.