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 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 con 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, 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.