Monday, April 13, 2015

When Selling Books, Don’t Forget to Finish Your Swing

As many of you know, I have a daughter who plays college softball. Thus, I spend most of my weekends in the spring driving for hours on California highways and sitting in the stands at college stadiums, cheering the team on while trying to avoid the inevitable sunburn and rear-end numbness we softball moms lovingly refer to as “bleacher butt.” Yes, it can be tiring and time-consuming, but the end result is worth it – I get to watch my daughter and her teammates play the game they love, and nothing gives me more joy (except maybe, after a few nights spent on lumpy hotel mattresses, coming home and sleeping in my own bed).

While I don’t purport to know a lot about softball (I never played it, although I did play a season of women’s rugby in college and have the dental work to prove it), I’ve learned some invaluable lessons from this sport that my daughter adores. One lesson, in particular, that resonates is the adage to “finish your swing,” which my daughter’s hitting coaches claim is the most important part of sending that softball over the fence for a home run. And, just as in softball, finishing strong can be the best way to guarantee success for authors who are trying to promote their books.

As a publicist, I’ve been hired by many authors who are eager to succeed at the publicity game. They are willing to pay me for my services, travel to parts unknown to give talks and sign books, and spend lots of money on printing, postage, and other expenses to get the word out about their work. But while the majority of the authors are willing to part with their hard-earned cash, I find that oftentimes they don’t consider that the work of promotion isn’t finished once I’m able to garner whatever type of publicity they’re looking for, whether it’s setting up a book or blog tour, helping them place articles in magazines and journals, or scheduling media interviews.

And that’s because making these types of events happen is not all there is to it. Once an event or interview is set up, there’s a lot more work to be done – booksellers want display copies, giveaways, and sometimes even food and drinks supplied for their events, and most of them expect the author to fill the seats with attendees.  Likewise, other venues where authors appear (whether it be a library, a museum, a church, a specialty store, or a professional organization luncheon) often hold the same expectations. And even bloggers expect review and giveaway copies, along with the promise that the author will share the blogger’s link on social media sites.

This means that authors have a continued role to play once their publicists book gigs for them. Yes, getting the bookseller, producer, or venue host to say yes is the first step (and oftentimes a big one, depending on the importance of the event to the author), and yes, some events, blog posts, and interviews bring their own viewers. But, in most cases, the work isn’t finished with the confirmation. In addition to showing up (which requires a certain amount of preparation in itself), authors can expect to provide all the amenities for the event including, in many cases, the attendees.

But it’s not fair, authors say – I have to write the book, hire a publicist, pay a lot of expenses, and then I’m supposed to fill the room, too?  

The answer is a resounding yes – your publicist and the venue host can do a good portion of the promoting leg-work for you but, in general, the events your publicist sets up for you will only be successful if you follow through.

But where do I find people to attend my events? authors ask.  Many authors are reluctant to go back to their friends and family members who have already been asked multiple times to buy books and attend signings. But there are other ways to promote an event – here are some to consider:

• Think outside the friends and family box – post notices at work, school, church, book clubs, etc. Hand them out to your fellow yoga classmates, post them at the grocery store and coffee shop near you, and keep them handy when traveling, so you always have one to give to a potential attendee.
• Offer incentives for people to come – free food, drink, giveaways, etc., can often be a motivator for those who are considering attending an event
• Place notices in local media online calendars
• Send out press releases to local media and schedule interviews prior to the event
• Announce events on social media sites
• Blog about your upcoming events – share some insights into what you plan to do there or what the event means to you
• Promote your event or interview at related group meetings and on social media sites where you and your books’ content would be of interest
• List event dates and times prominently on your blog and website
• Send out reminders to those on your email lists
• Be proactive in promoting – tell anyone who might be interested, as often as possible, about your upcoming appearances, interviews, etc.

While completing these activities might sound daunting, consider the ramifications of not doing any social media promotion, not sending display and review copies, not providing giveaways on blog tours, not listing events on your blog and websites, and not talking about your upcoming gigs to anyone who might be interested. Without these types of author follow-up, your events run the risk of not being very successful. You might have connected by setting up the event, but the real power is in the follow-through. Ask my daughter – she’s hitting .415 this season, and she’ll be the first to tell you that even though her swing is strong, the really big hits don’t come unless she finishes moving that bat all the way through.