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Book Publicity Series Day 2: The Publicity 411: What to Know Before Getting Started

Guest Post by Katie Andrews, project consultant, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists

Katie Andrews
Katie Andrews

“Hello, Phenix & Phenix–how can I help you?”

“Hi. My book has been out on the market for a few months and not much is happening—I’m thinking about developing a publicity plan. What should I do?”


You’re way too smart to wait until the book comes out to begin thinking about publicity, right? Absolutely. But, do you know that you should be thinking about the publicity process even as you write your book?

Of course, the best advice I can offer you is to write a dynamite book that the media will be itching to cover. However, as you write your how-to blockbuster or great American novel, get to know how the media covers topics related to your book so you can plant the seeds for a media success.

Here are some publicity ideas to consider at this early stage:

1. Have an audience in mind from the beginning. Imagine someone reading your book (someone NOT related to you) and think of reasons they would seek out your title on bookshelves as opposed to the competition. Work those items into your book.

2. Become part of a bigger issue. Even novelists who are associated with a non-profit group or other organization will have credibility over authors who are not part of a bigger picture.

3. Look through the newspaper and notice when authors are quoted: how often might you have been appropriate for that quote or story? Do your writing and credentials provide something unique to media outlets that your competition has overlooked? If not, it is not too late to differentiate yourself and your book.

4. Become a news junkie. Know what sets the media abuzz. Consume as much media as possible on issues related to your book. Novelists, don’t think you can slack here. Just because you’re not a Ph.D. doesn’t mean that you haven’t done the research to write from a great perspective on heavy nonfiction issues like domestic abuse, substance dependency or other issues. Your publicist will likely look to connect your message beyond the book page, so follow how the leading issues in your book are covered.

5. Build relationships before you need them. Start following blogs that cover your topic. Comment and get to know the blogger. Same goes with local and national media focused on your issue. If you read an article that you like, send the journalist a note saying “nice work!” That early work can pay off in spades when your book comes out.

Let’s fast-forward to about six months before your book is due to be released. You’re at the stage where you need to begin getting serious about spreading the word about your book. You’re probably wondering how.

Your publicist will spend a good deal of time strategizing for the campaign before they begin media contact. They will look at the upcoming news cycle, competitive titles, recent trends, anniversaries and dates relating to the book and other items of interest to the media. If you’re handling your own publicity efforts, you should strongly consider following suit. You wouldn’t go on a cross country trip without peeking at a map, would you? It’s the same principle here. A well-defined strategic plan will serve as a valuable road map for the campaign months ahead.

A good strategic plan identifies multi-level audiences, angles, market conditions, competitive titles, strengths, weaknesses, objectives and media targets. There are some things you can do to contribute to your publicist’s strategic plan or start fashioning your own:

1. Goals – Have a clear picture in your mind of what you want the campaign to look like from the beginning. What do you want or hope to achieve during this golden window of media opportunity? Having a goal to make it on Oprah is wonderful – and lofty – and for a select few, it does happen. But you need to think beyond Oprah: think long term, steady growth. Remember, media breeds media.

2. Competitive titles/market research/target audiences – Football coaches will spend hours watching film of their opponents in advance of upcoming games. It helps them figure out the opposing team’s weaknesses, strengths and tendencies. Before you start promoting your book check out your competition. For example, For Boys Only by Marc Aronson was meant to compete with the wildly successful Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden. Spend time at your local bookstore checking out the titles within your genre and determine what sets you apart. Surf the web to find out what kind of press your competing titles are getting and where. It will help you differentiate yourself from the pack, and determine potential media targets and craft more tactical pitches for your audience.

3. Become a news & pop culture fiend – If you’ve never been especially interested in what’s hot or trendy, now is the time to pay attention. Yes, your book is important, but media members beyond long lead print reviewers are interested in how your book can benefit or interest their audience. We publicists often pitch authors for expert source opportunities or contributed pieces that tangentially relate to the book. When our team promoted Wendy Walker’s novel, Four Wives, last year, we created a pitch on “opt-out moms” that related to a character in the novel, but also to Walker’s personal narrative. The book gained attention with mommy bloggers and women’s interest and career-related media. What’s going on with the media right now (or what news cycle will be hot when your book is published) that can relate to your title?

If you can get a good grasp on the three items above, your publicist will love you, and you’ll be on the path of an effective publicity campaign.

Remember: think ahead. By planning well in advance of publication, you’ll set yourself up to reap more rewards later on.

Today’s extra credit is found over at the Phenix & Phenix blog:

Learn more about building relationships with the media with Your Media Relationships: publicity from the media’s perspective

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Stephen Monrad says

    I have been focusing my attention on reading books that compete with or compliment the book I plan to write. I know where I think my book will end up in a bookstore and have a good idea of what kind of person is likely to buy it.

    What I take away from this posting is that I should broaden my reading to other media. In particular, I should probably do more reading of blogs and magazines. I think I focused on books because I am planning to write a book. When it comes to marketing, it makes sense that I should think about other communication channels. Not everyone browses through bookstores.

    I think I am going to leap into the world of blogging next. I confess that I haven’t read many blogs. I think I will start with Google’s blog search engine. Do you have any favorite blog search engines that you would recommend?

  2. Katie Andrews says

    Hi Stephen!

    Thanks so much for this great comment. You definitely took away one of the main ideas of this blog post: broaden your media horizons. You’re certainly doing yourself a huge service by researching competitive book titles, but it’s also very wise to keep up with the news and media trends. At P&P, my co-workers and I like to listen to radio stations like NPR. It’s a great way to keep up with the news and stay on top of national trends that we can possibly tie to our client’s messages.

    Taking the leap into the world of blogging is an excellent next step and I highly encourage you to do so. We could probably write a whole new blog post on the art of blogging! Having a blog that’s updated regularly can do so much for an author’s platform and web presence. Google’s blog search engine is a great place to start. I’d also check out Technorati’s search engine:

    Thank you again for your comment! Please let me know if you have any further questions. We’re happy to answer them!

  3. Rusty Shelton says

    Hi Stephen-

    As mentioned in today’s post, it is a great idea to start focusing your attention on media coverage–both traditional and online–even as you write your book.

    On the blogs front, there are several that I can recommend within the literary arena. Here are a few good ones:

    “From Where I Sit”
    Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson

    MediaBistro’s Publishing Blog

    “Chip MacGregor’s blog”
    Chip is a leading literary agent

    “Between the Lines”
    Books & Such Literary Agency’s Blog

    The NY Times Books Blog

    “Novel Journey”
    A great blog about writers and writing

    “Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists”
    Our literary publicity blog

    A good blog search engine that we use is

    Good luck!

  4. lisatener says

    Great question, Chris. A soundbyte is that part of your interview that is so concise and clever that TV and radio stations all over the country replay that one part of your interview over and over again for the next five days.

    I’m being a bit flip, of course, but when you’re being interviewed, you want to say things in catchy ways that people will remember. If you can sum up one of your main points in a sentence, perhaps making use of a popular phrase but turning it around in a new way, or using a great metaphor, you’ve created a soundbyte.

    Perhaps Katie or Rusty can weigh in with a bit more advice on how to create a great soundbyte.

  5. Angie Breidenbach says

    I think of a soundbyte as a catch phrase or an elevator pitch. Something that you get so used to saying that it comes natural to you but is fresh to someone new. We do it all the time when we tell life stories from ten or twenty years ago to a new friend or dinner guest. It’s an ingrained phrase. A soundbyte is a phrase that sounds catchy like Katie says, and is easy to remember time and time again but that has communication value. (And a sparkle in the eye while you say it translates over radio and television well!)
    Just my opinion,

  6. Rusty Shelton says

    Hi Chris,

    I think Lisa and Angie hit the nail right on the head with their responses. A soundbyte is a catchy phrase that makes your point and tends to stick with the audience. We spend a great deal of time in media training working on soundbytes for our clients because they are so effective in interviews.

    Here is a great example of a soundbyte that one of our clients has developed–Angel Reyes, an excellent lawyer who has written a book called Hispanic Heresy, describes the challenges facing those who only speak spanish in a courtroom by offering this soundbyte:

    “Lady justice may be blind, but she’s certainly not deaf.”

    For more on soundbyte development, here’s an excerpt of a post from our blog from Senior Publicist Tolly Moseley on developing soundbytes:

    Soundbytes: Why can’t I just go off-the-cuff?

    When we bring authors down to our Austin offices for media training, most are grateful to have some professional assistance developing soundbytes: Short, sometimes quippy phrases that get across a book’s message quickly.

    For example: When asked about her interior design philosophy, our author Debbie Wiener of Slob Proof! Real-Life Design Solutions likes to say, “Real-life design isn’t art – it’s smart!” That’s a soundbyte.

    However, some authors (understandably) resist the soundbyte a little, not wanting to sound canned or cliche. I totally get that – as a publicist, I don’t want any of my authors to sound like broken records either. But here is why soundbytes are absolutely crucial for national talk shows:

    Your words will be edited.

    Talk shows have a lot of ground to cover, usually with multiple guests. They also have many advertisers who paid in advance for airtime. This is why it’s key to have several neat chunks of facts and messaging points in your pocket: You won’t have all the time in the world to explain your meaning.

    Believe it or not, you actually exert more control over your message if you give the segment editor what they want – short phrases – and if your message is particularly intriguing, it may also appear in promo spots for the segment.

    This isn’t to say that you have to be a robot who speaks only in 5-to-10 word statements, mind you. But having several go-to phrases at the ready never hurts – in fact, it usually guarantees you’ll be understood more easily by the viewing audience.

    So, when do I start working on these “soundbytes?”

    The sooner the better! Let me illustrate with a story.

    The week after we booked Wendy Kays on Dr. Phil, she flew into Austin for media training. That morning, we asked her the questions we always ask our authors to help them start developing soundbytes: Can you tell us about your book? Why did you decide to write this book? Who do you think will enjoy this book? Etc. She was doing an excellent job, busily scribbling down notes every time we said, “THAT’S a good soundbyte!” (Such as: “Game Widow is designed to bridge the gap between those who game and those who don’t.”)

    About an hour after lunch, guess who called? Dr. Phil’s producer. She was already booked on the program, he just needed a little more information about her book….so could she tell him about it? Fortunately, she had just prepared some soundbytes!

    So as you can see, those powerful little phrases that help busy people quickly understand your book don’t just come in handy on-camera – but off, too. Moral of the story? It’s never too early to start developing soundbytes – you never know who could be calling.

    Wait – my book is huge! How do I pick and choose what to say in my soundbytes?

    First – you want to assume that anyone asking you about your book knows little to nothing about it. Why? Because the grand majority of people watching national talk shows are being introduced to you and your book for the first time. Second – you want to, again, make the segment editor’s life easier. And what that person needs is a few clips of you describing your book succinctly. So here are some ways to mentally get the soundbytes rolling:

    -Always be prepared to answer the question, “Tell us about your book.” Your response should be 2 brief sentences, max. If the host wants you to explain further, he/she will ask.

    -Know how to credential yourself. “I researched game addiction for four years, interviewing mental health professionals, game widows, gamers – even sneaking into a few professional gaming conferences!” is perfection.

    -Even if you think it’s obvious, identify clearly who will benefit from your book. Parents? Kids? Males? Females? Those with a specific problem or condition? With a national talk show, you want to reach out to viewers at home with your book and expertise, but avoid using blanket statements like, “anyone will enjoy this book!” That may be the case, but you’re much likely to make an impression in a viewer’s mind if you name his or her demographic specifically.

    I hope that helps, Chris! Here is the entire post:

  7. Michelle Girasole says

    Lisa and team:
    This is such a GOLD MINE! Thank you for sharing. We just approved our book cover design and so soon we’ll be sending our book off to the printer, and are chomping at the bit to kick off the project with our publicist. This gives us such a good feel for how to prepare.
    You guys rock!

  8. ann varga says

    I would like to know some ideas to promote my book at a community festival next week.please help me with ideas thank-you ann varga

    • Lisa Tener says

      Print up inexpensive bookmarks with book title and scan-able code to purchase online; print postcards; do something that relates to the topic of the book–the more attention getting the better. What’s your book about?

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