Guest Post by Katie Andrews, project consultant, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists
You’ve crafted your picture perfect strategy and it’s time to start contacting the media. Proceed with caution. Contacting media members is a fine art. Let’s talk about how to do it.
I should preface today’s post with a few words of caution. If you are publishing with a major publishing house that has an in-house publicity team, make sure you never contact the media without discussing it with them first. Same goes if you have hired your own publicist. The most important thing that a publicist brings to the table are relationships with key members of the media and experience working closely with them to help them communicate entertaining and informative information to their audience.
That’s what you are paying for when you hire your own publicist—their ability to package your message and take it directly to members of the media they think will be a good fit for your work. They are likely to be out pitching you and your book to their many contacts and will not be happy if they get a producer on the phone who mentions receiving a note from the author already. Coordinate with your in-house publicity team or publicist.
There are several tools that a publicist uses to get the word out about a book. One of them is the press kit. The press kit is a tangible introduction of you and your book to a producer, journalist or whomever your publicist has contacted. The total press kit is drafted in accordance with strict media specs and is design to pique the interest of relevant media. The press kit has several working parts:
AP and Broadcast press release: The purpose of a press release is to give journalists information that is useful, accurate and interesting. The body of the release is very basic; who, what, where, when and why. Press releases conform to an industry standard; AP press releases are sent to print and online media outlets and broadcast press releases are sent to radio and television outlets.
Trade information sheet: The T.I. sheet contains information about the book that is pertinent to trade reviewers. It includes the book’s vitals, such as the publisher, pub-date, price, page count, synopsis, a brief author bio and marketing and publicity plans.
Author bio: An effective bio should reflect the author’s personality while outlining past achievements, including educational background, career highlights, professional affiliations and literary accomplishments.
Sample media questions: These are sent to members of the media prior to an interview. If you’re working with a publicist, help develop your sample media questions, as this will enable you to formulate the best possible answers ahead of time.
How to craft a good pitch
When it comes to crafting pitches for different types of media, it’s important to do your basic homework. Journalists and producers loathe receiving multiple pitches, especially those that aren’t relevant to their beat or audience. It’s a quick way to get negative coverage or ensure your book doesn’t get any ink. When you’re doing research as to which media outlets you’d like to pitch, take some time to learn about their audience and the types of stories they typically cover. Give them “news you can use” pitches. Why do their readers or viewers need to know about your book or your perspective?
It’s no secret that space for book reviews is slowly disappearing in major print outlets around the country. Some papers are getting rid of their book reviewers entirely (such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution) while others are getting rid of stand-alone book sections (Washington Post). To succeed in garnering meaningful publicity for your book, you have to look beyond the book page.
Authors and publicists have to become more creative with their pitches. You can do this by thinking of ways to tie your area of expertise to the stories that media are looking to cover. Instead of focusing solely on the book, think of ways to tie your expertise in with what the media is interested in talking about.
As an example, we have worked with best-selling author Nancy Rue for years. Rue has authored many books for tweens and teens, including many FaithGirlz! releases (Zondervan/HarperCollins). In addition to targeting review coverage for her titles, we always look for ways to plug her in with journalists writing stories about issues related to tween and teen girls. She was featured as an expert source in this Chicago Tribune article about the lack of young female role models in Hollywood. Rue’s mention in this article is a great example of how an author can rely on their experience with a topic (not necessarily academic credentials) to secure media opportunities beyond book reviews.
How can you apply these principles to your release? Have you thought about promoting your expertise on topics related to your boo ? Sometimes being quoted as a source in an article can be just as visible as a book review. What’s more, if a reporter feels you’re a source they can trust, they will often keep you in their “expert file” of contacts for future stories. A number of clients we worked with years ago still get calls to comment on stories related to their expertise.
When major print outlets use you as a source they establish credibility, build your platform and encourage readers to find out more about you and your latest projects. If a media opportunity arises that doesn’t seem directly related to your book, don’t say “no, thanks” right away. It’s a way to get your foot in the door and presents an opportunity to plug your book.
Think outside the box:
•What are your credentials?
As literary publicists, we are trained to think beyond the book. It’s just the nature of this business. In fact, any good publicity firm will use author credentials as a major factor in their decision to represent a book. So, what academic degrees do you have? What companies have you consulted in the past? Are you a CPA? Worked with high-risk kids for 20 years? Do you have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do? Involved in any charitable organizations? How do these different experiences relate back to your book?
•What’s everyone talking about?
Lindsay Lohan’s fumble opened up an opportunity for Nancy Rue to be used as a source in the Chicago Tribune article. Have you heard anything going on the news lately that relates to your book or professional credentials? Do you feel confident that you could say something pertinent about it? What comments and ideas can you bring to the debate that differs from competing expert sources? If you are currently writing your book, practice connecting your message to breaking news over the next few months—it will pay off once your book releases.
•What news cycles are coming up?
The media operates according to editorial calendars that are used year after year. Though breaking news trumps seasonal stories, you can bet certain topics will be covered by print outlets around the country this spring. Think about ways that you can plug your message into these seasonal news cycles. A few of the seasonal stories that will be covered over the next several months include Valentines Day, Spring Break, Child Abuse Prevention Month (April) and one of the most sought-after news cycles for publishers: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
You have to think like the media to pitch effectively. Even when you are working with a publicist (hopefully you are), it really helps your publicist when you understand how they have to pitch.
Today’s extra credit is found over at the Phenix & Phenix blog. Learn how to hone your media instincts.
Stephen Monrad says
Reading between the lines on the posts over the past couple of days, it seems that the book itself has little to do with its marketing. Instead of selling the book, it seems that the focus is on selling the author and an idea or benefit. This meshes well with what I have read elsewhere about selling books. I have taken this to heart and am currently focusing on developing the skills and materials I will need to promote myself and the ideas I want to write about. I now expect to spend considerably more time on promotion than actually writing the book.
Some people have questioned me on this saying that if I want to write a book, I should just sit down and write it. Their point is that writers should write books. Book sellers should sell them. Everyone should focus their efforts on what they are good at. Am I right to be focusing so much energy on developing the skills and materials I need to promote my book? I’m doing this because I believe that it’s ultimately up to me to sell my book. While publishers and publicists can help, the heavy lifting seems to be my responsibility.
Rusty Shelton says
Thanks for your comment. You are correct in saying that much of what generates publicity for a book beyond the book page (reviews) is not the book itself, but the issues and newsworthy topics that the book addresses.
That said, if you don’t have a good book, no top-level publicist or publisher is going to be willing to attach their brand to it. Publicists and publishers don’t work with bad books–even if they think they can promote them well, because they would be selling something they knew was not a good value for their media contacts or readers.
After all, publicity is all about getting word-of-mouth promotion started–letting people know there is a great new book on the market that they must read. If what is between the covers doesn’t match the quality of the PR campaign, you’re going to have a lot of very disappointed readers and the book won’t go anywhere.
Instead of hearing you on the radio, buying and loving the book and telling all of their friends to go get it (positive word-of-mouth), you’ll have readers who buy and read the book and then warn their friends that it wasn’t that great.
As an author, your first job is to write an excellent book.
This week is all about communicating to authors that they play a large role in the publicity process and those that understand how to play their part will set themselves up for tremendous success in this industry. An author needs to have both skills to succeed.
Your question gets to the heart of many authors’ dilemmas. You can write the book first, but, particularly since your book is about new economic ideas, agents and publishers are going to want to see what kind of platform you have to be interested.
If you wait to do all the publicity at the end, you’ve lost all that time in building momentum. My advice is to work on both the book and platform/publicity simultaneously.
I think it comes back to your vision and goals. If you’re looking to impact society in a big way, which I know you are, and you want to reach many people with your ideas, your book will need momentum behind it and platform and publicity will build that momentum to reach people.
And, yes, you’re absolutely right–it is up to you to sell your book. A publisher will get it into book stores, but you’ll be responsible for most of the publicity and marketing.
Kaye Khalsa says
First, thanks to Lisa and P & P for all of this wonderful info. I feel slightly overwhelmed. My dilemma lies with where to begin. My novel, about Joan of Arc and a time slip to this century, does not relate directly with what I’ve done in the past which is own and run a Yoga and Wellness studio. The one connecting aspect is ‘inspiration’ and/or empowering women. Do I start a blog, facebook, twitter? If yes, do I use my name or a topic which may be current in the media today? Should I do all this before I find an agent? I assume press-releases get sent out after the book is sold and before it is released.
Maureen Daigle-Weaver says
Job one is writing an excellent book according to Rusty. Who knew that was just the beginning like learning the alphabet. I am amazed I wrote a book. It was my New Year’s resolution in 08 and unlike loosing weight it was one that was actually successful. Also never imagined myself signing up for marketing or spouting phrases like ABM:Always Be Marketing.
Lisa I am sure you are right about writing a book and working simultaneously on razzle dazzle promotional ideas but personally I would have needed to be hospitalized. My work habits suck, I only produce coherent sentences one at a time, and slowly. Maybe next time.
Rusty Shelton says
Thanks for your note. All good questions.
I think it is a great idea for you to go ahead and start a blog, facebook page and twitter account. I suggest building your presence online surrounding your name rather than a topic or title of the book you are working on. You’re going to write books on different topics and since much of what you do when you create buzz online is focused on the long-term, I’d focus on building a platform for you as the author.
I always encourage authors to begin building their online presence as early as possible. If you don’t have an agent yet it doesn’t mean that you have to wait to build a presence online. In fact, if you start a blog that becomes very popular, it could even improve your chances of finding an agent because you will have demonstrated that there is a market for your work.
Also, try not to be overwhelmed–I know it is a lot of information but it really all comes down to creating authentic relationships. Each of these posts are just focused on different ways to do that.
I hope that helps and best of luck!
I think we have a great example of a sound byte (referring to Chris’ question from yesterday) in Rusty’s statement: “It all comes down to creating authentic relationships.” I think that’s been one of my greatest lessons as an author–every blogger you meet in cyberspace, every talk show host or producer, every author is a person with a story and their own unique gifts. If you’re open to what those gifts are and how you can help each other each step on the path becomes illuminated and the journey is lots of fun. Perhaps having that image will help you from being overwhelmed.
Maureen, I’d like to also say that these are all guidelines. You need to do what keeps you sane and what feels right in your heart. Sometimes that means writing the book and then stepping into the world of marketing and publicity. It’s generally easier with a plan from the beginning, but not if it makes you crazy!
Angie Breidenbach says
Boy I’m hoping you will keep these posts around awhile. Very rich info here. I’m comfortable with being in the public eye, but realize others are not. For me, I’ve been building my platform little by little. I add something new after I’m comfy with the latest new addition. I started blogging in Nov 2006 after taking an online class, http://GodUsesBrokenVessels.blogspot.com 😉 I joined a group blog in Jan 2007. Then I started adding other elements. I join slowly so I have time to learn each thing without being overwhelmed. So since that first blog I’m now on 4 regularly, I’ve added Facebook, Twitter, Shoutlife and a few others. I also am on several writing loops. I’m not always on one or the other. I just rotate my time in and out of them but I have all of them send my email the basic notices in case I need to respond or correct negative spam issues. So I feel like I’ve been in the process while writing without going nuts.
I have finished two books, worked full time, and held a pageant title as well. Not saying any of that to overwhelm anyone, just encouraging that it can be done if you schedule it and use a process to manage that work. I’m working hard on focus and daily discipline. THAT is really the challenge to me in this kind of a job/lifestyle choice.
Now my goal is to refine my process as I build my career.
lisa aaronson says
Is it worthwile to hie a publicist for a children’s boad book?
Good question, Lisa. It really depends on your goals. You may not make back the money you put into hiring a publicist, unless the book is a blockbuster. But if you want to develop a platform, do any public speaking, develop workshops or create or grow a business related to your book, it may well be worth the investment. The question to ask yourself isn’t necessarily, “Will I sell enough books to make it profitable?” but, rather, “Will it meet my goals and provide ROI in other ways?”