PR 101 for Authors

February 1, 2003
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PR 101 for Authors

by Lyla Foggia

Foggia+Associates Public Relations

February 2003

Books are like any new product. They have to be intensively promoted or no one will know they exist.

For top publishing stars like a Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy, just showing up on the “new release” display tables is enough to secure a spot on the bestseller lists. Ironically, they’re also the ones who seem to get all the interviews and ads in critical places like USA Today, paid for by their publishers.

For everyone else, it’s survival of the fittest (make that PR savviest) as to whether your book gets the media exposure necessary to stay afloat in a pond crowded with something like 50,000 new titles each year.

Unfortunately, while much is written about how to find an agent, get a book published or negotiate a contract, authors rarely hear about the tough realities of marketing books today.

Among them is the fact that publishers typically don’t have the staff to do more than put together a one-page “press release” and send it out with the galleys to their usual list of press contacts (mostly book reviewers). Unfortunately, these are media who are so far up the media food chain they’re hammered by pitches. Let’s just say you’d have a better chance of hitting the lottery than getting selected by this group for interviews and reviews.

So the burden is really on you to make your book work. How can you do that? Here’s a few of my best tips…

Learn how to think like a publicist.

If you have the time, put yourself through a crash course on PR. Read up on the subject just like you did before negotiating your first book contract. One of the best books for non-publicists is (don’t laugh) Public Relations Kit for Dummies, which addresses such topics as “Formulating Ideas” and “Using PR Tactics.” Check Amazon.com for more titles, but don’t limit yourself to only those about book publicity. The key is, whether you hire out your entire marketing campaign or choose to team with a publicist, enlightenment is power in taking control of your writing career.

Hire your own publicist.

Why do you need one? Most media will not accept pitches directly from authors (or anyone who would be the subject of the coverage). There’s a lot of protocol that goes into pitching media, which only seasoned publicists would know. Plus, pitches have to be directed to the right editor or broadcast booker– and these names are usually available only through the national directories that publicists invest in. And, with the exception of book review editors, most press today insist on being pitched by e-mail (another reason why those professional directories, filled with e-mail addresses, are indispensable).

Even so, there are a number of ways in which you can save money by working closely with your publicist, such as in the writing of the media kit and setting up speaking engagements, which I discuss below.

Make sure your publicist has national experience.

Many of you will have a publicist friend who is a whiz at getting press where you live. Over the years, they’ve built up relationships with folks down at the local paper and can get news crews to cover almost anything. Definitely use them for your hometown coverage.

For the rest of the country, find a publicist who has worked every nook and cranny of the media landscape – from the morning network television shows in New York to every daily newspaper across the country. There’s real skill involved in getting total strangers to do what you want.

How to save money when hiring a publicist:

Ask for a flat rate on the campaign, along with a detailed proposal of what outlets will be pitched and services provided. This will allow you to negotiate the total cost (to fit your budget) by adding or removing media outlets upfront.

Ideally, bring the publicist onboard six months prior to your publication date.

Here’s why: it will take up to two months to create a dynamite media kit (see below) and monthly magazines have to be pitched at least three months prior to an issue date that corresponds to your publication date. The general rule with media (including newspapers) is that the sooner you get the pitch in, the better your chances of getting selected for coverage.

Why the media kit is the crux of your campaign:

The primary reason why most book campaigns fail today is the one-page “press release” that publishers use to pitch press. There’s simply not enough information there to either “hook” media into committing coverage, or provide them with the necessary background information to conduct an interview.

Because of downsizing and mergers, every media organization in the country is under-staffed, as well as inundated with pitches on a daily basis. The days of conducting their own research to ferret out what story angles (i.e. what makes you or your book “unique” and “newsworthy”) is long past. So a good media kit is like handing them the essential information on a silver platter – which both increases your chances of getting coverage and the accuracy of what results.

What should be included in a media kit?

Just as every book is different, so is the media kit to sell it – particularly for non-fiction books. Basically, the kit needs to identify every unique angle that makes you and the book worthy of media coverage, plus supply the story behind it.

At a minimum, you’ll need a compelling press release, detailed author’s bio (flap blurbs simply don’t cut it!), and backgrounder on the “story” behind the book (and there always is one, if you dig deep enough).

If appropriate, I also often create “fact sheets” for easy reference, using statistics, interesting trivia, lists of the author’s other works, chronologies, (ideal for historical topics), and tip sheets with advice from the author or book (for how-to titles). For journalists, good fact sheets are like candy, because they provide filler for “side bars” accompanying features. And segment producers use them to structure TV and radio interviews.

Following are online examples of media kits I’ve created. Note how each one was tailored to the subject of the book and author’s credentials.

Click on “Press Room” at each of the following sites…

www.TamiAshcraft.com

www.BeverlyKirkhart.com

www.TheGreatnessofGirls.com

www.ErnieBarnes.com

www.JoanJohnston.com

Good photos help hook coverage.

As important as your media kit is the quality of the photography you can supply a newspaper or magazine – particularly for those interviews you’ll be doing by phone long distance. I’ve seen article commitments evaporate for lack of photography, and others materialize because the available “art” was so good. Try to have several different shots of yourself taken by a professional photographer. Then have them scanned professionally into 300 dpi JPEGs – which can be shipped out to press upon request via e-mail. Also be sure to scan any photos from your book, which editors might want to run in a feature spread.

Create an online press room.

Why would you need one? Because media today – other than book review editors – insist on being pitched via e-mail, with a link to the media kit online. Trust me, the cost of adding a “press room” to your existing site or creating a basic stand-alone press site (go to www.stevealten.com/pressroom.htm ) is nothing compared to the expense of printing and shipping media kits.

Create a web site for your book.

Most feature articles will now include site addresses, plus you can provide the link during broadcast interviews. The cost is so minimal compared to the exposure. Be sure to keep the URL simple – such as your name or the title of your book – so it rolls off your tongue in TV or radio interviews.

Don’t waste your time on book signings – as most of these events flop.

The fact is that it takes a heap of local publicity (beyond calendar listings) to get warm bodies to attend book signings – and publishers will only commit the staff time necessary for top name authors who can draw a crowd. While there are stores (mostly prestigious independents) who produce and send out a monthly newsletter to thousands of customers, they’re among the pickiest in terms of who they book (usually going after well-known authors as well). Even then, there’s no guarantee anyone will show up.

However, if you can book one, do schedule one local signing to invite all your relatives and every person you’ve known since childhood. This can be done by e-mail or snail mail. I prefer e-mail, as recipients can forward it to anyone they think will be interested.

Do book yourself for as many speaking engagements as possible.

Organizations are always looking for monthly or keynote speakers – especially if you’re willing to speak for free or for expenses. Make sure you negotiate the right to sell books at the end of your talk and bring at least a carton. Invariably, you will sell more than you would at a bookstore signing.

Think outside the box when it comes to book promotions.

Ever wonder what it takes to become a best-selling author? One of their trade secrets, I’ve learned, is to send out postcards, posters, or pre-paid phone cards to book store managers before their new book hits.

E-mail an announcement out of the book’s debut to related clubs and organizations on the web.

What I do is lay it out in Word, using a variety of fonts and even a low-res JPEG of the book cover, then paste the flier into the body of the e-mail message (using html). This is also a great way to get the word around for local book signings, since it can be easily forwarded by the recipient. Is this spam? I’ve never had anyone complain, as I’m careful to match recipients with the subject matter.

A published book author, Lyla Foggia has been a national publicity executive and consultant for over two decades. A former Vice President of Publicity for TriStar Pictures, she served as the chief architect of the ground-breaking campaign that helped establish “LIVE With Regis & Kathie Lee” as a daytime ratings institution, among other national campaigns. Foggia’s clients include both New York Times best-selling and first-time authors. She can be reached via e-mail at: lfoggia@sbcglobal.net

©2003 Lyla Foggia

 

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