Book promotion – it’s not rocket science

In promotion, do the facts speak for themselves? Perhaps. But do they say what you want people to hear? There’s always a spin. Sometimes there’s more truth in what you don’t say, or in how you say it.

One of the reasons authors are discouraged when they send out mass quantities of press releases and see few, if any, results, is because the release itself is generic. It probably contains accurate facts about the author and the book (its release date, etc.) but unless the author’s name is newsworthy in and of itself (which is rarely the case) it will probably go straight into the circular file. Effective publicity has to be written to the market. It helps to aim at the target you’re trying to hit.

Here’s an example I used frequently when I taught Creative Writing at the Dallas County Community College District:

I did not say he beat his wife.

One sentence containing eight words. But watch what happens when you shift emphasis from one word to the next:

I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 I did not say he beat his wife.

 See how emphasis changes the meaning? Or the implication? It’s all about focus.

For instance, right now, I’m working to schedule some print and broadcast attention for Avery Aames whose latest Cheese Shop Mystery  – Clobbered by Camembert – comes out February 7th. You might think pitching a mystery about a cheese shop is pretty narrow in focus already, but there are still adjustments I need to make if I want to have a good response from the markets I talk with. One host we work with fairly often has a long established program with listeners who love cooking. So of course, when approaching him, I lead with the recipes and understand that he really doesn’t care if there’s a mystery involved or not.

Another program has a regular spot each week for author interviews, but the host rarely talks about the book at all. In fact, she prides herself on going “behind the scenes” to talk about the authors and their backgrounds rather than the books, although of course the books are mentioned on the air. She’s pretty selective about her guests so I know when I call her, I need to be ready with some interesting, but little known, facts and topics the author feels comfortable discussing. Again, what’s in the book has little to do with how I pitch the author. Two totally different approaches to scheduling, yet both achieve the same thing – a large, pre-qualified market of potential book buyers.

How’s an author to know these things? Research. Lots of it. Promoting a book is time consuming, even on the best of days, but taking time to know the market you’ll be pitching will increase your success rate exponentially. There are no effective shortcuts other than hiring someone to do that research for you. Even the high dollar media database services don’t give you some of the information that will help you most. That comes from getting to know the person responsible for scheduling the guests. Experience. In lieu of that, it can come from avoiding a standard pitch and knowing how to ask the right questions.

Always remember to approach a new market from the standpoint of what you can do for them rather than what they can do for you. They really don’t care about helping you sell more books. They care about guests who can help them attract new listeners and viewers, and help them entertain the regular audience they already have. So while your goal may be to increase sales of your book or to increase your own name recognition, the way to reach that goal, in this case, is to determine how you can best help them reach their goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “What kind of guests do you prefer?” Better than that, take time to visit the program archives of broadcasts or transcripts to see what their program is actually like if you’re not in an area where you can listen to it live. It doesn’t usually take a long time to figure out if the host has preferences and pet peeves that would be good to know ahead of time.

You also need to be ready to overcome objections. If your book is fiction, particularly genre fiction as so many of my clients write, one of the primary objections I come across is the standard line: We don’t do fiction. I have to be ready to show them, very quickly, why the case I’m pitching might be the one exception. Since so many of them only take calls during commercial time when they’re on the air, I have to think – and talk – fast. I better be ready for it before I even dial the number.

Bottom line – I don’t do a lot of things for my clients that they couldn’t do for themselves, and that’s not a slap against me. The primary difference between me (and any other publicist) and an author just starting out is that I’ve been doing little else for the past 14 years and I have all that experience and a database full of contacts that I’ve built relationships with over the years. I can’t be everyone’s publicist, but I like to help those who are trying to find their way through the maze of book promotions. That’s why I started the biz in the first place.

So feel free to come here and ask questions and make comments. I’ll post more as we go along and hopefully give you information that will get you where you’re going.

Happy promoting!

3 thoughts on “Book promotion – it’s not rocket science

  1. carlbrookins says:

    Outstanding piece. It used to be you could fashion a generic press release on paper to appeal to a large number of markets, but now, especially now, if the subject (author) doesn’t have a recognizable name or topic, it’s almost impossible to get attention without a personal approach, or something unusual. That’s part of what makes the Minnesota Crime Wave so successful. Check out our website to see what I mean.

  2. Very insightful article. As an author, it is nice to be able to hear from a publicist and glean valuable information from a different perspective in this business. Will definitely visit again. Thanks!

  3. Eleanor Anders says:

    This post not only explains what you do, it explains what needs to be done!

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