I can get it there but I can’t make them love it by PJ Nunn

PJNI’m a publicist, not a wizard. I’m a really good publicist. Some days, I aim to be the world’s greatest publicist. But a man’s gotta know his limitations, as they say.

People hire publicists for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is to pass the buck. They’ve worked hard and finally, one way or another, their book is published. They’re tired and they feel they’ve taken it as far as they can on their own. For most, hiring a publicist is a big step, not one they take lightly. And it’s a sizable expense in many cases so, yes, they have high expectations of what they’ll get in return for their hard-earned money.

I learned early on that one of the main things I do for my clients is take rejection. Nobody wants to make a pitch for their book only to be told “NO.” We don’t want it. We don’t think it’s good enough. No. Of course when you call a store in hopes of setting up a signing event and are told “NO” it’s rarely a personal thing. More likely it’s a scheduling thing or a policy thing or some other “thing.” Chances are they didn’t look at your book information long enough to know enough about it to form an opinion of any kind. But when someone says “NO” it feels personal. Especially when you’re making more than one call and they keep saying “NO”. A publicist is nice to have at that point because I’m used to hearing more “NO” answers than “YES” and because I really know that it’s not personal. It’s timing. So hiring a publicist shields an author from too many “NO” responses.

But because I don’t tell every author about every NO I hear on their behalf, some think I don’t get “NO” answers. They think hiring a publicist means I can make people say “Yes” to them. I wish I could make them an offer they can’t refuse, but that’s not what I do. I do have contacts that you probably don’t have. I can pick up the phone and call the Guest Booker at the Today Show. I can make my best pitch for you and your book. But they still have to say something. If I’m really on my game that day, maybe they’ll say “Sure, send me more info and I’ll take a look.” Or maybe they’ll say, “NO.”

Most days, after doing this for 15+ years, I get more, “Sure, send me more info…” answers than “NO” answers. That’s when it gets tricky. That’s when people forget what my job is. They think it’s my job to get them to say “YES.” Don’t get me wrong, I love it when they do. But when they say, “Sure, send me more info,” I’ve done my job. My job is to get you there – in front of the people who matter. My job is to get the right people to look at your work. It’s the audition for the part. To get you noticed by people who can share you with their audience who will hopefully want to buy your book.

Now, there are lots and lots of things I can do that bypass that audition. I can call a radio host that I’ve worked with over the years and tell him I have an author I think he’d like to interview. Based on our past history, he’ll schedule an interview without ever talking to the author or seeing the book based on my say so. Don’t think for a second that I take that lightly. If I don’t really think he’ll like you, I won’t pitch you even if I know you’d like to be on that program. Hey, wait a minute! That’s not right!  Yes it is. First, if he doesn’t like you, it won’t be a good interview and you’ll probably be mad that I set it up in the first place. Second, I have to call him again for the next client. No need to make everyone unhappy. But I digress.

Whether I’m arranging an “audition” or an actual appearance, you or your book still have to show up and perform. I get you there but it’s up to you to make them love you. That means I hope you’ve honed your interview skills and are able to give an entertaining talk in front of an audience. That means when the reviewer opens and reads those first few pages, they better be error free and engaging enough to make them want to keep reading. I’ve been shocked over the years when I find a particularly compelling writer who can only stare at the floor and give one word answers to an interviewer. Or even worse, find a fabulous storyline in synopsis only to find the final copy is riddled with grammatical or formatting errors. And whether it’s fair or not, more than one really good book has been passed over because of an ugly cover. You know that’s true.

I realize when things just don’t turn out the way you’d like and maybe sales don’t increase after a promotional campaign, it’s easiest to blame the publicist. But if you don’t want it to keep happening, I urge you to bite the bullet and take a good hard look at your product and presentation. Chances are there’s room for improvement somewhere.

For your best chance of success, make sure you’ve done all you can to fine tune your presentation skills, make sure your book has a good editor, formatter and a professional cover then join up with a professional publicist who has a good track record. Don’t be hasty!

It’s worth the effort to do things right!

Do you have any experiences along these lines that you’d like to share?

Earl Staggs

Earl Staggs

Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net

Interview with Tall Chambers

by Earl Staggs

Recently, I’ve been intrigued by authors interviewing their characters.  I thought it was such a neat and interesting thing to do I decided to interview Tall Chambers, the main character in my Mystery/Thriller novel, JUSTIFIED ACTION.Justified Action

JUSTIFIED ACTION is a serious novel dealing with serious issues.  Tall works for an agency which tracks terrorists and puts them out of business before they strike.  He puts all that aside, however, when someone close to him is murdered.  Then it becomes a personal matter and nothing will stop Tall from finding the killer.

In spite of the seriousness of the story, I decided to have some fun with this interview.  I think you’ll learn a little about Tall and the story that plays out in the book.  I also hope you’ll find a chuckle and a grin along the way.

* * * * *

EARL  — Thanks for coming in for this interview, Tall. (stands, smiles, offers hand)


TALL  —  (shakes hands, sits) Not at all.  Thanks for inviting me.  Nice place you have here. What do you do?

EARL – I’m a writer. I sit here at my computer all day and punch out stories.

TALL – Interesting. Good luck with that, Carl.

EARL —  Uh. . .it’s Earl.

TALL – Sorry.

EARL – That’s okay, but speaking of first names, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you get that unusual one you have?

TALL  –  I don’t mind a bit.  A lot of people ask me about that.  My real name is Tallmadge, an old family name my mother picked out. As soon as I was old enough to talk, I asked people to shorten it to Tall. Everyone did  (grins) . . .except Mom, of course.

EARL  –So it’s not just because you actually are tall.

TALL  – No. I’ve been six foot three since I turned fifteen, but I was thin as a stick. In fact, my nickname was “Splinter.”  In the Army, I learned how to exercise and work out to build myself up.  I still work out an hour or two a day when I can.  I don’t want to become like one of those people who sit at a computer all day and. . .sorry.  No offense.

EARL  – Oh, none taken.  I really should exercise once in a while.  Do you miss the Army?

TALL  – Yes, I do. I didn’t agree with everything they did, but I felt part of something important and thought that in some small way, I could make a difference.

EARL —  But you left the Army. Why?

TALL —  I was reprimanded and demoted for striking a superior officer.

EARL – Oh, my.  Why on earth would you do that?

TALL – I had no choice.  He was doing something that could have ruined his career.  I only wanted to stop him, but he started throwing punches at me.  I threw one back and that was the end of the fight and my career in the Army.

EARL  – I understand after you left the Army, you joined a special agency that does something pretty important.

TALL  – The agency I’m with now is not one of those everyone knows about like the CIA or FBI. This agency keeps a low profile. Very few people even know it exists. I hope you understand I can’t say much about it.

EARL  – So, if you told me, you’d have to kill me?  (laughs)

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t laugh)

EARL  – (gulps)  Okay, moving right along.  Can you tell us what this agency does?

TALL  – We track subversive and terrorist groups both here and overseas.  If we determine they’re a threat to innocent lives, we put them down.

EARL  – (grins)  When you say “put them down,” do you mean. . .?

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t grin)  Unfortunately, most of them choose to die for their cause rather than go to prison, so we accommodate them. If they want to meet Allah and collect their virgins, we put them in the express lane.

EARL  – (gulps) I see. How do you feel about that?

TALL  – I don’t enjoy it, but it’s necessary. We have a motto:  kill one terrorist, save a hundred lives.  After a while, you learn to think about the lives saved, not those taken.

EARL  – How do you go about doing. . .uh. . .what you do?

TALL  – The usual. Guns, explosives, whatever it takes.

EARL  –  The book is called Justified Action. Is it all about taking out terrorists?

TALL  – (hesitates, looks away) No, not for me. Someone very close to me is murdered. After that, my only focus is finding the people responsible and making things right. I use the resources of the agency, but it’s completely my own personal operation.

EARL  – (gulps)  When you say “making things right,” do you mean. . . ?

TALL  – (shrugs – doesn’t reply)

EARL  – So are you able to find who was responsible and make them pay?

TALL  – (looks away again) Not exactly. It gets complicated. A lot of people are involved, some in high places.

EARL  – How high?

TALL  – As high as you can go.  I can’t say any more than that. I hope you understand.

EARL – I understand completely.  Let me ask you about—

TALL — (looks at watch, stands up) I’m sorry, but I have to go now. I have a job to do just across the street. (smiles, extends hand)

EARL  – (stands, shakes hands)  Uh, okay.  Just across the street? When you say you “have a job to do,” do you mean. . . ?

TALL  –(turns, walks to door)  You’ll hear a lot of noise. I wouldn’t go outside for a while.

EARL  –(gulps, watches him go)

* * *

Thanks for letting me take up some space here, PJ.  I enjoy the interviews and articles you do, and I appreciate the opportunity to make an appearance.

If I may, I’d like to invite your readers to come over and visit my website where they can:

. . . . .read Chapter One of JUSTIFIED ACTION featuring Tall Chambers.

. . . . .read Chapter One of my Mystery novel, MEMORY OF A MURDER.

. . . . .read a short story called “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer.” Some say it’s the funniest story I’ve ever written.

. . . . .read another story there called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with my boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.  There’s even a picture of me with Roy to prove it’s all true.

. . . . .and more.

Here’s where:  http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

 Hey Earl – you are welcome here any old time! And how bout this all of ya’ll who’ve now had the pleasure of meeting Tall Chambers. Why don’t you leave us a comment and tell us who you think he looks like? Better yet, send a photo! I bet I can wrangle Earl into a drawing for something free for someone. Let’s hear it!

Tips for an effective radio interview:

Radio is one of the most cost effective means of book promotion AND it’s incredibly convenient. You can usually do it from home wearing your sweats if you want to. No travel expenses, minimal preparation time. But don’t let the convenience factor fool you. It’s one thing to do an easy radio interview by phone. It’s another thing to do it well.

Probably 40 – 50% of what we do at BreakThrough Promotions is arrange radio and television interviews for our clients. It’s possible for an author to set these up themselves, but many feel uncomfortable making that pitch to the producer or guest scheduler. And actually, when it comes to larger programs with national audiences, it’s probably easier for a publicist to get the ear of the producer than an author pitching him or her self.  We might use the exact same pitch but it sometimes is deemed more credible coming from a professional. Just the nature of the biz. But that’s another subject. For now, let’s assume the interview is already set and it’s time for you to get ready. What do you need to do?

  1. Get prepared for the interview about 15 minutes early. Make sure you’ve disabled Call Waiting on your phone and instructed family/friends not to interrupt or make loud noises if possible. If you have a dog that tends to bark at inopportune moments, maybe secure it in another room. It helps to have a copy of your book close by and a note card with pertinent info on hand (see below). Have a glass or bottle of water on hand and practice breathing deeply. Make sure the room isn’t too warm (you’ll tend to yawn more if it is) or too cool. If you’re unsure about noises on the line have a friend call you and let you know if the line is clear or if there are background noises that might be picked up (fans and TVs are the worst culprits).
  2. Always use a landline for interviews if possible. Cell phones tend to drop calls. If you’re using a landline, turn off the ringer on your cell phone. Otherwise it will surely ring right in the middle of the interview, disrupting your train of thought.
  3. Don’t be nervous. Ok, maybe you can be nervous, but try not to sound like you’re nervous. Smile. You really can tell a difference in someone’s voice when they smile even if you can’t see them. Practice. It should be just like you’re talking to a good friend and most interviewers are good at making you feel at ease.
  4. Don’t talk too fast. Often when an author is nervous and aware that the interview is brief, they’ll talk very fast trying to be sure they get everything said that they want to say. In truth, 60 seconds is longer than you think and most interviews will be around 10 minutes or more. Plenty of time to get your info out there. Speak slowly and distinctly, but don’t talk down to anyone. Once again, practice is your friend.
  5. LISTEN carefully to what the host is saying/asking. It’s very easy to hear the first few words and have your mind run off, thinking of what you’ll say instead of listening carefully to what the host is saying. Take a deep breath and listen before you answer.

Remember the days of high school English class and answer in full sentences when appropriate. For instance:

   Host: What are you trying to convey with the story?

Author (bad answer): …what happens to the whale

Author (better answer): In MOBY DICK, I’d like readers to see the human side of the whale’s character.

Obviously, that’s a loose example, but the point is, say your title as often as possible without being obnoxious (remember repeat  exposure clinches sales) and you have to take every opportunity to say something interesting about the story to tempt listeners to want to buy.

6. Prepare a closing line or two and write it down on an index card. Be sure you include your website URL and a place the book can be bought. You may think “DUH, I don’t need to write that down” but trust me, there will come a time when you wish you had. It’s amazing how the mind can go blank at the most inopportune times. I know this from painful experience. If there’s any doubt about the way to spell your name or something in your URL, spell it out. Make it as easy as possible for listeners to remember and find you. If they’re hearing on the drive home from work, they’re probably not writing it down. If it goes without saying, say it twice.

7. Do not sound like a breathing teleprompter or a robot. Be lively and excited about your product. Bring energy whether radio or tv. It will be remembered. This tip is from one of my favorite hosts of an award-winning, regional radio show. I didn’t get a chance to ask him what prompted it, but apparently he’s had recurring problems with breathers. On the other hand, don’t sound like a cheerleader either. Nuff said.

8. Don’t ask hosts questions, even things like “What do you think?” It may seem like a good way to keep conversation going but will more often catch them off guard and make things awkward. They’re expecting you to answer questions, not ask them. There are probably some exceptions but they’re in the minority. Be careful with that. You’ve only got a few minutes and you’re not there to talk about them.

9. Have someone write and ask you five questions that you don’t know beforehand; practice a few times and you will have no problem. Of course it’s most helpful if those asking the questions have read the book, but there are some radio hosts who won’t read the book and will just formulate questions from the cover text. Be ready for anything. Many authors find practicing awkward, but it’s really the best way to improve your performance. If you’re serious about being effective and ultimately being invited to guest on national programs, it’s a must. If you’re looking for television spots, there’s no better coach than watching yourself on a video recording. It can be painful, and comments even from close friends can be hard to take, but if you seriously consider them, they’ll help make your performance better.

10. If the host is open to it, and many are, send along some sample questions prior to the interview. Most will use at least some of the questions and you’ll be a little better prepared with full answers.

11. See if you can get a recorded copy of the interview after it airs. Many will offer that. If they’re good, post them on your website. Whether they’re good or not so good, listen and learn.

12. Most of all, have fun and the audience and the interviewer will follow your lead. An interview that entices listeners and encourages them to seek out your book is one that is fun to listen to and may not have a whole lot to do with the book at all. If they like you, they’ll look for your work. If you bore them, they probably never will no matter how good the book may be.

Radio interviews can be a fabulous way to increase sales all over the country no matter where you’re located. With online sales soaring higher and higher, it’s a no-brainer. And don’t overlook those small town, rural programs that might only have a few hundred or thousand listeners. They also may not have a lot of social activities in the area, many don’t have bookstores or libraries nearby and reading is a favorite pastime. You may sell more from exposure in rural South Dakota than you do in New York City because people aren’t as busy and the competition is much less fierce. Think about it.

Have you run into something while doing interviews that was particularly successful? Offputting? A question? We’d love to hear your comments!

Happy interviewing!

Designing a promo campaign

Planning a promotional campaign for a new book can be a monumental task and no two campaigns are alike. Here at BreakThrough Promotions, our goals include determining what the author’s goal is, determining what the publisher will do to help the author meet that goal, and then filling in the blanks. A well-designed team effort gleans the best results. However, in this day and age, most publishers aren’t able to do much by way of promotion, so the author is left to do much of it alone. Usually, this isn’t because the publisher doesn’t want to help. It’s just the simple fact that in today’s economy everyone has scaled back and a single, in-house publicist simply can’t take care of a whole list of authors. There are only 24 hours in a day and time available for follow-up is crucial.

We like to discuss what our clients want and what they feel most comfortable doing for themselves, then design a customized package that lets us schedule those things the author would rather not tackle. We’ve designed several packages that include different types and amounts of events. Here’s a brief description:

Carl Brookins and the Minnesota Crime Wave at a book launch at Once Upon a Crime

Events: These could be basic meet-n-greet book signings, short talks at libraries or civic organizations, or workshops conducted at community centers or writers conferences. Some authors very successfully command an appearance fee or honorarium for their time and this can be discussed if it’s a type of event that interests you.

The most common is the bookseller/book signing event. Many authors really don’t like them, and some swear they’re not worth the trouble until you’ve published several books and have developed a following.

Authors who’ve been there and done that will explain that those basic book signings 1) are a sure way to get your books on the shelves, 2) help you develop name recognition and relationships with booksellers, 3) are the primary way they built their following and establish a fan base (by collecting addresses at these events), and 4) that the signings are more about the first 3 items than about how many books you sell at a single event. Like most promotional efforts, the results are cumulative and no single event can be judged as a success/failure. Successful book promotion is a “slow and steady wins the race” affair. No matter how large the foundation, they’re all built one brick at a time.

Print: The most common thing we arrange in this category is book reviews. We don’t pay for book reviews, nor do you pay us to write them. Technically, authors pay us to find appropriate review markets, send the review copies and follow up with those markets, reporting back to the author when we find those who have written reviews in response to what we’ve sent them. We don’t send unsolicited review copies (ARCs) to anyone unless it’s a request specifically from the author or publisher.

Other things that fall into this category are mentions or interviews in blogs, mentions in newspaper articles or columns, newsletters, magazines, trade journals. Pretty much any time we’re able to assist in getting your name or book title in print. We’re happy to target the type of print market that you’d most like to see, but have no way of guaranteeing which ones will respond.

DJ Doug Wilson (right) of WANB

Radio: This is probably the most cost effective means of book promotion, almost always conducted by phone. We work with a number of shows regularly that have established audiences and recurring “book” or “author” spots during their programs. Most of the shows we work with are considered local, but many are regional and national broadcast programs.

We also work with a selected few internet radio and satellite programs that have documented large audience bases. Interviews may be 5 minutes in length up to an hour. When we send the confirmation information to you, it should include some information about the program and the coverage map. We can also arrange for you to talk with a media specialist to help you improve your interview skills and make you more comfortable in giving interviews if needed.

Cheryl Nason of Conversation Cafe

Television: This is a wonderful way to reach a large number of potential readers and to help you establish your brand and develop name recognition. The interviews we arrange are usually local morning or noon news shows and interviews tend to be very brief – 2 – 3 minutes at most. They can be very beneficial to your campaign, but should be done sparingly, especially at first. They’re especially helpful if scheduled prior to an appearance in the area. Keeping recorded clips of radio and television interviews is wise. Almost all requests to appear on national broadcast programs require sending clips of previous appearances to assure producers and guest schedulers that you will be comfortable and entertaining for their listeners/viewers.

So, now that you’ve seen the sample campaign contents, and the descriptions of the types of events, how do you know what you really need?

We believe in what I call a pyramid approach:

The base of the pyramid is the availability of books. Without the book, there’s no need to promote it, right? If you talk enthusiastically about this great book, but the customer can’t find it anywhere, that’s not helpful. So the first and large part of your effort has to be establishing the availability of the book for purchase. Larger publishers probably take care of that for the author, and many smaller presses at least make the attempt. But it’s still advantageous for the author to speak knowledgably to issues in this area. To do that:

  • Make sure you know which distributors stores can order from and what the bookseller discount is
  • Include ordering information on your sell sheet
  • Make ordering information available on your website
  • Do not lump all the info together – make a specific sell sheet for booksellers and wholesale ordering and another for retail sales
  • Design campaign activities to notify independent booksellers and libraries about your book
  • Design campaign activities to notify potential readers about print and e-book availability
  • Don’t overlook alternative, niche markets for book sales

Once you’ve got a strong foundation in the works for book availability, the next tier in the pyramid is print. Today’s print market is much different than it was even 5 years ago. Newspaper reviews are like gold and about as hard to find. But there are a lot of alternatives; they just require a little planning. Design your campaign so that a wide variety of print markets are being contacted. Don’t make the mistake of waiting too late – many require several weeks lead time prior to publication. But don’t make the mistake of giving up too soon, either. With diligence, you can glean reviews months after the release date if you’re pursuing the right market. And remember, a book is new to a person until they see it, no matter what date it was actually released.

Bob Langstaff WAMV

The third tier of the pyramid is media. This is a broad category, but should have less of your time and attention than book availability and print. Fortunately, you can accrue a good amount of broadcast media coverage in a short amount of time. Look for opportunities for radio interviews on a variety of show types and in a broad spectrum of locations. TV interviews are good for helping drive traffic to events and personal appearances.

While relatively easy to set up, broadcast interviews provide the opportunity to get your name and title in front of more potential buyers than just about any other single event. Even the smallest local programs will have an audience of several hundred. Most have several thousand, and regional programs can easily have more than a million listeners. Don’t make the mistake of gauging the success or failure of a radio interview by watching for an immediate spike in sales following the program. Sometimes that happens. More often it doesn’t. Marketing experts will tell you that it generally takes 14 repeat exposures for a name or product to register on the consciousness of a consumer. It’s the cumulative effect of several marketing efforts that builds name recognition and begins to spark sales.

Elaine Viets at Venetian Arts Society

The tip top of the pyramid is niche markets. As you might suspect, the possibilities here are endless. It may mean finding markets that focus on nurses because your primary character is a nurse, or it may be alumni of your college. It may be a variety of pet venues because your protagonist has a canine sidekick or maybe gift shops in National Parks because your books feature a forest ranger. There may be several specific niche markets that would be interested in different aspects of your book(s) or in you as the author. Take advantage of all of them, but only after the other three tiers are getting the needed attention. Niche markets can seem like a gold mine, but in the overall scope of things, you don’t want to focus all your attention there if you want a reasonable return on investment. Careful timing and planning will help you cover all the bases.

There are a lot of factors to consider when planning an effective campaign, so it’s easy to understand why some opt to get professional help. As you begin to craft a plan for your own campaign, keep in mind that you cover each pyramid tier to some degree, but you may need more help in one area than another. If that’s the case, learn to staff your weaknesses. Call on friends and family to trade tasks with you if that will work. Or contact professionals. You might be surprised how simple things become when you have a well thought out plan to start with.

Good luck and happy writing!