Publicity Notes for Authors

Four Views on How to Promote Your Book

A version of this article appeared in the American Association of Journalists and Authors Journal (October 1999)

Let’s face it, promoting your book isn’t what you had in mind when the Muse started that scratching noise in the back of your brain. When I was faced with this prospect of jumping into that phone booth, and then leaping out as "Super Promo Woman," when my book, How to Write It a Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write, was published, I immediately got a bad case of indigestion.

So, when I heard that ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc.) covered this very topic in the annual conference last spring, I eagerly bought the audio tape of the session. Here are some of the highlights. (A version of this diatribe appeared in the ASJA Newsletter, October issue.)

Dan Greenberg must be a candidate for the author with the most book tour horror tales. Greenberg, the best selling author of 34 books including How to Be a Jewish Mother and How to Make Yourself Miserable, once showed up at midnight in an icy, pouring rain for an appearance on a talk show. The address was in Atlanta’s warehouse district, and he found that not only could he not get into the radio station building where he was scheduled to be an on-air guest, but the show on which he thought he would be pitching his book did not even exist!

Of course, promoting your book is not always that trying, as Greenberg and three other panelists pointed out. The other panelists were: Margaret A. Durante, Director of Publicity at MacMillan; Daylle Deanna Schwartz, author of The Real Deal: How to Get Signed to a Record Label From A to Z and All Men are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise; and Barbara Monteiro, president of Monteiro & Company.

Dan Greenberg

In addition to his experience on a non-existent midnight radio show, Dan Greenberg has done his share of book flogging, and it has not always gone easily. He has had his tour canceled at the last minute, and he has even sent himself on tour – a blunder he emphatically did not recommend. His valuable conclusions: what appears on the touring author’s itinerary may not be accurate, but you can deal with what you find "out there." Double-check the itinerary before leaving home, he says, and when on tour, "exude self-confidence."

Greenberg says there is more to a promotional tour than a media blitz. Between interviews, make the most of your time by locating and visiting as many of the best bookstores as possible. Saunter in, ask for your book, and get to know the sales people. He notes names and records contact information on index cards, then follows-up later.

Big Publisher Promotion in the Age Of Austerity

Margaret Durante has handled MacMillan’s Political Correctness series, Idiot’s Guide series, cookbooks, dictionaries and other lines. She noted that MacMillan has ten to 13 authors per on-staff publicist. Their efforts are supplemented with a cache of free-lance publicists. Durante told the session that MacMillan publishes first-time and mid-list authors "on their way to larger careers," since the company does not offer bestseller-sized advances. Durante noted that working with most publishers means adjusting your author-mentality to these current market truths:

  • Your book will probably be "bulk pitched" to the media, that is, in conjunction with other new releases.

  • Personal contact with your publicist will be minimal.

  • You may need to hire your own publicist to get your book launched.

Durante says you should get promotional commitments detailed in your book contract. It avoids disputes later.

You can best participate in the promotion process, she said, if you:

  1. Prepare yourself to be an "expert" in your book’s topic area.

  2. Supply your publicist with names and contact information of your media contacts three or four months before publication.

  3. Tell your publicist about planned vacations and locations, bookstore signings, and promotional ideas you have in mind.

  4. Cooperate with your publicist in every way.

  5. Contact your publicist only once every two weeks by e-mail, giving her updates on what you are doing, etc.

Ending with her own acronym, she advised authors to think in "P.A.P.E.R." terms when dealing with their publicist, that is, be: Persistent, Assertive, Polite, Enthusiastic and Right.

How Do You Come Across?

Daylle Deanna Schwartz opening advice was: "Get a personality." She translated this into some points for creating self-confidence:

  1. Prepare answers to potential interviewer questions. Turn the interview to the answers you want to give. "That s an interesting question, but what I’d like to emphasize is…"

  2. Believe in what you write and be enthusiastic about it.

  3. Know the points you want to make.

  4. Work on presentation: practice talking to yourself in the mirror, smile, shake hands, use a voice coach if you need to and don’t forget to "have fun."

Find places to teach classes, Schwartz advised. Her "Nice Girls on Top" classes, for example, landed her a spot on Oprah. And by "kissing up" to her publicist, she has squeezed out lots of extra promotional mileage.

Some other tips:

  1. Send personal notes addressed to reviewers to your publicist to be included with review copy mail outs.

  2. Study your book and know it "cold" before an interview.

  3. Develop a speaking career. ("Here’ s where the money is.")

  4. Use 1(800) POSTCARDS to get postcards printed for handouts and mail outs.

  5. Pitch articles and send your press kit to key media people at magazines and to TV program producers.

  6. Do the Amazon.coms=books”>Amazon.com Author’s comments, and encourage friends to write reader comments.

The Publicist’s Point Of View

Barbara Monteiro, president of a boutique public relations firm in Manhattan, specializes in business books and business-related press. She charges $5,000/month.

Monteiro says that if you are hiring a publicist, find one who is enthusiastic about your book. "It’s a personal business," she says. Monteiro says a successful campaign for a business book needs 12 to 15 "hits."

  • Print Spots. She likes the Wall Street Journal "because it’s read in the middle of the country." She suggests pitching the Op Ed section or "Manager’s Journal," which appears in Monday’s paper. She also likes the New York Times, and the national editions of Business Week or Fortune. 

  • Business Wire Services. Target Reuters and Dow Jones.

  • Radio. On NPR, go for "Morning Edition," or "Market Place." ("You can’t get both.") Second choice: AP Radio.

  • Television. Try for a spot on "Nightly Business News" which requires your book have a strong breaking news or celebrity tie-in. "Get in their databank," she suggests, by sending a press release or press kit. Other top spots to pitch the right kind of book: CNBC’s "Power Lunch" ("Airs at noon in New York"); CNNFN; CNN’s "Lou Dobbs"; Fox Network’s "Cavuto Business Report."

  • Special Business Magazines. She tries to get her clients into Fast Company, Forbes, Barron’s and Investments.

  • Newspapers. Look for newspaper feature coverage outside the books section.

According to Monteiro, business books are different from many other genres. You cannot count on book reviews. "The New York Times, for example, won’t do anything on business management," she says. Business books also have a longer shelf life, "typically four to six months." Monteiro says this is because it takes longer to make a business book, and the topics are perennial.

How do you get great publicity? "Three ways."

  1. Fit your book into the "beat" of the media writers and producers. Common newspaper beats from the toughest to easiest to crack are management, workplace, technology, investing, careers, specialties, business biographies, taxes, retirement, economics.

  2. Hook your book into the news.

  3. Use a personal approach.

To think like a publicist, Monteiro says you should ask yourself, "What are the messages of my book?" Now, write simple answers on note cards you can use during an interview. Create that one-sentence sound bite answer. List one, two or even three themes off that sound bite. Who is your audience? "Where do they live?"

Tools Monteiro uses are a press kit including at least a press release, a "story of the book," and "a sidebar that can be lifted and used." She says you need to think in terms of making the target’s job easier.

Improving Your Placement in the Bookstore

Finally, do not be afraid to get out on the streets and work the bookstores. Both Greenberg, and ASJAer, Daylle Schwartz, shared enthusiasm for what authors can accomplish in bookstores by signing copies of their book, which they say cannot then be returned. These authors also shared advice about getting creative in rearranging displays to include your book on special display tables, face-out on the shelf, and in windows.

Greenberg also advised initiating retail outlet promotion by attending meetings for the wholesale truck drivers who deliver books to retail outlets and who, in most cases, determine what goes on the shelf and the kind of display it gets. He also suggests meeting with managers of grocery stores, department stores and other retail outlets. Store managers and drivers have discretion over which titles are displayed in their stores, even which appear as "Bestsellers." So, chat them up after buying them wee-morning-hour coffee and donuts. He’s even had managers ask, "So, Dan, would you like your book on the bestseller list? Which number?"

And that is a lot better than standing in a cold Atlanta rainstorm in the middle of the night. (And, by the way, if you’ve forgotten the forms — or never knew them — for press releases, Q&As, etc., pick up a copy of my book, How to Write It, at your favorite bookstore or order it from Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.)

How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write gives even professional writers some important tools and reminders on how to do it. It’s also a great resource for those of you who double as teachers of the craft, English, and communications at the high school, college, or adult levels.