Book publicity expert Scott Manning discusses the basics of book publicity, what you should include in a press kit, and when to start a book publicity campaign.
This is an excerpted version of an interview originally posted on BlueInk Review’s blog. Reprinted with permission.
Scott Manning, professional publicist and founder of Scott Manning & Associates, has been in publishing, specifically in publicity, for more than 35 years. He began at Harper & Row (which became HarperCollins in 1990), and was Vice President, Director of Publicity at William Morrow & Company. In 1995, he started Scott Manning & Associates, working with Grove Atlantic and bestselling author P.J. O’Rourke. He has since produced publicity campaigns for the likes of Mark Bowden, George Crile, Gary Kinder, and Josh Lieb and publishing houses that include Amazon Publishing, Bloomsbury USA, Houghton Mifflin, Abrams, and Penguin Books for Young Readers.
What are the basics of book publicity? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Generally, I tell my clients I prefer to start working on a book five months before publication. There are many media outlets that not only require working that far ahead – mainly magazines and venues that have authors as speakers – but sometimes it just takes a long time to work with some media outlets and convince them that this is a book and an author that they should pay attention to. So, really from start to finish we’re looking at five months.
No two projects are the same, and that’s one of the things I love about book publicity. You have to approach each book essentially as a new product. There are certain things that any publicist will do for every book: sending out bound galleys, following up with review copies, and knowing the right media outlets to send the books to. But, every book offers new opportunities, and what is right for some media outlets is not right for others. The worst thing I can do is pitch people and send books to media contacts who would not be interested in this topic.
I spend a lot of time not only working on my individual projects but also understanding what is going on in the media, who is doing what, what are the new outlets, what is going on in social media, what are people talking about. That takes up almost as much of my time as working on the individual books.
What are the options when strategizing how to run a successful publicity campaign?
You want to first consider outlets that work on a long-lead basis, such as magazines. Is your book something of interest to men’s magazines, women’s magazines, or general interest magazines like Vanity Fair or The Atlantic? Would it make sense to send this author out to make appearances? Those are really the first things.
Generally: Is this a topic that is going to be of interest to the media? Is it going to make sense for television, radio? Is it a good talk radio topic?
It is also important to work with the author as far as their social media presence is concerned. One of the big mistakes authors make these days is to think, “I have a new book coming out, so that means I need to get active in social media.” You have to be active and establish those platforms long before the book comes out because, as anyone who is on those platforms knows, if you just immediately start promoting yourself, you are going to drive people away. You need to spend a lot of time establishing yourself as a member of the right communities so that when your book comes out, you almost have permission to start talking about the things that are going on around your book.
I heard one author make a comment at a seminar. On the one hand, it was such a simple idea, but it really has stuck with me for years; she said “I found social media to be as helpful to me when I was writing my book as I did when I was ready to promote it.”
What she was saying was that social media was a tremendous tool for her to get information (for her subject), and by doing that, she was establishing herself within a community of people who were interested in the topic she was writing about, and she was part of this whole give-and-take of information. You know – “Look what I found; this might be helpful to you” and asking questions and having people respond, so that by the time her book came out, she could say “I am appearing at such and such a book store and I hope you will come out and see me” because she had spent all of this time building a reputation for herself that wasn’t built solely on promoting herself.
Do you think fiction is harder to publicize than nonfiction?
I wouldn’t say harder, because I have handled a good amount of fiction and really enjoyed it. It is just very different from handling nonfiction and, as it turns out, I have established a clientele that is mainly nonfiction. But, there are plenty of good publicists out there who thrive on handling fiction, and there are a lot of really good in-house publicists who are great with fiction, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they’ve got a lot to offer. If you’re a publicist at one of the houses that has a very strong fiction list, then alongside a lot of your up-and-coming authors, you have a lot of brand-name literary fiction writers to offer as well. That will cause media contacts on the other side to listen. They know that it is coming from a particular house that has a reputation for publishing quality books in that area, ergo they are going to want to talk to you.
What should be included in a traditional press kit?
When it comes to nonfiction books, it is especially important to ask “Why do I care about this book?” You have to put yourself in the mindset of the people to whom you are pitching, because if they get the idea that you are wasting their time, they’re going to move on to their next email or their next book or whatever else is vying for their attention. The main thing is to answer that question very quickly and very succinctly right up front. This material belongs in a pitch letter, which is a to-the-point, one page document. If you’re trying to get an interview, include the kind of topics that could be addressed.
In the next important document, the press release, it is always good to provide a full walk through the book. What are the high points of the book if they do decide to interview the author? We have to face the reality that a lot of these people don’t necessarily have time to fully read the books.
Beyond the pitch letter and press release, you might include a list of your coming appearances with dates, times, and addresses. If there is substantial advance praise for the book, blurbs or excerpts from reviews could be listed on a separate sheet or on the press release. If the author has been featured in re-printable articles that relate to the book, these might be included, as well. Here, though, it’s important to edit and not go overboard.
When is the optimal time to push for publicity?
For most books, you’re looking at a publicity window right around the publication month and maybe a month or two after. That is when you’re going to have peak interest from media. After that point, there are so many other books coming out – and movies and music and videos – that are also vying for the same reporters’ attention. The focus in most cases really has to be right around the publication month so you can create a groundswell of interest in the book and essentially launch it. Then, if there are still opportunities for coverage, of course you keep on working on those, but generally for most books you’re going to see it right around the publication.
During the whole five months before publication, though, I am getting materials out to people and following up with them and then continuing the follow up right through the publication month and then maybe a month or two after.
Are there a certain number of book copies that should be set aside purely for publicity purposes?
I would say you want to set aside at least 150 to 200, but that can vary greatly. If you’re talking about a book that has a particular niche or regional appeal as opposed to national appeal, then you want to do your homework and make sure that there is a reason you’re sending each copy of your book out, not just “I’m going to send this to all the book review editors in the country.” It doesn’t make sense. The important thing is to be sure there is a reason you are sending out each copy.
How important do you think book reviews are within publicity?
Reviews for certain books are very important, but they are difficult to get just because of the sheer number of books that are published and the downward trend in outlets that are running book reviews, and even the ones that do have decreased the number of reviews they’re running. Reviews are still very important for literary fiction, serious nonfiction and academic titles.
Have you ever worked with a self-published author?
I have! As a matter of fact, one of my biggest successes was with a self-published book, and this was early on before self-publishing really took off. It was a brother-sister combination: She was a cancer survivor and he was a health care advocate working for agencies for people with AIDS, making the point that everyone needs an advocate and how do you wade through this crazy healthcare system of ours? I just thought, “I don’t care who is publishing this, this is a great story. It is a woman who has actually experienced this herself and a guy who is a professional at telling you how to deal with the health care system.”
I not only got them on the Today Show, but I got them a five-part series on the Today Show, and that all had to do with the trust that I mentioned earlier. The producer at the time trusted when I said “Look, this brother and sister are really good and this is a great topic;” they decided they wanted to do a five-part series on how to get the best health care, so five mornings in a row they had my authors on the show.
Do you think self-published authors suffer an inherent disadvantage in the realm of publicity or is it a platform of equal opportunity?
You need to be smart about it and you need to have something that is going to be helpful to a journalist.
Getting to the large media outlets, you do need help getting through the noise there. That’s not to say that it is impossible, that you couldn’t get yourself on the Today Show without a publicist. It does happen, but you’re at much more of an advantage when you have someone who knows the people and has built a reputation. That is what we spend our careers doing: building a reputation so that our emails will get answered and our packages will get opened, so that we know that even if they don’t have time to get back to us, they are still paying attention because they saw our name on it. That’s what a publicist brings to the table. But what it all comes down to in the end is, what do you have? Do you have a good story and are you promoting that story to the right places?
I’ve worked with a number of self-published authors, and what I want to see is how is: Does it look like a book that could stand next to a book from a publishing house on a shelf? Self-publishing is getting much more sophisticated. How is it edited? Before I take on a project, I don’t care who it is, I read as much of the book as I can. If it’s poorly edited or poorly written, I am not interested. Authors who come to me these days, they are not at a disadvantage when their book is self-published. I apply the same rigorous standards to what I will represent and what I won’t to a self-published book as I do to any book from a publishing house.
What are those rigorous standards? What things do you consider when deciding which books you will or will not represent?
The most important standard is the quality of the content and the way it is delivered. I want to be sure an author is going to get their money’s worth out of me. There are never any guarantees in publicity. There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of getting the kind of coverage you think you’re going to get, but I have been doing it long enough to be able to look at a book and say, “I really think that this is something the media is going to go for.” In the end, the author is going to walk away feeling like working with me was money well spent.
Any last tips for self-published authors?
Don’t think that writing the book and getting it printed is the finish line. You’ve got to put almost as much time into getting the word out about the book as you did writing it. Even if you have a publicist, you need to work with them and be willing to devote a lot of time. Be smart about it. Don’t waste time on options that don’t make sense for your book.
Interview conducted by Rachel L’Heureux, a graduate of the University of Denver and the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She was BlueInk’s 2014 fall intern.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
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