If you can’t really afford to spend a lot on a book publicity campaign, carve out some time to do it yourself and apply these 15 commandments.
If you read the newspapers or watch TV, you know that advertising sells. But even those big guys who do all the advertising aren’t sure what works best when it comes to advertising.
A huge retailer once said that advertising works, we just don’t know how, why, or where it works best. Publicity is advertising’s less mysterious cousin. It is the more reliable relative because it is judged on its merit alone and carries the cachet of an editor’s approval. It also is surrounded by the ever-magic word “free.”
Book publicity and marketing are easily identified as kin. They often walk hand-in-hand and yet they can be incompatible. The editors of good media outlets will not allow the advertising department to influence them. Still, in an effort to be completely impartial, they reserve the right to use advertiser’s stories editorially if they deem them newsworthy. That is why it is helpful to use advertising as a vehicle that plays to the audience you would like to see standing before your cash register or clicking to buy your book online.
Advertising can be an entrée to the decision-makers. A contact in the advertising department may be willing to put a news release on the desk of one of his editors, maybe even encourage her to look at it. They can make no promises, but it does sometimes work. If you’re going to try this route, choose a “little pond” – a bookish brochure, an “arty” weekly, or a literary site – so the dollars you spend get noticed.
Sometimes a magazine or newspaper runs a special promotion called advertorial. These are sections where you pay for an ad and then the newspaper assigns a reporter to cover the story you want told. The article carries some of the prestige of editorial copy – that is the general reader may assume the article has been chosen only on its merits. The writer or editor you meet can be approached later when you have an exceptional story to tell. Publicist Erin Shachory handles consumer publicity and consults on advertising strategies. She knows that her clients hire her – at least in part – for her “great database.” It is something that, over time, you can build for yourself.
Still advertorial isn’t free when you have to pay to see yourself or your book featured. If you can’t really afford to spend a lot on a book publicity campaign, carve out some time to do it yourself, and apply these 15 commandments.
- Educate yourself. Study press releases that come to you from suppliers, stores, and other authors. Read books like the multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter, now in its second edition. Take a marketing class especially designed for people in your field. Authors will find online classes given by most universities these days.
- Read, read, read. Read your IBPA and writers’ groups’ newsletters, your newspaper, your e-zines. Even read your junk mail. My daughter found a flier from the local library in the Sunday paper stuffed between grocery coupons. It mentioned a display done by a local merchant in the library window. Now we’re going to install one for my book, too! Rubbish can be the goose that laid the golden egg.
- Keep an open mind for promotion ideas. Look at the small details in your book. There will be hidden angles there you can exploit when you’re talking to editors. My first novel, This Is the Place, was sort of a romantic piece, so romance avenues were the obvious choice, but as it was set in Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, I pitched it to sports’ desks and feature editors as Olympic fervor grew and after the Olympics were over when editors needed stories but weren’t receiving as much information in their in-boxes.
- Cull contacts. Develop your digital Rolodex by adding quality recipients from media directories. You reference librarian can help you find amazing resources that list every newspaper and magazine in the US. A good research librarian is like a shark: she’s tireless, and once she has her teeth in something, she won’t give up until she has what she wants.
- Etiquette counts. Send “thank you” notes to contacts after they’ve featured you or your book – hand-written notes are best. This happens so rarely, they are sure to impress, and your contact will be certain to pay attention to the next idea you have, even if it’s just a listing in a calendar for an upcoming book signing.
- Partner with your publicist and publisher. If you are working with a publisher or PR company, ask for help from their promotion department – even if it’s just for a sample press release.
- Publicize who you are and what you do. Reviews are great, but there are other angles of your personal story that can draw attention. What if you’re very young? What if writing a book is a new endeavor for you? What if you are a senior and therefore qualify for the many sites and weekly newspapers aimed at that demographic? Several editors were drawn to the idea that I wrote my first book at an age when most people are thinking of retiring and that I consider myself proof of the fact that it is never too late to follow your dream.
- Develop new activities to publicize. Don’t just do book signings; use your imagination for a spectacular launch. Get charities involved. Think in terms of ways to help your community. All the profits from my poetry book, Imperfect Echoes, goes to Amnesty International, and I let my audience know about that.
- Send professional photos with your release. Request guidelines from your target media. It never hurts to include a stellar Kodak, er, iPhone moment – properly labeled – along with your release.
- Frequency is important. The editor who ignores your first release may pay more attention to your second or twenty-fifth. She will come to view you as a source and call you when she needs to quote an expert. This can work for novels, too. I received a nice referral in my local newspaper because I am now an “expert” on prejudice, even though my book was a novel and not a how-to book. I now write poetry with tolerance as a theme and that adds to my credibility as a source.
- Follow up. Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, reports that follow-up calls boost the chances of a press release being published. Voice contact builds relationships better than any other means of communication.
- Keep press clippings. Professional publicists do this for their clients; you do it so you’ll know what’s working and what isn’t.
- Evaluate. One year after your first release, add up the column inches, or the number of words you’ve generated in online press, including headlines and pictures. Now compare the ideas you pitched that got published vs. the ones that didn’t and figure out how to improve your efforts in the coming year.
- Set goals. You now have a quantity of press generated by your year’s efforts. If you were new to this, you should set a goal to increase that quantity by 100% in the next year. If you already have a track record, aim for 20%.
- Observe progress. Publicity is like planting bulbs. It proliferates even when you aren’t trying very hard. By watching for unintended results, you learn how to make them happen in the future.
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