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Preventing the Bad PR Hangover

by BookSavvy PR on July 22, 2013

Over the past few months I’ve spoken to two authors who’d signed with the same, well-reputed PR firm for a book launch campaign, paid a considerable amount of money and then…nothing. Barely a review or author interview to show for the firm’s initial promises and excitement.

(For the record, this was not one of the wonderful PR firms plugged into the Writer Unboxed community.)

Each of them told me – with quite a bit of emotion – about their disturbing experience: a positive, promising initial meeting followed by months of waiting for potential press coverage that never panned out, then finally, a barrage of lame excuses including, “It’s because of your book.”

One of these authors became my client, and before we started work I asked to see the list of media outlets said firm had contacted about his middle grade fantasy novel. To my surprise, the list contained no fewer than 4,000 entries, which is far too many and implies that proper targeting hadn’t been done. Case in point: the list included publications such as General Dentistry and American Cowboy.

The second author was unable to obtain a copy of her press list at all, having been told it was “proprietary.”

Needless to say, this makes my blood boil. It’s deeply unfair to the authors who placed their trust in this firm, it’s disrespectful of authors in general – taking advantage of their earnest hope and vulnerability – and it’s an insult to all the devoted, hard-working publicists out there who go above and beyond to generate results.

It also brings to light something that absolutely has to change: Many – possibly most? – authors simply have no idea what they should look for when hiring a PR firm. Nor do they know what’s “normal” or what they should expect from this relationship.

So here’s my laundry list of must-haves in determining whether the firm you hire to publicize your book is up to par, and in understanding whether it’s doing (or will do) what it should for you:

1. Set reasonable expectations up front

A good PR firm will not sell you promises, ensuring you that it can get you into Oprah orThe New York Times, for example. In fact, the publicist you work with should explain, up front, what you can potentially expect from your campaign – and what you cannot.

2. A detailed work plan

Going into a campaign, you know what you want: news and reviews! But how is your publicist going to accomplish this? He or she should be able to tell you, step by step, what the execution plan is. Personally, I like to include this in a work schedule so the timing of each step is clear.

3. Accessibility

Sure, publicists are busy. Isn’t everyone? But your publicist should be available to answer any questions and concerns you have within a reasonable timeframe. For me, this means about 24 hours, unless a heads-up about being unavailable for some period has been given.

4. Regular updates

You should expect regular updates from your publicist about the status of the work plan, and – once the pitching phase begins – what reactions he or she is getting from the media. Your publicist should be able to tell you who’s potentially interested in covering you, who’s not, and when possible, why.

5. Press clips

When a review of your book comes out, an interview of you airs or an article is published (all of which are called “press clips”), your publicist should send you the link or – if necessary — tell you how to order print reprints. He or she should also know at all times what clips you have coming down the pipeline.

6. Open communications

Nothing about your campaign is proprietary or secret, whether we’re talking about press lists or the reasons reporters might give for declining coverage. After all, it isyour campaign. Your publicist should be willing to share lists of your press contacts, copies of any written materials used in your campaign, and anything else you ask for.

7. General guidance

Less obvious but just as important in my opinion, your publicist should willingly offer you advice about steps related to but not included in your campaign. For example: what do you do with all those press clips once you have them? (See my post on that here.) What should guest blog posts that you’re asked to write be about? Have you done a great job writing them, or could they use a few tweaks? What marketing initiatives that you can take on your own have you overlooked?

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By the time I spoke with the two authors mentioned above, they were utterly dismayed. One was reeling from a “bad PR hangover” and the other was downright disgusted. Still, because neither of them was entirely sure what to expect from a publicist relationship, both were a bit hesitant to protest. “Maybe that’s what a PR campaign is all about,” they thought. After all, this firm had been recommended by agents and editors (a whole other issue: yikes!).

An author friend of mine recently confessed that when she hired a PR firm, she was reluctant to ask up front what outcome she could potentially expect for fear of being a nuisance. (Something I hear a lot about relationships with publisher’s in-house publicists, too.) In other words, there’s some notion floating around that you should “sign on the dotted line and shut up.”

Perhaps that notion is driven partly by a fear of hearing exactly what realistic expectations look like. Given the level and the fragility of the hope invested, and that The Today Show probably won’t happen (sorry!), it’s understandable.

But whatever the reason, and lest there still be any lingering doubt: that’s all wrong. Remember my laundry list and above all remember: it’s your book.

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Simple Promo Tip: Call Your Book By its Name

by BookSavvy PR on May 9, 2013

It’s a funny thing, being both the creator of such an intimate and personal product as a book and the one who has to do most of its peddling. This contradiction — asking authors to throw what’s often deeply private smack into the public realm for commercial purposes — can have strange effects on behavior, such as making us go suddenly tongue-tied when we actually have to use that one-line description we’ve practiced ad nauseum. (Sound familiar?)

And that’s just one example. At two recent events – the AWP conference in March and Grub Street’s Muse & the Marketplace conference this past weekend, I was reminded of another that’s been a bit of a pet peeve of mine, since it’s a big publicity faux pas: It can be summed up with these two simple words. “My book.”

On panel after panel, I heard authors talking about this amorphous…thing…they referred to as “my book.”

Each time, I cringed. “Doesn’t it have a name?” I wondered, “A title? Something to give it an identity beyond: ‘a very personal endeavor I’ve slaved over for years that’s become inseparable my very existence?’”

Which leads me to this quick, ridiculously simple promo tip for every writer out there (bonus: using it is cost-free!):

Always refer to your book by its title.

Or by an abbreviation of the title if it’s long. Especially when addressing a group.

Why?

  • Using a book’s title helps your audience recall it. Even if they know you and know what you’ve written, chances are they know plenty of other authors and book titles, too. Make yours stick.
  • The subliminal message conveyed by the phrase “my book” is that it’s yours and only yours, not an item available to the public. And even though readers enjoy meeting authors, when they buy a book they want it — and the reading experience — to be their own.
  • “My book” sounds awkward and intimate. Squishy. It insinuates a private relationship between you and said work of fact or fiction. This can make it hard for an audience to feel a connection with it — especially if you’re not speaking about the book itself, but about a broader topic such as querying or craft.
  • “My book” smacks of the ugly “me me me me!” An audience finds value in hearing things relevant to itself, not to you. Losing the possessive pronoun helps bridge this gap.
  • “My book” suggests “my ONLY book.” Even if it’s your first book and the only one in print so far, you’ll have others. (Right?) Don’t let your audience imagine even for a second that you won’t.
  • Using the title sounds professional. A polished author can state the title of his or her work with poise and a tone of certainty that implies, “I know you’ve heard of it.” Without feeling awkward or self-conscious.
  • Though simple, this isn’t easy. You may find yourself blushing when you hear yourself say the title – kind of like catching a glimpse of yourself in a mirror while out in public — or reciting that dreaded one-line description.

But if you stick with it, including with the working titles of your WIPs, you’ll find that in addition to supporting your promotional efforts, it’ll help you gain or solidify that poise you’ll need for them to be successful.

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Why Your Site Needs a News Page

by BookSavvy PR on March 14, 2013

Recently I browsed over to the website of one of my dear author friends, curious to see what sort of press she’d been doing. To my surprise, the site had a page for her bio, one for her books and another giving information about her freelance work, but absolutely nothing showing where she’d been quoted by or mentioned in the media.

When I asked her about this, her answer was, “Should it?”

Yikes!

Because my friend had diligently hired a publicist to help build her media platform, I found it baffling that not only was there no place for her to showcase all the wonderful results of this investment, but also, that her publicist had not suggested that she create one.

A website News page is the pillar of your media platform. The glue that holds it together. Whether it contains links to interviews you’ve done on the Today Show or to guest posts you’ve written for small-ish blogs (which by the way, are all referred to in the lingo as “press clips,”) it is a vital piece of information for two reasons:

First, it’s a marketing piece. By showing that you’ve been actively out and about talking to the media — and that the media is interested in what you have to say — it helps compel readers to buy your book(s), talk about you, tweet about you or otherwise help spread the word.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, reporters considering whether to call you will want to see it first. Your News page is literally your press portfolio, your “resume” as a public voice. Just like with a professional resume, your experience counts. The more press you do, the more attractive you become as a news source. So curate it all online where reporters can easily find it.

Without griping about the fact that a publicist would not have made this suggestion in the first place (okay, that was a gripe….), this fact also brings to light once a again a point I feel very strongly about:

In this ever-evolving world where the very definition of “media” blurs more every day, PR can no longer be simply about securing reviews and media coverage then moving on. It has to have just as strong of a focus on how to tie together the various strands of publicity and marketing so that they’ll work for you. For real.

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