How Publicity Helps Writing Careers: A Case Study

At some point, almost every writer asks: How will publicity help my career?

The truth is, like with so many other writer’s life issues, there is no single answer. But there are some general scenarios that can help guide our thinking, and this past month I had the privilege of seeing an author I’ve helped live out one of the success stories we all can hope for.

In early January Joe Burgo, whose self-published book Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways the Shape Our Lives I publicized, landed an impressive publishing deal from Touchstone for his next book, The Narcissist You Know.

Before getting to the story of the role publicity played, I have to gush about how superbly top-notch Joe’s writing and expertise are. Why Do I Do That is a page turner that sheds light into something we should all be aware of: the little lies we tell ourselves to hide from pain. Joe – who’s a practicing, Ph.D. psychotherapist – works round the clock, not only writing books and helping clients, but also blogging at his personal site,, writing articles for The Atlantic and blog posts for Psychology Today.

(The last two are are gigs that came from our work together.)

Joe’s story of catapulting from self-published to “featured deal” on Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe – at auction no less — is exactly the type of scenario

Newsflash: BookSavvy Author Lands Big Publishing Deal

Big news for BookSavvy – and for author Joe Burgo, who worked with us for 5 months in late 2012 and early 2013:

In early January, Joe was offered an impressive publishing deal from Touchstone for his next book, The Narcissist You Know.

This deal is all the more thrilling since Joe self-published his first book, Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways the Shape Our Lives, and working with us to promote it was just one of his tireless, round-the-clock efforts geared toward realizing his decades-long ambition of finding a traditional publisher.

Not to mention that the deal stirred up enough excitement among publishing pros to be featured “deal of the week” in Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Deal News

Among yesterday’s 33 new deals: Former Saturday Night Live star Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, co-creators of IFC’s hit show Portlandia, and the show’s co-creator and director Jonathan Krisel’s THE PORTLANDIA COOKBOOK, to Clarkson Potter, for publication in fall 2014; Journalists Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s untitled book on the rise and fall of RIM/Blackberry, expanding on their 2013 Long Form Best Reads piece published in the Toronto Globe & Mail, to Flatiron Books, at auction; and Atlantic Monthly writer and psychotherapist, Dr. Joseph Burgo’s THE NARCISSIST YOU KNOW, described as doing for narcissism what Martha Stout’s THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR did for sociopathy, to Touchstone, at auction.

Congratulations, Joe!

What it Takes to Get on NPR

Recently I heard a snippet of Terry Gross’Fresh Air interview with Eat, Pray, Loveauthor Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert has a new book out and was on the show to talk about it.

A bit earlier in the same week, an author client had asked if I’d pitched her to NPR shows, including Fresh Air. My answer was, “Yes, of course.” It always is, because I always pitch the authors I represent to NPR — and to all the other dream-caliber, A-list outlets. But does that mean I expect interviews to pan out there for them?

Sadly, no. Not at all.

It’s an uncomfortable dilemma. Authors want to know their publicist is reaching out to A-list, dream outlets like Fresh Air, The New York Times, Oprah and The Today Show. Isn’t that one reason they’ve hired a publicist in the first place? And it wouldn’t make sense to simply leave those outlets off the list of places I reach out to even though the chances for the overwhelming majority of authors are virtually zero. For one thing, there’s the crucial dream factor for authors. As I’ve said before, I’m all for dreaming big! I also feel that as a matter of principle those outlets should continue hearing from all authors who’d like a fighting chance at recognition. They should be made aware again and again of these authors’ utterly staggering numbers, the variety of stories they’re writing about, their talent, their accomplishments.

But people like Terry Gross aren’t just looking for a good read to talk about: they’re looking for news. News, by definition, is something that’s not only new and timely, but is some combination of the following:

Preventing the Bad PR Hangover

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

Simple Promo Tip: Call Your Book By its Name

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

Why Your Site Needs a News Page

ecently 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?”


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