It’s almost a cliché to hear an author complain about his or her publicity team. But the fact of the matter is that celebrity has become as important as literary merit, with more titles competing for consumers’ attention than ever before, so authors need to work just as hard as their publicists to promote their work.
That can be frustrating, unless you’re able to “rewire” the way you approach publicity. It begins with remembering that you and your publicist are on the same team, and that the sport of book promotion is more of a relay race than a sprint. There’s no recipe for guaranteed attention, but with the right partner, you can at least have a hand in orchestrating your book’s destiny. As an author and a publicist, here are a few things we’ve learned.
1) Rewire the way you think about publicity.
What does publicity “success” mean to you? If it’s getting an interview on NPR or a book review in the New York Times, you should be plugged into those outlets, knowing the kinds of authors and subjects they cover. While it’s always difficult to attract national media attention, if you can convince your publicist that your book should make the cut—e.g., based on the success of comparable titles, or news trends—you’re giving her the artillery she needs to make the case for you.
If national media isn’t available to you, it’s time to rewire. Coverage by a wide network of bloggers, a Facebook post by a celebrity author, or a viral op-ed in Huffington Post gives you a lot of exposure and often translates to sales. Website analytics yield more data than offline media. We can’t recommend enough that authors follow their traffic, experiment with posting online, and actively engage with reader communities to exploit the loudspeakers of social media.
For Bianca’s book launch, a series about a vintage-obsessed 12-year-old girl who’s carried away to different historical eras, we found immense support from YA and style bloggers, who hosted Bianca on a blog tour and posted images of her book on Instagram. When drumming up book reviews proved difficult, we placed larger profiles about Bianca in adult fashion outlets.
2) Find the right chemistry and pass the baton.
Finding a publicist whom you “click” with is more important than finding someone who claims to have produced a multitude of bestsellers. Even if you are working with just one in-house publicist, make sure you are assigned someone whose writing and interpersonal skills you trust, because your publicist could position your book in a way that you didn’t envision. Look for someone who is strong in areas where you may be lacking.
What Bianca and I did most effectively was pass the baton: while I followed up weekly with the producer of a television show, Bianca nurtured a relationship with her on Twitter. We landed the TV appearance. Divide responsibilities and hold each other accountable, but keep things light. Avoid toxicity and instead ask each other, “What can I be doing for you?”
3) Your book’s promotional horizon is limitless.
When your book finally publishes, the unfortunate truth is that your publisher will need to focus on launching other titles. If you have an outside publicist, her job is to keep pitching to the media. Print features won’t be as likely after publication, but excerpts, interviews, and social media can keep your book in the public dialogue. In addition to continuing to stay in touch with the media, Bianca established personal relationships with “big mouths”—high-profile fellow authors and celebrity bloggers. Unlike magazine editors, these influencers aren’t tied to an editorial calendar: your book could be many months out of the gate before the right person learns about it and shares it on his or her blog or in a tweet.
Experiment with creating extensions of your book. In Bianca’s case, we created online games for children, as well as a “kit” complete with Time-Traveling Fashionista activities, which is available on Etsy. The most gratifying part was to see the buzz about the book translate into word-of-mouth publicity. By the release of Bianca’s latest book, most people we pitched it to were already familiar with the series.
4) Design book events that don’t feel like book events.
The truth about book events is that they can feel uneventful, and, worse, you’re competing with all kinds of other exciting happenings on any given night. We focused on nontraditional book events in venues that ranged from schools and libraries to nonprofit appearances and even clothing boutiques. Bianca turned her book into a Fashionista craft activity that children could touch, design, and take home. Almost immediately, we saw these events take off: Bianca was selling books, and we were able to get honorariums for her. Sometimes you just have to ask—and, fortunately, your publicist can do that for you.