Thursday, December 16, 2010

Marketing Tips for Authors

Congratulations! You’ve finished the book you’ve always dreamed of writing. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to woo a traditional publisher (they pay you an advance), or, like me, you self-published (you pay them). No matter, take the time to savor your accomplishment.

Time’s up! Now, roll up your sleeves and get the word out. If your publisher granted you a publicist, lucky you. But lately, even the big names have cut back and are sending authors out with minimal publicity support. So, whether self-published, or abandoned by your traditional publisher, summon some chutzpah and do the marketing yourself. Or, if you have the dough, hire a freelance publicist.

As for me, I had 25 years of public relations experience to help market my memoir, “The Division Street Princess” (Syren Books, 2006). Through that journey, I compiled suggestions you might find useful:

While you book is being printed, make a list of media targets. If your publisher can provide galleys (proofs) several months before publication, you’ll want a pile to send to book reviewers at print, electronic (TV and radio), and Internet outlets. Because most reviewers disdain books once they’re published and on library or bookstore shelves, it’s important to have your list ready so you can take action as soon as the galleys are available. (In Chicago, an excellent source for these lists is the 2011 Getting on Air, Online @ Into Print compiled by Community Media Workshop.)

Along with sending galleys to the usual media, think ethnic, special interest, and alumni publications. Who is the likely reader of your book? Consider age group, profession, gender, shared experiences. Then, along with media, make a list of matching organizations that might welcome you and your book for their regularly scheduled membership programs.

Book signings are great publicity and sales opportunities. Publicists typically arrange these. But if you’re on your own, and can convince bookstores you can attract an audience, you’ve still got a shot. While your books are being printed, identify the person who produces programs at local bookstores. Draft a pitch letter so you’ll be set to mail once the galleys arrive. If you're successful in scheduling a signing, send a simple press release announcing the event to calendar editors.

Be creative when pleading for a bookstore signing. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, when I launched my memoir at Women and Children First, I enlisted my family to join me. Also, each of them wore a grocery store apron with the words, "Irv's Finer Foods" printed on the front. Our group reading and props made for a fun evening for the 100 or so who attended. (A plea: try independent bookstores before chains. They need our support.)

Be prepared to give away books. Sending complimentary copies to friends who will supply a positive review on Amazon (if they can't swoon, tell them to keep their opinions to themselves), spread the word to buddies, or blog about your book, is a savvy investment.

If your book hasn’t garnered a review, you still have opportunities for publicity. When reading your daily newspaper (promise me you still do that), watching TV, listening to the radio, or surfing the Internet, be on the lookout for journalists who write/talk about your topic. Point that out in your pitch letter.

Because many book clubs welcome an opportunity to meet an author in person, search the Internet for local clubs. Ask friends if they belong to one. Send a query via your Facebook status update. (If you don’t have a Facebook page, stop reading now, and sign up. This social media site can help attract readers.)

Consider venues other than bookstores for readings an signings. If you’ve self-published, you can purchase copies of your book at discount. Profits from sales go directly to you. Perhaps a kitchen supply store for a cookbook? A toy store for a children’s book? Art supply store for a graphic novel? You get the idea.

Finally, look for fairs or craft shows that welcome authors. You may wind up sitting in the sun for several hours, or smiling at browsers who pick up your book then walk on, but you’ll likely sell a few and make new friends.

Once again, congratulations! You've done it! Now, get busy and get the word out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Boost the Odds of Landing Your Pitch

Ring, ring, ring. Imagine that sound throughout the day. Or not. The journalist or producer who owns that constantly buzzing phone has likely turned off the ring to avoid its non-stopping racket.

Alas, news folks tell me they dodge the phone in order to quell the barrage of pitches hourly thrown their way. For those of us in the PR business, anxious on the pitcher’s mound, this shunning makes the job of selling a feature story* that much more difficult.

What’s a PR person to do when faced with this sound barrier? Here are some suggestions:

1) Instead of phoning, write a great pitch letter and email it to your target. Heed the words “great” and “target” because they're key to landing a placement.

2) Select one journalist or producer to be the target of your pitch. Prepare a list of targets, but try one at a time. If your ideal turns you down, or you don’t hear from her or him within a week, go to next in line.

3) Before preparing your pitch, read that writer’s columns or watch the producer’s programs. Learn what topics they typically cover and what piques their curiosity.

4) Find your hook. Decide what is different about your client that will make it stand out from its competitors or peers. At the same time, think universal. Is this a topic that will appeal to a large group? Can others relate to your theme?

5) Identify someone who is affected by your client’s services or business. With their permission, use his or her name and story as your pitch’s lead. If you read the daily New York Times (You do, don’t you? In my view, one can’t aspire to being a PR person without reading newspapers. Certainly, your local papers are in your stack, but New York Times’ writers’ are skilled at pulling readers in. And, they usually begin with a personal story.)

6) Write a one-page pitch letter with several short paragraphs. DO NOT send it yet. Let it simmer for a day, then re-read and edit the following day. Give it a third review. When you believe it can’t be improved upon, and you’ve obeyed suggestions 1-5, send it via email to the reporter or producer’s work address. (Avoid using private messages on social media sites.)

7) If you’re successful and you gain a placement, send a thank-you note. Sure, it’s their jobs to find topics, but they don’t have to select your idea. A timely message of gratitude is courteous and welcome.

*A feature story differs from a news article or calendar listing. While a news article reports something that just happened and a calendar listing announces an upcoming event, a feature story is a longer piece that explores a subject in depth.