Competitive doesn’t begin to describe today’s book market. The booming print-on- demand and self-publishing industries, coupled with mainstream publishers, has flooded the market with thousands of new releases each month. “The LA Times receives 600 to 700 books for review each week,” reports Steve Wasserman, book review editor. With an infinite number of books and authors vying for attention from a finite number of media outlets—and the trend of newspapers cutting back on space for book reviews—book publicity is a tough, sometimes brutal business.
While some authors choose to self-promote, and a lucky few have full support from their publishers, most authors reach out to professionals for help with at least some aspects of their promotion. For both novice authors and veteran authors alike, the pitfalls of book publicity are many. In my experience handling over 250 campaigns, I know what can sabotage success, the errors of both omission and commission that can derail a campaign, and how human tendencies can adversely affect promotion and yes, ultimately book sales.
What follows are the Seven Deadly Sins of Book Promotion; the mistakes and actions that can destroy an author’s chances to get substantial media coverage, and how to avoid these common pitfalls.
If you think sitting back and watching royalty checks roll in is your destiny, think again. Virtually all authors must “get out there” and be seen and heard. Book signings and tours are not passive events; they require a hunger for success and kinetic energy level. Interviews can be a gold mine or a disaster for one who puts forth a half-hearted effort. Publicity doesn’t happen, you have to make it happen.
When an author is not only aggressive, but willing to put his or her time in a campaign—we, as publicists, are better able to build their exposure, and gain consistent local, regional and nationwide coverage.
One example is a financial client who has been with us two years. His platform only touches on the topic of hedge funds. However, when hedge fund controversy hit the news, we suggested and he quickly responded with information for us to write a current and biting feature release. The result: national coverage, including reporters calling from the Wall Street Journal and other top financial publications. Because of his willingness to keep current, he is regularly called top financial media for expert commentary. His name and his projects benefit from this consistent, credible exposure.
Lazy authors languish in the million rankings on bookselling sites.
If you are promoting a book, prepare for your pride to be pierced a few times. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen authors make is letting a negative review or a bad interview derail their determination.
The author believes his book is a bestseller; it is his baby, his labor of love. He has great pride in what he has written, so much so that it has created an excessive belief in his abilities and his book; after all — his relatives and friends love it. When the tough times come, pride begets anger, which begets frustration which leads to disillusionment.
Authors must go into promotion knowing not everyone will fall in love with the book. I often ask my clients, “Do you like every book you’ve ever read?”
Roll with the punches, and stay the course. Put your ego on bed rest.
Eight out of ten authors who call me inquiring about publicity tell me they want to be on Oprah. I tell them, invariably, that it’s probably not going to happen for them, that we can and should try, but the odds are akin to the lottery. But authors see others on the show and are envious. They ask “If that author is on, why can’t I?” or “My book is better than hers!”
Envy serves no purpose in book promotion. The only way other authors get great publicity gigs is because they try. If anything, you should learn from them. Watch successful authors carefully, examine their topic, and then examine your own project. We all can learn something from others; I still do every day.
We helped a self-published, first time novelist promote her work on vampires. A difficult project? Yes. Impossible? No. Were we able to get her on Oprah? No. Have we been able to tap into the significant sub world of vampire buffs? Absolutely. For eight months, we were able to generate consistent and targeted media coverage. Oprah, while a goldmine for any author, is unfortunately not a realistic goal for most.
How does lust come into play with book promotion? I have both an extreme example and more common ones from my firm’s own ‘case files.’
Good publicity can be intoxicating. Appearing on talk shows, reading articles written about you … it all makes you feel good, and it should. I always tell authors to enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever. However, letting your good time change you, (or bring about actions which have nothing to do with the hard work of promoting your book) can be disastrous. Losing focus–taking your eye off the ball–is a surefire way to run into trouble.
Example #1: During the first conversations with a prospective client–a middle age author with multiple books–he asked me (and I must paraphrase here) if the publicity generated would “attract” women. He was serious. Needless to say, his campaign lasted only one month; we tried to keep him focused on the steps needed to get exposure for his books, but we couldn’t, and we parted company.
Example #2: The more benign type of book promotion “lust” comes in the form of letting success change who you are, and make you long for things which you never envisioned before. In our firm we call these clients “addicts”–they become so enthralled with success that the book becomes secondary. They seek more and more exposure, but not so much to sell books, but to feed their own newly found lust for fame, popularity and the overwhelming desire to have others simply notice them.
In the end, lust almost always makes for an unhappy ending to what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Gluttony in book promotion touches upon several of the other sins. In its purest form, it is the insatiable desire to “consume” as much publicity as possible, and not being satisfied with each opportunity. Local radio interviews, for example, become unsatisfying, and an author starts to shun them because she wants more and bigger opportunities. A book review in a small newspaper is dismissed as insignificant, because she wants bigger newspapers. A local TV opportunity is declined because there aren’t enough viewers to fulfill the need for exposure.
When I run into these scenarios, the campaign starts to slowly dissolve because the author is literally never satisfied, and will not appreciate “smaller bites” of publicity while the bigger opportunities are pursued.
Book promotion is like a seven course meal. You start slowly, testing the waters, then move onto the next course. You proceed in a steady, measured manner, enjoying every course while building confidence, momentum, and sales.
Don’t demand all seven courses be delivered to your publicity table at once. Enjoy the entire experience of the meal and be patient.
Like gluttony, greed is the offspring of several other sins, and perhaps the most common sin of book promotion. Here is a classic example:
- An unknown, first-time author comes to my firm. He is nervous, unsure and wary of what will happen in his campaign–all perfectly understandable and expected concerns. The campaign begins slowly; and a few radio interviews are secured. All is well.
- The campaign starts to achieve momentum. The radio interviews start streaming in. Instead of one a week, we are booking four and five a week.
- Our client has confidence now, and is thoroughly enjoying the process, as he should.
- Things start to change. The level of radio interviews takes a dip, and we encounter “the lull,” which happens in most campaigns. Instead of four or five interviews a week, it drops to one or two.
- The author, having become accustomed to many interviews each week, demands more. He is not satisfied with the interviews we secure, and will not be satisfied until we reach and exceed the number of interviews we had achieved.
- He becomes disillusioned and decides another firm can fulfill his hunger for more and more interviews.
When clients truly understand the nature of publicity, they are able to roll with the busy times and slow times, knowing it is the cumulative efforts of the entire campaign that count. As a publicists, we gauge when the “party is over” for a particular angle, then work with the author to develop new and topical press materials with the goal of maintaining and improving media opportunities.
Greed is what I call a “coffin nail” in a campaign. Once it starts, it is very difficult to control and typically ends in a campaign which veers off track wildly. Greed may be good on Wall Street, but it will bankrupt a book promotion campaign.
Anger comes in many forms in book publicity. I once worked with an author who received a brutal review of his book, and was so angry he proceeded to drive over 200 miles to the reviewer’s location, storm into the office, and scream at the reviewer. This was, putting it mildly, a bad move.
The reviewer reacted by contacting reviewers at other newspapers in his company’s chain, and urged his colleagues to review the book. Five additional negative reviews appeared in the ensuing weeks.
It is important to keep in mind when promoting your book, you are opening yourself up for scrutiny. In fact, you are inviting it. You want the scrutiny and attention. Assuming everyone will react positively to you or your book is foolish and naive.
The same scenario happens in radio interviews. Many authors don’t realize that “hostile” interviews can make for great talk radio, and actually get more listeners curious and interested in your book. If a host starts throwing punches at you on the air, throw yourself into the fight. Trust me, you will have a good time. When your juices get flowing, you will be more animated and colorful, listeners will love it and books will sell.
We are all Sinners
Book promotion is a distinctly human process. It is an emotional, scary, exciting and stimulating experience. Authors promoting a book will, at various times, experience both disappointment and excitement. All authors will also be tempted to “sin” at various times in a campaign. As a publicist, I expect this and understand it. I am usually successful at coaxing our authors away from the “dark side.”
As in life, recognizing the sins of publicity, and stopping them before they cause problems is key. Book promotion is more a marathon than a sprint, and because of this, the opportunities to veer into negative promotional behaviors are many.
You can always atone for your sins by getting back on track, enjoying the ride, and realizing you are involved in a wonderful experience.
Dan Smith is the founder and president of TCI-Smith publicity, a full service book promotion and public relations agency with offices in New Jersey, New York, and London. He has personally conducted more than 250 promotional campaigns. Clients of TCI-Smith Publicity have appeared on virtually every major radio and television show, and been featured in top publications across the country. www.smithpublicity.com.