Last week, I gave a couple of the highlights of the publishing section of the Virginia Festival of the Book (which I attended in March). One of the sessions I attended, How to Succeed in the Author Business by Really Trying had two publicity experts there: Sharyn Rosenblum a vice president at Willliam Morrow who spent most of her career as an in-house publicist for the company, and Caitlin Hamilton Summie, founder of Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity.
One of the more interesting things I noticed in the session was that both Rosenblum and Summie said they wanted at least 6 months advanced notice to do publicity for a book. This seemed like a long time to me, so I asked them about what they do in this six months. The answer was that they sent galleys (a proof-copy of a book) to long-lead magazines like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal. These magazines want six months of lead time in order to have a review ready that can be stamped on the back of the book.
Interestingly, this concept of speed was addressed in a different session, one with Jane Friedman. “The question was, when will publishers speed up,” Friedman. “They are trying to ameliorate that with digital imprints. But for print, there is still that process of selling into a bookstore and marketing lead-up and all the trade publications that need six months in advance. There are all these other players who really can’t speed up.”
With that being the case, I think indies have the advantage over traditional publishers in terms of publicity, as we can move things along quicker. These players like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, who will only review indies for a fee, don’t have to factor into our timelines. I would surmise that at least half the time could be cut out. Yes, you want to get your books to reviewers. And giving them plenty of time to get the review done is ideal. But, touching base with them at the three month mark to see if they can review it, seems fair. Also, it gives you time to schedule blog tours and cover reveals and the whole shebang.
Much of what the publicists and authors said they discussed as part of their marketing meetings wasn’t earth-shattering or new. It was simply about sitting down and communicating what the other person knew. The publicists would tell all the ideas they had for publicity, and then the author would tell all of his or her ideas; then they’d divide and conquer. (Based on the conversation in the session, a lot of what the author contributed to the discussion was suggesting places to send galleys and figuring out places she might want to guest blog).
The items the publicists suggested doing weren’t that different from what indie authors tend to do. They wanted authors to look for any angles and groups that might be interested in the book so they could contact them and perhaps send them a galley. Indie authors, are probably a bit more chintzy with book copies, as it’s expensive to print copies. But, it was heartening in the session to see that the big publishers aren’t doing it that much differently. The biggest difference is probably the depth of their Rolodex (am I dating myself? Do they still make Rolodexes? Do people prefer address book, nowadays?)
So, a good example of depth is Denise Kiernan’s publicist got her booked on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When asked how that came about, she admitted, it was “a little bit of luck.” Stewart gets tons of pitches, and the right person saw her publicist’s pitch, liked it, passed it on and Stewart liked it. Had Stewart not liked it, well, it would have been a different story.
“Sometimes we just have to take it as it comes,” Rosenblum said. “If we just did our best shot, and it doesn’t work out, accept that we’ve given it our best. ”
Kiernan gave the great reminder that journalists are looking for stories as much as authors are looking to be publicized, so it’s a potentially win-win situation and authors need to look for ways they can meet the needs of journalists and bloggers so they can get their books out there.
Kiernan had another great tip, noting that authors should always be thinking about publicity in the back of their mind. If they see a group that looks like it might be interested in your book topic–even while you’re writing and not even finished with the manuscript–simply jot it in a file so you can come back to it at the time you’re ready to do publicity.
At a previous session, traditionally published author Gigi Amateau suggested hiring a publicist, however, this can be expensive and go poorly if expectations aren’t aligned.
“I think it can be a great idea to hire a publicist, if you’re pretty clear about what you need help with and need them to do,” Amateu said. “I hired a publicist to help with specific tasks that I couldn’t get to myself. I hired a publicist to do national media coordination and write press releases. Our contract was to develop a good list so next time I can do it. Develop some templates for me for press releases and rewrite my bio.”
Jane Friedman, the former Writer’s Digest publisher turned digital media blogger, added that sometimes doing a consultation with a publicist can be helpful, as they can put you on the right track in developing your publicity plan.
While I believe that publicists are helpful, I’m not convinced, when you have a shoe-string budget, that a publicist is something an indie author should be allocating assets to.
I wrote about some of the concrete tips that were offered at the session on Indies Unlimited on Monday. Between that post, this one and the one I wrote last Thursday, that pretty much wraps up all I have to say about the publishing-related content at the sessions.
The last session I attended at the festival was part of the Crime Wave theme, and I stopped in to see an author who’s local to my area: Austin Camacho. That was a really fun session as it was on writing paranormal crime, and you got to see some of the process and backstory of how a handful of writers work. So, again, if you’re a reader or writer, definitely check out the festival next year.