Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?

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do you know what a book publicist does claire mckinneyDo you know what a book publicist does?

At lunch with publicist friends, there’s one question that we always seem to come back to: does anyone in this business know what we actually do? Yes, yes, every author says they “want” a publicist, but how many authors, and those who work in publishing, actually understand what a publicist does and, more importantly, what can reasonably be expected from their publicity campaign?

People in this business still assume that the only good thing a publicist does is book appearances on Oprah or The Today Show or Good Morning America. Even though this circuit is outdated—Oprah’s show is off the air, GMA is closing in on the Today show’s ratings, and The Early Show just went through another reorganization—people in publishing still think these are the rounds a publicist makes. This needs to change.

I came into the publishing industry accidentally, and took to the role of publicist quite naturally; I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I’ve worked on campaigns for everything from children’s books to adult trade; cookbooks to philosophy; literary fiction to self-help—and I’ll tell you, as I’ve told everyone who has ever worked for me and with me, making a book is a long, difficult process. Nonetheless, when there’s blame about how the final product fares in the market, it often seems to fall on the publicist. Why?

Why would an author take his frustrations out on the person most directly linked to the consumers in the promotional process? Why are the notions of what a publicist does so cloudy? And why, in an era where lack of publicity is repeatedly cited as a major reason books fail, are so many publicists with years of experience struggling to keep their jobs?

Blame it on the digital revolution. Blame it on the homogenized media culture.Blame it on whomever, or whatever, you choose. One problem, aside from the difficulty of getting good publicity for a book, is dealing with misunderstandings about what a publicist can reasonably do.

Right now there are still two overarching umbrellas that classify book publicity campaigns. There are the “big” books that are positioned and sold to the “big” traditional media, and there are all the other books which, well, aren’t sold to the “big” traditional media. And when I say this, I’m not saying all of the other books don’t warrant the same attention as the big books, or that they won’t get a national break, or that they are lesser in any way. I’m saying that, still, there are basically two tracks we think about, and that’s a problem.

That not every book will be right for the “big” media spots is one problem, but it’s a reality. Too often, though, there seems to be anger about not getting those “big” spots instead of an open admission that there are lots of great press hits to be had on smaller outlets and in nontraditional ways.

There are hundreds of television, print, and radio venues, just like the old days. But now there is the Web and there’s social media. You can do viral campaigns. You can give away content in the form of actual books on blogs, or digitally in chapters on any and all Web sites.Can you, the publicist, work with online marketing to coordinate a campaign using some of these tools? Yes. Do you need to know even more people than ever before, collecting contacts like a paper clip magnet? Yes. Will you be able to do this for every book on your list? Probably not. But it would help if these “nontraditional” campaigns stopped being tagged as such. Book publicity is no longer about organizing a “big” or “small” campaign, and publicists know this, but the rest of the industry does not seem to have quite caught up.

So if you are a book publicist like me and one of your more irascible authors is quoted in New York magazine basically saying that publicists are worthless, close your eyes, count to 10, and remember that you have the power and the skill set to go out there and brave a new frontier of media. You will do things that haven’t been done before, and while you accept the well-deserved pat on the back that so rarely comes your way, you can take comfort in the fact that others are quietly saying, “How did she do that?”

(This article was originally published in Publishers Weekly titled “Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?” and online here.)

4 Publicity Lessons We Can Learn from Chris Christie

beach chair chris christieIt’s been two weeks since Chris Christie was seen chilling on Island Beach State Park with his family, setting off an internet meme fest and the lowest ratings yet of his 8-year career as the governor of New Jersey. Even though most news stories fade by this point, the photos of Governor Christie sitting in a beach chair are already being chalked up as one for the ages.

Luckily for us, there’s a lesson or two to be learned about publicity, whether you’re a public figure, an author, or a brand.

Here are four public relations lessons we can learn from Governor Chris Christie:

Don’t do a 180. When Superstorm Sandy hit, Christie was up and down the NJ coastline with President Obama. Back then, Christie was hailed as a hero. But the fiasco of #Bridgegate and #Beachgate, plus Christie’s attempt to put his hat in the ring for the 2016 presidency, left the New Jersey public feeling abandoned and his job left unfinished. When you do a complete 180 of your brand’s platform, it can leave your audience feeling confused, annoyed, or angry. Sudden moves=disgruntled public.

Keep your cool in an interview, even if it’s not going well. Recently Chris Christie was on a radio show, auditioning for a position as a host. Although it was pretty rude that one of the callers named Christie a “fat ass,” Christie also acted negatively when he called the man “a communist” and a “bum.” If you are in an interview and a host or caller is being unpleasant or asking uncomfortable questions, it says something about your character if you don’t stoop to their level and instead respond in a gracious, calm, and professional manner.

Not all publicity is “good publicity,” and public opinion counts. They say that all publicity is good, but not if the end result is detrimental to your brand. United Airlines and Pepsi’s recent missteps also prove that point—and now, especially with United, people are still on high-alert for their next slip-up (for instance, Inc. recently wrote a piece about United’s roll-out of selling already-booked tickets for a higher price instead of double-booking flights). With Governor Christie, he chooses to act dismissive towards reporters and citizens instead of responding in a courteous manner (“Run for governor, and you can have a residence”). So far, his belligerent reactions have backfired and the public has a low opinion of him.

Stick it out until the end. With only a few months of his governorship left, it’s clear that Chris Christie is “over” his position. But when you are a public figure, it’s best to maintain your grace and message until the end—so that when you finish a publicity campaign for your product, idea, or brand, you are leaving on a high note.

Do you have questions about publicity? Tweet at us @McKinneyPR. And, since we’re on the topic, tell us about your favorite beach or summer vacation spot!

Publishing 101: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Book Production

book production cmprOn the heels of my post about selling and the little guy, here is some information about things I’ve learned about the book production process from publishing on my own.  I’ve worked with many independent authors and have tried to help them through various parts of the book production process, including getting an editor, a book designer, jacket designer, etc.  But there is nothing like experiencing a process first hand to find out how things REALLY work.

A few basic things I found about the book production process are:

  1. It doesn’t cost a fortune to hire a decent jacket designer.  You do need to make sure the person you work with can do the kind of jacket you need produced, but my designer has done fiction and non-fiction and I’m happy with his work.
  2. Copyeditors are not that expensive and a must for a professionally produced book.  Twenty-five dollars an hour, folks.  If you have the next version of War and Peace, I’m sure that will rack up the hours quickly.  For my book there are many sections, fact checking items, and other things that took time even though it’s only 175 pages.  Still, not that pricey and very important to do.
  3. It will take at least a month from the time you finish the book to the time you are able to submit your files to your printer/publisher.  This is even a pretty tight time frame and doesn’t allow for vacations, family emergencies, your ability to make the changes the editor sends your way, and anything else you can think of that will hold you up.  I was clear about the direction my book was taking, and in advance of the copyedit, two people I consider members of “the grammar police” read and critiqued it for me.  That saved me time with the professional editing process.

As I continue this journey, I will try to provide things I’ve learned that may be helpful.  If you want to send me questions directly, you can do so at claire@clairemckinneypr.com or on Twitter @McKinneyPR.  Thank you for reading!

P.S. The last Amazon listing I checked in reference to my book said “9 copies left, more on the way.”  I guess that’s a good thing.

Publishing 101: When the “Little Guy” Struggles to Sell a Book

Ingram vs Amazon Self Publishing 101 Claire McKinneyIt’s hard for a person to figure out how to publish, market, and publicize her work on her own, and it is even more difficult to simply make the book available for sale.  Among all of the e-retailers out there, we know that Amazon ranks king in the world of online sales—which is where most of an indie publisher’s books will sell.  If you go through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, you will have a much easier time of getting your book on their site and available without too much fuss.  If you decide to start a new business and imprint, like I did, and choose to go through the Ingram platform IngramSpark instead, well, that’s where more problems can occur.

It can take a month for the information about your book on Ingram to be completely reflected on Amazon.  Ingram sends it in an instant, but Amazon goes through a process that takes time.  During this period your book might be listed as “out of stock”, “ships in 2-4 weeks”, “ships in 2-5 weeks”, or nothing much at all.  I’m okay with that, because it’s common knowledge if you read all the print, fine and otherwise, on Ingram and Amazon.  I also know from working with authors, that this is a standard. 

What I don’t understand is what’s happened to my book since its publication date, which was June 6, 2017.   Since then it’s been listed as “ships in 2-5 weeks”, “out-of-stock”, “ships in 1-2 weeks”, and lately with a random future availability date that Amazon pulled out of a hat.  My first line of defense was to call Ingram.

Here is an approximate run down of what happened with Ingram:

Me: “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t understand why my book, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?, isn’t immediately for sale on Amazon, especially given it is a print-on-demand title.  Theoretically it should be available almost immediately with shipping being the only issue.”

Ingram: “Hmmm, well I don’t see anything wrong with your account or what we sent.  You know, Amazon sometimes will hold individual customer orders for POD and submit them all at once.  This is why the book may not listed as available.”

Me: “What?! You mean if someone orders my book, the order could be held with several other titles ordered by different people until Amazon feels like sending them over to Ingram?”

Ingram: “Yes, that’s possible and we have no idea of why Amazon does that.  In fact, we have no idea of how or why Amazon does what it does and we’ve given up trying to figure it out.”

Me: “Right, and they won’t tell you why because it’s an algorithm thing or something like that.”

Ingram: “Correct.  But, you do have your ‘BUY’ button, that’s a good sign.”

Me: “My ‘BUY’ button?  You mean they could take that off whenever they want?”

Ingram: “Yes.  And again, we don’t know why they do that, but we get a lot of calls from authors who have that problem.  There isn’t anything we can do except send the title information to Amazon again and hope that jars something for them.”

Me (thinking): This sounds like the kick the vending machine way of getting results, but what do I know?

Me: “Well, thank you for your help.  I understand you are doing what you can.”

Ingram: “Good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.  Since I published the book to help people who need a resource and can’t afford to hire a publicist, and because I have a day job, I can let some of this slide without worrying about missed sales opportunities.  But what about writers who are expecting to earn a living, or are currently earning a living from their books?

I’m hoping that the more titles you publish the more influence you have with Amazon and the more seamless the process gets.  For now, I can only say keep an eye on your BUY button and watch what happens with other titles you know.  Maybe there is an order to this that we aren’t aware of, kind of like the universe.  On second thought—Amazon-the universe—I hope not.

Links Roundup, Week of 6/19

Happy First Week of Summer! The 21st was the summer solstice, and now it’s official!

What publishing compromises are you making? [Booklife]

New book focuses on the people of Yellowstone National Park. [Wyoming Public Media]

A press release or a pitch? You need both! [Jane Friedman]

Pamela Paul on her new book – My Life with Bob. [Lit Hub]

My new book – Do You Know What a Publicist Does – came out this month and is available for sale on Amazon! [Amazon]