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 Even though this circuit is outdated—Oprah’s show is off the air, GMA is closing in on the Today show’s ratings, and The Early Show just went through another reorganization—people in publishing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.)

My Adventures with Amazon: Part 1

A couple of months ago I published a blog called “3 Things I’ve Learned about Book Production”. In it, I described one of the mysteries of publishing that we commonly call Amazon. I also described the difficulties I was experiencing getting Ingram and Amazon to communicate effectively. My book was listed as available in 5-7 weeks and I couldn’t understand how a print-on-demand title—the purpose of which is to be available in days Adventures with Amazon book selling and publishingnot weeks—wouldn’t be available for shipping much sooner if not immediately.

Fortunately, in that case, things got resolved and for a couple of months all was operating normally. But then the unspeakable happened—Amazon took my “Add to Cart” button away from my paperback. Now my book is only available from third party sellers and they are charging over $1 more per book. Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? is still available on Barnes & Noble.com and other outlets in paperback and ebook form. However, as we all know, Amazon is the dominant online retailer. I’ve been working on this problem for six weeks and in a nutshell, this is what’s happened so far.

Adventures with Amazon

In my first call to customer service at Amazon, I was told to have Ingram resubmit the title to refresh it on the site and bring back the button, which I did. No dice. I called Ingram a second time and they said they would try to submit the title again, but they couldn’t do anything else beyond that. Two weeks later the problem was still there. I asked my colleague to call Amazon to see if she could get anywhere. After spending twenty minutes explaining the problem to customer service, getting a supervisor on the line, and being put on hold for ten minutes, she was disconnected. We moved on to the second line of defense otherwise known as Twitter.

Tweeting at Amazon Customer Service got a response.  We received a link on Author Central that would get us in touch directly with a person who could help. I emailed through the link. I got a call! But, it went to voice mail and the person on the line said I should email again and leave a window during which they could call back. I did that, providing a window of 2 – 6PM EST. I got a call at 5:55pm when I was getting into my car and I didn’t get to the phone in time. Really, 5:55 when you had four hours to call? Then it dawned on me, I could call back, right? Although no specific call back number was given, I could try the number that was now in my phone.

More Adventures with Amazon Customer Service

I dialed the number and was greeted by Amazon Customer Service. After listening to the prompts, I went with “all other requests”. A pleasant woman named Crystal answered and I explained my issue. This time I knew that 1. Customer Service was not going to be able to help me on their own. 2. I was not an “Amazon Seller” and should not be transferred to that department. 3. I needed to talk to someone at Author Central. I was quite happy with myself because I could direct Crystal to the right department on the first try! I also asked for a back-up number to Author Central just in case they disconnected the call (again learning from previous experience). Guess what? She didn’t know the number, and didn’t know where to find it. Oh well, she was transferring me, so I was hopeful.

After a few minutes Crystal returned to the line and said that Author Central said they were not the right department and that I needed to talk with Amazon Sellers. I let her transfer me, knowing this was wrong, but hoping this new group up the ladder would have access to a phone number and more information.

When Rita answered, I quickly explained my situation. She said, “Ah,” (I thought, this is it, she knows what to do) “let me transfer you to Amazon Kindle. They are the ones to help you”.

I started to lose it.

I let Rita know that I was not calling about an ebook, Kindle, or any other name you could use. I was calling about a paperback, that I was a publisher not a seller, I needed to reach Author Central, AND did she have a phone number where I could dial in directly? Sounding a bit nervous at this point, Rita put me on hold in her vain effort to find a way to reach the right department.

Several minutes later Rita returned from her mission without having succeeded. She was very sorry, but there was no number and no way to reach these people directly. She didn’t have any other advice for me and could only continue to repeat on script “I understand”, “I understand”, “I understand”.

Back to Twitter

Feeling like I had stepped into a science fiction story, I went back to my second line of defense—the Twittersphere. I tweeted Amazon Customer Service about their lack of phone number for a vital aspect of the business. And, I tweeted to my followers that Amazon’s departments didn’t know how their own business worked. Why was I explaining that there were paperbacks and ebooks and that the two were separate products, to their own employees? And, why don’t they have a phone number or extension to call a different department, especially when they were already calling me directly? (One thing I haven’t mentioned is that in one of our conversations with customer service, we were told that they get 2 – 3 requests like this per day, which makes this even more bizarre.)

After my brief Twitter rant, I received a new call from Tony. This person knew what the issue was and understood how Amazon functions as a selling outlet for publishers. He said that they didn’t have copies in stock, which was why I didn’t have a button. I explained that they don’t need copies to be in stock when it is print-on-demand. The product is available almost immediately. That’s the point of the whole print-on-demand process.

He Said / He Said

He said that Amazon’s own self-publishing arm, Create Space, uses Ingram the same way I do as a printing source. He said Ingram wasn’t sending them this information. He asked me to bear with him for a few days so he could investigate the issue and that he would get back to me. The message was, if we work together we will find a solution, even if I decide to let Create Space switch my ISBN to their system directly so that they control the process. There are more details related to this part of the conversation that I will leave for later. After we figure out what I need to do. For now, I am being patient and I am grateful that Tony is on the case.

So that’s the story so far. Weirdly, there isn’t a lot of information from other people online about this problem. Given that Amazon says they get about 60 – 90 calls a month about this issue, you would think there would be chatter or at least a thread where you could visit to commiserate. I wonder if some people just give up? I can’t.
As I explained to Tony, I’m not just an individual author, I started a publishing company and I have an author in the wings who wants to publish with me. I must get these bumps in the road ironed out before I handle anyone else’s book.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for more, when I have it. I am looking forward to getting to the bottom of this and hope we will all be better publishers as a result. If you have a story to share about losing your Amazon button, email me directly at claire@clairemckinneypr.com.

Publicity 101: Your Publicity Calendar

publicity calendarWhen it comes to your public relations campaign and your publicity calendar, what is important to remember is that the campaign starts before the book, with proper preparation and set up. You want to be able to take advantage of every opportunity, so being organized and having access to all the information you need is going to give you an edge over the competition.

Some dates to mark on your publicity calendar (besides your publication date) are:

Events and appearances: Record the dates for any readings or speaking engagements where you can promote or sell your book. Start as early as the six-month mark so you can have a postcard or business card made to pass out to audiences or potential contacts.

Pitching Magazines: In general, there is a four-month lead time for book coverage in glossy magazines, and even longer for features. You can try finding out on the magazines’ websites what their requirements are, but in the absence of any information, plan to approach editors four months ahead of your official publication/media date.

Pitching National Broadcast: Usually three months is enough time for most shows, but talk shows like The Dr. Oz Show or Steve Harvey could tape your segment and not air it for months. You don’t have complete control over this, but I recommend you get in touch with these outlets as soon as your materials, like your press kit and review copies, are ready.

Pitching Radio: Radio tends to book between two to six weeks ahead of time, and then there are those stations that will ask you to be on tomorrow. I like to start my radio work about four to six weeks ahead of time and if I’m contacting the station too early, I make a note to follow up at a later date.

The months following your publication date are for building on the media you get, making appearances at outlets or events, and new pitches. Keeping a written publicity calendar on paper, or in Outlook that dings when you have an upcoming event or deadline, is going to make your process a lot easier…and more effective!

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson

“Tyson’s first-rate second Greenhouse mystery (after 2016’s A Muddied Murder) stars big-city lawyer turned small-town organic farmer Megan Sawyer, a kind, intelligent, and spirited woman with great integrity. In short, she’s the sort of person cozy readers warm to and root for.”
—Publishers Weekly Starred Review of Bitter Harvest: A Greenhouse Mystery
“This is the book to enjoy on a nice spring day—sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying Washington Acres.”
—Suspense Magazine on A Muddied Murder
“Charming and entertaining…Megan is a spunky heroin her loves her family and wants to succeed.
Readers of anim
al-centric cozies will flock to this.”
—Library Journal on A Muddied Murder
 
Seeds of Revenge
A Greenhous
e Mystery Book Three
by Wendy Tyson
In A Muddied Murder, Wendy Tyson introduced readers to Megan Sawyer, a woman who gives up her Chicago law career to care for her grandmother and run Washington Acres, the family’s organic farm and its cozy store and restaurant, Washington Acres Café and Larder. But Megan’s move to Winsome, a small town in Pennsylvania’s quaint Bucks County, hasn’t been so smooth. In Tyson’s first Greenhouse Mystery, a zoning commissioner is found dead in her barn and M
egan is considered the chief suspect; and in the second edition, Bitter Harvest, the town’s pub owner is killed after he accuses another brewer of rigging the sponsorship lottery for Winsome’s first  Oktoberfest. Megan follows her intuition and uses her knowledge of the law to solve both murder cases—even when they put her life in danger and exasperate the local police chief, Bobby King.
Megan returns f
or the holiday season in SEEDS OF REVENGE: A Greenhouse Mystery Book Three (Henery Press; November 14th, 2017; ISBN 9781635112757; Trade Paperback). A heavy snowstorm hits while Megan is on the road, and on her way to Winsome she picks up a woman who stranded her car from the weather. The stranger turns out to be Becca Fox, a chemist and the niece of nosy local nursery owner Merry Chance. Merry has invited Becca to stay with her so she can sell her “love potions” at holiday events. But Merry has an ulterior mo
tive in inviting Becca to Winsome—to reunite her with her estranged psychologist father Paul Fox, whom Becca despises because she believes he murdered her mother. When Paul turns up dead in a house he is renting, all signs point to Becca as his killer when she begins to display erratic behavior…and it turns out that Paul may have been poisoned by a gaseous mixture that only a person with a chemistry background would know how to create.
Megan has a soft spot for Becca and doesn’t want to see her incarcerated by Chief King. Her suspicions grow when she starts digging around Paul Fox’s past and finds it too clean. But she also soon discovers that Becca isn’t the only person in Winsome who despised Paul—Megan’s aunt Sara
h, a famous mystery author, has a shadowy past with him. Megan’s love interest Denver, a sexy Scottish country veterinarian reminiscent of a James Herriot novel, also has an aunt who once worked with Paul but refuses to discuss him.
The plot of SEEDS OF REVENGE takes a twist when it appears that the way Paul was killed is exactly the same as a murder in one of Aunt Sarah’s mystery novels…and soon other events take place that imply that this killer may be her biggest fan.
Megan enlists the help of Winsome’s quirky and loveable residents to solve the case: her spunky grandma Bibi; the kind and loving Denver, who is hinting to Megan that he wants a more committed relationship; Emily, a family friend whose rental Paul’s body was discovered in; overworked poli
ce chief Bobby King and his on-and-off girlfriend, Clover; and Alvaro, Washington Acres Café’s grumpy but spectacular chef.
In SEEDS OF REVENGE, Megan must rely on her environmental law background, her deductive reasoning skills, and her instincts to follow the literary clues of Aunt Sarah’s novels to solve the murder of Paul Fox—but can she uncover the truth before someone else is murdered?
ABOUT WENDY TYSON
Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. O
riginally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives on a micro-farm with her husband, sons, and two dogs. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.
ABOUT HENERY PRESS
Henery Press an indepen
dent publisher in the mystery and suspense genre focused on engaging stories with sharp twists and lively characters. To learn more about Henery Press, please visit www.henerypress.com.
SEEDS OF REVENGE | A Greenhouse Mystery Book Three | By Wendy Tyson
Henery Press | Publication Date: November 14th, 2017 | ISBN: 9781635112757
Original Trade Paperback & E-Book | Price: $15.95 / $4.99 | 272 pages
### 

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!