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 Even though this circuit is outdated—Oprah’s show is off the air, GMA is closing in on the Today show’s ratings, and The Early Show just went through another reorganization—people in publishing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

Book Publishing 101: 1 Million Self-Published Books Means Quality is Key

Guess what?  Last week Publishers Weekly reported that, according to Bowker, over 1 million books were self-published in 2017.  You may ask yourself what this means to authors and potential book buyers?

Ten years ago, when I stopped working in-house and became an independent publicist and business owner I was introduced to the indie-author market.  There had been a swelling of this part of the market to which I and others in NY traditional publishing were unaware.  It was alarming to find that a significant portion of the titles that were being self-published, were of substandard quality.  One of the reasons for this was the plethora of inexpensive online book services that made a lot of money on DIY projects by aspiring writers.   The quality of the printing, the interiors, the jackets were often terrible.  Clearly there was a lot the indie author population needed to learn, and a network of bloggers and newsletters began to spring up to teach them the ropes.  But even with the resources that are available today, I still see a lot of titles that have quality issues and these problems will make it difficult for a book to compete in today’s marketplace.  With over 1 million books out there every year, appearance is at least 50% of the marketing effort.

Since I really dislike seeing books that look “self-published”, I’m going to share the beginnings of a list of telltale signs that I run into all the time, and some ways authors can avoid them.

1. A glossy jacket when it should be matte and a cover image that looks like a cheap template.

Narrative fiction and non-fiction should have a matte cover in paperback.  It looks wrong to have a glossy cover, in my strong opinion, and it doesn’t help sell the book.  To research this, go to your local bookstore and look at what is on the new in paperback tables.  Also, have a designer do your jacket.  Don’t use the templates provided online because a) you are likely to produce a jacket just like a bunch of others already out there; b) it will look like what it is; and c) you get what you pay for especially when it is free.  Visit websites for indie authors, especially the Independent Book Publishers Association, which has resources you can check out for different publishing services.  You can even call them on the phone!

2. Print is too small for the page or is printed in courier font.

Whatever you choose, please understand that courier font is not acceptable for a book unless it’s a narrative device.  Almost anything is better than that including the old standard Times New Roman.  Also, if you print using an online service get a copy or proof first to see what the type looks like.  You don’t want to publish a book that half of your market (over 40) can’t read because the type is too small.  I’ve seen it happen.

3. Printing your book straight from a word doc is not a good idea.

It looks like the book is “word processed” and not designed properly.  I believe some of the online publishers have interior formatting help that can give you some design options if you can’t pay for a professional.  If you can spend a bit of money, I suggest finding someone who does interior design in InDesign.

4. Empty rear jacket.

The back of the jacket needs to have a bar code, a brief author bio, a quote from a credible source (if available), and a brief snappy piece of selling copy.  Again, the local bookstore is a great place to do research.  Just because you are self-publishing, doesn’t mean you don’t need to meet publishing standards.  Ebook sales are declining, so the presentation of your print book is going to make a difference.

5. No Library-of-Congress number

Do you want libraries to have access to your book?  You need a “PCN” number, which you can obtain here and it’s free.  All you need to do is send a copy to the Library of Congress when your book is ready.

I will continue to add to this list over the next several months.  I hope sharing my observations as we all continue to navigate the indie market will be helpful.

Biography of a Buffoon by M. Paul Sinclair

Biography of a Buffoon

The Reverend Al Sharpton

By M. Paul Sinclair

There is a pyramid of tyranny at the heart of the village in which many people are oppressed in one form or another, and dissonance pervades.  The charlatan finds opportunity wherein the commoditization and commercialization of racial oppression is exploited.  Invariably the villagers view these exploiters as advocates and leaders, as they best articulate their pain and suffering, even                                                              while exploiting both.

At the end of the Civil War, they were called carpetbaggers and scalawags—Northerners who moved to the South to take advantage of business opportunities in a war-torn-zone and white Southerners who aligned themselves with black freedmen and Northern Republicans to profit politically in a new era.   The 21st Century is no different when it comes to opportunists looking to advance their personal agendas using others and unfortunate events as a springboard.  Paul Sinclair, an international businessman has singled out one such individual in his new book, BIOGRAPHY OF A BUFFOON: The Reverend Al Sharpton (Original Trade Paperback; 9780999474303; $21.95).  In his thoroughly researched and sourced book, Sinclair points out the inconsistencies and outright lies that Sharpton has told and how Sharpton’s rise to fame and fortune has been built on the backs of the same people he says he supports, while their lives remain the same.

Often using Sharpton’s own words from his books and interviews, Sinclair exposes a charlatan.  Some of the topics covered in BIOGRAPHY OF A BUFFOON are:

  • Sharpton working with Rudolph Giuliani to undermine New York City’s first black mayor, David Dinkins
  • His 2004 candidacy for president as a Democrat financed and managed by proud Republican dirty trickster and longtime Donald Trump lieutenant, Roger Stone.
  • His outright disdain of Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders as told in his book Go and Tell Pharaoh
  • Electoral campaigns that were basically “cash-for-endorsements” hustles, even asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Ruth Messinger in the 1997 mayoral election in New York City.
  • Sharpton’s work for a company called Loan Max to sell high-interest predatory loans and other services, targeting African Americans
  • Protest marches “for hire” that grew into a lucrative business whereby Sharpton would gather homeless people, paid $50/day, to stage demonstrations

“I don’t think in any way that I’ve achieved greatness, but I have to be honest and admit that greatness is what I seek” – Al Sharpton

BIOGRAPHY OF A BUFFOON is also a cautionary example of what happens when a disfavored group relies on (a) “celebrity” to save it.  Sinclair has traveled and lived abroad extensively and has seen first hand how minorities have become disenfranchised and undermined by trusting in a weekly government check and other means of encouraging a community to remain stuck with a lack of proper education and resources.  Sharpton is not an inspirational role model for African Americans and his causes do not address real problems.  While racial issues in the United States continue to simmer to a boil, people like Sharpton only serve to stir the pot.

About the Author

Paul Sinclair is a native of Kingston, Jamaica, and was raised in New York City.  He received his master’s degree in finance from Pace University.  In the last twenty-five years, he has lived in the U.S., France, England, Switzerland, and Holland.  Paul currently resides in Manhattan.                                                 

Biography of a Buffoon
The Reverend Al Sharpton
By M. Paul Sinclair
Media Date: October 15, 2018
ISBN: 9780999474303
Original Trade Paperback/Ebook
Price: $21.95
P
ages: 383 pages                                                              

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Book Review: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Educated Tara Westover

Educated: A Memoir from Penguin Random House

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a book I initially didn’t want to pick up when it released earlier this year, as it didn’t sound like a book I’d be interested in.

I admit it: I was wrong! Although I regret not reading Educated earlier, I’m still glad that I had the opportunity to read it after purchasing it in an awesome independent bookstore perfectly titled “Books, Lines, and Thinkers” during my vacation in Rangeley, Maine.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover and her life growing up in the mountains of Idaho with a father who had her lugging metal for his junkyard, and a mother who was a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was raised as a fundamentalist Mormon, and her family believed that even the Mormons they went to church with were sinful and weren’t going to be saved when the apocalypse came. As part of preparation for the apocalypse, they stocked up on food, water, and weapons and buried them on their property.

Her father was paranoid and against the federal government and public education, so Tara never went to school. She never had a birth certificate until she was older and asked her mother to help her get one, but she and her mother had conflicting dates on her DOB (although they both agreed that she was born toward the end of September). At one point when 16-year-old Tara got into an argument with her mother about school, her mother replied that she was 20 years old at this point. Her parents didn’t know the day she was born, let alone her age.

The hardest part about reading this book is that I had to keep reminding myself that this didn’t happen in the ’60s or ’70s—this all takes place in the ’90s through current times. But the way that Tara lived was so backwards you can’t help but keep thinking that her story took place much longer before the ’90s. While other kids were watching Nickelodeon and Disney movies or establishing grade-school friendships, Tara’s father was forcing her to jump into dumpsters full of sharp aluminum and tin (without a tetanus shot—because her father didn’t believe in doctors and medicine).

Throughout her crazy childhood, Tara slowly began dating and assimilating herself into modern society by taking part in school plays (until her father would eventually nix most of these plans), and she was eventually able to break away by getting accepted into Brigham Young University in Utah. She had a lot of trouble fitting in, whether it was because her roommates were disgusted by her lack of hygiene, or her own prejudices against other female college students and the way they dressed in class. At one point in a lecture, she raised her hand and asked for the professor to explain what the word “Holocaust” meant, and she is reprimanded for making a mean joke.

How someone can live in the world yet know so little about it is absolutely mind-boggling and unbelievable. Tara goes through so many problems that no child should go through—a physically abusive brother, parents that disown her for being “against the family,” not getting a proper education or medical treatment—but she is not asking for a pity party in Educated. She just wants to tell the story of her life, as far-fetched as we may think it is.

Educated is one of the best memoirs I’ve read, not only because it is a literal page turner and a book that you will not be able to put down from the moment you read the first page. It’s worth reading because there are other people who grew up like Tara who exist in the U.S. today, and don’t have proper access to education or medicine. It also puts a spotlight on mental illness (her father and brother) and depression (her own), along with how it can affect not just one’s self but their family and friends. My only issue with the book is that it feels that Tara wrote it too soon. Although the raw emotion is what makes it a great memoir, it does feel like she still has not come to terms with the abuse she suffered by the hands of her family members.

Author Brand? How Do I Get One?

Last year I published my own book based on an article I wrote for Publisher’s Weekly many years ago, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns.  To promote it, I hit the road and spoke to writers at universities conferences, festivals, libraries, etc.  What was the one thing writers looking to promote their books really wanted to understand?  What is an Author Brand? And further, how do they develop their own?  While I can’t present all the information I provide in a 45-minute keynote or afternoon workshop, I’m going to express some of the points that should start you on your way.

  1. What is an Author Brand?  A brand represents a product or person in different ways.  Primarily it’s about how people “feel” and “respond” when they hear the brand’s name; see the product; read about it; etc.  Recognizable brands are ones that the market knows like Coca Cola.  In the book world some recognizable brands are James Patterson, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, David Brooks, and David McCullough.  Audiences know what these writers represent and have a good idea of what kinds of books they publish, what causes they might represent, their political affiliations, where they come from or live, and what they look like.  These characteristics are parts of their “brands”.
  2. I’m not famous, I’m just a “…”, I don’t have a brand: These are some of the things I’ve heard from writers when faced with the concept of Author Brand.  Part of the answer is that all of those people I mentioned above were once where you are.  James Patterson published his first book in 1976.  He started publishing more than one book every year in the late 1990s.  I’m not saying that you have to wait twenty years before you establish your brand.  The point is everyone has to start somewhere so take any negative thoughts out of your mind and focus on what you have to offer.
  3. How do I get an Author Brand?  Here’s my favorite part of all of my lectures and speeches–you don’t have to “get” a brand because you already have/are one!  I don’t care if you train animals, have a podcast on car repair, and write romances–all of these things together constitute your brand.  What you really need to know is how to become your brand.
  4. Becoming your Author Brand: Take a moment to write down a list of items that describe you.  Think of answering the fundamental questions–who, what, where, why, and how.  Now, write down what you consider to be your best assets or what your are “known” for.  Even in the smallest community, you might be the one who always brings muffins to a book club meeting; or you have an interesting tattoo; you take hiking trips in the summer; you speak a foreign language and like to surf; and/or you are good with numbers.  Finally, note the kinds of books you want to or are writing; what the characters are like; where they are set; are there any common threads in your work?  All of the lists you have just made are the pieces of what can be your brand.  Look at what you have and highlight the ones that you want to project virtually or in person.  The intent is to become familiar to an audience that will respond to your author brand, and ultimately to create a community or people that will become your army of fans who will spread word-of-mouth about your work.  Having completed these exercises, you have the potential to accomplish different goals such as, sell your book(s), grow your business, gain visibility in the publishing world and get noticed by agents and editors, secure speaking engagements, and provide a much easier base to create a marketing strategy.
  5. Image as Author Brand: After you’ve dissected all of the parts of yourself and your life that can be used to promote you, consider some of the more cosmetic aspects of your brand.  Coca Cola has a distinct font, color, and packaging.  Even before you get to the taste of it, this is what we recognize.  What about you?  Look at some of your favorite personalities in entertainment, yes authors are part of the entertainment industry, and see what you like.  For a few years James Patterson always wore a crew neck sweater in public, in his ads, for his author photo.  He chose this look on purpose.  Amy Tan used to carry her dog in a Pucci Bag wherever she went.  What signature item would you like to have?  How do you want to look when you are in front of an audience?

All of what I’ve shared here will help you recognize and develop your Author Brand.  Most important is that you don’t try to twist yourself into what you imagine to be the RIGHT brand.   I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to create a brand that best represents all of you and what you hope to achieve.  But, It’s important that you feel comfortable with what you are selling and projecting.  You need to be able to maintain and protect the brand you create and develop.  So if you feel most powerful and connected to your work in the form of a superhero, don your Spider Man costume and head out on the town.  But if jeans and a T-shirt with a baseball cap is more your style; you are from a suburb of X city; and you write books about a bail bondsman named Al, you might want to tailor your brand.  Just a touch.