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 Even though this circuit is outdated—Oprah’s show is off the air, GMA is closing in on the Today show’s ratings, and The Early Show just went through another reorganization—people in publishing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

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.

Book Review: The Man Who Caught the Storm by Brantley Hargrove

The Man Who Caught the Storm

The Man Who Caught the Storm by Brantley Hargrove, published by Simon & Schuster (April 2018).

Videos of tornadoes ripping through homes is one thing, but translating that power into the written word is a feat in itself–and in THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras, Brantley Hargrove is unbelievably good at capturing that raw emotion.

I never watched Storm Chasers, where Tim Samaras got his fame. I didn’t know he existed until I picked up Hargrove’s book. But I have always been interested in the weather and grew up watching Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in Twister, so the idea of learning more about the actual career of tornado chasing–not the Hollywood version of it–sounded interesting.

And boy, is THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM interesting. Even if you aren’t curious about the weather, it’s worth reading a true story about passion and following your dreams. Except this is no ordinary passion, and certainly not an ordinary dream. Samaras was not focused on making money or becoming the next Bill Gates. His greatest desire was to figure out what really goes on inside of the belly of a tornado.

Samaras grew up outside of Denver, Colorado, and was always good with technology. As he got older he loved to park on a hill and watch the storms roll in. Eventually, he decided to start chasing tornadoes. Once he started getting more involved he realized that if meteorologists knew what was going on inside the tornado, maybe lives could be saved.  Somtimes, even with predictive safety measures in place, tornado sirens didn’t go off in a town until the tornado had already hit the ground. Samaras decided to build his own inventions that would measure the wind speed, barometric pressure, and eventually, film the action inside the funnel.

The problem was, Samaras had to get close to a tornado in order to deploy these tools. And as he did it more and more, he began to realize what a dangerous game it was to play. And yet, he was addicted to the thrill of getting so close to a tornado, and wedded to the idea that one day his concepts and documentation of events could save hundreds of lives.

Samaras’s story is elevated by Hargrove’s intelligent and crisp writing. Although he drops numerous scientific and technical terms, he’s never convoluted or makes the reader feel ignorant for not understanding a specific concept. He explains things quickly and easily, and continues his storytelling without a major break in the narrative. The way that Hargrove describes these weather forms is so vivid, it feels like you are watching a movie:

“Wedge tornado on the ground,” Tim says. “Oh, my God. It’s huge.”

“We gonna deploy on that thing?” asks Porter, his voice betraying more than a little trepidation.

“Damn right.”

They approach from the west down Highway 14, the main route between Huron and Manchester. The tornado is half a mile to the south of the road and moving steadily northeast, refracting sunlight like a prism. One moment the mile-wide funnel is the color of sand. The next, it is smoke, ash, sod. Tim slows up, pulling into the oncoming lane. His distance narrows to hundreds of yards, but the approach is all wrong. There is the intuitive trimming along the margins of safety, and then there is the bet whose odds are unknown. From here, Tim can’t discern the tornado’s heading or ground speed with any certainty. This isn’t the weakening Stratford twister. This is unlike anything he’s ever seen. The tornado before him is the giant of plains legend, the breed a chaser may see once in his life.

-From THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM

Hargrove sadly also has to tell the story we know already–Samaras’s tragic death “at the hands” of these great vortexes. For Hargrove to fill 250 pages of tornado action in a way that is exciting and unique in each chapter–while being aware that the reader knows what ultimately happens–is a challenge that he accomplishes, exceptionally.

THE MAN WHO CAUGHT THE STORM is a fantastic, superbly written biography of a man who literally lived and died by his passion, and in the process was instrumental to advancing meteorology as we know it today.

For more of our book reviews, click here!