20 Questions (And Answers) for the Debut Writer
Ask the Publicists, A Regular Advice Column From Broadside PR
In this ever-shifting and uncertain world, we all could use a little more certainty in our lives. Especially writers with a signed contract behind them and a pub date looming. With our column this month, we’re offering some simple “yes” and “no” answers (followed by longer explanation for those who feel that more is more) to common questions from writers.
My publisher sent me an Author Questionnaire. Do I really need to fill out every single part of this whole damn thing?
Yes! Your AQ will be passed around through departments and will be referenced throughout your publication. It will help your publishing team immensely if you answer it thoughtfully.
I’m going in tomorrow morning to see my agent, editor, and publicity and marketing team for the first meeting about my book. Should I go on a bender with my best friends tonight?
No. Please don’t. Smelling whiskey on an author doesn’t always have the appeal one might think. In an ideal world, you’ll go into that meeting excited to meet your team and armed with questions, names of potential blurbers, your Top Ten media dream list, and so on. (You might also bring cupcakes or cookies.)
Should I go into bookstores and introduce myself to booksellers months before my book is published?
Yes. Booksellers, who are smarter than anyone about the publishing landscape, are on the front lines and have the power to press your book into many readers’ hands. Make friends with your local independent bookseller, and when you’re traveling, be sure to visit local bookstores and say hello to those booksellers as well.
I don’t even like social media and I’m a raging introvert. Do I have to do it anyway?
Yes. Well, not technically (no one has to), but we highly recommend that you try at least one account—Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Keep in mind that many authors who were initially resistant to social media now use it daily and LOVE it. Just remember that social media is most effective when there’s a real voice—a living breathing person with a personality—powering it.
Should I do that thing where everything I post on Facebook cross-posts on Twitter or where everything I post on Instagram cross-posts on Facebook and Twitter?
No. It’s not the end of the world if you do, but this is one of those cases where simplicity on your part can be seen as laziness in the eyes of others, and it manages to make your social media accounts feel automatically generated rather than organic and personable.
Should I post about my book on all of my social media accounts multiple times a day?
No. A little goes a long way.
My book publishes in one year. Is now the time to finally open a Twitter account?
Yes, if not earlier! Support other authors and become involved in publishing conversations. It only makes sense that you’d be interested in what’s going on with the literary community online.
Is it ever too early to start thinking about how I’ll talk about my book?
No. In the same way you practiced giving your Oscar speech when you were nine years old, you can practice asking yourself interview questions about your book.
An author I admire took the time to read my book and give it a fantastic blurb—should I send her a thank you note with a bottle of wine?
Yes, and you’re really smart and thoughtful to think of it. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t even say thank you after getting a blurb.
Should I ever bad-mouth another author behind his back to everyone else in the teeny tiny literary community?
We guarantee whatever you say will get back to them, if not soon then at some point. Also, life is short and we’re all in this together. You don’t have to be fake, but try to be nice as a default.
I’m wondering if the New York Times is going to review my book. Should I email my publicist to make sure she sent a review copy?
No. It would be an extraordinary thing if your publicist didn’t know to pitch your book to the New York Times. You could, though, early on, make up a list of Top Ten media venues where you’d most like your book to be considered to share with her, and let her know where you have personal media contacts. Also, make sure to read (and subscribe!) to the New York Times (and to your local paper!)—notice the bylines of reviewers and which ones you think might be the right fit for your book.
I happen to know my in-house publicist is working on five other books at the same time as mine. Should I call her often to make sure she doesn’t forget about me?
No. Your publicist might like nothing more than to sit on the phone with any and all of her authors all day, but time spent chatting is time spent not pitching. Let her do her work. We promise she’s thinking about you—she won’t forget!
Should I use my expertise to suggest pitches to my publicist?
Yes, but try to have a realistic idea of the media landscape. You probably want to be on Fresh Air, right? So listen to Fresh Air and see what sort of authors are being interviewed. Is your book really a good candidate? If you were going to go on Fresh Air, what would you talk about?
When I think of new ideas for publicizing my book, should I compile them all into one thoughtful email for my publicist?
Yes. See answer 12. Respect your publicist’s time and capacity for continual input.
I’ve had three martinis. Is it a good time to go on Twitter and rage tweet at POTUS? At anyone else?
Yes, after one martini, but after three, maybe step away from the computer. That said… POTUS has threatened the NEA, PBS, NPR, and other arts orgs along with, well, life on the planet. Rage-tweet away. But don’t rage-tweet in general. Dr. Maya Angelou said it best: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet.” Be the light!
Should I send my book with a personal note to my friends who work in the media?
Yes. Your friends will want to know and, while you shouldn’t expect coverage, we’ve found that friends will always help if they can.
I got a bad review in a major publication. Should I write a scathing letter to the editor or critic?
No. It will only draw more attention to the negative review and make you look like you can’t handle criticism. (And we know: it can sting! It’s the worst to be misunderstood. But our advice: float above it and trust the book you wrote.) That said, if there are legit factual errors and you need them to be corrected, tell your agent/publicist/editor—they’ll handle on your behalf.
I got a good review in a major publication. Should I write a thank you note?
Yes, but proceed carefully. The reviewer has offered her thoughtful critique of your book and it just so happens that she loved it. She didn’t say nice things as a courtesy. So thank you doesn’t feel quite right. But writing a note to say you appreciate that she understood this or that complex idea, or that you respect her writing in general, sounds lovely to us.
It’s a couple months past my publication date. Is the publicity window for my book now closed?
No. Continue writing and publishing pieces (essays, op eds, original creative writing, interviews with other authors, etc.) in a variety of outlets; keep an eye out for any newsy tie-ins to your book; and stay engaged with the literary community on social media.
My book got a ton of publicity. Should I send my publicist a gift?
One-hundred percent yes! (OK, we kid. But remember to say thank you every once in a while.)
If you got more than half correct, you’ve got great intuition. You and your book are going to do great.
If you got less than half correct, it’s time for tough love: we suggest a sit-down with your agent or editor to talk about realistic expectations as your book gets closer to publication.
In all cases: Trust your intuition, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and take comfort knowing that you wrote the best book you could and that your publishing team has got your back.
Kimberly Burns, Whitney Peeling, and Michael Taeckens are the co-founders of Broadside PR. They work regularly with publishers and authors to launch exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as with literary organizations and prizes to strengthen the value of the written word.