Ask the Publicists: But What About My Book?
Introducing a Monthly Advice Column from Broadside PR
A new monthly column about book publicity from Whitney Peeling, Michael Taeckens, and Kimberly Burns. If you have a question you’d like us to consider for next month’s column, please email us: ahoy@BroadsidePR.com.
This month we begin with a question that’s been asked by almost every author we’ve ever worked with….
My book is coming out the same date as another author’s at the same publishing house, and I’m seeing all the things they’re doing for that author and not doing for me. What should I do?
Michael Taeckens: This is an oft-heard complaint and it’s an issue that can incite panic attacks in even the most zen of authors. Maybe an excerpt of this competing book is slated to run in the New Yorker, or your publisher has tweeted about an extensive book tour for said author (damn you, Twitter!), or you’re looking at the author’s catalog copy, which includes a dozen bullet points promising things like “National Review and Feature Attention, including interviews on Fresh Air!, Late Night with Seth Myers!, and an appearance on Dancing with the Stars!” We get it. It’s like watching your brother receive a two-month-old Labradoodle as a holiday gift while you hold onto your just-opened ten-pack of brown tube socks.
Whitney Peeling: First of all, try to be happy for the other author. The world can always use more generosity of spirit, right? Second, don’t jump to conclusions about what this means for the future of your own book. (Seriously, don’t.) We can list a few dozen under-the-radar books with little marketing support that went on to stellar heights, and that’s just within the past few years alone. The best thing you can do? Stop any comparisons (it gets you nowhere at all and will only exhaust you emotionally), turn to your own project with laser-beam focus, and bolster your own campaign as if you’ve spent years of blood, sweat, and tears working on this creative achievement—because chances are, you have spent years working on it.
Kimberly Burns: In short, control what you can control and shift gears toward work of another kind—laying the groundwork for your own A+ publishing experience. Every book is different and finds its way to the marketplace in a different way. Talk to your agent. Your agent is your confidant and ally and can ask for a meeting to be set up with the publisher to discuss the entire marketing and publicity campaign. You may very well be surprised by all the irons already in the fire. And trust your editor—she is aware of the bigger picture and, also, please don’t forget this!, wants your book to do well maybe more than anyone else. One of the most important first questions for your editor should be: What can I do to help you sell this book?
MT: Yes, absolutely. A significant amount of power is in the author’s hands. This is true for all authors, no matter the size of your publishing house. From writing and placing pieces that have roots in your book to being an active good literary citizen, to using social media to its fullest potential, you can generate attention in savvy, carefully cultivated ways. The power of buzz doesn’t require money. (Truly.) Take, for example, the case of Paul Harding’s Tinkers, the debut novel published by Bellevue Literary Press that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010 after originally being championed by only one sales rep and a couple passionate booksellers. Word-of-mouth praise can move mountains.
WP: And if you want to help achieve word of mouth, remember that strategically and collaboratively working with an author’s network is a crucial piece of what publicists do. You should compile a list of anyone and everyone you know who might be interested in your book and may want to spread the word. Before you drop a book in the mail to that well-connected residency director you met over the summer or innocently reach out to a producer friend about booking you on a show, check with your publicist. She will have a sense of the bigger picture and will know, for instance, if one of your contacts would be more valuable for a blurb or a review, or for something else entirely. She may recommend that you write a handwritten note to your contact with a direct and specific request, or she may be able to more effectively reach out to the producer on your behalf and book an interview at the ideal time and when it won’t compete with another booking. Your publicist should be able to weave the strengths of your network into/around her own to make sure every single base is covered as you approach pub date.
KB: It seems like more often than not authors aren’t aware of all that is going on behind the scenes to promote their book—from sales reps on the front lines talking to a bookseller they know is going to love a book to the publisher’s director of library marketing who can assemble hoards of passionate librarians across the country to get behind a novel. No matter the size of the press you are being published by, there are people working behind the scenes to make your book a success. Just because a publisher cannot promise you, say, the same full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review they promised another author, that won’t make or break your book. Authors should become informed about the publication process, know what is happening with their book, and treat their publication like it’s their job.
MT: Another important thing to keep in mind—and this holds true for publishers of all stripes—is that oftentimes marketing speak is a bit, shall we say, padded. If your anxiety is being piqued by having seen the marketing & publicity bullet points on the other author’s catalog or galley copy, for example, just know that it’s all relative. Often publishers guarantee “national review and feature attention,” and sometimes even cite specific media outlets many months ahead of publication date. Keep in mind that this is basically what the publishers are hoping and aiming for. Rest in the knowledge that your book has a fighting chance at getting national review and feature attention as well.
Your To-Do List:
TALK TO YOUR AGENT: See what your agent already knows—he or she can always reach out to your publisher to get information and negotiate on your behalf.
LEAN ON YOUR TEAM: In your case (you saw that Author X is getting Y), ask your editor what’s going on and offer to help. What can you do for the marketing and publicity teams? Brainstorm about publicity ideas with your agent, editor, and publicist.
SAY HELLO: Make a “big mouth” list of all the people you know who might be interested in your work and would want to talk about it to others. After you’ve cleared it with your publicist, write handwritten notes and send them out with galleys or review copies of your book to media contacts, potential reviewers, and/or fellow writers you know.
PLACE ESSAYS AND OPINION PIECES: Come up with a few original pieces that you or your publicist could pitch to specific publications whose readership is in line with that of your book. There are many outlets with massive readerships—the New York Times, Buzzfeed Reader, etc.—that regularly publish stellar, thought-provoking pieces.
PARTICIPATE IN LITERARY CONVERSATIONS: Do you like the competing book you mention? Is it in the same genre as yours or does it cover a subject in which you’re well-versed? If so, you could pitch a review of it to book editors at major outlets. (Ask your publicist for contact info if you don’t already have.)
BE A GOOD LITERARY CITIZEN: Why not post about and share news of the competing book? Tag both the author and your publisher and go to the author’s local event(s) if in your area. In general, it’s good to keep in mind that we’re all part of the same literary community—help lift others up and you’ll be lifted up in return.
STAY CALM: The worst thing you can do is spend time agonizing—aloud or in your own head—about the success of someone else’s campaign. Try not to make comparisons. Stay positive and focused on what you can do for your own book.
KB/MT/WP: The bottom line: unless you’re Toni Morrison (even if you are Toni Morrison, depending on what other books are being published on the same date!), there will always be an author who is getting more attention than you. Our best advice is: Talk it all out with your agent or editor (and of course your publicist), but really put your nose down and focus on your own work.
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.