This week we’re asking publishing industry experts to answer the many questions that we debut writers have as we get our careers started as published authors. For my post, I’ve decided to focus on the hard work of in-house publicists. I’ve asked publicists who work at two of the big five publishing houses to help me out by explaining the process of getting the word out on a new book – before, during, and after publication.
So… Welcome publicists! And thank you for answering our questions. I am sure many writers are grateful to get your perspective!
What is the one thing you wish debut novelists knew/understood about book publicity?
Publicist #1: Your publicist is one of your biggest supporters! Truly, truly, truly, we want nothing more than to make your book the biggest success it can be. But the sad fact is book coverage across the board is dwindling, and it’s increasingly difficult to secure review coverage, particularly for debut novelists. Most major magazines have a single page dedicated to books (if they have one at all), and newspaper book pages are also shrinking—within the past few years, a fair amount of book review editors have either taken buy-outs or been laid off. With the many, many books published each week, I sometimes think it’s a miracle a book gets coverage at all. So, just know, if the publicity isn’t working out quite the way everyone hoped, it’s not for lack of effort—we are all trying all we can to get your book the attention it deserves!
Publicist #2: At any point in an author’s career it’s hard for them not to have expectations on how a book is going to sell, how it’s going to be received, and what media it’s going to attract. But I do think that debut authors in particular find the publication processes mysterious, and that mystery sometimes leads to unrealistic expectations. It’s on the publicist to be transparent and explain the process: who gets galleys, which outlets will be pitched, what’s feasible for this specific title, what a tour might look like (if there even is one). Now it’s also on the author to hear and understand these things. Just because we pitch something or send a book doesn’t mean that we’re going to lock in a booking, or even get a response to an email, but it’s our job to always try. The takeaway here? Transparency and open communication are key.
When should an author expect PR-activity to get going (in the timeline of publishing a first book)? When will a debut writer hear from you for the first time?
Publicist #1: Your first conversation with your publicist will usually be an introductory chat with a general overview of publicity plans: What publications are you hoping for/are we targeting? Is there an off-the-book-page story we can utilize? Do you have any personal connection to media contacts? Any bookstores you have a close relationship with? What’s the best way we can all work together? This will usually be anywhere from 5-7 months out, typically around the time galleys (advanced copies for media outlets and book reviewers) arrive. Once that early conversation happens, we’ll shoot those galleys out to our targeted media and get the ball rolling. After that, don’t be discouraged or surprised if things are a little quiet for a few months. Once we start pitching, we usually don’t start hearing back about review coverage until 2 months out, and it’s a slow build from there. But things will really ramp up in the month or so leading up to publication, and you’ll start to hear from us much more often.
Publicist #2: Things for any book should really kick into action 4-6 months before the book goes on sale because that’s when galleys tend to become available for publicity/marketing. Sometimes galleys are ready before that time frame or sometimes after it, but it really is the ideal window if you want your book to have a chance at consideration for longlead publications and any outlet (i.e. some radio or television) that requires advanced notice. That said, I’m a proponent of meeting in person or hopping on a call as a team (including marketing, editorial, and sometimes academic marketing depending on the book’s subject matter) early on to make introductions and layout the plan leading up to publication and for the months following it. Additionally, I always like to have a separate, publicity-only discussion with authors so we can go over specifics, contacts, tour concepts, pitches, etc… and really get down to the details – this is the fun part!
What is your favorite part/favorite story of doing book PR?
Publicist #1: I got into publicity and publishing for the same reason most do—which is that I love books and I love sharing my favorites! When I secure a review for a book that I loved in the New York Times or People or Entertainment Weekly, and I get to share the amazing news with the author and see how thrilled the whole team is, it’s makes all the less-than-wonderful parts worth it.
Publicist #2: I love the process of getting really intimate with a book –dissecting it, learning every twist and nook, and remembering why I started in this industry. And while this is a total joy, it actually makes publicists smarter—if you have a command of the material, you’ll be able to create more targeted pitches for an array of outlets.
What is the most annoying part of the job?
Publicist #1: Too many books, too few coverage opportunities. It’s awful when a book you love didn’t get the attention you hoped it would—no one likes to disappoint an author who has trusted us to share their book with the world. And it can be a little demoralizing, particularly when you know you’ve done all you can, and for whatever reason, things just didn’t come together… Fortunately, those times are balanced out by the success stories, and by our great, patient, and understanding authors.
Publicist #2: Sometimes it really bums me out that I have to work on so many projects at once. I love being able to give my authors everything but sometimes that’s just not possible. My typical work load is 8+ authors a season, so I quickly turn into a plate-spinning circus act…
What can authors do that would really help to get information about their books out into the world?
Publicist #1: Be your own biggest supporter! Connect with authors and readers on social media, contact any friends even tangentially related to media outlets, ask your college pals to share the news on their social—if you have any favors you’ve been waiting to ask for, now is the time! Keep an eye out on the news, and if you see a book review from someone who might be interested in your book, let us know. Or maybe you’ve found a great new Bookstagram you think we should try to book, or there are local outlets from your home town / state that we’re not aware of. We’re always open to suggestions, and love when an author is working alongside us to promote their book—we work best as a team! But really, I can’t recommend social media activity enough—it’s a great way to connect directly with your readers and with the authors you admire, and it’s hugely successful in generating word-of-mouth activity.
Publicist #2: Today authors really do need to be their biggest advocates. Whether that means using social media strategically, handing out postcards with the book cover to strangers, or asking every favor you have, it’s all imperative to giving your book the best chance it has.
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