PR Help for Writers Like You
You, Your Book, and PR: The Perfect Trio*
Public Relations (PR): promotion of a favorable image; the practice or profession of establishing, maintaining, or improving a favorable relationship between an institution or person and the public. –Encarta dictionary
Two letters, P and R, can make a big difference for you and your books. Don’t be scared—it’s not that hard to do and doesn’t take a big budget. I spent over 12 years as a Marketing and PR professional in the high-tech industry, then 10 years consulting, and can tell you that regardless of whether you’re pitching widgets or the next great American novel, the general “PR” formula remains the same.
Below I’ve culled an abundance of PR tips, tricks, help, and general ramblings from what I’ve garnered along the way. You’re welcome 🙂 There will be a test at noon tomorrow.
PR can stand for Public Relations (letting the general public know about you and your book) or Press Relations (letting the media know about it so they can inform the general public). Either way it’s usually viewed as a less monetary-based form of marketing, a way to get your image out there. Mostly it focuses on getting people talking about you or your work in the form of articles written and placed in the paper and in magazines, online, on the radio and TV. Did Justin Beiber get married last weekend? Who cares, as long as it gets people talking about him. His PR team may have been the one that started the rumor! Word of mouth, buzz, spin, hype… all words that describe PR.
Marketing, on the other hand, has more direct ties to paid-for promotions, such as online banner ads or direct mail. Some people use the PR and Marketing designations interchangeably. Since marketing can have more of a pricey, and sometimes snake-oil-salesman connotation, I tend to mostly use the term PR.
The second PR approach is depth – building a personal relationship with a news director or influential blogger or website manager so they learn to trust you (and be more likely to return your call next time). Know when the TV station or paper is going to do their annual Firehouse story so you can suggest they come to a local school where kids will be reading your nonfiction book about why fire burns (get the school’s OK first!). The media loves a chance to get a shot of kids reading or having fun learning, but it has to be a “new” reason. An “evergreen” topic, one not based on a season, event, or specific news item, can be pitched year ’round. Let your media contacts know you are available as a resource for the long haul, not just the one-time interview.
Look: bloggers, book reviewers and reporters are people with their own personal preferences. When the stars align, the book is placed in the hands of the right person at the right time that has the right preferences for what you wrote. It’s almost as if quality has nothing to do with it. Almost.
Here’s an example. When I was meeting with a segment producer for CNN, she showed me a rubber ducky children’s book she HATED. I thought it was adorable (but said so oh-so quietly). Why did she hate it? She had seen “14 just like them” and wasn’t willing to give it the time of day. I don’t even think she read it. It wasn’t the fault of the author, the illustrator, or the PR manager. It was right place, wrong time.
So the key to breaking thru the noise may be timing (had that book been at the top of her pile last week, would she have sung a different tune? If someone in the office with different taste read it first, would it have made it to the reporter’s desk?). Or, maybe, positioning was at play (could the cover letter or press kit been more effective in getting her attention?). Or, quite frankly, a little bit of luck. I won’t only say “keep up the good writing and eventually you’ll get picked up nationally,” because odds are, you won’t. There are simply too many books and too few chances to get written about. Stay creative, though. You never know what might catch someone’s attention. Someone’s gotta win the lottery.
But you need to be smart about entering the lottery. What worked yesterday morning might not work today. Heck, it might not have even worked yesterday afternoon. The best way to break through the noise is to do your homework. Get creative. Be prepared. Make sure your website, press kit, and social media accounts are tip top and represent the best you you’ve got – current, relevant and error free. Don’t send a book about talking bunnies to a nonfiction reviewer. Don’t ask about holding a book signing at a store that doesn’t carry your book. The better you understand your market, the better you know how to speak to them in their own language. Know the person you’re talking to; know their preferences, know their track record, know their deadlines. Or make sure your publicist does.
Have I said HOMEWORK enough? DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Yes, I know that a sentence written in all caps is like shouting. I AM SHOUTING. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. It’s your book, darn it, look out for it. Take a class, ask a friend, network like crazy at every SCBWI event you can drag yourself to. Don’t be a pest. Just do your homework. The more prepared you are, the luckier you may become.
Think you might need some help getting some good PR generated? Consider hiring a professional PR rep or book publicist. A good PR person has learned to figure out what it takes to get each reporter, blogger, editor, or news director to HEAR what you have to say. The training is obvious when a publicist understands that Child magazine is written for a different person than Redbook, and that press materials need to be reworded accordingly. She or he can rattle off the names of every news director in town, tell you when they eat for lunch, and whether they prefer email or phone calls. She knows which reviewer covers what genre, the last book they reviewed, and the process it takes to get on their radar. She knows not only what blogs will work for you but will suggest ones you’ve never even heard of… That takes skill, persistence and experience, if it’s done well.
Let’s look at an analogy. When you chose your family doctor, you did your homework. You wanted a truly qualified professional. On your first meeting, you sized ‘em up and down (maybe not in an obvious way), wondering “Will this person do what it takes to keep me well?”
Expertise surely was a main factor in your final decision. But when it came right down to it, you picked the one you liked the most. Even if they didn’t have the best interpersonal skills, or their years of experience could have been beefier, there was something that made you confident a long-standing relationship will be fruitful. Choosing a publicist, book promoter, or PR person is very similar.
Do your homework. A lot of it. Get a client list and talk to at least two. But never assume a list of successful writers means that publicist was the reason behind it. Similarly, don’t assume a list of “nobodies” means the publicist stinks. Some publicists won’t give out names, so ask for samples of press materials they have personally written or overseen (not something someone in their office did – what they did). Ask for dated press clippings of past media hits or post hits of clients they have booked. Ask them for a realistic expectation on the results they’ll plan to secure for you, in what timeframe.
Think about how they respond to you; are they hushing you to take a phone call or are they cancelling their lunch appointment get to know you better? Are they steamrolling the conversation or are they asking questions? You’ll be working closely with them, and you’ll be the one footing the bill, so be honest in your assessment. If it’s not a good match, keep looking.
A true PR pro should be able to offer other services beyond booking you on the 6 o’clock news. Your PR person should set you up with the address and phone number to the station, with detailed directions and time estimates. They should give you make-up tips. Soundbytes. Realistic expectations. Creative ideas like booking you for the town your in-laws live in so you can pop in on vacation. She or he (your PR person, not your in-laws) should be able to prepare you for the interview, and predict how the interviewer will interact with you. They should take the time to practice your answers with you, in soundbytes, to the list of suggested interview questions they’ve already prepared and placed in your press kit — why you or your book is unique, etc. They should continually make sure your website and press kits are current and error free. (Click here for details on press kits, author websites, and interview tips.)
Can your publicist find out if the reporter has kids, and if so, what age? (Side note: leaving a signed copy of your book made out to their child’s name can go a long way!) Can they help you think of ways to get back on the air so you’re appearing once a quarter or twice a year? Be sure you or they mention those ideas to the media contact before you leave the set/station/office.
But remember, not everything is media worthy, no matter how good your book is, or how creative you might get. A PR professional doesn’t guarantee perfection. They can help give you your best shot but that doesn’t make them miracle workers.
I no longer do this level of PR work, but am happy to give you some referrals if you need ‘em. Your editor/publisher likely has a list of qualified PR people so ask them too.
Congratulations on your first TV, radio, or print interview! You are going to do great! If you prepare, that is. But relax. The goal of the interviewer is not to trip you up. In all honesty, they want a good interview so they look good. They are on your side.
The only exception to them wanting you to shine is if you wrote a highly controversial book. In that case, you’ll know in advance what the reception has been – but always find out in before the interview if the reporter agrees or disagrees with your premise. Why is your story controversial? What do others think? You should already be able to predict what angle they’ll take. But be prepared to speak on both sides of the fence. You need to stand your ground, yet anticipate and factually address (not argue!) what angle they may be coming from.
Before the interview:
· Do some research. Find out who watches the show so you can spin your messages in a way they’ll want to listen. For example, morning shows tend to be watched by business professionals getting ready for work, or parents busy getting their kids ready for school. Mid-morning news shows are typically watched by women at home. What do you need to say or do to get them to stop and listen? What shows came on before this one, and what follows? What’s advertised during commercials? That’ll tell you a lot about your audience.
· Think in soundbytes — a short sentence or phrase that conveys your main message. What exactly do you want people to remember (other than “buy my book”)? Refine and rehearse your soundbytes so if the audience remembers only one thing, it’s your slyly-repeated phrase.
- If it’s your local media, make your main point about the book and add any local or personal angle. “Kids love bunnies” is okay but “Bunnies in Maintown never had it so good” is better. “Everyone can relate to this” is okay, but “You never forget your first heartbreak” is better.
- If you’re visiting an out-of-town station or paper, you are being interviewed because you are in town for a reading or signing. That’s the news. Use that hook to talk about your book. Emphasize where you’ll be, perhaps, as in: “I’ll be signing books tomorrow night at Kid’s Books, downtown.” When the interviewer is ready to end the interview, say again “Thanks, Bob, see you tomorrow at Kid’s Books.” The audience will remember your book is sold there, even if they don’t make it to the signing.
· Ask in advance if the station can do a visual/graphic for you (sometimes called a “ky-ron”) that will go on screen during the interview, with the specifics of your book or your event. Email them the facts a few days ahead, with a graphic of the book cover and/or your headshot, and they should be able to create a slide to show before, during, or after the interview. See if they’ll add it to their website, too. These are great “bumpers” for the station to show right before you are on air (those “Coming up next…” teasers). Newspapers might run a jpeg a day or two prior to your interview appearing.
· Get some rest the night before. One of my interviews on CNN took place at about 6 AM. I had to get there by 5 AM for makeup, and I had been up tossing and turning since 3 AM concerned I’d oversleep (with travel, I didn’t get to bed until after 1 AM). I was so tired, I swear I slurred my words! Not a way to make a great impression.
· Pick out your clothes and make sure they fit. No loud or busy patterns like houndstooth or horizontal stripes (cameras hate that). All white is boring. Find which solid color works best for you. You might think how you’re dressed won’t matter on radio, but it will. It’s proven that people who get dressed up tend to feel and act (and therefore sound!) more “professional.” If you bought something new, do a dry run ahead of time so you know for sure you can move your arms, that it’s not too tight or low cut, etc.
· Practice your hair and makeup well beforehand. Yes, even men need to be concerned! Odds are you’re on your own since most stations don’t provide anything but a cramped bathroom mirror. Makeup should be a touch darker and a touch heavier than you normally wear. If you don’t normally wear any, borrow some from a friend that can help you out, and practice putting it on a few days before the show. Always pat some neutral powder on last. Men too! Foreheads and balding heads get shiny under the heat of the lights and the pressure of nerves.
· Of course you’ll be bringing your book. Do you have any other visuals that go along with your book or theme, something that viewers would only see or know about by watching this interview? What about early illustrations that didn’t make it the book? A prop or stuffed toy that was your muse? Life-size cutout of your main character? Posters they’ll see in store displays? Try to have it directly related to your book title or topic. If someone walked by their TV as you were being introduced, what would make them stop and watch your interview?
· Ask in advance if you can bring a signed copy of your book to give to the host and/or interviewer on air (if they have kids, address it to them by name). Never do anything unexpected without asking beforehand. The producer might prefer you to give it to the host off air instead, but no matter where or when you give it, it’s a nice, memorable touch. (Is that the sound of butt kissing I hear?)
· Take the Q&A from your press kit and practice being interviewed in front of a mirror. Hire a PR professional for expert advice specific to your situation if you need it, or search for more on-air tips online. For advice on hiring a PR person, click here.
At the Interview:
· Arrive 15 minutes earlier than they said to be there
· Walk in the building (not just the sound room) ready to go. Hair already done, makeup finished, clothes clean.
· Speaking of makeup and hair: you may not want to hear this, but looks count. You don’t have to be a hottie in order to be successful, but a good impression certainly helps. Make a true effort on your appearance; it’s easy for an audience to switch channels if the person on air looks, well, creepy.
· Be yourself. Yes you need to prepare, yes you want to put your best foot forward. But don’t try to be someone else – it’s too much work. Be yourself and enjoy the ride. No one else can talk about your book better than you, regardless of whether you are the illustrator or author.
· Smile. Even on radio.
· Notes are OK to have with you, but don’t read word for word. Use them for reference.
· DON’T FORGET YOUR BOOK!
· Lastly, look in the mirror before you go on air. You don’t want your memory of the event to be “What was up with her hair?” Trust me on this one; I’ve barely started talking to my husband again after he asked that very question after my first international TV interview. What worse: he was right. I spent so much time waiting on makeup that they ran out of time for my hair. And boy did it show.
After the Interview:
· Send a handwritten thank you note to the interviewer, and to the editor or station director or segment producer or anyone you worked with beforehand. Including a business card might be a good idea too; you never know which station or paper they’ll end up next.
. If you forgot to bring a book, or found out afterward one of your media contacts has kids in the age range of you book, send that with the thank-you note. If you can’t financially afford to take the chance they won’t read or appreciate the book, mention in the note that you’ll send them a copy if they are interested (and leave them your email address).
Well a website does the same thing. And it’s available 24/7, to anyone in the world. Makes you want to make sure your site is rock solid, doesn’t it? It might also make you want to throw up in your mouth a little if you’re not a techno-whiz.
Well don’t despair. I’ve given a slew of workshops to authors, talking them down and convincing them it’s not that hard. The trick is to hire the right people, or use provided templates from places like www.WebsiteInABox.com or MidPhase.com.
First I’m gonna tell you what NOT to do. You don’t want to make it an egotistical homage to yourself. Who wants to read that? Think about things you’ve seen at other sites that soured your opinion of the site owner.
– No bragging! Facts/statistics are okay, but keep them quantifiable, specific, and relevant to your writing, your illustration, or your personality. I’d love to hear that your book was the fastest selling middle-grade novel of 2005 on Amazon.com. I don’t want to hear that everyone you know says “it’s a really good read.”
– No laundry list of accomplishments. If you’re lucky enough to have a boatload of them, pick the more relevant ones. A writing contest you won in second grade is only pertinent if you’re 7.
– No ten-page display of “look how cute my puppy is.” One or two shots are fun, so we get a feel for who you are, but the site isn’t about your puppy. It’s about your writing or your illustrations. Stay focused.
– Limit personal information. Don’t give me your home address, where your in-laws went to college, or your home phone number. Keep it professional. If you wouldn’t give the information to a stranger you met at a café, don’t give it online. [This is twofold. One, I simply don’t need to know all your personal details. And two, no sense giving out info a cyberthief might grab.]
– Don’t complicate the site unnecessarily. The trend is cleaner, simpler sites without annoyingly-loud graphics in the background. Let the writing, or the artwork, stand on its own. Don’t make it compete with a blinking light bulb.
– Watch the size of your site. Not all your viewers will have hyper-speed access. Some will be looking at it on their phone. Limit the size of photos or files. Agents and editors have told me they are fine with artwork scanned in at lower resolution; they want to get a feel for your work and won’t judge it by dpi.
You want your site to be a fair representation of your own personality. Show your best artwork if you’re an illustrator, the kind you really like and the kind you’re good at. If your writing is humorous, have some fun with the site. Whimsy is great, if you’re a whimsical person. But if you’re typically a downer, be honest with yourself and make an effort to spice your site up a bit so it doesn’t turn people off. We want to like you, make it easy on us! Sarcasm doesn’t tend to translate well on paper, so keep that to a minimum (or maybe add “just kidding!”).
– Your name (or your pen name if different), what you do, and books titles. Don’t assume because they found your site they know who you are. If you make your URL your name, it’ll be really easy to remember (mine is http://www.bitsykemper.com/). If your pen name is already taken, or it’s tough to spell, pick something like “NancyWrites.com.”
– Your (and your agent’s, if you have one) email and/or how to best get a hold of you.
– Photos. Consider a headshot. Even if it’s from your phone, let me see who you are, what you look like. Even the clothes you wear in the photo are telling. MAKE SURE IT’S THE LOOK YOU WANT TO CONVEY. Take a look at http://matthewgollub.com/press or http://www.lindaboyden.com/programs.php and you’ll see what I mean. What about school visits? Book signings? Conferences? Show me where you’ve been and why/how that makes you a better writer. Just make sure that anyone else recognizable in the photo has given you permission to post the photo. No sense getting yourself in trouble.
– Graphics/images of your book cover – ideally with a link on where/how to buy your book(s). Write up a synopsis of your works so I have a reason to click the link. See http://www.ellenhopkins.com/Fiction.html.
– Unique information I can’t get anywhere else. Entice me to learn more about your book, more about you the author, more about the topic in general. Maybe you can tell me why you wrote it or what your inspiration was. Maybe you give nonfiction links to learn more about the subject, or give teacher guides so I can more easily use your book in my class. Check out http://www.lindajoysingleton.com/teacher%20guide1.htm.
– A reason to return or reason to share your URL with others. Consider a monthly contest, or a newsletter, or links that are updated weekly. This kind of thing will surely set your site above the others and make you stand out. Word of mouth works wonders. http://www.verlakay.com/is a bevy of information with ongoing chats and agent/editor interviews; she always gives you a reason to come back. Her bulletin boards became so popular that they now officially reside on the SCBWI website.
– A schedule of your events. This shows me not just where you are but that you are an active writer. I like knowing you weren’t a one-hit wonder, and that your site isn’t a “ghost site” that someone created and last updated in 1997.
It doesn’t have to cost much either. Ask a neighbor or college kid to design one for you (everyone has at least one geek in the family!). Offer to swap the design work for a week of homemade dinners. Teens would like the experience and you’ll like getting it cheap. You can buy your URL from GoDaddy.com for about $2/year. Or use templates like the ones from a one-stop-shopping we-build-for-you site and you can literally be up and running in 30 minutes, start to finish. Register your domain name with search engines so people can find you easily (most services are free).
The bottom line is: you need a website. Established author or just beginning, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need it to be fancy to be effective. Keep it clean, keep it simple, keep it relevant and informative, and people will walk away happy. So will you!
- Website Review: $125 for up to four pages, $225 for up to eight pages
- Looking for new ideas, a different take on what you already have, a sanity check on what’s there right now? I’ll review every page in detail, including nitty gritty copy editing (finding typos, fixing grammar, and getting format consistent).
- I’ll also review overall content and format—not the html design but what the text says, how it’s organized as a whole, what’s missing or overdone, etc.
- If you’d need content rewritten there is an additional charge of $25 to $100, depending on how much work is needed. Even if you’re a writer, it’s sometimes helpful to get a second opinion.
- Check above to see what else to consider when creating or reworking your author or illustrator website.
- Press Kit Content Review and/or Creation $175 and up:
- Press kit content creation: Seeing a list of necessary materials is a lot easier than creating them, especially if you don’t have a PR or marketing background. If you’d like me to custom design press kit materials for you, just say the word. For your benefit, I’ll package the three most popular and important press kit materials for you under one umbrella for one low price: news release, bio and Q&A. Look above to see what else to consider in your press kit. But honestly? You’re a writer! You should be able to do this yourself.
- Book summary: You’ll want to create a one-page or even one-paragraph description of your book or work; it’ll be easiest for you to write that one. Or adapt the jacket copy your publihser created. I’m happy to review it for no extra charge, to be sure the voice of all materials match.
- Press Kit review: Think your press kit could use a shot in the arm but aren’t sure how or where? I’ll take a look at what you have and give suggestions on how to pump it up. I’ll also suggest ways to create your own online press room so you’re not spending too much on printing costs. If you ask real nice, I’ll even take half an hour and do this review for free 🙂
*Abridged versions of some these ideally-helpful promotion tips have been published in Writing Children’s Books For Dummies (Wiley, 2005), SCBWI newsletters (ACORN, Zephyr, KiteTales), Children’s Book Insider, and lots of other places. Please do not reprint or copy any of this without written permission from me or them. You know I’m gonna say yes, I just need to know where, when, and how you’re using it. C’mon, gimme some credit here.