The realities of dealing with the media, and what every author should consider before marketing their book
It’s incredibly common for authors to forget about marketing their book, or at least to leave it till the eleventh hour. It’s the part of the process that feels a bit detached and - for some - a terrifyingly revealing undertaking, especially after the long, drawn out months of relative solitude spent writing it, then editing it, creating the cover and, finally, getting the thing published. Before you know, it your book’s out there and people can actually buy it. But the process of marketing isn’t as simple as it seems and there are a number of factors that you’d be wise to bear in mind, and to understand, before you even begin the process. There’s plenty you can do in terms of liaising with bloggers and online reviews, especially through sites like Goodreads. But if you’re actually thinking of trying to engage with journalists, securing promotional coverage through print, broadcast and online media, that’s an entirely different endeavour.
1. There are between 20,000 and 30,000 new books being published between the US and UK each week, which means that competition is incredibly high; only around 1% of them will achieve any kind of media coverage. Just having published a book isn’t - in its own right - newsworthy to anyone. The media are naturally far more interested, rightly or wrongly, in household names, so unless you’re a celebrity, you need to be brutally honest with yourself about the strengths and weaknesses of your book and the ‘story’ you’re offering to the media; ideally you need to have something totally new, absolutely compelling, special or unusual or that demonstrates that you have a unique perspective, in order to grab their attention. If your personal story is an interesting one, journalists will usually be more interested in that than in your book. It’s a fact that human interest stories sell. So if you bring yourself into the marketing plan, taking full advantage of any personal experiences that may catch the eye of a features editor, you’ll often find that the press will be far more inclined to consider you above the white noise of other PR approaches that start and finish with ‘I’ve just published a fantasy novel.’ Securing covering through creative features that focus on you and why you are interesting, in order to promote the book, not only gets you in the media but often has a far greater impact where potential readers are concerned, since they can engage with you, the author, on a much more personal level.
2. Images are incredibly important to the media, and are only becoming more so thanks to social media and newspapers migrating their content - and indeed now focusing their editorial efforts - online. Some online newspapers will ask for up to twenty images, depending upon the story, especially if it’s something that’s very visual in nature; whilst this is unusual it demonstrates our consumer appetite for photos. If you don’t want to provide a picture of yourself, or to be visibly identified as the author behind your book, you’re likely to come unstuck. Journalists will not want to have to work hard in order to feature you or your book, so if you start denying them photographs or quotes or if you launch into a long, but to them, an irrelevant story about why you don’t want your work colleagues to see a photo of you in the paper, the likelihood is they’ll drop you in an instant. Make a journalist’s life as easy as possible and they’ll fight that little bit harder on your behalf. The journalists we work with regularly all give us the same, huge compliment; you make featuring your author’s a pleasure. So if a journalist requests images, send them whatever they need, whenever they need it.
3. Anonymity. This follows on from the issue of images above. Hiding behind your book, or indeed by employing an ill-conceived pen name, can really work against an author. If the pen name is just a device, a guise under which you write whilst happily revealing your personality and identity - like Nick Spalding for instance - that’s one thing. If it’s designed to disguise you and to shield you from criticism, then it can be a problem. Authors sometimes think that a pen name adds mystery to their writing, but it doesn’t really, not as far as anyone else is concerned. Unless there’s destined to be a big reveal, a la Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling, it’s largely irrelevant. It can also mean you can’t provide an image of yourself (because that would reveal your true identity obviously) which as per the above point, journalists dislike, and it could therefore risk loosing valuable coverage. If you’re writing a book, and marketing it, you’re opening it up to a world of differing opinions and a risk you take is that you may get some bad reviews. This is your book, you should stand by it and believe in it. If you adopt a pen name, make sure you’re consistent in this approach. Don’t put a pen name on your book and market yourself as this name, but then agree to an exclusive interview with your favourite magazine and give them your real name and a photograph without mentioning the pen name. And if you intend to offer yourself up for broadcast interviews it’s probably best to chose a pen name that’s appropriate for your gender, isn’t it?! Going to be awkward otherwise.
4. Your book is your baby right? So you must must must support every part of the marketing process. If a journalist asks you to blog for their site you will have to put in the time to produce that blog. If you want to get your voice heard, to lend yourself authority in your market and to ultimately get the coverage, you have to get behind the marketing process 100%. Be prepared to spend your time on it. Do not assume that journalists or bloggers will do all the work, read the book from cover to cover and churn out all the copy themselves. They have limited time and will usually take the path of least resistance; if they ask you for 1000 words of copy, give it to them as efficiently and quickly as possible, then you’ll be able to capitalise on any inch of space available, whereas less amenable authors may lose out.
5. Review copies play a huge part in PR and marketing. As a self published author, it’s a cost you must accept and assume - you get charged for review copies indirectly if you’re a traditionally published author anyway - and you have to give the media something to work with if you’re to expect to get anything back in return. Many journalists like to receive review copies in ebook format; others will only accept paperbacks. Sometimes an advanced pdf will suffice. If you can negotiate some sort of deal with your publisher then great, but you’re most likely to have to fund the cost of supplying your book to the media, and that includes postage. Under no circumstances will journalists expect to have to pay for a review copy or to send it back. Why should they? You’re essentially trying to get them to promote your book for free, you cannot expect to have it all your own way. Generosity with time, content and review copies is crucial.
6. If you’re making a particular claim in your book - whether it’s a new treatment for depression, advice on how to bring up children, or even a guide to improving peoples’ finances - you need evidence to back it up. It’s won’t ever be enough for a journalist for you to tell them that your book is going to change the world, but then give them no testimonials, no case studies and no active content. The onus of proof is on you, the author, and you must present a clear and compelling argument if you’re to secure coverage for your book; that may include getting lots of other people who've benefited from the advice your book contains to vouch for you.
Taking on the media can be an uphill struggle, but if you plan, prepare and are honest and realistic about the process and the industry’s likely requirements, you’ll stand yourself in much better stead than those who underestimate or misunderstand it.
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