Why authors shouldn’t contact journalists directly
Given that this is, after all, The Book Publicity Blog, every so often an author will write in asking for contact information for a show. It may surprise you (if you’re an author — not so much if you’re a book publicist) that it’s really not a good idea for authors to be in touch directly with reporters and producers.
As an author, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Book publicity isn’t exactly, say, rocket science. In fact, you would be correct about this. However, we do learn who to contact, how to go about it, when to do it. We think and consider and strategize. We research and meet and talk with journalists. So while I’ve covered a lot of book publicity issues in this blog like how to utilize social networks or what an author website should contain, I’ve never posted about how to publicize a book because one post (or even a series of posts) will never cover that.
So book publicity is not rocket science, but there still are reasons to leave publicity to the publicists:
- As publicists, we spend careers developing relationships with journalists. We meet with them, talk to them, alert them to interesting upcoming books. Our contact with many journalists doesn’t consist of one message pitching one book one time. It’s an ongoing process.
- We follow up with any combination of mail, email and phone, depending on the contact. We want to make sure journalists are aware of a book, but we don’t want to overwhelm them. (At least we really try not to.)
- We’re familiar with the lead times of various television and radio shows as well as with those of newspapers and magazines which vary from the next few minutes to six months and more.
- We can distinguish the book editor from the economy correspondent from the news assignment manager. There’s very rarely only one right contact at a show or newspaper or magazine (or even some blogs). We can find reporters who cover cruise ships. Or Salem Radio Network affiliates in the top 20 markets. Journalists based in Eastern Europe. Newspapers for the Armenian community. And a lot more.
- We’re accustomed to hearing “no.” We’re also accustomed to not hearing anything at all most of the time. The reality is that there are hundreds of publicists pitching hundreds of thousands of books to hundreds of newspapers and magazines and radio shows (and only dozens of national ones). You don’t need to be a numbers genius to see that means there are a heck of a lot more of us than them.
- If you’re an author and know the journalist (and by “know” I mean you were at dinner at their house last night, not you handed them a business card at a conference), by all means: chat up your buddy (and call in a favor while you’re at it).
- Many bloggers don’t mind being contacted by authors, particularly if said authors regularly follow and comment on their blog. Also, there’s no centralized blogger database (in part because blogs change so frequently) so anyone — like an author — who’s willing to do the leg work of digging up appropriate blogs is welcome to.
Lest you think I’m simply raining on the publicity parade, here are some suggestions for what authors should do:
- Communicate with your publicist. Your publicist should contact you starting four-six month’s before a book’s publication. Make sure to ask questions so you understand the publicity process and timeline. Ask what you can do to help. (And of course, you can also read this blog for general tips.)
- Trust your publicist. It may be hard to believe that the publicist has so few responses from the media. But you can see the numbers above. Journalists can either do their jobs or their can spend their days answering our queries about books we’ve sent and authors we’re offering for interviews. They can’t do a lot of both, which, unfortunately for us publicists, means that we don’t hear back from journalists nearly as much as we’d like to.
- Keep your contacts in a database. Assuming you use anything that doesn’t involve a pen and paper (like Outlook or Gmail), you probably already do. In advance of a book’s publication, publicists will ask authors for their media contacts (if any). Rather than sending along the contact information in an email or a Word document, export the information into Excel so it can be quickly imported into publicity databases or mail merged into labels. (Think of it like this: entering data like names and addresses in Word makes about as much sense as submitting a manuscript in Excel.) If your publicist doesn’t provide you with a template, you can use one like this. (And to make sure you don’t inadvertently drop leading zeros from zip codes, make sure to select the column, then select “Format” from the top menu bar, then “Cells.” In the “Number” tab, make sure “Text” is selected.
And lastly, if you really feel that you need to supplement the publishing house’s publicity efforts, rather than diving in on your own, consider hiring a freelance book publicist.
Questions? Comments? Do share.
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Fall 2012: I’ve really enjoyed writing about book publicity and meeting (0nline and in person) writers, publicists, editors, agents and others in the publishing industry, but I’ve — reluctantly — come to the conclusion that I just don’t have the time to maintain this blog.
I imagine there is some information that will remain the same and that will remain useful, but there is much more that is or will become out of date, so please keep that in mind if you find yourself perusing my posts.
For some time now, I’ve closely followed a lot of very informative sites about media and about the publishing industry. Since I find myself quite voluble at times about issues that pertain to my job in the publicity department at a large publishing house, I thought I’d set up a book publicity blog. The purpose of this blog is provide tips, primarily, but also information about publishing / marketing trends that will help book publicists — and hopefully others in media and publishing — do our jobs with greater ease and efficiency. Please note that the opinions expressed on this blog are my own, not those of my company.
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