As a publicist at a large publishing house, my inclination has always been (and possibly will always be) that authors should more or less leave book promotion to the experts: book publicists (either in-house or those with book PR / PR firms). Publicists keep on top of the latest news, know how to craft pitches and press materials, work to establish — and maintain — contacts with the media, and have access to vast media databases. That having been said, I realize authors are playing a greater role in marketing and promoting their books — not to mention those authors who self publish — and there are, in fact, some sites / tools that specifically cater to those striking it out on their own (and which are pretty handy for book publicists too)!
Here are a few; feel free to add your own in the comments.
Booktour.com: As the name implies, the site lists author events around the country. It boasts several features I think helps set it apart from other event listing sites (and this is why I use the site religiously):
- Events listed on Booktour.com are automatically fed to many online calendars and also the Author Page on Amazon. In other words, when I spend time entering event information on Booktour.com, I know those details will not only be emailed to subscribers (a fairly typical feature for most such sites), but will also go to dozens of sites on the web.
- Booktour.com offers a widget that authors can grab for their websites. Instead of painstakingly updating the events section each time an additional event is booked or a time or venue is changed, an author simply needs to drop in a line of code on their website and if the publicist is using Booktour.com, the events will automatically update.
- Booktour.com also offers various other events and media services that authors might find helpful.
Maestro Market: You can think of Maestro Market as an online speakers bureau. However, unlike most speakers bureaus / lecture agencies which will only take on well-known clients, anyone can sign up to be a “Maestro.” They key is to properly tag yourself so that you can be found by people seeking speakers / experts. The site is currently in beta and should be relaunching later this year.
Square: a small device that plugs in to your iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch / Android phone that enables you to accept credit card payments. You open an account on their website and download the app, they mail you the device (for free) and you’re good to go. They take 2.75 percent of each transaction. I haven’t had an occasion to use this, but it seems like it would come in pretty handy for authors selling books at events (or for booksellers who don’t want to lug around a credit card machine).
Google Alerts: You can sign up for Google Alerts for free, even if you don’t have a Google / Gmail account (although, given the amount of free services Google provides from email to document sharing to e-commerce, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t have an account)! The alerts allow you to track any online mentions of a name, title, term, phrase, etc. Set up one for your name so you can see when / where you’re mentioned and, if applicable, set up one for any topics or phrases that pertain to your book so you’re aware of what the media is covering and where you might fit in.
HARO / Reporter Connection: Both sites allow you to sign up as a source, i.e., author (or as a journalist if you’re looking for a source). Once you’re in their databases, reporters looking for an expert in your field will be able to find you. As a book publicist, I find these sites useful because I get to see numerous reporter queries so I can suggest one of my authors if their field of expertise is a good fit.
Who’s tried these sites? What do you think? Any others you like?
My New Year’s Resolution last year was to get my oven fixed. Which didn’t get done. It’s been five years. So this year, rather than coming up with a resolution for myself — and being of the sometimes bossy persuasion — I thought I’d come up with some resolutions for … other people. (I can do that, right?) Here, categorized:
— Set up a Google Alert for your book (or all your books if you’re a book publicist). They’re not fool proof, but free, quick to set up and pretty darn effective more or less makes up for that. Make sure, though, that there is *one* person assigned to forward press mentions to editor / author / agent / publicity director — you don’t want to duplicate efforts and have everyone forwarding everyone else the same mentions.
— Set up an RSS reader like Bloglines, Google Reader, News Gator, or any number of others. For a publicist, an RSS reader is an invaluable tool for following numerous publications and websites (and broadcast outlets). For authors and anyone else, it’s a good way to stay on top of the news in general or to keep yourself briefed about a specific topic(s). For more information about RSS readers, check here.
— Make sure an author’s web presence is established early, as in, by the time galleys are sent to the media (typically four-six months before a book goes on sale). Depending on the author, “web presence” could mean any or all of the following: website, blog, social networking profile, discussion group, wiki, etc. Whatever it is, get it up there ASAP because while you’re dithering over fonts and flash, readers and journalists are out there Googling the book. In this day and age when basic sites can be created in a few minutes for free, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find accurate information about something. (I’m not advocating throwing together a shoddy site simply so you can lay claim to having one; I am saying think about this earlier rather than later.)
— Set an email signature. On your desktop account. On your PDA. On your replies and forwards. You may know someone, but what if they have to forward your message to someone else? Sending an email message without a signature is akin to calling someone and not identifying yourself. It’s unprofessional. Unless you’re emailing Grandma.
— Don’t be sloppy. Do not pepper your messages with emoticons. Do not write all in lower-case letters. Do not write all in upper-case letters. Don’t use cell-phone abbreviations when you have a full keyboard at your disposal. Punctuate properly. Don’t ramble.
— Use Reply All — when appropriate. We’ve been conditioned to not use Reply All (with good reason). But sometimes, when I email a producer / writer and copy an author (or vice versa) and the contact only responds to me, I’m left simply forwarding the message. Not only is that a waste of my time, but when time is of the essence, it could lead to a missed opportunity.
— Use a “Follow up” tag / tool / label / folder. A few years ago I was working with a very busy author who was pretty much impossible to track down by either phone or email. As a result, interview requests constantly went unanswered and I could barely keep track of who still needed a response. What I learned (in addition to figuring out how not to tear out my hair) was that segregating interview requests in a “Follow up” folder (or using the Follow Up tag in Outlook) made it that much easier to figure out who still needed an answer. Sometimes, when I know an author takes a long time to respond, I email them requests with a blind copy to myself so I can file the message in the “Follow up” folder. Of course, this means you have to follow up on the “Follow up” folder, but at least I can tell the difference between “To Do” and “Done.”
— Don’t waste time by asking stupid questions. What is a stupid question? The definition of a stupid question is very simple: it’s one you can pretty easily answer yourself. Kind of like, “Can you tell me who wrote this book?” If you are asked a stupid question, you can either 1) say you don’t answer stupid questions 2) answer the stupid question or 3) provide the link to the answer to the stupid question. I suggest option 3.
— Try not to ask someone else to do something when it’s quicker to do it yourself. There are exceptions, of course — extreme busy-ness, need to delegate, blah, blah, blah — but sometimes it really is more efficient to do something yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it. For example, if I want to know whether I can get an author to a city in time to do an event / interview, I could call or email the travel agent asking for possible flight times. Although my travel agent happens to be the World’s Best Travel Agent, it still is faster to hop on to Travelocity and sift through my options.
— Exercise. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Well, you didn’t think you could get away from that one, now, could you?
A number of readers have expressed surprise about how I manage to blog in addition to holding down a full-time book publicity job. So I thought it might be interesting to post about how I “cheat.” And now you can too!
— Set up an RSS reader: anyone in public relations / publicity needs to know what’s going on not just in the industry, but in the world. While it’s useful reading one’s daily hometown paper, there’s so much else out there, that you really miss a lot simply by reading just The New York Timesor just CNN.com (or just Gawker). So I use Bloglines to keep track of headlines from numerous newspapers, websites, radio stations and blogs — others use readers like Google Reader or NewsGator or the RSS button on their browser — and that allows me to skim thousands of headlines daily fairly quickly. Plus, I hate getting newsprint on my hands.
Check here for instructions about how to set up an RSS reader.
— Send email blasts: Not the best option all the time, but, let’s face it, inescapable, not to mention useful, every now and then.
— Learn your publicity database: Backwards and forwards. When you’ve quit complaining about it (I know, I do it too) take some time to really figure it out. Ask people for their tips and shortcuts. I’ve used several programs in my time — Media Map, Publicity Assistant, Bacon’s Online — and none were easy to pick up immediately, although, ultimately, they all proved immensely helpful. I’ve seen people spend hours using Bacon’s Online, for example, which is unfortunate, because the majority of searches take about a minute to execute (particularly when you’ve saved your search parameters). And I’ve seen publicists create media lists that already exist. Or painstakingly update records individually because they didn’t know about the “Update” function. Or use a program solely to look up names because they didn’t realize they could also be using it to pull media lists. It’s impossible to list every shortcut for every program, but use this rule of thumb: if you ever feel like something is taking a long time, like you’re really slogging through something, ask someone who’s been around for a while if there is a shortcut — sometimes there is an “easy button.”
— Use Microsoft Excel: Just because we work in creative industry and have a way with words doesn’t mean we don’t need to know our way around a database. In publicity, we often send out copies of books to reviewers. Often, we send out many books at a time. Some of these contacts come from our publicity databases; sometimes the names may come from an editor or author or agent. I always ask for names in Excel so that the information can quickly be imported into our publicity database and turned into labels; otherwise, I’m stuck retyping or copying and pasting all the information. FYI, contacts stored in Outlook can easily be exported to Excel. (Check the Help function if you don’t know how this works.) And fon’t forget that contact information stored in Excel can also be used to personalize letters using that handy dandy Mail Merge function.
— Lose the paper: Whenever possible, I work on the computer, not on a printout. Rather than printing out a schedule, writing notes on it, and then typing those notes into the schedule, I type them into the schedule from the get go. If I’m looking over someone’s media list, again, rather than scribbling notes on the list, I make the changes to the list in the database (and then I verbally walk through the changes with the person so they know what’s going on). And if I’m looking over press material and need to make edits, you know where this is going — yes, say, it with me, track changes. My goal is always to have the fewest number of people spending the least amount of time doing (redoing) the same work.
— Guess: I check the general publicity email addresses for my department and somehow, reviewers manage to find their way to our media page, ignore all the instructions / suggestions posted there, and email the wrong department (although, in their defense, a lot of publishing house websites are pretty hard to navigate). So I field a couple dozen requests daily meant for other departments. Since I don’t always have time / get really tired of looking up the book or author, and since I know the imprints at my publishing house very well and know what each is likely to publish, I often play guess the imprint. Usually I’m right. Sometimes, not. Oh well.
Yesterday on the LAT’s Jacket Copy blog, Carolyn Kellogg talked about Newpages.com, a site that provides “news, information and guides to independent bookstores, independent publishers, literary magazines, alternative periodicals, independent record labels, alternative newsweeklies and more.”
If you’re like me, you have a few airline miles in a lot of frequent flyer programs — most of the time, not enough to get a free flight or even an upgrade. Some FF programs — Delta definitely and maybe some others — allow you to redeem these miles for magazine subscriptions. For the sake of variety, I pick magazines my publicity department doesn’t get. Unless I fall in love with a magazine, I usually won’t renew my subscription after a year, but that still gives me plenty of time to familiarize myself with the publication (and at least I don’t lose my miles).
For those of you who have not yet set up RSS readers because you think it’s too complicated / don’t have time to set one up / have no idea what I’m talking about, check out ReadWriteWeb‘s “Ode to RSS.” This RSS 101 explains why you would want an RSS reader (it’s easier to follow blogs and podcasts), allows you to click through directly to Google Reader in the post so you can open up an account immediately (Bloglines and Newsgator are other RSS readers) and includes links to other RWW posts that explain how to get the most out of RSS.
ReadWriteWeb posts about how best to Digg stories. (Yes, there’s a technique that includes leaving out references to individual sites — we may all know what Gawker is, but does the rest of the world? — submitting to unusual categories and submitting often so your votes count more.)
For those of you who don’t follow the daily book section blogs (Boston Globe, DMN, Sun-Sentinel, LAT, NYT, WaPo, etc.), I encourage you to do so — you can find the links to these sites on my blogroll. Today, Paper Cuts, one of the NYT’s book blogs, featured “outtakes” from Dave Itzkoff’s Sunday Styles profile with Keith Gessen. Off the Shelf (the Globe’s book blog) and Texas Pages (the Dallas Morning News’ blog) always list local author events and the latter often runs excerpts of books that are reviewed in the print edition. Of course, with the LAT Book Fest this weekend, the folks over at Jacket Copy, the LAT book blog, were working overtime. Long story short, there’s a ton of original content on these blogs that you won’t want to miss. I haven’t had time to investigate all the papers that might also have book blogs, so if anyone would like to contribute other book section blogs for my edification, please, you know, feel free to let me know.
Guy Kawasaki of How to Change the World just passed on some information about one of his sites, Alltop, that aggregates news headlines — and links, of course — in a variety of subjects you would expect: news, politics, culture, entertainment, etc. and many that you might not: extreme sports, venture capital, Twitterati. One of Alltop’s sections covers books and it’s a great way to see a lot of the latest book headlines in about five seconds. (Needless to say, it takes a mite longer to actually read the articles.)
Alltop is a bit like an RSS reader that comes with all the feeds preloaded (and may be particularly useful for those of you who have not set up readers).