The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

How Excel can make book publicity easier

In the field of book promotion, we don’t often use Excel,  and the truth is that you only need mention “pivot table” or “concatenate” to make my head swim. But even though we don’t need to make use of Excel’s advanced functions, book publicists and authors can use it for one basic purpose: to efficiently maintain lists of names. In fact, storing data in Word is akin to, say, writing a book in Excel.

As handy as Excel can be for our lists of names, it needs to be used correctly so that the information can be easily mail merged and / or imported into various publicity databases and mailing systems. Here are a few Excel issues / questions that I’ve seen arise:

Leading zeros: Excel’s default format causes “leading” zeros to be dropped. For example, if you were to enter “06520” into a cell, it would appear as “6520.” Some users attempt to rectify the situation by replacing the number “0” with the capital letter “O.” This looks correct, but it means the information can’t be imported into a mailing system (or a database connected to a mailing system), because the system does not recognize letters in the zip code field (at least not if you’re in the US).

–> Instead, highlight your column, then click “Format” from the top menu bar, then “Cell,” then select “Text” in the box on the left on the “Number” tab. This will allow you to “keep” all leading zeros.

Address fields: All databases use separate fields for each element of an address, so in order to be able to import the address into any publicity database (to generate address labels) or even to mail merge address labels, you need to separate out the address into its components.

–> All databases are slightly different, but it usually works to create separate fields called Address1 (street number and name), Address2 (Floor / Suite / Apartment number), City, State and Zip. Click here for a template. (One caveat: if you are an author or literary agent working with a publicist who has asked you to submit names, show them the template before you use it; they may ask you to make some small changes to the fields.)

Sorting: If you need to sort your contacts, i.e., some contacts should receive galleys while others should receive books, or some contacts receive personal notes while others do not, do not highlight or use a different color text for those records.

–> It may seem to make sense to highlight certain names — the way one would in a book or on a piece of paper — but in Excel, there’s no function that allows you to sort by color. (Excel alphabetizes, i.e., sorts, by column.) So instead, create a new column, called, say “Personal Notes” and mark off a “P” (or an “X”) next to those contacts who should receive personal notes. Then, when you highlight that column and hit the “ABC” button on the shortcuts menu bar, all your contacts who should receive notes will be in one place.

What are some of your Excel bugaboos / quick fixes?

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March 4, 2011 Posted by | Miscellaneous | , | 14 Comments

How book publicity is like the World Cup

Under duress, I watched the World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain yesterday.  Okay — so it wasn’t really “duress,” but everyone kept posting about the match on Facebook, and Versus wasn’t re-airing Stage 8 of the Tour de France until 5 p.m., and I was feeling lazy after running 12 miles in the heat, so I figured I might as well subject myself to the drone of thousands of vuvuzelas (yes — there’s an app for that) to see what the fuss was all about.

Of course, all the shots missed / were blocked for just about forever, until Spain finally scored in overtime and broke the stalemate to prevail.  Which is sort of how book promotion works.

A book publicist tries to “score” with a lot of media, but it can take a while, and “goals” can be few and far between.  Think soccer rather than, say, basketball.  And as with soccer (or basketball, for that matter), a failure to score does not necessarily indicate a failure to shoot — it simply means that sometimes, conditions just aren’t right for a goal.

The bottom line is that no book or author is ever a lock for any show, newspaper or website.  Nor is there a such thing as “only,” as in “only” online, or “only” a local show — these venues can be as tough to book as any other.

Which isn’t to say that eventually you don’t prevail — and knowledgeable, creative publicists can garner solid coverage of their books and authors — but you just may need a little overtime.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Miscellaneous | | 10 Comments

BEA

I must admit — I am egg-hausted (as is the rest of the book publishing industry).  Tuesday, I attended the opening CEO panel about “The Value of the Book” at Book Expo America (and very nearly fell off my seat when Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s President and Publisher Jonathan Galassi scoffed at the thought of consumers spending time reading enhanced ebooks) and also the 7x20x21 panel about the future of publishing.  Wednesday, I helped hold down the fort at the booth and met lots of folks including Michelle from Galleysmith, Trish from Hey Lady!  Watcha Readin’?, Nicole from Linus’s Blanket, and Stephanie from Stephanie’s Written Word.  I’m really looking forward to catching up with lots more book bloggers this Friday at Book Blogger Convention.

Ironically, for a conference at which change was the buzz word — changes in traditional book publishing, changes in the media, changes in reader habits — BEA was held in the Neanderthal version of a convention hall otherwise known as the Javits Center.  As many tweeps know, I have been complaining bitterly on Twitter about the lack of extra power outlets there.  Has anyone ever heard of a convention center that did not have extra power outlets?  Even in the Internet Cafe?!  So of course my laptop started dying, then my MiFi card (I think I saw somewhere that the Javits Center was charging $45 / day for WiFi access), then my cell phone.  (In all fairness, the lack of 2.0 amenities is not BEA’s fault — the Javits Center has a monopoly on, well, space in Manhattan, so they pretty much call all the shots.)

Thursday I’ll be on the floor pretty much all day, which means I most definitely deserve a reward from Cupcake Cafe.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | Miscellaneous | | 3 Comments

The Future of Book Publishing from South by Southwest

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of people with Macbooks and iPhones migrate to Austin for the annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival.  Following up to last year’s trailblazing but ill-fated New Think for Old Publishers panel, this year’s A Brave New Future for Book Publishing brought together a stellar line up — and some of my favorite publishing bloggers — including Booksquare‘s @booksquare, HarperStudio‘s @debbiestier, The New Sleekness‘ @pablod, Vook‘s @vooktv and Booktour.com‘s @weegee.  Among other issues, they discussed the iPad (of course), ebook pricing issues and the importance of an author’s online platform (or “tribe”).

You can follow the original Twitter stream of the panel at #futurebook (although there were so many tweets flying back and forth, it left my head spinning).  For a more concise wrap up of the panel, I recommend Peter Miller’s post for the Los Angeles Times‘ book blog, Jacket Copy and GalleyCat‘s  compilation of some of the best tweets.

Since the future of publishing is a particular interest of mine (if you have a chance, check out some of the Future of Publishing Blogs on my blogroll) and since I must admit I enjoy naval gazing as much as the next New York City media type, I thought I would weigh in on one issue that always looms large: what is the role of the publishing house in a world in which self publishing platforms are ubiquitous and the Internet has turned the traditional retail model on its head?

I work for a large publishing house (“legacy publishing” as some call it), so don’t let it take you by surprise when I say that I believe we, i.e., publishing houses, do indeed play a vital role in today’s cultural marketplace.  Publishing isn’t perfect — even most in the industry aren’t shy about admitting that — but not acknowledging our role in bringing books to readers even in this 2.0 world is naive and short-sighted at best.  Here are a couple reasons why:

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The Filter: It was interesting — and not a little amusing — to see people in the #futurebook Tweet stream clamoring for “slush pile software” that will trawl through writers’ submissions and pick out the best ones.  (Coincidentally — or maybe not — I received a press release yesterday about WeBOOK , a site that matches up writers and literary agents.)  There are a lot of would-be writers, some of whose writing could use, shall we say, a little work.  Until that slush-pile software is developed, it’s publishing houses (and literary agents) doing the filtering.

The Distributor: If you self publish a book and no one reads it, are you an author?  Publishing houses also help turn words on a page into a book in someone’s hands through advertising, marketing (bookstore events, media coverage, etc.) and sales (distribution to and placement in stores).  Granted, we’re not the only “book funneler” — the Internet being another — but we still get lots of books to lots of readers.

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You get my point.  I think we’re important.  On the other hand, if we don’t acknowledge that readers today are looking for ebooks and vooks (video books) and POD (Print on Demand) and not, say, Gutenberg bibles, then we’re being naive and short-sighted.  The truth is that most publishing houses do indeed recognize the need to change and adapt.  The crucial question, though, that has yet to be answered, is that in this changing marketplace, how exactly is the role of a publishing house changing and how can that role(s) best be executed?  For the answer to that, you’ll have to, um, check back next year.

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Miscellaneous | | 12 Comments

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.

Some exceptions:

  • 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.

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Questions?  Comments?  Do share.

January 14, 2010 Posted by | Author-Publicist Relationship, Miscellaneous | 19 Comments

Just say no

Holiday spirit notwithstanding, I’m going to go for the curmudgeonly and say that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to say “no” more.  This post was partly inspired by a reader who suggested the topic a while back, so I’m clearly not the only one with the problem.  The average person (which includes me and I’m assuming most other people) wants to helpful and courteous and that means it’s hard for us to say no.  But the reality is that we can’t do everything for everyone and it’s better to be realistic — and up front — rather than string along people with endless platitudes.  So here are some suggestions (and, as always, feel free to add your own in the Comments section).

Authors: if you’re approached by a journalist for an interview and know that you probably won’t / can’t / don’t want to do the interview, do *not* say, “Sure, I’d be happy to do the interview — you can schedule it with my publicist,” and then leave the book publicist to sort out this mess.  (Yes — it is a mess.  When an author has agreed to do an interview, the  journalist assumes the publicist is stonewalling when the interview is not scheduled.)  Instead, a polite way for you to respond to an interview query if you’re an author is to ask for more information, but remain noncommittal with, “Thanks for your interest.  I’ll have to check my schedule, but I or my publicist will get back to you.”  We’re fine with  being the ones to say “no.”  But we’d prefer not to have to do it after you’ve lied — albeit with good intentions — and expressly said yes.

Publicists: We’ve all heard the saying “all publicity is good publicity.”  Somehow, this doesn’t always quite work out.  In theory, the best way for a book publicist to turn down an interview request for an author (whether because s/he is incredibly busy, fussy or otherwise unavailable)  is to be as honest as possible as quickly  as possible (but I realize situations sometimes require a little, shall we say, finesse).

Certainly, an exception to the “all publicity is good publicity” rule is when it comes to doling out review copies — they may be free for the recipient, but the publishing house has to foot the bill.  So before sending out books far and wide, we do need to consider whether the cost of the book (and shipping) is worth the potential exposure and let’s face it: sometimes it’s not (whether because the book has been out for months — or years — because the site has virtually no traffic or because reviews are written like my second-grade book reports).

First off, it’s important for both journalists and publicists to understand that publishing houses are never required to provide review copies of books.  We do so because we think the potential exposure (“potential” because a reviewer should always have the right to not cover a book they’ve received) could help our books and authors — and ultimately, readers.  In other words, we don’t need to provide books for free … if we’re willing to forgo the potential publicity.  The reality is that this is a decision that needs to be made.

It helps if the publishing house’s website says something along the lines of “Review copies of books are provided at our discretion” or something like that, but I’ll say much the same thing if I need to turn down a review copy request.  If the person is requesting an older title (“old” for us being more than a few months since that’s when books tend to disappear from bookstore shelves), I’ll say review copies are no longer available.  With people who constantly ask for a slew of titles they clearly won’t have time to review, I simply don’t respond.  A publishing house is not a gift shop — yes, we’re wise to that game.

Media: When book publicists hear back from the media (which, admittedly, is not quite as frequently as we would like), we often are told that the outlet is passing because the schedule is full at this time or because it’s not appropriate for the publication / show.  If you’re a journalist, it’s in your best interest to be as honest as possible.  For example, if you say, “We’re booked Tuesday,” when you really mean “There’s no way in all heck my host would ever cover that book,” you may get a publicist responding with, “What Monday or Wednesday?”  It really is helpful for us to hear why you’re passing on a book / author and all good publicists will file away that information for future reference.

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How do you say no?  (Or don’t when you need to?)

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Miscellaneous, review copies | 8 Comments

Things to be thankful for

As it became clear this Thanksgiving weekend exactly how un-thankful some are, I thought I would focus instead on some (book publicity-related) things for which I am thankful.

Informative blogs.  I wish I had more time to keep up with media and publishing blogs (many of which are listed on my blogroll).

Mobile apps.  Applications like Facebook, Open Beak and Tweetdeck that run on mobile phones / PDAs are incredibly useful for keeping in touch with friends and colleagues and for staying abreast of the news.

File sharing.  I’m a sucker for all things Google, but you have to admit, these crazy kids have a good thing going.  Google Calendar allows author and publicist to share a book tour itinerary.  Google Docs can also be used for sharing itineraries (or press material).  Google Wave, a mash-up of sorts between Google Groups, Google Docs and plain vanilla email, is the hot new app these days, although it’s being beta tested now so you can only use it if you have an invite.  (And if you have been invited, please realize that it is, in fact, your patriotic duty to accept and help test the product.)

Syndication.  We’re all busy,  so one of my favorite book publicity tools is Booktour.com.  I enter author events on this site and they’re automatically picked up by numerous online calendars and websites.  Events also appear on the writer’s Author Page on Amazon.

My colleagues.  I went to my 15th-year high school reunion this weekend and was asked — probably about 15 times — if I like what I do.  And the answer is that after 10 years at my publishing house, I can honestly say that I enjoy and am fulfilled by what  I do and appreciate and respect (most) of the people with whom I work, both colleagues as well as authors.

All the lemons.  But let’s not go overboard with the love fest, here, because nothing’s perfect and it never will be.  The best I can hope for is that I’ll learn from my (and other people’s) mistakes, that I’ll gain valuable experience from any situation no matter how frustrating or infuriating and that I will think of silver linings / making lemonade instead of hiring a hit man.  (Oh, wait — did I say that out loud?)

Frozen yogurt.  Well, life’s not *all* about book publicity.

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As an author / book publicist, what are you thankful for?

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | 10 Comments

How to save time in book publicity

I’ve posted a lot about what drives me crazy (what can I say — I can be a complainer) but I thought it would also be useful to post about a couple life savers from these past few crazy weeks.

Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar Function

When interview requests for authors are flying fast and furious, it can get really tricky figuring out when an author is available and, once an interview has been confirmed, getting him / her the correct booking information.  Sometimes, this all must be done in a few hours, so anything that saves time and trouble — sending information directly to a calendar program, for example — can be more efficient than trading information in an email message or in Word, which subsequently must often be entered into a calendar program).

(Downside: I haven’t found a way to share an Outlook calendar I’ve created with colleagues — although I do know how to share my own Outlook calendar.  Anyone know how to do this?  Do tell.)

Google Docs

If you can’t / don’t want to use a calendar program and need to record the information in Word, Google Docs allows more than one publicist to access (and change) the document at one time.  This means you’re not left frantically trading email messages: “Let me know when you’re out of the schedule ASAP so I can change something!” 

(Downside: it’s harder to format text in Google Docs than in Word and it’s also a bit slower.)

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I know we’re all busy in the fall.  What saves you time?

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | , , | 11 Comments

Why I still hate voicemail

On Friday, we received a message saying that due to a system crash, we would not be able to retrieve or leave voicemail messages for an hour.  Those of you who know me can guess I shed no tears.

Don’t get me wrong, now  — *phones* have their uses.  Sometimes it’s easier to discuss something over the phone rather than over email.  Sometimes it’s nicer to hear someone’s voice.  Sometimes you’ve tried email several times with no response.  All excellent reasons to pick up the phone (and as a book publicist who must pitch books and authors to the media, you have to be comfortable calling people you don’t know).

But I do have a bone to pick with voicemail.  For one thing, it takes between 7 and 13 steps to check voicemail (more if you have listen the message more than once).  Yes.  I’ve counted.  That doesn’t include the time it takes to scribble down a message that can’t be filed.  Basically, it’s easy for the caller to leave the message but hard for the recipient to check it … which sounds just a bit selfish, no?

I figure there are a handful of situations in which it is appropriate / necessary to leave  a voicemail message:

1) An emergency

2) When you’ve sent a couple emails with no response

3) When you know the person you’re calling and they don’t need to painstakingly transcribe your contact information from the message.  (I would still probably send a quick email with a “Call me when you get back” subject line, but I realize everyone operates differently.)

Do you agree (or not)?  In what other situations would you leave a voicemail?

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous, Papyrus Files | | 17 Comments

Embargoed books, or why book publicists have white hairs

About a week ago, The New York Times ran a piece about Edward Kennedy’s memoir True Compass (followed a day later by book review doyenne Michiko Kakutani’s assessment of the tome).   As a reader, you probably looked through the stories and went on your merry way.  As a book publicist, you gasped as you read that the book is not yet in stores and won’t be until September 14 and said a quiet thank you that you weren’t the one working on the book (unless you are working on the book in which case you probably slammed shut your door and emitted a primal scream).

Sometimes, when publishers determine that a book contains earth shattering information, they will “embargo” it, i.e., not send out any galleys or advance copies to the media or anyone else save for a handful of select journalists who must sign non-disclosure agreements (that say they won’t run a story before a specified date) and promise to hand over their first-born children.  (Actually, I think just the NDA might suffice, but don’t quote me on that.)  Embargoes typically apply to nonfiction titles — novels not generally being known for their revelatory content — but with some hotly anticipated fiction books (for example, Dan Brown’s latest, The Lost Symbol, due September 15) publishing houses do attempt to keep the books under lock and key.  (Of course, it’s difficult to keep hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of books under lock and key when they need to be shipped to thousands of bookstores across the country in advance of a book’s publication date.)

The Washington Post reports that the book embargo may have begun with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1976 book The Final Days.  Several years ago, Slate ran a piece about why books are embargoed.  In a world in which media outlets are all fighting to survive (and publishing houses are jockeying for shrinking book coverage), it’s not unexpected that access to a hot commodity would be limited.  Enter the embargoed book.

For book publicists working on embargoed titles, planning publicity campaigns and scheduling interviews becomes an intricate dance in which one false — if unintended — step can torpedo the relationships we work for years to build.  Usually, our job is to book as many interviews / features / reviews as possible.  (All publicity is good publicity, right?  Well, give or take.)  But with embargoed books, since we can only schedule a handful of interviews, we can’t accommodate most of the requests we receive.  Possible outcomes include any / all of the following: yelling, crying, prayer, prescription medication.  You think I’m joking.  And this is before someone, somewhere, buys an early copy of the latest Harry Potter which, somehow, makes its way into the hands of a reporter, who writes a front-page story that jeopardizes the deals with the publications and shows that were promised first looks at the book.

Given the nearly impossible logistics of maintaining an embargo — particularly in an age when the Internet has given new meaning to the term “spreading like wildfire” — many publishers have abandoned the practice.  At the same time, embargoes undoubtedly have their benefits for the show or publication that can bring a hot-off-the-presses story to their audience before anyone else (and for the publishing house that can build on the buzz an embargo tends to generate).  Rock and a hard place.

So what to do?  For those working with books that are embargoed, to journalists I ask for patience and understanding, to authors I counsel communicating closely with the publishing house and doing what they ask, to publicists I suggest L’Oreal and Prozac.  Any one have any better ideas?

September 9, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | | 18 Comments