The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

10 New Year’s Resolutions

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:

Publicity

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.)

Email

— 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.

General

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?

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January 5, 2009 Posted by | Email, Media Monitoring, Miscellaneous, Online Marketing, RSS | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Morning Brief — Wednesday, October 8

On Monday, I posted about what RSS is.  Well, whaddaya know — now everyone’s jumped on that bandwagon.  Yesterday, marketing expert Seth Godin and social media guru Chris Brogan posted about various RSS reader options and how to make the most of your reader.  Brogan also mentions Alltop, Guy Kawasaki’s news aggregator.

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Even the venerable Gray Lady is facing cuts: Editor & Publisher reports that the Metro section has been folded into the A section of The New York Times and Sports has been folded into the D section several days a week.

October 8, 2008 Posted by | Miscellaneous, RSS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

An explanation of RSS / feeds / online newsletters

Note: This post has been slightly modified / corrected from the original thanks to a few careful and knowledgeable readers.

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I often get email requests asking to subscribe to my “feed” and the other day someone asked about distributing a podcast via RSS.  This represents a somewhat discombobulated understanding of RSS and feeds, so I thought I’d try to explain these terms / concepts.  (I should note that I really don’t know all that much about RSS — just enough to maintain my blog — but on the upside, “just enough” is probably good enough for many.)

What is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (and something else I can’t remember, but that doesn’t much matter).  Think of it as electronic subscription service — instead of getting your newspaper delivered to your front door, RSS allows you to get your newspaper stories delivered to your RSS reader.

What is an RSS reader?
A reader is a website that allows you to read the stories (or posts) for websites and blogs to which you choose to subscribe.  Readers include Bloglines, Google Reader, NewsGator and others.

What is a feed?
A feed allows an online publication or blog to distribute their stories to readers via RSS.

How does this all differ from an online newsletter?
An online newsletter is simply a message that is emailed to a distribution list.  There is no feed involved.  (In the case of The Book Publicity Blog, I maintain an email distribution list for people who prefer not to check the blog online / in an RSS reader — after I post online, I simply copy and paste the information into an email message and send it out.)  So when you ask if you can subscribe to The Book Publicity Blog, you’re asking if you can subscribe to the email newsletter, not to the blog’s feed (since you woud subscribe to the feed yourself).  Apparently, I could also have Feedburner send out my blog posts via email automatically … although that would mean I wouldn’t have time to correct posts after publishing them!

Why set up an RSS reader?
A reader is an efficient way to consolidate all your websites and blogs.  You can quickly scroll through all headlines and click through only to those stories in which you are interested — instead of visiting many websites a day, you can simply look in your reader and view the content on all of them.

Exactly how efficient is a reader?  I subscribe to almost 300 websites and blogs and I whip through all these headlines every day or every couple days when I’m busy.  Before I had an RSS reader, well, let’s just say I sure wasn’t following almost 300 websites daily.  Sarah Palin obviously doesn’t have an RSS reader.  (Granted, following all these sites is far more important for a publicist making their living working with the media than for someone who following the news for fun.)

Here, the blog Men With Pens weighs in on why they like their readers.

How do I set up an RSS reader?
Click here for instructions about how to set up a reader and here for some publishing websites you may want to put in your reader.

Why is it important for a blog to have a feed?
You know the story of the tree that falls in the woods?  (If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a noise?)  A blog without a feed is like the tree falling with no one around — it doesn’t make a “noise.”  Unless someone is so beholden to you that they will check your website every single day, you can assume that they won’t check your site.  In other words, there’s no way to build a regular audience for your blog without a feed (since most of us have a limited number of blood relatives and best friends).

I initially thought feeds had to be established by the site / blogger using a tool like Feedburner, but as you can see from the Comments, feeds are usually built in to standard blogging platforms like Blogger, Typepad, WordPress.  (I have occasionally encountered blogs without feeds, though, so if you are blogging, it’s worthwhile testing out your feed.)

If you do use Feedburner, there are other cool things you can do (again, see Comments).

I think that covers the basics …

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, RSS | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How I cheat

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.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, Media Monitoring, Miscellaneous, Press Material, RSS | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Morning Brief — Wednesday, July 16

I was debating whether to eat a banana before an early spin class today, and it occurred to me that I have a very patriotic food allergy.  I am mildly allergic to virtually all fruits (including bananas — hence the debate) except those grown here: apples, oranges, grapes, berries, watermelon, peaches.  Interesting, that.

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Jon Greer from the PR blog Catching Flack posts some links about how to pitch bloggers.  The bottom line is you need to be familiar with the blogs you’re pitching.  And unless you only are ever pitching one blog, you pretty much need to set up an RSS reader through which you can follow multiple blogs.  Click here if you need tips about how to set up an RSS reader.

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Guy Kawasaki from How to Change the World comments about the difference between pitching old and new media.

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, Pitching Tips, RSS | , | 2 Comments

How to set up an RSS reader in two minutes — Part II

On Friday I posted some instructions on how to set up an RSS reader.  Here are some book review and literary blogs you can add to your reader to start off.  These are only a handful of important media/publishing blogs out there, but you can add these first and then add one or two (or more) sites a day to your reader.

 

To find more blogs, check each site’s blogroll (the list of web sites usually on the right side of a blog).  My blogroll, which is on the bottom right side of this page, includes all the media, publishing and some miscellaneous blogs that I regularly follow.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Media Monitoring, RSS | | 3 Comments

How to set up an RSS reader in two minutes — Part I

I think I just read probably the 375th post about SXSW — that’s the South by Southwest festival in Austin — pretty much all of which mentioned blogging, social networking, gadgets, laptops, feeds, you name it.  This was a music festival.  (I wonder what they’ll be discussing at a technology convention like TED — time machines??)

Avant Guild weighed in on SXSW in yesterday’s newsletter: “You owe it to yourself to start learning about and using outlets like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else that allows you to spread the word and create conversation about the great work you’re doing.”

As a publicist, before you even consider following blogs, know that without an RSS reader you will not be able to do so.  An RSS reader allows you to read newsfeeds, all in one place, from blogs and other websites (print, radio, TV) — it’s like going to the library to read all of your magazines, except this library is online.  (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.)

Setting up an RSS reader really doesn’t take much time, but I know there are a lot of you who want to do it but haven’t yet gotten around to it, so just follow the links in my posts (second and final part to come on Monday) and you’ll be set up in a couple minutes.

There are three main ways to set up an RSS reader:

1. Bloglines: Click here to register.

2. Google Reader: Click here for more information.  (You can use your existing Google / GMail account to log in.)

3. Your browser: You’ll notice that many websites have an orange button with squiggly white lines.  If you click on the button, that site’s feed is automatically sent to the RSS reader built into your web browser.  It’s simpler because you needn’t add individual URLs to a reader, but it’s less flexible because you can only access your feeds on the one computer.  (With Bloglines and Google, you can log in from any computer — or cell phone with web access.)

I personally have Bloglines, but only because I was copying someone else.  I know people who prefer Bloglines, others who prefer Google, and still others who find that the simplicity of adding sites to their browser’s reader far outweighs the lack of portability.  Do whatever works best for you — it’s important that you set up and use a reader.  How you get there doesn’t much matter.

On Monday I’ll list some websites you can start adding to your reader.

March 21, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, Media Monitoring, RSS | , , | 1 Comment