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?
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.