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?
The other day I attended my company’s annual results meetings. Not surprisingly, the CEO spoke about the importance of increasing efficiency and about saving money. Now, efficiency is one of my very favorite topics in the whole world! I time my visits to the bathroom to coincide with trips to the mailboxes / printer / bookroom — heaven forbid I leave my chair for only one reason. Although I realize the rest of the world probably does not, in fact, plan their office jaunts with quite so much precision, it certainly is worthwhile in this economy to consider how we can work more effectively. (And passing on an onerous task to an assistant or an intern does not count as being more efficient.)
So how can a book publicist be more efficient?
— Be judicious about the size of your mailing lists. Although it’s true that I cast a wider net with my mailing list than with, say, my call list, I try not to go overboard with the number of books I mail out. Common sense will guide you here. If, for example, you’re trying to nail down some morning radio coverage for an author, you probably don’t need to send a book to every single morning show producer who might consider interviewing said author for all of five minutes. A lot of people can determine “yea” or “nay” based on a couple paragraphs in an email message. (Not to mention, a lot of people don’t like receiving unsolicited books).
— Make sure the addresses in your media database are up to date. UPS and Federal Express charge senders for returned packages. When publicists send out hundreds of books a day, a handful of incorrect addresses per mailing can really add up. Don’t depend on someone else to update a contact record — as a book publicist, it’s your job to keep tabs on the media.
— Learn your systems. Well. I’ve used Bacon’s Online for years now and while I consider it God’s gift to the public relations world, I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t the easiest system to use. I’ve heard about people taking hours to pull a list that could take a minute (using the proper search parameters) — think about how much less list pulling and how much more pitching you could be doing.
— Use the appropriate program for a task. Once upon a time, there was was a word processing program. And then God invented Excel. As book publicists, we maintain a lot of media records and a lot of lists. None of these records should ever, ever, ever be stored in Word, which cannot automatically organize the information. In other words, if you need to alphabetize a list in Word, you need to alphabetize it (rather than in Excel, in which you can click the Easy, I mean Alphabetize, button.) Think about it this way — you wouldn’t you read a manuscript written in Excel, so why would you compile a list of contacts in Word (or in an email)? Remind your authors about this the next time they submit names for complimentary and review copies.
— Use the appropriate mode of communication for a message. If you’re one of those people who hate the phone and never use it, or who hate email and never use it, suck it up and realize that what’s most important is getting your message across in a quick, simple manner. Sometimes this means making a phone call because it’s quicker to hash out details in a conversation rather than typing back and forth. Other times this means sending an email message because it’s easier to see written details rather than having to talk and take notes.
These tips speak more to saving time rather than money (and therein lies the problem), but still, at the end of the day, time is money. Feel free to chime in with your own time (and money) saving book publicity tips.