Friday, April 23, 2010

Three Things Your Publicist Wants you to Know (...but might not tell you)


Ro: Sarah Burningham from Little Bird Publicity has done a great job of helping me get the word out on Dead Head so I asked her if she had any words of wisdom for Jungle Red readers and she gets the ball rolling with three things your publicist wants you to know - but might not tell you.


SB: Hi, Ro, thanks for having me on Jungle Red. I've heard a lot about you gals! Of course, Ro is a dream client and already does all of these things, but you'd be surprised at hw many people don't - so here goes.
1. KINDNESS COUNTS. Just because your book is about a grumpy old curmudgeon of a journalist dealing with serial killers doesn't mean you have to act like one (the curmudgeon OR the serial killer). Be sure you're nice to everyone working on your book, from the publisher to your editor's assistant to the guy who answers the phone at the front desk. It matters.
2. And while we're on the topic of kindness, remember that kindness should BE AGE BLIND. Just because an editor/writer/blogger/producer seems young, doesn't mean he or she isn't qualifed to do the job at hand. I've seen some very young, bright assistants go from answering phones at a magazine to selecting feature coverage in barely any time.
I've also seen those same young, bright assistants scoffed at by authors who think that age is the only measure of intelligence. Never bite the hand that feeds you. Not only is it just plain rude, but that 22 year old assistant to the assistant editor might have the final say on whether or not your book gets reviewed sooner than you think.
3. Remember that YOUR PUBLICIST IS ON YOUR TEAM. The more you work as
partners, the better the campaign will be. I speak for all book publicists when I say, "We want your book to work!" We want to get you fabulous coverage that helps sell millions of copies, eventually making you enough money to buy an estate in the South of France where you can spend the rest of your life writing unhindered by the concerns of daily life. (And we want to be invited to said estate for vacations.) But even though chances of this are slim (at least to this degree) remember that your publicist really does have your best interest and success in mind. Working together will help you create creative pitches, make the actual work part of pitching more enjoyable, likely resulting in better coverage and getting you one step closer to literary bliss.
RO: Words of wisdom, indeed.
Little Bird founder Sarah Burningham has over 10 years of publishing experience. Most recently, she was Associate Director of Marketing for HarperStudio, and before that worked as the Associate Director of Publicity at William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers and REGAN, where she created and executed campaigns for Ralph Nader, Neal Boortz, the late William F. Buckley, Jr., Frank Warren’s bestselling PostSecret series, Clinton strategist Doug Schoen, Beth Lisick’s popular Helping Me Help Myself, and the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick.
She’s also worked in publicity at Workman Publishing, Miramax Books, and Gibbs Smith Publisher, with bestselling authors ranging from the Cake-Mix Doctor Anne Byrne to Steven Raichlen, million-copy selling author of The Barbecue Bible.
Sarah is also the author of How to Raise Your Parents: A Teen Girl’s Survival Guide and Boyology: A Teen Girl’s Crash Course in All Things Boy, and is the advice columnist behind dear sarah, an advice column with ABC Family. She lives in Queens with her husband and drives a red Vespa.
Sarah Burningham Little Bird917.546.6866 646.763.5434sarah@littlebirdpublicity.comhttp://www.littlebirdpublicity.com/Twitter: @SarahBurningham
RO: How cool is the red Vespa? Have any questions for Sarah? Ask away..she'll be checking in over the weekend.
HANK: Thanks so much for being here! Raising hand--I have a question! How does Amazon work? Who decides what reviews and info gets included? And if we have a concern--is that publicist thing? Or an agent thing? And oh, what do you think about big mailings? How critical is it to write a personal mesaage in each one? Does anyone read them? Are you pro-Facebook?What do you think is a big waste of money? Guess that was more than one question...and I love your company name!
RHYS: I have a question that may take a little time to answer. If one has a limited budget for publicity (say $5000 rather than $15000) how would you spend it? I know of many people who have hired a publicist when their book is going to get no push from the publisher. Is that worth it? Radio v. print ads v. online ads v. personal tour?
I have done all of the above and it's hard to say what worked better, but I have to think that an online ad, well placed, must outperform a morning talk radio chat.

24 comments:

Sheila Connolly said...

Hi, Sarah. Do you have any words of wisdom about how to find out what your publisher is actually doing for your book? I know in-house publicists are overwhelmed, but how do we know how to supplement their efforts when it's hard to get them to share information?

Love the "age blind" comment. Everyone seems so young these days (compared to me).

Rosemary Harris said...

Hi guys,
Sarah really does exist and will be here this weekend but she had some flight issues on her way out to LA today for the Book festival and should be checking in later or over the weekend as planned.

Sarah Burningham said...

Hi Sheila,
Great question. Nearly every author I talk to wants to know what's going on in-house and if you haven't ever worked at a publisher before, you might not know the inside baseball stuff.

I would suggest you work out a schedule with your publicist. Get a sense of when galleys will be going out, what materials are going with them and when follow-up will be done. The next crucial step is preparing for finished books. You'll want to find out when books will land at the publisher to see when they can be sent out, and work with your publicist to make sure the materials are all ready.

Even the publicists are overwhelmed (and trust me, they are), they care about books or they wouldn't be working at a publisher. Just get on the same page early and unless you need something, don't email or call every five minutes. (Your publicist spends an unbelievable amount of time in meetings.) Understand that your publicist is handling authors other than you (even though the best publicist's won't bring that up often) and respect his/her time. Again, nothing goes farther than a "thank you." I can't tell you how many authors (NEVER RO!) don't ever say those words and they mean a lot when you're working long hours for publishing pay.

That said, if you have a good idea or make a contact, share it! Your publicist is counting on you to explore leads and relationships in the same way he/she is. You should definitely be able to talk to each other.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

Sarah Burningham said...

Ok - this answer is for Hank, whose question is: HANK: Thanks so much for being here! Raising hand--I have a question! How does Amazon work? Who decides what reviews and info gets included? And if we have a concern--is that publicist thing? Or an agent thing? And oh, what do you think about big mailings? How critical is it to write a personal mesaage in each one? Does anyone read them? Are you pro-Facebook?What do you think is a big waste of money? Guess that was more than one question...and I love your company name!

SARAH: Ok, lots of questions here, Hank. Let's take them one at a time.
Amazon: They pick the reviews from places like PW and Library Journal and most of them get automatically put up. Customer reviews are all posted unless they are spoilers or are negative about an author's character. You really can't get bad reviews (of plot or something like that) taken down. But rest assured that everyone gets bad reviews. Everyone.

Problems: Depends on the problem, frankly. I would say, unless it's something that you would take to a lawyer, try and be a grown-up and work it out. Most people (including publicists) are reasonable and you should be able to work a business complication out like an adult. I've seen authors go crazy about small things (again, none of this is about Ro - I am lucky in that I get to pick my authors!) and call bosses and editors and agents and raise a fuss. Remember that your publicist is probably friends with your editor, and your agent probably wants to sell another book to that editor. Do your best to work together, knowing that you and your editor/publicist, will probably never agree on everything, but your end goal is the same - to sell some books.

Personal Notes: I'm a big fan. In a day when people send mass emails and direct message on twitter, nothing says "It's important to me that you read my book" like a handwritten note.

Big Mailings: How big is big? There are some places you need to send galleys to, but a lot of media outlets have made it possible to pitch first, send books later. Be smart about how many you send out but I always send out some. The quantity depends on the book and the topic.

Facebook: I could write a novella on this one. Look at authors you respect and want to emulate. Are they doing it? How is it working? Be true to yourself but don't be scared to try something new, whether it's facebook or twitter or tumblr or nasa. (Just kidding on the nasa bit.)

Big Waste of Money?: Huge, expensive websites. You can create something really cool that's also affordable. There are so many options out there today. Unless you're a blog pro, you will probably need a little help (which means $) but not a fortune. Check out wordpress and six apart/typepad for good, affordable, and completely customizable options.

Thanks for the great questions and thank you for the compliment on the company name! Hope this helps.
- Sarah

Sarah Burningham said...

This answer's for Rhys (love the name, by the way!).

RHYS ASKED: I have a question that may take a little time to answer. If one has a limited budget for publicity (say $5000 rather than $15000) how would you spend it? I know of many people who have hired a publicist when their book is going to get no push from the publisher. Is that worth it? Radio v. print ads v. online ads v. personal tour?
I have done all of the above and it's hard to say what worked better, but I have to think that an online ad, well placed, must outperform a morning talk radio chat.

SARAH'S ANSWER: Rhys, this is a hard question because every book is different, which means every campaign and every potential media hook is different. I always compare publishing to a shoe company. You make 6 shoes a year and if one doesn't work, you send the remainder to TJ Maxx (not dissing TJ Maxx, I'm a big fan) and make another color of shoe the next year. In publishing, you're creating hundreds of different shoes each year and you aren't exactly sure who's going to wear the shoes since you there's no easy way to do market research.

So, back to your shoe. $5-$15 K is actually a decent size budget. You can do a lot with that amount if you're smart with your money.

First, talk to your publisher. Find out what they are going to do so you know where you need to fill in the gaps.

Second, look at some comp titles. What has worked for other books in your genre/category? Online advertising works for some books but definitely not all books. Does it really make sense to advertise your novel with all of your budget? No. But maybe there are a few sites that you believe in (this is where you have to do some research) and you want to spend a small piece of your budget there.

Obviously, I believe that publicity is more valuable than advertising or I would be in advertising. I think in publicity you have the ability to get your message out to more people, but it takes more work. You have to be creative and follow-up. (Follow-up is the key to publicity hits. It's all about the follow-up.)

But before you hire a publicist and send a check, get on the phone or do an in-person meeting. Be honest about what you want and ask the publicist to be honest with you. Talk about realistic goals, add in a few reaches (every campaign should have a few long shots), and strategize how to best spend the money you have in a way that works for you and is a good use of the publicist's time (especially if you have a limited campaign due to budget constraints).

Does that help? Hope so! My biggest piece of advice is to work with a publicist you can really communicate with. A good author/publicist relationship (or any relationship, I guess) is about communication. And you definitely want a good relationship with your publicist if you want good publicity!
- Sarah

Rosemary Harris said...

Communication really is key. And being focused and realistic. I had some specific goals for my DEAD HEAD campaign - e.g., I wanted more CT exposure than I'd gotten in the past since that's my home state. Little Bird was able to zero in on that for me. I decided I wanted to try a targeted Facebook ad this time. Is it selling books - who knows, but it is driving people to my website. After that it's up to me to sell them!

Roberta Isleib said...

Thanks so much Sarah for sharing all your tips with us at Jungle Red! I can tell that Ro is in good hands with your company. Roberta

Sarah Burningham said...

Just a quick thanks to everyone who asked questions and read the post. And a major thanks to Rosemary for giving me the chance to work with her. One last piece of advice for all the writers out there that's been inspired by Rosemary...

I've watched Ro as she's tirelessly supported other mystery writers - telling people about their books, blogging about them, and buying them! Rosemary is all about supporting her community and if every author could follow her lead, we would all be selling a lot more books!

Thanks again and happy writing!
Sarah

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