Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Publicity Tips from Susan Schwartzman

HALLIE: Independent publicist Susan Schwartzman's has helped authors go after the kind of publicity that turns a book into a best seller.

As someone who has tried just about everything, I asked her: What works?

SUSAN: I was at a book party at Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop after ThrillerFest last year when an author asked New York Times bestselling author Lee Child what publicity works the best. He replied, “Everything works.”

And he’s right. Everything you do to promote your book gets the word out there, whether you are creating a buzz by blogging about your book, doing a media tour or radio interview, signing books at your local bookstore, getting profile coverage in your hometown newspaper or alumni newsletter, or getting your readers to blog about your book by sponsoring a contest as Kyra Davis did for her novel, LUST, LOATHING AND A LITTLE LIP GLOSS (Mira).

Very few authors get on Oprah or the national morning shows, but there is a lot you can do to generate a buzz and build momentum. Word-of-mouth spreads quickly in the book world and has created bestsellers whose authors never saw the light of a national TV studio camera.

HALLIE: So give us your tips. Please!

  • TIP #1: Be proactive:
    Design a website, create an online presence through Facebook and other social media, let your friends know about your book, and if you hire a publicist, give her every contact you have. It is especially important to target market your book as Craig Reed did. Craig is a former U.S. Navy diver and author of RED NOVEMBER: Inside the Secret U.S. Soviet-Submarine War (William Morrow). Craig set up booksigning events at Navy bases throughout the country, and I complemented his efforts with a media campaign in those cities.
  • Tip #2: If you have an interesting back-story, use it:
    If you are a novelist with an interesting back-story, you are more likely to get great media coverage than if you simply plug your book. Kyra Davis was in the midst of a messy divorce and bankruptcy when she wrote SEX, MURDER AND A DOUBLE LATTE, the first book in her Sophie Katz mystery series which led to a three-book deal. Reporters and producers loved her inspirational success story.

  • Tip # 3: Consider media tours, especially if you are a first time author
    Media tours are a great way to get on local TV, which means thousands of people will hear about your book. And you are more apt to get print coverage as well. Steven Raichlen, author of the bestselling THE BARBECUE! BIBLE (Workman) and many other grilling books, does 20-city media tours for all of his books, even after getting on Oprah, The View, The Today Show, Good Morning America and The Early Show and is currently on the road traveling cross country promoting his latest book, PLANET BARBECUE (Workman).
  • Tip #4: Radio phoner campaigns are a cost-effective way to maximize media coverage.
If you have a limited budget, a radio phoner campaign will reach thousands, if not millions, of readers across the country and you don’t have to leave your home or office. Many people listen to their favorite radio programs or channel-surf on their way to and from work and throughout the day.
  • Tip #5: Don’t wait until the last minute to hire a book publicist
    Unfortunately, many authors query me after their book comes out which reduces their chances of getting reviews on websites and magazines which have a three-month lead time. Media tours generally take six weeks to book. You want to maximize media coverage when your book is just published, not six months after pub date, when bookstores may have already returned your book to the publisher and it’s no longer current. Have your publicist in place not less than 3 months before pub date.
  • Tip #6: Blog, blog, blog
    At the New England Crime Bake, a mystery book conference where I spoke, an author said, “I wasn’t born to blog.” But the reality is, even if you have a long-established fan base as this author does, you have to establish an online presence in today’s world. Many readers are getting their content exclusively on the web, and blogging is an easy way to build a fan base.
Remember, the more media outlets you hit, the more readers you will reach. The person on the way to work who is reading the newspaper on the train is not the same person who is listening to the radio while driving to work. There are stay-at-home moms and dads who are watching their favorite morning show, those who are listening to the radio during their lunch break, or a former classmate who is reading his or her alumni newsletter and notices that you have published a book, and e-mails your alumni.

So in the words of Lee Child, “Everything works.”

HALLIE: Everything? It makes me exhausted just thinking about it. I guess my own experience is a variant of that "You never know what's going to work...so do everything."

Thanks, Susan, for stopping by! Susan will be checking in to answer questions and comments all day today...


  1. Welcome Susan, I remember you from an event with New England Sisters in Crime a couple of years ago. And Crime Bake too.

    Hallie, I guess I'd rather hear "everything works" than "nothing works".:) I've had eight books out and yet to hire a publicist. I think what holds me back is the cost and the underlying feeling that I could really do the same thing myself.

    Maybe you could let us know what you are able to do that an author couldn't do for herself?

  2. Hi Susan! And welcome..

    Roberta, that's a great question!

    And Susan, how about--stuff? Bookmarks and postcards and other loot. Is that useful and valuable?

  3. Hi Roberta and Hank,

    As I mentioned in Tip #4, radio phoner campaigns are a cost-effective way to generate a buzz as they are the least expensive option of publicity campaigns.

    When handling a radio phoner campaign, I often pitch hundreds of stations throughout the country to book 10 interviews. It can take weeks. Most authors don't have the contacts, the time, or the experience to know how to write a pitch that will hook producers. I've received pitches from authors that are simply too long to send out to the media. I usually have to re-write them myself.

    Authors don't realize just how labor intensive publicity really is. And even with 18+ years of experience, I am always developing new media contacts. Changes in the media happen more frequently than ever before.

    When I book a media tour, I know every show and producer in more than a dozen cities in the country. Sure, you can subscribe to Bacons Media Guides, but if you are going to spend thousands of dollars on the guides, your money is better spent hiring a publicist. (A good publicist only refers to reference guides such as Bacon's on occasion.)

    It generally takes an average of three months to handle a comprehensive campaign, often working 8 to 8. Handling your own publicity is like handling your own lawsuit. Sure, some people are successful, but it takes research, time and skill if you handle your own campaign.

    I do recommend saturating your hometown media and that is something you can do yourself, especially if you have contacts. If you are a local author, local TV, radio and print may be more receptive to an author who pitches herself than national media is, but I still recommend hiring a publicist even for your hometown media.

    Other things you can do for yourself: Set up as many booksignings and as you can in your hometown. Twitter, twitter, twitter, use Facebook, maintain a website, and blog.

    If the subject of your novel is something you researched and can speak about, try setting up speaking events throughout the country in other venues such as The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the 92nd Street Y in NY,speak at synagogues and churches, many of which have bookclubs.

    And think out-of-the-box as Kyra Davis did when she turned her readers into publicists by sponsoring a contest (read her guest blog on www.confessionsofabookpublicist.blogspot.com)

    Bookmarks and postcards are great marketing tools, but they won't get you review coverage or a spot on a national TV show or a radio show, for that matter.

    I once promoted a novel where the plot centered around weddings. The protagonist was a baker of upscale wedding cakes, and I sent cake samples from the Manhattan bakery that was the inspiration for the novel to book review editors at all the women's magazines.
    Unfortunately,the author, who had been well-reviewed in Cosmo and other magazines for her debut novel, did not receive review coverage for her second book, although every reviewer and book editor thanked me for the delicious cake.

  4. Which brings me to a question--is a debut novel easier to get review/feature/media coverage for than a 2nd (3rd, 4th...) novel?

  5. HI Susan,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. I think you offer some great advice, I just wonder if you have any ideas on what causes the "tipping point." And if there is a budget associated with that.

  6. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your expertise. You have great ideas for publicity, and I do agree that in many cases a publicist can work wonders. My question is: how do you track success? There would be no "track record" with which to compare sales because a publicist promotes the book before and through the launch. Have you ever taken on a book that's been out 6 months to a year, perhaps has been a slow or moderate seller, implemented a publicity campaign and then measured its success in terms of sales? Would that experiment be something for an author to consider doing?
    Thank you again!

  7. Wonderful information, thank you, Susan! My question is this - what exactly does a media tour entail?

    Lynn Sheene

  8. Hi Hallie,

    Good question. In some cases, yes, it is easier to get debut novels review/feature/media coverage.

    But when an author receives glowing reviews for his debut novel, his subsequent novels usually do receive extensive review coverage.

    However, I can name, but won't, some novelists whose subsequent novels did not receive the extensive coverage the first one did.

    Sometimes a debut novelist has a great back-story that lends itself to a feature or profile story. Of course, you can't use the same back story for the next novel, which has to stand on its own merit.

    But there are bestselling authors whose subsequent books continue to make a splash. Such as Lee Child. A smart author will capitalize upon his previous publicity and tour different cities, or revisit those bookstores where he had a nice turnout to cultivate his fan base. Or continue to try for a national show if he receives review coverage in a national newspaper, or try those media markets that didn't feature his first book.

    When I promote a second book by an author who received extensive review coverage for his first book, I always include a quote sheet for the previous novel and also enclose some full reviews.

    If I'm handling a media tour, I enclose a dvd of previous TV interviews.

    It helps to pump up the author's successes and use every tool you can to portray the author in the best possible light to the media.

  9. Hi Jan,

    The first month a book is out will garner the most media coverage. After the monthly magazines and newspapers review your book, there is radio and local media coverage.

    National media won't consider featuriing an author or reviewing a book too much past pub date, but radio hosts and bloggers are more forgiving.

    I would say after three months, you've probably reached your tipping point.

  10. Hi Rebbie,

    Actually, you can track success when a book is out. Although you launch a campaign 3 months prior to pub date, those magazine reviews come out the same time as the book hits the shelves. Publishers do see activity when a book first comes out, and if the book is selling rapidly, they will order another print run.

    Also, you can track your Amazon ranking after TV or radio interviews or after a review comes out. I've seen rankings spike right after a TV appearance.

    Ranking doesn't translate into the actual number of books sold, but it does tell you that there has been activity regarding your book.

    I usually don't handle campaigns for novels six months after pub date unless it's a radio campaign. That is the one exception.

    In cases of nonfiction, if the topic is newsworthy, I may take on a campaign, but the rule of thumb is to get media coverage during the first 3 months of a book's shelf life.

  11. What is a media tour? I saturate the media in a targeted city with a goal of obtaining one or two TV interviews, a radio interview and print coverage.

    It's worth it for an author to tour a city even if he or she only gets TV coverage because you are reaching thousands of viewers.

  12. Very interesting article from Kyra Davis, Susan. thanks for pointing it out.

    And quite a comparison with doing one's own publicity and filing one's own lawsuit--I would certainly never consider the latter! I think it's just hard though with small advances these days to make the leap and hire a publicist.

    We're so glad you stopped by today--lots of good food for thought.

  13. I really enjoyed today's blog. Thanks much. Giving me a lot to think about.
    I'm able to get lots of media in my home market...but much tougher on the road.

  14. Hi Susan. Welcome to Jungle Red.
    What about Facebook and Google ads? Are they a waste of money or do they work?

  15. Rhys,

    I cannot say for sure whether Facebook and google ads work. I am a great believer in advertising however. Publishers place ads in The NYTimes, and I've bought books based on the ads, which put the book on my radar.

    Many bestselling authors get full page print ads. These ads do get people to the bookstores.

    Whether or not ads on Facebook or Google achieve the same effect, I cannot say, but it is something you should blog about if you try it. Or start a conversation about it on Group-Digest's LinkedIn Book Marketing Group.

  16. Hi Susan. Thanks for the great ideas. I'm going to pass along this site so the members of the Long Island Romance Writers can come and read them too.