Friday, December 3, 2010

The Inside Scoop

HANK: Psssst. Hey. Over here. Any of you out there authors? Ever considered paying big bucks for a fabulous personal publicist? Have we got a deal for you. Maryglenn McCombs. In person. Right here and telling all.

:: Hey. Stop elbowing your way in here. There's room for everyone. ::

Maryglenn McCombs (seen here with Garcia!) is an independent book publicist who has worked in the book publishing industry since 1993.

We met at the amazing South Carolina Writers Workshop, where, (along with Michelle Howry of Simon and Schuster) we gave a panel we decided to call "The Truth Panel"-- where anyone could ask anything they wanted, and we 'd give the honest answer. It was great. And memorable. And hilarious. And I know I have a photo of the three of us. Somewhere.

But I'm so delighted she's joining us today--and she's a one-woman truth panel of her own.

MARYGLENN: If you are like most authors, you probably realize that in order to create demand for your book, you need to create awareness, and to create awareness, you need to promote your book.

If you thought your job was complete when you typed the words “the end,” think again: now more than ever, it is crucial that an author be actively involved in the promotion of his or her books.

Some authors prefer to do their own promotion, while others prefer to seek out a publicist to represent them. publishers offer PR support to their authors either by using an in-house publicist or a freelance publicist.

But if you don’t have a publicist assigned to help you, choose not to hire your own publicist, and decide to take the do-it-yourself route, here are seven tips that can help you navigate the murky waters of book promotion:

Tip #1 Understand that timing is everything.

So much of the PR work for a book is done before a book ever even hits the shelves—virtual shelves or brick-and-mortar shelves—so proper planning is crucial. Reviews, much like books themselves, don’t happen overnight. Well in advance of your book’s release, start thinking about the types of media outlets you would like to contact for reviews or coverage of your book, such as magazines, newspapers, online outlets, radio, television, blogs, etc. The next step is to come up with a plan.

Magazines, especially those lovely glossy monthly magazines that populate newsstands everywhere, tend to have the longest lead times. For instance, many of those magazines operate on a five-to-six month (or longer) lead time. What this means is that by May, many magazines are looking for Winter holiday ideas, and some are even thinking early Spring of the next year. Take the lead-time into consideration when contacting a magazine for an article, review, or story.

For example, if you have a book coming out in April, and you start contacting magazines in March, you are probably way too late to get coverage that will line up with your book’s release date.

Trade journals, or those magazines that cater to the book/library trade, also tend to be long lead, meaning that galleys or ARCs (the acronym for “Advance Review Copies”) should be sent to the trade journals approximately 4-5 months before the book’s publication date. The good news is that most of the trade journals, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and others, actually post their submission guidelines on their respective websites and explain what it is they want to receive, and when they want to receive it. How easy is that?

With some exceptions, newspapers and news services tend to operate on shorter lead times than magazines and journals, but the larger the outlet, the more lead time you should allow. Generally, the same is true for radio and television but there are exceptions.

Online outlets—blogs, web sites, etc.—are, in general, fairly short-lead. Again, there are exceptions, but I recommend contacting online outlets about 4-6 weeks in advance of a book’s release date.

Bear in mind that the goal should be for your consumer media coverage to happen when the book is available for purchase. The one caveat is that some of the trade journals do provide advance reviews of books. The book trade journals, also called “sell-in” publications, are geared to a trade audience, and not a consumer audience, so this is an area where an advance review can be extremely helpful.

Planning ahead is crucial for PR, especially if you want to do a thorough, comprehensive campaign. Understanding this important component can increase your chances of success in getting coverage of your book. So put together a plan that details the media outlets you plan to contact, and then put together a timeline for when to contact them.

TIP #2 Read before you write, or call, or send.

Read before you write. Know the person you are pitching, what they do (and don’t) write about, if there is a particular type of book they prefer to read, etc. Read their column, their blog, their site, etc. Don’t be afraid to comment on a story or review of theirs that you particularly enjoyed. If you genuinely like the way a writer or reviewer covers books and realistically think there is a chance that he/she might enjoy reading your book, don’t be scared to send an email, or, if the address is made public and they welcome review copies, send a book.

TIP #3 Know how to follow directions.

Sometimes, reviewers (such as those trade media journals referenced previously) actually tell you how they want to be contacted, what types of books they do and don’t want to receive, and in what format they would like to receive books.

Follow guidelines precisely. What better way to make a great first impression than to provide the reviewer or review outlet exactly what they want, exactly how they want it, exactly when they want it?

Following instructions signals that you have not only taken the time to familiarize yourself with their guidelines, but that you also realize that their guidelines are important and that you both acknowledge and respect the journalist enough to follow those guidelines. Do your part to make a journalist’s job easier.

TIP #4 Meet your two new best friends: “please” and “thank you.”

A little bit of polite can go a very long way. Say please and thank you (i.e., would you please consider my book for your magazine/blog/newspaper? And thank you for your time/your consideration.)

When you are seeking coverage for your book, do not make demands or try to impose deadlines on a journalist or reviewer. Demands and ultimatums may result in a reviewer not even considering your book.

Be able to take a “no”—or no response—graciously. It’s not personal. And even, or maybe especially, if a reviewer writes you back and says “thanks, but no thanks,” or “I’m overwhelmed with books right now and not taking on any new books,” please don’t hesitate to thank them for their feedback.

When someone takes the time to respond to me, even if it’s not the response I was hoping for, I do like to say thanks, because I really do appreciate it.

TIP #5 Be accommodating.

Does a reviewer need an interview within the hour? Do everything in your power to accommodate the request.

Does he or she need to have the book by tomorrow? Overnight it if finances permit.

Does he or she need a digital file of cover art, or an author photo? Send it promptly.
Be helpful, be accommodating, and follow through. A 100 word bio? Send a 100 word bio—and not a 500 word bio.

TIP #6 Fill requests promptly.

When a reviewer asks for a copy of the book, send it promptly (another way to make a great first impression.)

Do not leave a reviewer or journalist wondering why you never sent the book you promised you would send. Also, be mindful of pitching a book that you don’t have in-hand. The last thing you want is to get a reviewer excited about your book and anxious to read it, only to have to tell them that it will be months before you are able to provide a copy.

If you’ve been asked to guest post on a blog, or take part in an interview, whatever you do, do it, and meet the deadline. There is nothing worse than having a blogger or reviewer plan around a contribution that never comes in, or comes in too late to be of any use. It’s rude, it’s annoying, and it will probably guarantee that the blogger or reviewer will not want to work with you again.

And if you do guest blog, please remember that your work isn’t done once you submit the post. Check the blog regularly for any reader comments about your contribution, and respond. This is a great opportunity to interact with people who are reading your article or contribution or interview. Take advantage of that opportunity.

TIP # 7 Don’t forget about the reviewer after you get a review.

If there are certain outlets where you’re expecting or hoping for a review, read them regularly. Reviewers don’t always send reviews when they are complete, so do your part by keeping up with the places that may review your book.

Setting up a Google Alert on your name and book title can help you find coverage quickly, but some coverage may not be picked up by a Google search. It helps to keep an eye on the blogs or outlets you feel may offer coverage of your book.

Once a reviewer does review your book, or features a guest post from you on his or her blog, follow up to say “thank you.” And yes—even if it is a less-than-stellar review, a note of thanks is still appropriate.

One mystery novelist I represent surprised me by sending an exceedingly gracious and sincere note to a reviewer who had just panned his book. The reviewer, who was expecting an entirely different kind of note, emailed me to say how impressed he was with the author. You can bet that when this author writes his next book, I will pitch the same reviewer again—and while the reviewer may or may not remember the reasons why he didn’t like the author’s first book, I will bet the reviewer will remember that nice note the author sent.

Let people know you appreciate what they’ve done for you, and the time they’ve spent on your behalf. They’ll remember you for that, which may help open the door when you get in touch regarding your next book.

With that, I’ll leave you with three final pieces of advice about book promotion.

1. Do not be afraid to take chances when it comes to promoting your book. Sometimes you don’t know till you ask.

2. Do not get discouraged if the process of getting reviews takes time.

3. Enjoy the process. Promoting a book requires a great deal of patience, creativity, and tenacity, but it can also be fun and rewarding. If the process becomes draining, unpleasant, or tedious, take a break—and then try again with a different approach.

Questions? Thoughts? And...applause! for Maryglenn. (And be sure to come back tomorrow--when she'll show us how she works her publicist magic!)

A native of South Central Kentucky and graduate of Vanderbilt University, Maryglenn is an active volunteer with the Nashville Humane Association.

She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Tim Warnock, and their Old English Sheepdog, Garcia.

For more information, visit or email


  1. Hi Maryglenn, thanks so much for visiting JRW! (And that's such an unusual name--is there a story behind it?)

    I know publishers are getting more and more careful about what they spend for promotion, especially if there isn't a big advance involved for the book in question. I'm wondering whether there's a trend toward sending e-books or pdf copies to reviewers? Has this become common or acceptable?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. This is one of those posts I'll file away for (hopefully) when the time comes. Thanks for the great tips.

  3. Hi, Roberta -
    Thanks so much for commenting!
    I typically tell people that I just had indecisive parents who couldn't decide on one name for me, so they gave me two! The real story is that I was named after one of my mother's favorite aunts, Aunt Mary, and my grandather, whose name was Glenn Davis Williams. (I have a brother named Davis)
    Your question is a great one! What I am finding with regards to eBooks/eGalleys is that some reviewers are happy to receive them, but most of the reviewers I work with still want physical copies of the book or ARC. It seems to me that the willingness to review an eBook is becoming greater and greater, but I would say I am filling about 97% of requests with printed copies and about 3% with electronic copies.
    I have a sense it will be more and more customary to use eBooks for review solicitation as time goes by.
    Thanks again for commenting--and for the great question!

  4. Hi, Linda -- Thanks so much for commenting! I sure appreciate your kind words.

  5. Thanks for all those stellar, tips, Maryglenn. I'm also filing them away. What struck me is how many were really just common sense: "Be polite. Follow directions. Send thank you notes." And so on. If we all just remembered those lessons from our mothers, we'd be way ahead!


  6. Hi, Maryglenn - I've seen book reviewing from both sides, as the desperate author and as the inundated book reviewer, and your advice is spot on!

  7. Hi, Edith -
    Thank you so much for commenting!
    I think your comment is very insightful about the common-sense aspect of book promotion-- and yes: I am constantly reminded of what good advice my mother gave me!
    All the best to you,

  8. Hi, Hallie!
    Thank you so much for commenting. I am glad you agree. I don't know how you book reviewers do it; I have so much respect and admiration, as I know that I am but one of hundreds of PR people and authors who are trying to get your attention.
    Happy holidays, and hope our paths cross again!

  9. Very useful advice -- and the doggie is so cute!

  10. Hi, Vincent -
    Thank you so much for commenting!
    The dog in the photo is Garcia, my 10 1/2 year old Old English Sheepdog.
    He is a good boy -- and I'm a *little* obsessed!
    Have a great weekend!

  11. Hey Maryglenn-- Do you think "any" review is better than no review? With all the "reviews" on the web--do you think readers still understand the difference between a PW, say, review, and some person on a blog?

    And, in some ways--since "buzz" is so important--might the "person" be just as important?

  12. And thanks so much for being here today! Do you think more authors are hiring publicists on their own?

    How closely do you work with the publishers to coordinate efforts? DO they welcome you?

  13. Hi, Hank -
    What an excellent question! I tend to think that any publicity (or review) is good publicity. The only caveat is that I think it is good -- as long as it is a honest review. While I really don't enjoy passing along lukewarm or negative reviews to my clients, I still appreciate it when a reviewer gives me an honest and thoughtful appraisal of a book. SO many of the writers I represent actually use the critical comments to become better writers.
    I think there are definitely some review outlets that carry more weight with book buyers than other, but a good review is still a good review.
    I like what you asked about "buzz" as well. The "right" person can really help create buzz. It is shocking how influential some casual, online book reviewers are. If you can get those reviewers behind your book, you are going to get incredible word-of-mouth exposure. Word-of-mouth is so, so important!

  14. Hi, Hank --
    Another great question! I am getting more and more authors who do want to hire me directly, although I still do work with publishers, as well.
    I can only think of one situation in the past 17 or so years where a publisher wasn't thrilled to have an author hire me (it still confounds me!) Most publishers are delighted to have authors hire their own PR help and I do work closely with publishers--especially if the publisher does any of the PR work in-house. I have to be really careful about not duplicating anyone's efforts. There is nothing worse than pitching a reviewer who has already been pitched on the same book!

  15. Good morning, Jungle Red Writers and hello, Ms. McCombs. What invaluable advice you share, and whoever would think you have to add please and thank you to your tips?

    I'm saving this as I'm working on revisions and marketing is about as foreign to me as another galaxy. Hope it won't take me light years to get up to speed.

  16. Great advice!! THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

  17. Greetings! Thank you all so much for the great comments. I know that "please" and "thank you" seems like common sense, but you would not believe some of the horror stories that some of my reviewer friends have shared with me over the years. I have heard some doozies for sure.
    And best wishes with your manuscript!
    I sure do appreciate all of the wonderful feedback and great questions.

  18. Maryglenn- great tips, great post- thank you for sharing your expertise! I'm taking notes...

  19. Hi, Rochelle -
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!