What Got You There Won't Get You There Again

Cynthia Shannon, previously BK's Communications Manager, has now taken a new role with Goodreads (and is just down the road). This post is her parting gift to the BK community.

As noted in my previous article, working as a book publicist does not require a formal certification or training. It requires a love for books and a desire to tell other people about them.

Not much about the publicity process has changed since I started in this department seven years ago: galleys made from final manuscripts get sent out to early reviewers; review copy mailings go out to producers and reporters a month prior to publication; interview requests and reviews come in, and then start to fade as the publication month comes to a close.

And yet there are some things that just don’t work like they used to and giving these too much attention could end up being a waste of time. Here are three of them:

1. Book reviews. I used to know the names of the top 50 book review editors at daily papers in the country. Not anymore. Prestigious papers getting rid of  book review section has been one of the saddest changes to watch unfold in the last few years. Of the ones that are left, even less space is dedicated to book recommendations. This means it’s harder for a book to get the attention it deserves since it’s competing with many other titles for limited space. This means that the prime real estate is pre-reserved for the marquee names so it’s not worth the time and effort, necessarily, to try to break through if you are not an A-lister.

2. Author tours. I used to spend so much time setting up not only the event (at a university or bookstore or other venue), but also booking the flights and hotels, and coordinating the pick-up from the hotel for the author. Not anymore. Authors are expected to figure all of that out by themselves now.  You can imagine how well (or not) that can go.  Without the tight planning and organization of such tours by individuals who know which venues, times, and dates to choose and how best to exploit the author’s time in various locations, author tours are pretty much hit-or-miss (and usually more miss) these days.

3. Tchotchkes.  I used to send out Clif bars and scented soaps along with books to get the attention of an editor. I’d send elaborate press kits with DVDs and 4-color spreads. But then I found out that the editors throw them out. Tchotchkes have no bearing on how they perceive the book. When everyone starts selling to you, you become numb to the stimulus. So why spend the money on extra postage and the production of coasters and key chains?

The job of the publicist is to spread the word about a book. And the two things that still work are the fundamental qualities of a good publicist:

1. Building relationships with media. There are a few reporters who I’ve had the pleasure to work with consistently for seven years. I know what kind of books they like, when they need the material, and whether they quote from the press release or actually read the book. Those relationships took years to build and maintain, but for the right books, it’s worth it. And of course, they know and respect me, so I can sometimes “jump to the head of the line.”

2. Sending out books. Because reporters might ignore the book or they might review it poorly, but at least you’re giving them the chance to do so; if you don’t send a book, they would never have that opportunity. There are no guarantees when you send out the books that reporters will review them (especially since they receive countless publications daily), but you still have provided the crucial materials for them to do so, the rest is up to them.

Good luck to you all!