Monday, May 5, 2008

The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Help Your In-House Publicist

Most in-house publicists think it but would never say it, so I'll say it for them: there are those authors that it is a dream to work with, and there are those who you dread opening emails from. Having worked in publicity departments at a couple major houses, here are my top 5 recommendations for ensuring that you and your publicist are working more like Sonny and Cher (the early years) rather than Fleetwood Mac (the later years).

(1) Take your author questionnaire seriously. I know you're busy, and I know it can be very tempting to put this off for as long as possible. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of thinking that results in major missed opportunities. Publicity efforts for your book begin four to five months before publication, and this is when the crucial magazine coverage is booked. If you haven’t yet mentioned that you went to Penn, which has a great alumni magazine, or that your fiancĂ©e’s best friend writes features for Vogue, your publicist can’t be expected to send advance copies to these media resources.

Get it done, asap.

(2) Know the niche media that would be perfect for your book. In an ideal world (for publicists as well as authors), the subject matter of a book would match up with the interests of everyone working on it, but this isn’t always the case. In-house publicists don't always get to decide what books they work on. There is reason to take heart, though: most people in the publishing business really do love learning about new things and have even come to expect it as part of their job. You can help facilitate this learning process by making sure your publicist has all of the insider information on your book’s subject at her fingertips. This means filling out (yes, asap!) your author questionnaire as fully as possible, and communicating with her any important information that might be commonplace for a specialist but unknown to a beginner. Think of the advantage to you: if you tell her, ‘The rock-collecting market is essential to the success of this book!,’ she can spend a week researching magazines and newspapers to ensure that she has a solid list of all the best. If you provide her with a full AQ that contains a list of these magazines and newspapers, she can devote that week to actively pitching them.

(3) Respect that budgets are set well in advance of a book’s publication and generally without your publicist’s input. I firmly believe that the marketing opportunities for any given book are nearly limitless, and I suspect that most in-house publicists would agree with me. The real limiting factor in the publicity campaign for your book is not ideas, but rather a nasty little thing called money. For instance, if a book is intended to be "review driven," chances are extremely good that no money is available for a book tour. And the hard truth is that few extenuating circumstances are going to change that, and (most importantly for this blog post) it’s really not within the ability of your in-house publicist to affect the amount of money allotted for your book.

That being said, there are situations that might justify additional expenses for your publicity and that you should feel comfortable bringing to the attention of your in-house publicist. Getting booked on The Colbert Report, for instance, is probably worth the cost of the plane ticket to your publishing house. If an organization will fly you out to speak to their 200+ members and is going to buy 100 books up front, it's reasonable to ask if your publishing house will pay for your hotel. Anything less than that, you’re usually on your own, moneywise.

(4) Never contact the media or set up any events or interviews without letting your publicist know first. This one, I know, can be hard to follow, especially if you feel like you’re getting the runaround from your publicity team. But there’s a good reason that publicists handle the heavy lifting with media pitches (publishing houses know this and maintain quality publicity departments because of it): they spend many hours every week following television, radio, and print; have a good sense of where to reasonably expect coverage on the title; they’ve spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with journalists; and most importantly, they are pretty used to taking rejection. Unfortunately, this last one happens a lot when pitching books to the media.

The more well-connected of you might run into journalists regularly, and some of those might want to book you on their show. If this happens, I'd recommend thanking them for the request and then always refer them to your publicist to book the actual interview. There are a bunch of things to consider before setting up an actual interview, ranging from simple timing issues to more complicated things like which NPR show has called dibs on covering your book, so it's important to get the opinion of a professional.

(5) Try very, very hard not to say the word Oprah. Saying it to your in-house publicist is like asking an astronaut, ‘hey, have you ever thought about visiting this place called the moon?’ I speak from experience here, so please pay close attention: your publicist has considered Oprah. She has sent the show multiple copies of your book, and probably even spent hours crafting a pitch well-suited for the shows’ producers. Believe me, your publicist wants you sitting on Oprah’s couch just as much as you do. You can expect her to have been in touch with all of the applicable people at the show and to have thought very hard about how to pitch your book to the appropriate producers.


Travis Erwin said...

One of these days when I'm to that point I'll keep this list in mind. Thanks for the education.

Ami said...

I gotta say, I think it's good to keep in mind even as you write your book: if you're writing on a niche subject, keep a list of the media that you find yourself regularly referencing. Start and maintain a spreadsheet of all of your contacts, even the ones you only see once a year or just at high school reunions. Seriously, this stuff will be *invaluable* when your novel is ready.

Barrie said...

Hi Ami! Great post! BTW, you were right; I made it through my first public speaking.... alive. :) (Actually, it was fun.)

brian_ohio said...

My plan, once my book is sold, is to actually reject Oprah's invitation to appear on her show. Imagine the publicity I'll get for doing that.

I hope you're on board with this Ami.

Nice post, too. All info I've never even thought about (except for Oprah).

Ami said...

Well, I do think that Jonathan Franzen tried to resist the lure of Oprah...with some mixed results! But it certainly does get a lot of attention when you turn it down!

Nice job on the public speaking, Barrie! I've got an eye on your Class of 2K8 website!

Anonymous said...

Wow. I didn't even know that I'd be getting a questionairre once I got a publisher and therefore a publicist. Good to know.

Ami said...

Well, every house is a little different, but most places have an AQ for you to fill out. If you don't get one, ask. It's a really useful way to think about publicity, and it can spark ideas for outreach that maybe you hadn't considered before.

Anonymous said...

This is the first I've heard of an AQ. I've read many agent blogs encouraging authors to take an active participation in their marketing and I have a few ideas of my own, but no idea of what others might want from me. More of your thoughts would be quite welcome.

Thanks for the info, please write more.

ChrisEldin said...

One day, hopefully.....

Thanks for the information!!!

Eileen said...

Ami- you are a wise and sage advisor. But you're calling Oprah for me right? Right? : )

Haste yee back ;-) said...

"Purdy, purdy" fish there, Travis. Good on ya Son!

Now questionnaire:

drop shot/deep jig?__________
GPS numbers?____________
Scent? Dr. J's Jungle Juice, Berkely Strike, Live Prey Tech, crawdad, shad, other?____________

Now, did ya catch 'im on yer own, or did your wife or girlfriend help? (other than give ya persmission to go fishin')

Haste yee back ;-)

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