Take it away, Lizzy!
While in the thick of it, finding an agent might feel like the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But the most important (and, hopefully, best!) moment of your writing career will be when your book finally hits bookstore shelves.
With all the competition for readers’ attention these days, publicity—interviews, features, and reviews in mainstream and alternative media—is hands down the single best way to get your book noticed. Particularly as marketing budgets decrease (meaning smaller, more circumscribed tours and less advertising), publicity has become more important than ever.
All publishing houses make their authors fill out an Author Questionnaire. For publicity purposes, here’s what we’re going to want to know:
- Media info:
- The magazines and newspapers to which you’ve contributed. Don’t be nervous if you don’t know people in the media or aren’t a contributor to any newspapers or magazines. We don’t expect it, but it can help secure reviews.
- Professional/academic journals where review copies should be sent. We’ve got lists of these, yes, but hopefully you know your field far better than we ever will.
- Media appearances you’ve made.
- Key people who should receive complimentary copies. Not necessarily people that you know, although that does help, especially to get blurbs.
- Contacts who could help with reviews or excerpts.
- What special markets does your book have? Would people in one particular region take a special interest? Is your book geared towards a specialized group of people?
- Other books that are competition to yours. Again, you know your book better than anyone else, so use it to your advantage by checking out your true competition.
- Do you have a website? Where else can we link to the book? If you don’t have a website, think about creating one. A web presence is key these days. Consider writing a blog or, even better, contributing to an established one.
I recommend that you not ask for a meeting/phone call with the publicist assigned to your book until around six months before pub date because there’s just not that much to say that far ahead (and a publicist may not even be assigned yet). But here are a few things you can be doing even a year before your pub date:
- Start paying attention to the journalists, radio/TV hosts, and bloggers who write/talk about the subject of your book. Even if you write fiction, is there something your main character does or where it’s set that makes it stand out? Take note. (But please, do your future publicist a favor: if you don’t know a journalist personally, discuss with him/her who should do the outreach. And take heed: "Why authors shouldn't contact journalists directly.")
- Get to know the bloggers who write about books and subjects like yours. Be supportive, comment on their posts, get to know their tastes. Because, unlike journalists, bloggers don’t usually get paid for writing, so they’d be doing you a favor by reviewing your book, interviewing you, or doing a giveaway. And they’ll be more willing to do you a favor if you’ve been supportive of them for awhile.
- Get to know the bookstores in your local area. Don’t plan to do events at every bookstore in your neighborhood, but go to a couple of events and see which stores do it best. Especially for debut authors. (And maybe buy the book while you’re at it!) Check out my thoughts on what makes a great book event here.
- Find out when annual book festivals are in your region. There might be more than you think and they’re a great way to meet other local authors and fellow book lovers!
- Prepare lists of email and snail mail addresses for friends and family that would come out to see you at an event. Bookstores will often send out email or postcard invitations for you and it’s much easier to this now when you’re not pressed for time.
So with all that hard work you’re doing, what will your publicist do for you?
- Send the seasonal catalog to producers, editors, reviewers, and bookstores and other event locations to encourage early interest
- Set up bookstore events, usually collaborating with sales to find the best stores for your book
- Create press materials (press release, pitch letter, Q&A, talking points, etc.)
- Send the book out for reviews and features
- Pitch radio/TV/print/web interviews
It’s your publicist’s job to know who to send your book to and how to reach them, but don’t be afraid to make suggestions and get involved. Your publicist will work hard on your book no matter how hands-on you are, but it helps to have an enthusiastic author. There’s a lot of competition out there and you only get one shot at coming out of the gate strong, so make it count!
Lizzy Mason is a senior publicist at Simon & Schuster. In her off-hours, she writes fantasy and science fiction for young adults. And blogs about it here.