Every author wants his or her book to be a success. Dreams of best-seller lists, grand book tours with sold out speaking engagements, and that coveted interview with Oprah, luxuriate in the backs (and often fronts) of many the writerly mind. But the process of connecting the dots between first draft and TheNew York Times Bestseller List often escapes even the most ambitious book author.
I’ve been watching the first season of Z: The Beginning of Everything this week, which is an entertaining show about Zelda Sayre, the socialite, writer, and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It has struck me how much publishing has changed since the days of Max Perkins’ golden era—in the early 20th century and prior, a writer’s book-related responsibilities were often to simply write.
Fitzgerald’s manuscript for his first book was rejected and he took a year to redraft and resubmit the work. After publication, he supported the book in a publicity tour by giving readings, but the scale was much smaller than what modern writers do now to enhance their brands. Despite these small forays into the publicity world, he was still most focused on writing (and drinking gin with Zelda), and it’s that fantasy of frantic scribbling and frenetic inspiration that many modern authors still seek to emulate when they embark on a writing career.
In 1920, when Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise was first published, authors were not tasked with the volume of promotional activities that now consume the lives of many successful authors. What has changed in the past century to create such a drastic shift in the lives of writers?
I meet many writers with the romantic notion that handing the manuscript over to an editor is the final step on the path to published glory … but twenty-first century publishing looks a lot different and requires authors to be much more involved in later segments of the book’s life. Writers are focused on creating their stories, and not typically yearning for a radio tour or massive Twitter campaign later, and may not be aware of the time commitment that publicity tours may require of them. Being aware of what supports the book—and expands the brand and thus career of the writer—is an important consideration each author would do well to reflect upon.
The volume of published books has increased dramatically over the past century. Some of this has been a natural evolution, based on population growth and increased levels of education, leading to more writers! Additionally, the advent of indie publishing services has meant that traditional industry gatekeepers can be easily sidestepped, and anyone can publish their brainchild. This is unlike years prior when the traditional publishing model was really the only way to get a book into the world. All of this means marketing and publicity are more important because of the higher levels of competition in the saturated book market … and so, authors need to spend more time to differentiate their masterpiece from the next book on the shelf.
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It’s important to note that book publicity does not begin after the book is published, but rather starts prior to the on-sale date. However you are going to market your book, it’s wise to begin brainstorming and seeking out support long in advance. Some authors educate themselves on what many best practices are and decide to tackle it on their own. For other authors the publicity process may start with a conversation with the publicist assigned from their publisher. After that, writers often decide to snowball their own and their publisher’s efforts by hiring an outside firm to add man hours to building the brand.
What are typical literary publicity activities? Media coordination for reviews, interviews and other features of your book and your writing is one aspect. Working with bloggers and other non-traditional media members that still provide coverage to books is also a publicity service. Your campaign may also include planning your events (book signings and other speaking engagements). Social media support and management and digital ads and strategy are more marketing-based activities that also get lumped in frequently.
At JKS Communications we often start our work at least four months before a book goes on sale, which means speaking with the authors long before then. Each author has unique goals about what they want to accomplish, which means that they partner in their campaigns differently. For example, one author may want to skew toward radio interviews because she has a good elevator pitch as well as ability to be engaging on air. That may be a larger part of her campaign than for someone else that gets nervous about public speaking and live interviews. For this radio tour component, the author has to commit to giving our team adequate time we can work with to schedule the radio interviews accordingly. The author is using her own time to promote the book, literally. This also means we’ll be communicating with this author about confirming the interviews, which is a higher time commitment for her than for someone who prioritizes the book being reviewed by bloggers (which does not have much author involvement, because that can be handled by the publicity team without any real-time scheduling to communicate about).
A book publicist truly partners with an author to get the attention of the media for the book. We don’t work alone, and authors don’t pay for us to just sort of go into a back room and mix up the magic. Our most successful campaigns involve mutual hard work with an author that remains engaged in his or her campaign, staying in weekly contact (and sometimes daily) and using his or her own time to support the work of the publicity team. We enter into a relationship where we talk about new strategies, who is responding well and who isn’t, and then of course the logistical issues of scheduling. This all can take a lot of time for the author … and that isn’t even including the actual publicity activities they may be engaging in—the interviews, the book signings, the time spent on social media, and more.
For many authors, a successful publicity campaign has tiered goals; some of these objectives might include building a strong brand (and paving the way for more books to come), immediate sales, or, if indie published, eventually getting picked up by a traditional publisher. Whatever your goal may be, take the time to get a good game plan that considers your big picture goals for your book career, and do so at least 6 months before you publish your book in order to give yourself enough time to plan accordingly. Interested in getting down to brass tacks in this endeavor? Look for my next post on How to Prepare for Your Publicity Campaign!
This is a guest post by Sara Wigal. Sara Wigal is an Assistant Professor of Cinema, Television & Media and Director of Publishing at Belmont University, a unique undergraduate degree that equips students with necessary skills and knowledge to enter the book world. She serves the Next Chapter Society council which supports the programming made possible by the Nashville Public Library Foundation. She previously worked in literary PR, beginning as an assistant and working her way up to a Senior Manager role, shaping author brands and interacting with the media. Wigal has been published by The Tennessean, Publishers Weekly, and Writer's Digest.
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