Get Booksellers on Board with Publicity and Marketing Plans
by Elisabeth Malzahn and Jen Wisnowski
If we get this book on the shelves, will the publisher get it off? That’s the key question wholesalers, distributors, and retailers ask themselves when they’re deciding whether to deal with a particular publisher. Getting them to Yes involves providing a detailed publicity plan and a broader marketing plan that show how well you understand the publishing business and how intelligently you will work to generate sales from readers.
Publicity: The Timeline
A successful marketing campaign must include publicity that will create a stir among readers and push them to their nearest bookstore or online retailer to pick up your book. To create this stir, you need to arrange for your potential readers to see something about your book or your author regularly in the media during the weeks surrounding the pub date.
They open their favorite magazine and find an article that features your title; they read their local paper and see a review and mention of an upcoming event; they flip on the radio and hear your author as an expert; they turn on the television and see a story about your book’s topic. All this requires that you meet the media’s deadlines and requirements.
Here is a brief overview of the publicity process for traditional book campaigns. Please note that it generally highlights “earned media”—meaning media that will feature or review your book or interview your author without expecting extra payment—and that not every step will be appropriate for every book.
Six months before pub date:
*Devise a publicity plan and a marketing plan.
*Send out manuscripts with cover letters for endorsements and to sell first serialization rights.
Five months before pub date:
*Order advance reading copies (ARCs), F&Gs, page proofs, or bound galleys for the book trade and long-lead-time publications.
Four months before pub date:
*Write press materials or create a full press kit; write customized-pitch cover letters.
*Submit bound galleys, ARCs, F&Gs, BLADs, or page proofs for review to:
book trade and library review publications—Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Choice, and so on
long-lead-time newspaper book reviews—New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, Chicago Tribune, and so on
national consumer magazines and newsweeklies with long lead times—Men’s Journal, Family Circle, Time, People, Parents, Newsweek, and so on
high-profile Web sites—CNN.com, MSNBC.com, FHMus.com, Salon.com, and so on
*Be sure to send a press release and cover letter to each publication or site.
*Follow up to endorsement and serialization pitches.
Three months before pub date:
*Follow up with contacts at long-lead-time publications and high-profile Web sites, excluding book trade. Book-trade review editors do not appreciate followup due to the sheer volume of titles they handle. If they have questions or need more information, they will contact you.
Two-and-a-half months before pub date:
*Submit either finished books (if available) or bound galleys to:
national and high-profile syndicated television shows—Dateline, Today Show, Good Morning America, Oprah Winfrey Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and so on
national and high-profile syndicated radio shows—Talk of the Nation, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, PRI’s The World, The Leonard Lopate Show, Sean Hannity Show, and so on
Two months before pub date:
*Submit finished books with press release and cover letter to:
daily newspapers—Chicago Sun-Times, Sacramento Bee, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and so on
news syndicates—Associated Press, King Features, The New York Times Syndicate, and so on
appropriate community newspapers and alternative weeklies
appropriate regional consumer magazines
appropriate special-interest publications and organizations, including alumni magazines and newsletters for organizations and clubs the author belongs to
appropriate local publications, including magazines and newspapers in the author’s hometown
*Follow up with both book-trade publications and long-lead-time publications by sending a copy of the finished book with cover letter and press release.
*Follow up to national and high-profile television and radio shows.
One month before pub date:
*Submit printed copies with press release and cover letter to niche Web sites and online publications—RottenTomatoes.com, ElleGirl.com, PopMatters.com, Epicurious.com, and so on.
*Submit printed copies with press release and cover letter to:
local and regional television shows
local and regional radio shows
*Schedule local in-store author events, launch parties, or book signings.
*Follow up with daily newspapers, news syndicates, community newspapers and alternative weeklies, regional consumer magazines, and special-interest publications and organizations.
By pub date:
*Follow up with any pending media leads, including niche Web sites and online publications, as well as any pending local media.
Continue to promote the book through author events and book signings.
Marketing: The Essentials
The publicity plan sketched above should convince a wholesaler or distributor that you understand how publicity can greatly impact trade sales. While you cannot say for certain what media will feature your book, you can be very specific about which media you intend to contact and how extensively you intend to promote the title.
These specifics should be featured in your marketing plan (see “What to Do When: A Book Marketing and Production Timeline” by Brian Jud, September 2007, for detailed guidance on marketing plans). Essentially, that plan should be designed to help wholesalers and/or distributors feel confident that you understand the following crucial elements about the book business:
Lead times are important. If you are interested in working with a national distributor that will sell your book through its catalog and through sales reps and wholesalers, you will need to make contact roughly a year ahead of pub date and have signed a contract with the distributor six to twelve months before the book’s official publication (by August, for example, if your book is to be published in the spring/summer season, and by March if the book will come out in fall/winter).
Lead times are also long, although not as long, for library reviewers, high circulation newspapers, and most magazines, which require prepublication versions of your book (ARCs or galleys) at least four months ahead of the official pub date. By complying with their schedules, you will make it possible for them to run reviews of your book and/or to otherwise cover it when it has reached bookstores and wholesalers, so that consumers can easily find it and buy it.
Remember that it takes time to ship books, time for stores and wholesalers to process a shipment, and time for booksellers to stock the shelves. Make sure you have enough padding in your production schedule so that you will surely meet your marketing and publicity deadlines. Books always take longer to produce than you think they will. Be prepared.
When scheduling a book signing or some other sort of in-store event, be sure that copies of your book will be available for interested consumers to purchase. There’s no point in scheduling an author appearance if there are no books to buy.
Local and regional media attention matters. Wholesalers and distributors understand that most books from independent presses—in fact, most books—do not get reviewed by big-time media (e.g., Oprah Winfrey Show, New York Times Book Review). Do your research and concentrate your publicity efforts on media that will actually pay attention to your book. The more you can target a book to specific publications, the greater the chance for a review, excerpt, author interview, and so forth.
If your book features a particular place or subject, be sure to target those media that also feature it. And don’t forget to reach out to the author’s local community by pitching to local newspapers, local broadcast media, and regional magazines.
If your author is participating in a book signing or reading, targeting localized Web sites and blogs (e.g., Metromix Los Angeles or Chicagoist.com) can be an important way to drum up attention for your title and draw people to your author’s event. Lastly, don’t forget to reach out to online-only publications that specialize in the same topic as your book. As online readerships grow, so does your potential for reaching new readers. Be sure to investigate whether it reviews books or feature authors before pitching your title to an online-only publication.
Outreach will be broad but smart. A plausible publicity effort for most books will involve sending out between 100 and 300 press releases with copies of the book—either as galleys or as finished copies. Take some long shots, but again, concentrate on the media that actually focus on books similar to the one you are publishing.
Publicity is a part. To raise the profile of your title, don’t count on publicity alone. Investigate promotional opportunities such as trade or consumer advertising, conferences and conventions, bookstore tours and events, launch parties, speaking engagements, promotional fliers, posters, mailings, and word-of-mouth campaigns. Specialized and niche promotions can also be a very effective way of generating sales. If your marketing plan includes a plausible and extensive list of organizations that should be interested in your subject, wholesalers and distributors will know you have done your homework, and feel encouraged about handling your book.
Promises to Keep
Finally, be sure to do what you say you will do. Publicity and marketing plans are not wish lists; they are promises to booksellers that you need to keep. If you are feeling overwhelmed or unable to follow through on your plans, especially your publicity, hire outside help to get the job done.
Elisabeth Malzahn joined Independent Publishers Group in January 2004 and has placed IPG books and authors on such top national media as Alternet.org, ESPN’S Cold Pizza, InStyle, Marie Claire, New York Review of Books, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Talk of the Nation.
Jen Wisnowski, publicist at IPG, has worked on titles featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Sirius Satellite Radio, and other national media.