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The Publicity Schedule: What You Need to Know About Lead Times If You Want Your Best Shot at Coverage

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In real estate they say the three most important considerations are location, location, and location. In book publicity, the three most important considerations are timing, timing, and timing.

Publishers and authors should create a publicity timeline for each book when it is still in the editing stages. Unfortunately, too many wait until the book has gone to the printer, or even until finished books are in their hands, to begin thinking about tackling the PR, and by then it is too late to realize a lot of potential for exposure.

Which Media When?

Your first steps should involve figuring out how much time to allow for the preparation of promotional materials. How quickly can you get galleys? How long will it take you to research who needs what, when? How long will it take to do individualized cover letters? If you plan to include a media release or other material with galleys, how quickly can you write and produce it or them? True to Murphy’s Law, if something can go wrong, it will–so always allow much more time than you think you’ll need.

Of these steps, the most critical is researching who needs what when. Since different media have different lead times, it is necessary to find the specifics for your book and topic.

Start by identifying the people you want to approach. We suggest that publishers ask themselves, Who is going to buy this book, and what do they read, watch, and listen to? The answer to that set of questions should lead you to the media where the book and author need to get coverage so that the right people will know the book exists.

These media include:

Trade publications.

Most publishers understand the importance of coverage in the trade media–Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, ForeWord, etc. Detailed submission guidelines appear on these publications’ Web sites. The key element in almost all of them is the lead time: they want material at least four months prior to a book’s publication date. (Setting the publication date is a topic for a whole separate article.) Not all books should be submitted to all these publications, and for children’s books the rules are usually different than for adult titles. If you do your homework and follow the rules, you have a chance of getting coverage in trade media. Don’t waste your valuable resources submitting material that won’t be considered.

National magazines. Identify which of the national magazines might possibly do something with your book. Be realistic–not every book is right for Time magazine or Glamour–and don’t forget appropriate professional magazines and alumni publications. Since most of these magazines don’t do reviews, you need to approach them with article or excerpt ideas. If you just send them a galley, they will think it is for review, and if they don’t do reviews, they will toss it aside.

Most of the national magazines have very long lead times. Expect them to want to see a galley or even a manuscript six months or more prior to a book’s publication date. Remember, they want to announce something, not jump on a departing train. We suggest checking Web sites for submission guidelines, or contacting a senior or associate editor via a short e-mail or brief telephone call to find out whether the magazine is interested in your subject, and if so, who wants to see what when. Some editors want galleys; some will accept manuscripts; some say it is OK to wait and send them a finished book. Some publications have one person who receives all the books and passes them along to the appropriate editor. At other publications, if you send to the wrong person, your book might get thrown out or given away and not passed along. It is important to send material to the right contact the first time.

Regional magazines. These are the monthly or bimonthly city or state publications such as Memphis Business Journal, San Diego Magazine, and Chicago Parent. Their lead times are usually two to four months prior to issue date, but they often have theme issues, focusing on travel one month, home decorating another, small business another, and so on. Getting their editorial calendars can help you know whether your book fits one of their planned themes so that you can pitch it accordingly. If these editorial calendars are not on a magazine’s Web site, try requesting an advertising information packet. Of course, editorial calendars are subject to change, but they make a good starting point. If there is a local tie-in, make sure to note it in your cover letter.

Newspapers. Some of the major newspaper book review sections have lead times as long as those at trade magazines. Again, good research will give you the guidelines. Other sections of major newspapers may plan special features with equally long lead times. As above, editorial calendars might prove helpful. If the Chicago Tribune travel section is featuring cruise escapes in January, sending them material from or about your cruise guide in February is a waste. So, again, do your homework, and make sure they hear about the book the previous summer or fall.

Most sections of newspapers work with little or no lead time. When we advised the publisher of Life’s Little Apple Cookbook to send out a release in September to newspaper food editors around the country, more than a dozen stories appeared within two weeks, many including a short interview with the author and/or sample recipes from the book. It was, after all, time for the apple harvest. Is there a perfect time to send information about your book?

You can approach newspapers (and electronic media; see below) more than once. In September you can do a release for your parenting book about homework; in December you can do another release for the same book about meeting children’s gift expectations; and then in June you can do still another release for the same book about keeping kids busy during the summer months. Some publishers generate monthly releases, knowing that a few editors will pick up on one story, and others will find that another angle is just what they were looking for. Even a story that touches on a small aspect of your book gets the name of the book and the image of the author as an expert out there again and again.

Radio, television, and the Internet. Electronic media are primarily immediate. Lead times are next to nothing. Contact them when you or your author are prepared to be booked the same day for an interview. And be ready to jump on a news story that you can tie into. Lawyers who can talk about the Michael Jackson case are an easy sell as I write this, as are fitness experts who can talk about starting the New Year right. Soon, there will be a new hot topic with different experts in demand. If your book and author lend themselves to news events, make sure you have producers’ phone, fax, and e-mail information handy so that you can let them know immediately about the author’s expertise and availability.

Don’t miss the boat.

With good research, good planning, good materials, and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, the media will be the best sales force you and your book can get.

Kate Bandos has worked with hundreds of publishers and authors and dealt with a wide array of media people during more than 30 years as a book publicist. Her company, KSB Promotions, handles national, regional, and local campaigns for nonfiction titles only, specializing in cookbooks, travel guides, parenting, gardening, home how-to, consumer health, selected children_s books, and other general lifestyle books. To learn more, visit www.ksbpromotions.com. To get a copy of Kate Bandos’s book production timeline, send a SASE to her at KSB Promotions, 55 Honey Creek NE, Ada, MI 49301.

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