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Creating the Power of Buzz
Part 1.: Direct Routes to Readers

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I’ll let you in on every publicist’s dirty little secret: media alone cannot a bestseller make. We publicists take a certain martyrlike pleasure in thinking that every book lives and dies in our lap. And while I wouldn’t sneeze at the chance for a New York Times book review, or a stint on NPR, or a morning-show booking, the truth is that none of them–or even all of them together–will necessarily skyrocket a book to success. Publicity is merely a means to an end, and that end is something called “buzz.”

Buzz, a.k.a. word-of-mouth, is the beautiful thing that occurs when a book takes on a life of its own. Publicists know buzz is happening when the media start calling–media to which we haven’t sent the book. Other things alert us, too: calls from reading groups, calls from organizations that want the author to speak, even calls from readers who want to get in touch with the author. In short, with buzz, people seek us out instead of us having to seek them out, and the book is being talked about even though we didn’t start the conversation.

But buzz is, of course, elusive. We’re not sure how to make it. If we knew, let’s face it, there’d be lots more bestsellers. That said, things can be done on a grassroots level to get people talking–to get the chain reaction going.

There are two main ways to create buzz for a book. One is to reach out directly to potential readers (see below). The other is to reach out to booksellers in the hope that they’ll hand-sell to their customers (to be covered in a future issue of this newsletter).

Web campaigns. You can use e-mail to obtain mentions in e-newsletters and on subject-specific Web sites. For example, if your book is about animal rights, approach the person in charge of content for the Humane Society’s site. Offer brief excerpts or a “canned” interview (your Q&A), as well as cover art and an author photo. You can even suggest that someone on their staff interview the author for an original piece.

Also, send your book to people who have good Web logs (“blogs”) that they use to express their personal views on a wide range of topics. If the bloggers like your book, rest assured they’ll write about it. There are tons of good blogs, but some of the best ones are those of journalists. For a list, use the links in the section called J-Blogs at www.cyberjournalist.net. And to monitor your book’s mentions on blogs, go to http://allconsuming.net or www.onfocus.com/bookwatch.

Mailing lists. You may want to purchase mailing lists from organizations that are appropriate for a particular book and then create brochures to disseminate to their members. For example, a couple of years ago we bought a list of the country’s top personal trainers and mailed them information about our book Hot Point Fitness. You can help your publisher by researching organizations that might have such lists to sell. Some organizations even provide these lists free to members, in which case you might want to consider joining.

Big-mouth mailings. A big-mouth mailing is simply a mailing to key people who may be inclined and able to spread the word about your book–people with a platform who can talk it up. They should be VIP writers or VIPs in whatever field your book is about. For instance, if it’s a novel set in New England, you may want to send it to John Updike, Anita Shreve, and Chris Bohjalian. A book about the ocean could go to Linda Greenlaw and Sebastian Junger, a book on the fight against cancer to the director of the American Cancer Society and to some celebrities who publicly support the cause. A collection of poetry might go to David Lehman (who edits the Best American Poetry series), the current poet laureates of the country and your state, and the directors of the Poetry Society of America and the American Academy of Poets. With a book on management, it makes sense to go to influential CEOs and other heads of corporations, especially ones with whom you have a personal connection.

How many books are we talking about? Twenty to 25, and they should be finished books, not galleys, each accompanied by a note that’s clearly addressed to a specific person by name (galleys are less impressive and more expensive, plus you want to reserve this kind of buzz until books have hit stores).

Flyers. It’s a good idea to create a flyer for your book–one that can be sent to conferences for their literature tables. Just steal a few descriptive paragraphs from the press release, throw in a few quotes from reviews, drop in cover art and add contact info plus ordering information, preferably a toll-free number and a Web site URL, but at least a line like “available wherever books are sold.” You might also want to include a brief author bio (just a sentence or two) and author photo, provided that it looks professional.

Original essays on book-related consumer sites. You may be able to arrange to provide an original author’s essay about a book for the following consumer sites:

Booksense.com (for their VIP–Very Interesting Person–section)

Amazon.com (for their “Delivers” e-mails)

BarnesandNoble.com (they’ll link to your essay from your book’s main page)

Borders.com (they have some wonderful e-newsletters, with names like Business Class for business titles, Alchemy for health books–be they mind, body, or spirit–Romantica for romance novels and relationship guides, Lit for fiction, Arts & Letters for literary nonfiction like science, history, and current affairs, and Tractor Beam for sci-fi)

Original essays are a good way to get these important online booksellers to give your book some extra play. They often let authors write about whatever they want, but are always particularly interested in hearing what inspired a book and any funny stories that happened during the writing process–in other words, anything that takes potential customers behind the scenes and makes them feel connected to the author. They also like writers to discuss books they liked or found influential, and to relate their books to what’s going on in the news.

Reading groups. Sometimes referred to as book clubs, reading groups usually select paperbacks because they’re more affordable, but almost a quarter of all reading-group purchases are hardcovers. Groups look for books that generate dialogue–books that are controversial or particularly poignant, be they fiction or nonfiction. The fiction they select tends to lend itself to multiple interpretations.

According to a Montgomery Research, Inc., survey, 2 percent of all Americans participated in a book club in 2002. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of potential sales. Consequently, nowadays many publishing houses make an effort to market directly to these groups. Step one is to find them, and the best place to look is bookstores, libraries, and community centers. Step two is to send a copy of your book (or, if you can’t spare a copy, press material and some reviews) to the people who head them, along with a personal note. You might also consider placing an ad in Reading Group Choices. Put out by a company called Paz & Associates (www.pazbookbiz.com), this guide is distributed via bookstores, public libraries, and Paz’s private list of reading groups, reaching over 100,000 participants.

Lissa Warren is senior director of publicity at Da Capo Press and the author of The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity (Carroll & Graf), from which this article is adapted. To order the book, contact Publishers Group West at 800/788-3123 or orders@pgw.com.

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