PUBLISHED MARCH/APRIL 2020
by Maggie Langrick, Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media —
It helps very much to have established relationships with key reporters, editors, or producers relevant to your book.
When I was the features editor at a major metropolitan newspaper back in the aughts, part of my job was to evaluate pitches from publicists promoting book launches and authors. Now that I am a publisher of nonfiction books, I’m on the other end of the e-blast, and my past experience as a journalist informs the way we present our books to media. Our company supports almost all of our titles with a PR campaign, and while the results vary considerably, we can be confident that our books will win at least some coverage because we know how to pitch our books in a way that attracts editors’ and producers’ attention. Here are my top tips for winning earned media for your nonfiction books.
1. Prepare your author (or yourself) for the campaign.
The very first point in preparing an author for a smooth and successful PR campaign is to help them set realistic expectations. Many authors want to know how many interviews they’ll be asked to do, or which outlets they’ll be featured in. They may have strong ideas about which aspects of their book they want media to focus on, or when they want the piece to run. As understandable as it is to want to control these things, the fact is that the focus, timing, and placement of coverage is up to the journalist or media outlet. Their priority is not to promote your book; it’s to serve up interesting content to their audiences. If your book fits the bill, they’ll cover it. If it doesn’t, they won’t. Authors who embrace their book launch campaign with an open mind and respect for journalistic autonomy will find the experience goes much more harmoniously.
If your author is new to being interviewed on the radio or on TV, consider investing in a few hours of media training, which is often offered by publicists as an additional service and is also offered by independent media consultants. As well as helping your author to feel more comfortable on camera or on the airwaves, media training is great for getting clear on talking points. It’s easy for anyone to feel a little nervous when they’re being interviewed. Rehearsing answers to questions they’re likely to be asked about their book makes it easier for your author to rattle off a good quote or snappy soundbite, even under pressure.
Finally, impress upon your author the importance of being available at the drop of a hat during the active pitching phase. Bloggers and podcasters may not care that much about timing, but the bigger the media outlet, the more critical it is that your author is able and willing to fit within the producers’ schedules. Be ready to write op-eds on tight turnarounds, call into radio shows on short notice, and be camera-ready for a morning chat show at the crack of dawn. It may make the difference between getting the media hit or being passed over for a more flexible interview subject.
2. Think beyond book reviews.
Book reviews are not the only form of coverage—for nonfiction books, coverage will mostly come in the form of feature articles and “expert” interviews. The subject matter of your book can be explored from a number of different angles to yield insights and advice that editors and producers will see as relevant to their audiences.
Think about how you might leverage the news of the day or seasonal milestones to highlight your author’s expertise, too. For example, if you’re publishing a book on conscious parenting that’s coming out in spring, you might pitch journalists a story on supporting your child at exam time. If it’s coming out in September or August, you might pitch a story on back-to-school blues. It doesn’t matter if the book itself doesn’t deal with those seasonal topics; you’re drawing out the philosophy of the book and applying it to the reader’s concerns of the day.
3. Put together a press kit.
If you’re working with a professional publicity firm, they will produce the press kit and any other collateral they require for the campaign. If you’re executing your campaign in-house, you’ll need to decide how much material you want to include. The most essential elements of a press kit are the press release, which is a one- to two-page document announcing the book’s release and highlighting its key messages, an image of the book cover, and an author photo.
Many media campaigns are conducted with only those three pieces of collateral. But you don’t have to stop there. Consider including the following in your press kit:
- Advance reader copies (ARCs) – Also called a galley, the ARC is an early version of your book with ordering information on the back cover, usually printed digitally in advance of the main print run. A typical campaign will send anywhere from 50-150 ARCs to members of the media.
- NetGalley – This subscription service allows you to make a digital copy of the book available to thousands of reviewers, journalists, and other readers.
- Author Q&A – This gives reporters background information about the author and may even be used as a piece of canned content that media outlets can publish as is.
- Advance praise sheet – If you have endorsements from any household names or heavy-hitters, include them in your press kit.
- A book trailer – This is a short (one- to three-minute) video to promote the book. Book trailers can take many forms, from a simple sit-down interview to a complex TV-style ad complete with music. Google “book trailers” to see some examples and decide which one best suits your book.
- Additional images – Supplying journalists with additional images can improve your prospects for the placement and appearance of any coverage of your book. Consider including at least one “environmental” shot of your author, along with their author head shot. This usually means a full-body photograph of the author taken in a relevant setting, such as the author’s home or place of business. It adds context and gives editors an easy way to improve the editorial impact of the story they are running, which means better positioning for you.
4. Follow up with specific story pitches.
While it’s OK to send your initial press release in a generic mailout to a long list of recipients, it’s important not to stop there. Following up with targeted story pitches to specific media contacts will dramatically increase your chance of winning a media hit. Of course, you’ll need to do some research to determine what sort of story is likely to appeal to a particular outlet so that you can frame your pitches appropriately for their audience and content type. For example, if your book promotes a particular diet plan, you might craft the following pitches for various outlet types:
- Morning TV show: Nutritionist and author demonstrates fast and healthy breakfast recipes from her new book (in-studio appearance)
- Parenting blog: Five ways to sneak veggies into your kids’ meals (prewritten article)
- Business magazine: How the lunch you serve at company offsites can fuel afternoon productivity—or put your team to sleep (interview opportunity)
You might ask: Isn’t this doing journalists’ work for them? Yes. That’s how it works. Your media contacts may or may not take you up on the particular story you pitched, but by offering a relevant and compelling suggestion, you are showing them that you’ve done your homework and understand their priorities. If they have a different but related story idea in mind, they’re likely to include your author in it.
5. Prepare content in advance—and be ready to write to order.
As print and online publications continue to pare down their editorial staff, they rely more and more on supplied content to fill their pages and websites. To increase your chances of coverage, prepare some or all of the following pieces of content for use in your campaign, perhaps reserving certain high-value pieces for exclusive use by a key outlet.
- Author “op-eds” – bylined articles prewritten by the author
- Author Q&A – essentially, a canned interview
- Book excerpts – 700- to 1,500-word sections from the book that work as standalone pieces
Some media outlets, particularly national magazines and metropolitan newspapers, will want to run only exclusive content and control the focus of an author op-ed, rather than running your prewritten pieces. If asked to write such a piece, be ready to respond quickly, meet the editor’s deadline, and be responsive to requests for revisions.
6. Build relationships with media—or hire someone who has them.
In addition to sending well-crafted pitches, it helps very much to have established relationships with key reporters, editors, or producers relevant to your book. If you typically publish within a particular category, such as business or health, it’s worthwhile making connections with key media in your topic space and keeping those relationships up to date. This is undoubtedly a time- and labor-intensive effort, which is why it might make more sense to invest in a professional PR firm with the right media contacts. Nurturing those relationships through active regular pitching and follow ups is a publicist’s full-time job, and those connections are arguably the most valuable asset that a good PR firm brings.
Media outreach is costly and labor intensive, so it can be tempting to question its value or opt out of it altogether. And it’s true that not every book is a good candidate for a full-scale PR campaign. But even in our current social media-dominated landscape, it remains true that nothing moves the needle on book sales quite like a spot on national television or a splashy front-page feature. With some careful planning and diligent follow through, it’s possible to put even a first-time author in the spotlight.
Maggie Langrick is the founder and publisher of LifeTree Media and a former features editor at the Vancouver Sun. She is a public speaker and workshop facilitator on book development and the publishing industry. Langrick is a member of the IBPA Board of Directors, serves on IBPA’s Advocacy Committee, and helped draft the committee’s list of standards criteria for reputable hybrid publishers, published in 2018.