Major Media Coverage: Independent Publishers Report on What Worked
by Linda Carlson
How often do smaller publishers get their books reviewed, featured or even mentioned by important national media like The New York Times Book Review or the Oprah Winfrey Show?
Although some major dailies insist they don’t distinguish between independent and mammoth publishers when they select books to cover, houses like Columbia University Press will tell you the significant coups come along seldom—perhaps once every generation.
Publishers who do receive major coverage attribute it to:
the author’s or the publisher’s longstanding relationships with reviewers
a professional approach to media
intelligently targeted press release distribution
follow-through on the releases and on any interest shown by the media, to help reviewers and reporters create the best possible stories
other publications’ features or reviews
an excellent book
In the Pages of The New York Times
Nancy Cunard, written by Lois Gordon, made the cover of The New York Times Book Review last April, “something that hadn’t happened to us in 20 years,” Meredith Howard, Columbia University Press publicity director, reports. “We landed the review because I pitched the book in person to Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, and found out the author writes reviews for him. So we made sure Sam got a galley early, and we worked closely with the Times art department to find artwork it could get permission to use.”
Margot Tohn, publisher at the Larchmont, NY–based Park It Guides, received not one or two, but three mentions in New York Times news sections last year. Each resulted from a different approach.
A television news interview Tohn did in January led to the book being quoted in a February article in the Times’s auto section. In July, she was interviewed about parking garage fees by a Times reporter after a corporate account referred the reporter to her. In September, she was interviewed again after she responded to a general inquiry from a Times reporter that one of her networking groups had received.
At Wilmington, DE–based ISI Books, sales and marketing director Chris Michalski echoes Howard by crediting long-term relationships with some of the coverage his books receive. He visits New York–based media at least once every other year, but he asks for only a 10-minute appointment, and during it he presents no more than a book or two.
ISI’s most recent New York Times review (at this writing) was in October 2007 and included two titles that cover similar ground, Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents by Brian Anderson and The Future of Conservatism: Conflict and Consensus in the Post-Reagan Era, edited by Charles Dunn. In addition, the Times Web site offered a podcast of an interview with author Anderson, and later it selected his book as an “Editor’s Choice.”
In mid-2006, ISI’s American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia was the topic of a New York Times story—on page 1 of the daily paper, above the fold—and it got a review in The Wall Street Journal in August.
“We send no chocolates or over-the-top press kits,” Michalski says. “Our normal review-copy mailing and press-release schedule were no different for these books than for others.”
As Seen in O
By contrast, gift-wrapped copies of Guide to Getting It On that Goofy Foot Press sent from the Oregon coast to 25 editors at major magazines in December 2006 might be what prompted an interview of publisher/author Paul Joannides in O: The Oprah Magazine.
“It was a time-consuming, expensive venture, especially because each copy weighs more than four pounds, but our goal was to get the book in the mainstream. Each gift box included a note saying that we realized magazine writers aren’t paid a lot, and so these books might at least take care of some people on their Christmas lists. Two months later, I received a call from an Oprah editor saying she didn’t know how the books got there, but could we talk,” Joannides remembers.
They talked, and the Oprah editor wrote, and months later Goofy Foot’s sex manual was featured in an article headlined: “The Birds, the Bees and the Makeup Brush: You’ve never read a manual as warm, friendly, liberating, thorough, and potentially sex-life-changing as the ‘Guide to Getting It On’! Neither had anyone in our office, which may be why our copies keep disappearing.”
The Wall Street Journal, Today, the Trades, and More, More, More
Carol Carson’s From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction (Hound Press, Nevada City, CA) was featured by such special publications as Wal-Mart’s Best magazine, but as she notes, “The most significant impact came from a Wall Street Journal article on April 1, 2007. The headline referred to me as ‘An Apostle for Fitness,’ a moniker that has stuck.”
Shelley Case, a Regina, Saskatchewan, dietician/author/publisher, reports that an interview on NBC’s Today show resulted from networking through nutrition and dietetic associations for many book reviews.
Case, who self-publishes The Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, “pitched a colleague who writes for the National Post in Toronto about new celiac disease and gluten-free diet research, and her story—with a long paragraph about my expertise, the book, and my Web site—resulted in increased orders. The next year the reporter did a story on celiac disease and highly recommended the expanded edition of my book. The following year my pitch based on new research and food labeling–law loopholes resulted in a big story that included my name and book title,” Case reports. And then Today weighed in.
Amelia Saltsman, who also relies on networking, got Blenheim Press’s first book (released last August) reviewed in dozens of print and online trade, consumer, and specialty publications within six months of publication, using the contacts she’s developed as a writer, cooking instructor, and television producer.
Four months in advance of publication of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farm, she emailed her contacts an information sheet, a copy of the advance praise sheet, and a PDF of sample pages.
“I believed that showing the nationally recognized endorsers as well as the book’s strong production values would be critical to breaking through any self-publishing prejudices editors had,” she explains. Everyone who expressed interest received bound galleys and, later, advance copies.
“This initial outreach also resulted in my being interviewed by and receiving writing assignments for national food magazines,” Saltsman reports.
She also contacted newspapers all over the country; and then, six weeks before her pub date, she hired a publicist to get wider coverage. “We worked together for the launch, creating a press release with sample recipes, which the publicists blasted to several thousand contacts,” she says.
The result: her Farmers’ Market Cookbook was reviewed in The Boston Globe, Library Journal, Slow Food USA’s The Snail, the Austin Chronicle, and the online edition of Publishers Weekly. It was mentioned in The Washington Post and featured in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, and L.A. Confidential. Besides a review in the environmental publication Plenty Magazine, there was publicity on 80 popular foodie Internet sites such as starchefs.com, splendidtable.com, kcrw.org, and epicurious.com.
At the Chapel Hill, NC–based Healthy Travel Company, Josef Woodman personalizes his correspondence with every major publication. “It’s absolutely 100 percent mandatory,” he says.
His campaigns usually begin with phone calls (which almost always require leaving an effective voice message). When an editor expresses interest in a title, Woodman starts each cover letter with “Per your request,” and then continues with a succinct, cogent couple of sentences about why the book is important to that editor’s specific audience.
One example: “Patients Beyond Borders would make a great citation in your Healthy Travel Q&A column, and we would be happy to grant permission for you to use excerpts from our ‘20 Questions About Medical Travel’ chapter.”
This approach—to national and regional, consumer and specialty media—has made the Healthy Travel Co. a recognized authority in medical tourism, and it’s resulted in four recent Fox News features. But this didn’t happen overnight.
“We hounded the Fox health editor with calls and review copies,” Woodman says. “Nothing happened, and we went on to other things. As happens so frequently, we eventually got a call from the producer of Fox & Friends, who had seen a review copy and wanted to do an introductory piece on medical travel.”
Renee Raab Whitcombe of Budding Family Publishing in Manhattan Beach, CA, has had books mentioned in Parents and Working Mother in the last couple of years. Her system: careful research of magazines’ editorial content and the appropriate contacts, and a brief telephone pitch.
“I follow up immediately with a sample book, a press release, and sometimes relevant and recent press clips (but never those from a magazine’s direct competitors) to show that our book already has some interest. I follow up two weeks later, usually via email.”
What makes the reviews happen? “I’m proud to say that I make them happen,” Whitcombe responds. “The reviews are barely edited from the text I submit along with our books. I’ve learned to give editors material they can use as is!”
How Coverage Can Pay Off
When a book is featured or reviewed in major media, it’s obviously smart to make the most of this publicity. PMA members splash the news across their Web sites, send out celebratory emails, and spread the word to sales reps, wholesalers, distributors, and major accounts.
“We knew about the NYTBR review in advance, so we scheduled an ad in the Book Review and sent a link to the review to broadcast shows that we thought might interview Lois,” Howard reports about Columbia’s Nancy Cunard. In addition, like most other publishers, Columbia quotes the review in all its promotional material, including Web site content, ads, and catalogs.
The result? “We’ve sold just under 6,000 copies of the book (as of year end 2007), perhaps half of those because of the Times coverage.”
Thanks to its 100-plus reviews and features, Saltsman’s Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook rocketed into Amazon.com’s list of the bestselling 10 seasonal cookbooks and maintained a four-digit sales ranking through the holiday season. “Besides increasingly successful hometown face-out sales—at such chains as Barnes & Noble, at independent book stores, and in such alternative markets as Santa Monica Seafood—the book has done extremely well in such markets as Cambridge, Mass., and Austin,” reports the Santa Monica self-publisher.
ISI’s Michalski reminds us that immediate sales are only one benefit of coverage by major media. “The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reviews drove sales for about a week, and the front-page story in The Times was the real home run, directly leading to sales of 1,000 copies,” he says, but “the number of review copy requests from other papers, magazines, and radio producers is of equal or greater importance. Following that Times story, we received dozens of review copy requests for a full month.”
Major publicity also drives Web site traffic and attracts new accounts, as Case and Whitcombe point out.
“After my Today show appearance, Amazon Advantage sales tripled for three months, and in the same period my Canadian distributor saw 10 times the usual sales,” Case remembers. “Just as important, Denver-based specialty wholesaler NutriBooks finally picked up the book. I’d tried to sell NutriBooks for two years, and it was the Today show appearance that got its attention.”
“The spike usually goes like this for Budding Family,” Whitcombe reports. “For the month the title is featured, Web hits are double to triple the usual. Our retail sales increase by 25 to 50 pieces, and we get half a dozen new wholesale accounts.”
Fabulous publicity does not guarantee sales, however. Situations beyond publishers’ control can interfere, as Joannides reports about the Goofy Foot Press O magazine feature.
The people at Oprah were wonderful, he says, but . . . “Because of the PGW bankruptcy, we weren’t able to get the new printing to my new distributor until the same day the magazine came out. Readers who tried to buy the book on Amazon.com were told ‘Out of stock. Usually ships within 4 to 6 weeks.’” The good news now, though, is that more than 50,000 copies of Getting It On have been shipped, and it has a return rate of only 5 percent.
Tracking Ripple Effects
Major media coverage also leads to new opportunities for publishers and authors.
“The Wall Street Journal article has given me more credibility and legitimacy,” says Carson. “Shortly after it appeared, I attended the AARP Foundation’s national Women’s Leadership Conference, where I had the opportunity to present a proposal. My suggestion struck a chord, and the ‘Fat to Fit Community Challenge’ will be introduced by AARP on its new Web site this summer.”
Carson was also invited to keynote a Curves International convention, which resulted in almost $8,000 of revenue from speaker fees and book sales and an invitation to discuss working with the Curves franchisees or corporate headquarters.
Steve Mettee at Quill Driver Books in Sanger, CA, is one of the PMA members who notes that reviews lead to more reviews.
“This past year we’ve had lots of mentions or reviews in periodicals including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Time. Although we send review copies to all appropriate media when the books come out, the major publications seem to learn of us from other publicity we do and the reviews we receive. They read about a book and then call for a copy, never realizing we already sent them one. Of course, we just say yes and rush them another copy.”
Even inaccurate publicity can result in reviews, as Timothy Sykes of BullShip Press points out. The day before his American Hedge Fund was published as a print-on-demand title, it was reviewed on the Dow Jones Newswire—because a reporter had seen a gossipy snipe about Sykes in The New York Post.“The DJ review definitely helped me sell a few hundred copies of my book, but finance is such a boring field, the nasty Post article actually helped more!”
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com), who writes from Seattle, has been interviewed by The New York Times, USA Today, and the London Daily Telegraph about her Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest.
Better Than the NYTBR?
For many PMA members, reviews or features in publications that serve target markets are far more important than a mention in Publishers Weekly or major newspaper review sections.
Nancy L. Gordon, who represents two trade organizations for highly specialized fields—the Minneapolis-based Health Care Compliance Association and the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics—reports that most of their books are practical manuals for practicing professionals, and that “the reviews that got us most excited were in Strategic Finance and CPA Journal.”
“Building a Career in Compliance and Ethics, which is targeted at college students and young business professionals, is the book we’ve had the most success getting reviewed,” Gordon notes, adding that the readership of Strategic Finance includes the 59,000-plus members of the Institute of Management Accountants and that the CPA Journal circulates to the more than 30,000 members of the New York State Society of CPAs.
“These publications are way more likely to make people alter their career paths than something like The New York Times Book Review,” Gordon points out.
Her view is echoed by Patricia Warren, who runs the Los Angeles–based gay/lesbian publisher Wildcat Press. Although its most recent title, Lavender Locker Room: 3,000 Years of Great Athletes Whose Sexual Orientation Was Different, was reviewed in Publishers Weekly, she believes, “Our marketing gets its greatest strength at a grassroots level in our niche.”
Wildcat’s titles often have crossover appeal; for example, Lavender Locker Room received a rave review in the email newsletter issued by prominent gay political figure David Mixner.
Along with pursuing niche publications, Warren advises patience. “We have a long, slow curve with reviewing. If a book interests the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] audience, news of it can percolate out through that audience for quite a while. Requests for review copies of Lavender Locker Room, published in late 2006, are still coming in—we just got a request today from a publication in the U.K.”