Two findings emerge clearly from your reports on the consequences of major media coverage:
- Important shows and magazines–including
Oprah, Today, 20/20, Money, and The New York Times–do pay attention to books that PMA members publish.
- That attention doesn’t necessarily translate into sizable sales. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of copies move off the shelves; sometimes “nothing happens.”
Interestingly, the same range of results applies to books from the huge New York houses, as publicists note off the record.
Trying to figure out why a particular book did or didn’t take off when major media plugged it, people come up with different ideas, and taken together, these ideas lead to a third conclusion, perhaps the most important:
- Major media coverage isn’t magic. Like every other aspect of a publishing program, it can be more or less effective, depending partly on how well it can be integrated into the complex realities of a given book’s life.
As you read the stories that follow, you’ll be able to see some of the moving parts that various members consider important, and when you’re finished reading you’ll be able to take advantage of the specific pointers many of them offer about making the most of media coverage when you get it.
Following Fox Appearances
This past spring (March—June) we engaged a PR firm to promote Healing Through Love by Marilyn Innerfeld, a self-improvement book targeted at women aged 35 to 55. Our goal was to get both local and national television exposure, which we did with roughly half a dozen local morning news appearances and two national television appearances–on Fox Dayside and Fox and Friends.
Each TV appearance lasted approximately three to five minutes and featured the book cover with repeated chyron listings of the book title and even our Web site address. We track Web site visits after all radio and television appearances.
National television exposure worked far better than any other medium for our author, but this may be because viewers immediately trust her on television and because, through the local television appearances, she learned how to achieve our media goals while being a good guest, which is an art and a science. We definitely saw that good media training matters.
Marilyn’s appearance on Fox Dayside with Linda Vester resulted in approximately 750 hits to our site within 24 hours, even though the interview was marred by antagonism; 3 percent converted to book sales. Of that 3 percent, about one quarter also purchased other items we offer. More than 10 percent of the visits were converted to our free online course. In addition, we sold more books than usual through other sites (including Amazon) during the month in which this program had aired, and we had spillover sales afterward, with purchasers becoming clients for our other service sales.
The Fox and Friends interview was broadcast during the early a.m. hour, limiting its national reach, but it was friendly and supportive, and by the time it ran we had improved our Web site to increase conversions. Since good sales conversion rates online are 3 to 5 percent, we wanted to be at the upper end at the very least. This time we had approximately 900 hits within 24 hours and converted 6.4 percent to book sales. Again more than 10 percent of visitors signed up for our free online course, and we equaled our sales in other online channels. Numerous spillover service sales have an ongoing impact on our business.
The television appearances also resulted in an invitation to Marilyn to speak at a national conference that is now leading to additional conference requests.
We are now actively pursuing daytime national television opportunities, given the fit for our author with daytime target audiences and her successful history as a television guest. While we find that getting television bookings requires a lot of patience, they can’t be beat for building a national presence.
Healing Arts Publishing
In 1997, Jane Hirschmann, a co-author of Preventing Childhood Eating Problems (Gürze Books, c. 1993), was on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a primary guest. The book cover was shown full-screen twice and mentioned a few times. Our edition, which had sold about 8,500 copies, was actually a reprint of another book that had been published in hardcover and paperback by a large publisher, with combined sales of about 10,000 copies.
In anticipation of the show, we printed 4,500 more copies with an Oprah reference on the cover. Our distributor placed copies in some stores, and Ingram took a higher-than-usual number for their inventory. Despite all this, we saw only a small increase in sales, which was, of course, followed by a slightly larger increase in returns. The 4,500 copies lasted for six more years.
Noting Net Results
I believe it was in November 1998 that our author Dr. Joseph Ilardo appeared on the Today show to discuss his book As Parents Age: A Psychological and Practical Guide. The interview went well, and, as far as I could determine, about 3,000 copies moved out afterward and about 1,000 copies ended up as returns. Therefore, the author’s appearance on that show sold about 2,000 copies of a book about aging parents.
Meredith Rutter, Publisher
VanderWyk & Burnham
Mike and Maty Outpace Oprah and Others
It was a most exciting time for sure. In March of 1996 I demonstrated my Practical Feng Shui Chart Kit for 11 minutes on the Mike and Maty Show, which aired on network television and jammed my voicemail with referrals from each of the stations in every time zone. I was returning phone calls nationwide and shipping out orders for weeks afterward.
When the producer from Oprah called in July of that same year, I was thrilled. Within two days, arrangements had been made and I was in Chicago, with all expenses paid. Although I appeared for six minutes, and Feng Shui: Arranging Your House to Change Your Life was shown onscreen, it was difficult to determine whether my appearance made a difference in sales, as that book was published by Random House.
I also appeared on the Live with Regis and Kelly Show in May 2001. Both the original version of Feng Shui Dos and Taboos and the gift book version were shown, and Regis picked up and read from my book. We had been told that our toll-free number would appear on screen and, with high expectations, we had 24 people waiting to fulfill orders that never materialized. What really showed up on screen was the Regis Web site address, requiring viewers to go there to get our phone number. The result was predictable: The viewers went straight to Amazon.com with one click and ordered my books there. The publicist from Storey, publisher of the gift book, informed me several days later that it had been number 573 on Amazon’s list before the show and shot up to position 264 afterwards.
Angi Ma Wong
Pacific Heritage Books
Boosting Competitors’ Sales
Every time I’d appear on a national television show (Today, Good Morning America, 48 Hours, Maury), or get coverage in Family Circle magazine, Woman’s World, and the tabloids, the publicity sold lots of books for my competitors whose titles are available in bookstores. Since I cannot get a distributor to place my books in bookstores, there would be no point in getting all this national exposure if it weren’t for good old Amazon.com and potential customers using search engines to find my Web site.
Smart Luck Publishers
QVC Tops the Charts
All our books have been featured on national television programs, ranging from cable networks like HGTV and the Discovery Channel to the CBS Early Show, the Donny and Marie Show, and QVC. Over the past seven years we have taped more than 300 national television appearances, resulting in the sale of almost 4 million Kid Concoctions books. National television appearances are the main driving force behind our book series.
Our first major national television appearance was on the Donny and Marie Show during the show’s debut week when the ratings were at their highest point. Our nine-minute segment on that program sent our first book, The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions, into the top 10 on Amazon.com and directly resulted in the sale of over 30,000 books in the next few weeks. Our favorite appearance, and the most profitable, was as the TSV (Today’s Special Value) on QVC, which resulted in the sale of more than 96,000 books in 24 hours and five years of regular QVC appearances.
Many of our one-shot talk show appearances have turned into regular guest spots. This was the case with HGTV’s Today at Home and Smart Solutions, Discovery Channel’s Home Matters, Pax TV’s Great Day America, and King World’s Living It Up with Ali and Jack. (When you become a regular guest, it is a good idea to join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, because membership will get you a salary for appearing on a show–usually around $1,000 per segment–as well retirement benefits and some insurance.)
The great thing about national TV show appearances is that they can rerun several times over a year or more. HGTV is still playing appearances we shot more than five years ago, and they also recently repackaged our appearances into new programs on the DIY network.
It pays to be a kind, courteous, professional guest. You won’t believe how many people are not. Producers travel from show to show and will call guests they like, who can deliver good-quality TV spots. Our Lifetime Television Our Home producer became a Donny and Marie producer, moved to Living It Up with Ali and Jack, and is now at the new Tony Danza Show. She has booked us on all three shows.
Not all national TV appearances bring in big sales. The key is to find a major network or syndicated TV show that has high ratings and reaches your target market. The higher the show’s ratings, the more sales you should achieve. Network and syndicated shows always bring in more sales for us than national cable TV appearances.
Our most successful television venture to date has been a two-hour national PBS fund-raising special, which just spun off into two more two-hour specials. The original special is now in its third year and has boosted our retail and Internet sales beyond any other television exposure in our company history, while raising millions of dollars for PBS stations across the USA.
Television exposure does more than just generate income; it gives you creditability and opens the door to unlimited other opportunities such as licensing and co-branding. Best of all, it’s free!
John E. Thomas
Kid Concoctions Company
The Display Difference
When SoLiAh: The Sara Jane Olson Story (true-crime) came out in 2002, the story was in all the major newspapers and on the major networks. I was on NPR, and my book was reviewed in Law & Politics, local papers, and The Los Angeles Times. I thought my sales would soar.
Actually, nothing happened. I learned that all the advertising and publicity in the world does not help if the major bookstores don’t display your book. My first book, Glensheen’s Daughter: The Marjorie Congdon Story, is always face out at Barnes & Noble (locally) and has sold 22,000 copies since its 1999 publication. It was written up in the local newspapers (Minneapolis and St. Paul), and I was on all the local TV and radio shows for that book. Although I never noticed a surge, sales are steady.
Sharon Darby Hendry
Cable Publishing, Inc.
The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide was featured on the Today show on March 4, 2002.
Sales were terrific. They showed the book cover at the top of the interview, which went very well. The book hit #7 on Amazon the same day. Bookstores nationwide and Ingram all ran out by the following afternoon, despite having been warned ahead of time and restocked. We sold approximately 5,000 copies through bookstores that week, plus at least 1,000 more through our Web site. Sales were elevated for the next several months. And my May 2002 Furniture Factory Outlet Shopping Tour also filled up quickly, with more than twice our normal bookings.
The Outlet Guide has also been mentioned in Woman’s World and twice in Reader’s Digest. Each mention sold about 1,500—2,000 copies through bookstores right away, plus hundreds more through our Web site.
If I had to give advice to an author with an interview coming up on a
national show, these would be my suggestions:
1. Ask the producer if it’s possible to show or credit your book as the source of your information. Most producers will do this, but it’s not automatic. The Today show had not planned to show or mention my book until I asked, despite the fact that they contacted me about the interview. I have several author friends who have done national TV interviews that did not mention their books at all. Their books’ sales after the interviews showed very little increase.
2. Contact bookstore chain home offices to let them know about the upcoming interview. Many will temporarily boost your stock and/or display your book more prominently in anticipation of national publicity, especially Barnes & Noble.
3. Don’t go too far out on a financial limb printing extra books. I’ve had interviews fall through at the last minute for many different reasons.
4. Send press releases to your local media. In many cities, being the subject of any national interview makes you local news.
5. Seek out other interviews right away. Strike while the iron is hot. Use the credibility and status you gain from the initial interview to book as many more as you can.
Home Decor Press
Twice on Today
Middle Aged and Dating Again has been featured twice, along with me, on the Today show. I had no idea what to expect the first time, but I’d say about 700 books sold, mainly in East Coast bookstores, and all those sales were special orders. That was in 1998.
When the Today show called me again in 2001, they said they couldn’t feature my book because it had not been published within the last year. But I pleaded with them, and they did feature it when I was on. Same result–about 600 copies sold via special order.
I got on the first time because I had sent a comp copy to AARP, and the Today show contacted them shortly thereafter. The second time I was asked to be on was because the Today show wanted a dating-after-50 expert; they were familiar with my newspaper columns on the subject and with my book.
Each time, I was my own public relations agent.
The Figures for 20/20 and the Fallout from CBC
Our author Stanley West, M.D. (The Hysterectomy Hoax), was featured in a segment on 20/20 in August 2003 that showed the cover of his book several times and mentioned the title. We sold about 500 copies. Our sales might have been better if the wholesalers had books on hand when the segment aired. They didn’t, even though we had given our distributor plenty of lead time on the air date. The good news is we received lots of direct orders at our Web site and by phone (at full retail) and also booked two radio shows because of the TV segment.
Our second prime-time event came via the most popular documentary show in Canada, The Nature of Things. Our author Lise Cloutier Steele (Misinformed Consent, Women’s Stories About Unnecessary Hysterectomy) was interviewed extensively for a segment that the CBC spent almost two years putting together.
We presold almost 1,000 books into Canada; and, since the book business there is basically dominated by one company, our author made it her personal mission to ensure that it was well stocked before the show.
Her segment aired initially on Thursday, September 16, was shown several times over the weekend in various CBC markets, and will be syndicated to programs in 62 countries, including the Discovery Channel in the United States. Results at this writing: Misinformed Consent climbed to about 22,000 at Amazon–up from about 140,000 –and the author is scheduled to do 15 articles, five radio interviews, and two television interviews, and to give a talk at one of the largest public libraries in Canada, which promotes extensively with posters and community service announcements.
A final note: She has been approached about doing a made-for-TV movie based on her book. Stay tuned!
Next Decade, Inc.
Boffo from Leno
So far, we’ve batted one for three with national media exposure. More than 15 years ago, our book Anguished English, by Richard Lederer, was picked up by Jay Leno when he was substituting for Johnny Carson on Tonight. He held the book and read excerpts from it for about seven minutes, and we were still hustling to fill orders three months later. I estimate that sales were between 30,000 and 50,000 (four quick print runs).
During the summer Olympic games in 1996, when the Today show broadcast from Atlanta, our author Frances Schultz was scheduled to appear on a Saturday morning segment with Jack Ford to discuss Southern hospitality that could feature her book, Atlanta at Table. We immediately rushed back to press for 5,000 more copies. We still haven’t sold all those books. We got no detectable bump from this spot.
Similarly, Jack Leigh, author and photographer of our books Nets and Doors: Shrimping in Southern Waters and Seaport: A Waterfront at Work, was the subject of a 10-minute interview and profile on CBS Sunday Morning about six years ago. We also got almost no bump from that great PR.
What’s the lesson from all this? I really don’t know. We still get excited at the prospect of any media exposure at any level. The effect on future sales, as far as we can tell, is totally unpredictable.
Wyrick & Company
The Verdict on Forensic Files
Slow Death…and Other Oklahoma Murders
was featured on Forensic Files on Court TV. It was shown nationally and is still repeated frequently. It was thrilling to me to have a camera crew come here to Stillwater, Oklahoma, from Pennsylvania to film. They were at my home from 9 a.m. until noon and spent five days in the area making the video. I am only shown a few times very briefly on the finished program, but the cover of my book appeared and I was very grateful for that, since there is no way I could afford to buy national TV advertising.
Did it increase sales? Not as much as I had hoped. I have puzzled over why sales did not go through the roof after Forensic Files aired, and I believe William Manchee of Top Publications in Dallas may have explained it. He has toured 48 states to promote his company’s mystery and suspense titles, and he says that print media are much more beneficial for sales than radio or TV. Readers read. TV viewers and radio listeners do not automatically go out to read or purchase a book.
Mary Ellen (M.E.) Cooper
Padlock Mystery Press
Dr. Laura’s Giveaway and the Download Tradeoff
On August 23 and 24, Dr. Laura announced How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson as the Free Giveaway Book of the Week. She mentioned the title no fewer than seven times and spent more than two minutes talking about the book. Our Web site got more than 70,000 hits on those two days; our Amazon rating went from 51,721 to 3,397, and our Barnes & Noble ranking (the one they link their Web site to) went from 84,510 to 309. And the Dr. Laura radio show is posting my articles about organizing once a week for eight weeks, with a link to our site. Three cheers to Joel Mikesell at Cypress House for presenting the package that led to these happy improvements.
We gave away 50 books (a condition of the contest) and sold only 31 those two days, but our wholesalers sold about 200 in a two-week period, and we can see that it’s due to the show.
We updated our Web site to handle the contest, including a counter (the first 25 were free each day to her callers, and man, did they go fast!), a 10 percent discount for her listeners who missed the contest, a UPS calculator for shipping rates, and a $2 handling fee. We had the books shipped from my fulfillment house in Santa Rosa.
Prior to this time, we had been selling downloadable documents on the Web site. We took those off to prevent a shopping cart programming problem, and will put them back on this week now that the contest is over. Those are my favorites, because people buy what is essentially an e-book and I don’t have to do any packing, shipping, etc.
Clara Fyer Books
Dr. Laura’s Spleen and the Salon.com Spurt
The first media attention I received for How to Be the Best Lover: A Guide for Teenage Boys was a short, very favorable review in Mothering magazine. Sales started coming in immediately–probably 100 books in the first week. Then Dr. Laura focused on the review and ranted about the book on her national radio show (‘This is outrageous,” “I’m just stunned!”). Her comments further stimulated sales, along with an outpouring of support from people around the country who seemed to hate her, and I was able to use her comments to book a few radio shows, which generated more publicity and additional sales.
The next big media coverage was an extensive and extremely positive interview that Salon.com did with me in May 2004. Sales exploded for the first three weeks after the review came out–hundreds of books sold–and the traffic on my Web site increased dramatically: 10,000 hits within three weeks. Also, I received a call from a TV show in Canada that ended up sending a crew to Santa Barbara and filming a one-hour show on my work.
Using the Salon piece to tell people about my work, I have been able to generate an additional 10 articles so far.
Howard B. Schiffer
Heartful Loving Press
We had a major writeup in Woman’s World (circulation approximately 3 million) in 2003–several pages and many photographs about Deborah Taylor Hough’s Frozen Assets, a book that tells how to cook for a day and eat for a month, which had been released in 1999. We experienced a nice spike in sales.
Recently, this same book was featured on HGTV’s Smart Solutions and sales increased again, but only about half as much as with the Woman’s World feature.
Also, it was syndicated by Copley; a great piece–full page with photo–was included in approximately 200 newspapers, and that led to a higher sales increase than either the television or the major magazine coverage.
Champion Press, Ltd.
Ranking Print Media Coverage
Every time I’ve been featured in a major publication (and I’ve been featured a lot) I see a major spurt in sales. I’ve heard that Oprah doesn’t necessarily sell books, but appearances in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune, First for Women, Self, Glamour, and Redbook have for me. Even the publications that I was dubious about–In Touch Weekly, which
is a celebrity rag, and The National Enquirer–prompted a major rush of sales.
Sales seem to have more to do with the publication than the size of the mention (getting a prestigious publication is the best; getting a full page with a photo was pretty good but not as good; but getting coverage with photo in the business section of The New York Times beat out everything else). I also notice a difference in sales depending on whether the article is really about the book; of course, on-target mentions are always better than tangential ones.
Money Spurred More Sales
I am a professional public relations consultant, but I don’t work within the publishing field. I hired another PR person to promote my book, but apparently Oprah’s staff found it on the Internet and not through the numerous press materials.
My book (A View from the Tub: An Inspiring and Practical Guide to Working from Home) appeared on an Oprah Winfrey Show that mentioned me as the work-at-home expert who had written it. They referred to a portion of one chapter and showed a photo of the book, along with a 10-point checklist. In addition, the book and several points were featured on Oprah’s Web site for quite some time after the show aired.
Judging by the sales Money magazine generated in March 1996, when I was the cover girl, I expected several hundred, maybe even thousands of orders. I had worked hard to upsell Amazon.com, which finally purchased 200 pieces that I had to send overnight (at tremendous cost) because they had dragged their feet on the order. Chances are, if the book had already been there in the quantity I suggested, more would have sold immediately after the show aired.
I did get numerous special orders from Barnes & Noble, Borders Books, and a variety of library distributors, but my total sales count was under 350 pieces over a several-week period.
When the show reran later in the year, it generated a few more sales (under 50 pieces). But the fact that the book appeared has been great PR.
Featured in the TBR
I am the author of a The Complete Success Guide for the Immigrant Life: How to Survive, How to Thrive, How to Be Fully Alive, which was covered in The New York Times Sunday Book Review Section, July 04, 2004, in connection with the 228th celebration of Independence Day.
The piece–”First Get a Green Card, Next Hire a Publicist” by Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook–was a lengthy, funny, incisive article, sometimes glowing and sometimes blistering. He called it “a remarkable new book,” declaring that “few books have come closer to telling me what it means to be an immigrant in America today.”
The article apparently got the attention of its intended readers, some of whom were consumers but many of whom were book wholesalers, bookstore buyers, and library acquisitions personnel from different parts of the country, who were, I guess, eager to address the concerns of some of their immigrant populations.
A ripple effect ensued when the review was published. A spike in sales followed immediately. Then other publications picked up on the review and asked me to write articles. A reviewer from Sweden asked for a copy. Various book databases picked up the title and posted it on the Internet along with its smaller companion title, The Immigrant’s Little Quote Book for Success.
The Queens Borough County Library in New York, perhaps one of the most extensive and advanced library systems in the United States, if not in the world, picked up the title and placed it on its Best Sellers List together with Clinton’s My Life, Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Dowd’s Bushworld, and the 911 Commission Report, among others. Recently, its Web site advised its patrons to watch for the book at every one of its many branches.
I am playing things by ear. If the book truly fills a huge, yawning, gaping need, and if I continue aggressively marketing and selling and maintain a consistent, financially viable, manageable, pragmatic, and sensible level of publicity and promotion for a protracted period, then sales should follow–in fits and starts, in trickles, perhaps even in gushes–and produce profits I can plow back into subsequent printings and a line of books in the future that address the identified need.
Getting a review in a major publication like The New York Times was totally unexpected. I had been told by many experts not to even bother with the major media because it was an exercise in futility. I believed it.
That is why in early May, when The Times called asking for copies of the book, I obliged and promptly forgot about it. In retrospect, I know riding the wave and following through on that 15 seconds in the spotlight is the tough, challenging part, as anyone who has been there and done that can attest.
Monette Adeva Maglaya
Touted in The Times Magazine
William Safire recommended The Dimwit’s Dictionary and The Dictionary of Concise Writing in The New York Times Sunday Magazine in November 2002 in a column about good books to buy as Christmas presents, and mentioned our Web site. I got a heads-up about this the week before from someone at the paper, so I was eagerly anticipating a flood of orders. I went into the office early that Sunday morning and was happy, but not overwhelmed, with the orders that came in through the site. Instead of the normal 5 to 10, we got about 50 that week