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Does Book Publicity Still Matter?

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by Deb Vanasse, Reporter, IBPA Independent

Deb Vanasse

To get results in the digital age, public relations efforts must be executed strategically.

Newspaper, magazine, radio, television. In the digital age, proponents of online buzz might deem public relations efforts aimed at these media pointless.

Not so fast, say experts and publishers who’ve achieved sales spikes from coverage in print, radio, and TV. Done effectively, and in combination with online efforts, traditional PR still gets results.

Still Relevant

There’s no denying that the digital age has transformed public relations strategies. In fact, many professionals propose that traditional PR should encompass appeals to blogs and other news-oriented sites.

Natalie Obando-Desai

“Today, almost every print publication has an online version as well as their own social media platforms,” notes Natalie Obando-Desai, founder and director of public relations at Do Good PR Group. “That’s great, because when they cover your story or book, typically they will share it on their social media outlets, which is an added bonus, especially if they have a great number of followers.”

Obando-Desai also points out that because so many online platforms feature books, their net effect is diluted. Because it’s less abundant, coverage in traditional media stands out.

“Traditional media outlets are definitely not to be taken lightly when developing a campaign strategy,” says Marika Flatt, co-owner of PR by the Book. “They are still very much relevant.”

Getting Noticed in Print

To procure coverage in traditional print publications, publishers need to go beyond the old-fashioned press release. They need to know what media outlets to approach, and they need to know how to hook reporters on story ideas.

“My number one rule in PR is: Don’t just send a press release,” Obando-Desai says. “There are plenty of people sending press releases. And, to be honest, they are sometimes looked at as spam.” The exception, she says, are traditional trade media outlets that review books—most of these still want press releases in conjunction with review copies. See page 15 for a press release template.

In lieu of generic press releases, Obando-Desai recommends that publishers contact specific reporters who are predisposed toward a particular book. “What I like to do is reach out to a media outlet after thoroughly researching the reporter or person [to whom] I am going to reach out,” she explains. “Check out their social [media] to see if your book or your story as an author connects in any way with something they’ve written about or posted about fairly recently.”

Guest articles written by authors are another effective way to get print PR, Obando-Desai suggests. “If there is an outlet that you know the book should be featured in, make sure that the author is ready to work for it. If readers like the way your author wrote the article, chances are they will like their writing in the book as well.”

Marika Flatt

At Flatt’s agency, a digital “Experts Page” and press pack have replaced the old-fashioned press release. She also recommends pitching to a targeted media list. “You really have to think about who your target audience is, and then think about what media they consume,” she explains.

Flatt also notes the importance of attaching PR to timely new stories and trends. “There are a lot of opportunities in traditional media outlets these days, such as placing a contributed article in a print or online media outlet or being quoted as an expert in a larger story or landing a book review,” she says.

During 17 years of multiple editions of The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide, self-published author Kimberly Causey credits these strategies with helping to push her net sales over the million-dollar mark. Responding to queries from HARO®, she was featured in Inc. Magazine’s “10 Crazy Bootstrapping Stories” and Money Magazine’s “Surprising Six Figure Salaries.” An article she wrote for Bottom Line Personal helped her become a well-recognized expert in her field. Reader’s Digest reprinted this article and followed up with a subsequent article on her self-publishing success.

For its 2014 release of David J. Reimer’s Craft and Micro Distilleries in the US and Canada, Crave Press approached traditional media in geographic areas where distilleries are popular as well as Reimer’s local media. At Crave Press, Public Relations Manager Christina Steffy garnered media coverage by crafting press releases with localized headlines that were then sent to feature editors and writers who had written previously about the distilling, beer, and cocktail industries in these markets.

An upward spiral of coverage ensured. “The PR translated into the author being invited to offer expert comments on articles about local distilleries in his area, and also to the author being contacted about selling his book at various craft distillery and spirits festivals,” Steffy says. These events drew additional media coverage. In addition to copies sold on-site, Steffy reports spikes in website traffic and online sales of the title following each article and event.

The Aloha Shirt won Silver in the categories of COFFEE TABLE BOOK and COVER DESIGN during IBPA’s 29th annual Benjamin Franklin Award™ program.

To launch its updated edition of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands in April 2016, Patagonia targeted media covering fashion, men’s interests, travel, Hawaii, California, and surfing. According to Director of Books Karla Olson, Patagonia pitched this re-release around the bigger stories of Hawaiian shirts making a comeback, the half-billion-dollar-a-year Aloha shirt industry, and a burgeoning interest in Hawaiian culture. After a syndicated piece ran in The New York Times, a cascade of coverage ensured, including articles in The Seattle Times, Journey Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, Urban Daddy, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, San Diego Magazine, and Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Media Appearances

As with print, the potential for radio and television coverage hinges on pitching the right stories to the right people. To maximize the impact, savvy publishers prepare their authors for appearances in these media.

When approaching media outlets, Obando-Desai suggests that publishers pitch local angles, relevance to current events, and author expertise that might appeal to the outlet’s audience. “Unlike advertisements that consumers know are paid for, any type of media coverage gives validity to the book and author,” she says.

For TV, Flatt notes that the appeal needs to be very visual. For radio, she suggests thinking in terms of five- to 20-minute segments, pitching five to 10 interview topics, and suggesting questions around the book and the author’s backstory to interviewers.

“Once you do nab that guest spot on a TV or radio show, there are a few questions that you should always ask the producer or host,” Obando-Desai adds. “The first is the amount of time you will have. Ten minutes on live TV is a lot different than 10 minutes on a prerecorded show.”

Obando-Desai also advises sending the host and producer a media kit that can help guide the conversation. To prepare authors, she suggests that publishers role-play timed interviews. “Make sure your author can get points across clearly,” she says. “If there are any particular topics you want to point out, make sure the author knows how to segue into that topic with ease.” For authors new to interviews, publishers may want to hire a media trainer, Olson adds.

When launching Lisa London’s novel Darker the Night, Deep River Press got two local TV news channels to cover the event. Combined with newspaper coverage, this led to radio mentions, including one on North Carolina Public Radio’s “The State of Things” segment. By scheduling the launch during prime time (between bingo and lunch) at the senior center attended by the woman who inspired the novel, Deep River was able to ensure a crowd. The venue didn’t allow book sales, but London reports that local booksellers sold out and immediate reordered the title, and the continuing news coverage accelerated online sales as well.

Beautiful Scars won Gold in the INSPIRATIONAL category during IBPA’s 2017 Benjamin Franklin Award™ program.

Another book that benefited from media coverage is Beautiful Scars by Kilee Brookbank and Lori Highlander, released in 2016 by KiCam Projects. “Kilee is a beautiful young woman whose arms and legs bear the scars of second- and third-degree burns,” explains KiCam Executive Vice President Jennifer Scroggins. “That makes our story highly visual, which we believed would appeal to TV.”

Pitching a positive message of self-acceptance for young girls and teens, KiCam landed a TV segment on “Inside Edition” as well as a posting on the MTV Founders website. “Having an uplifting story to tell was definitely helpful at a time when the news was growing increasingly negative around the presidential race,” Scroggins explains.

Regarding television coverage, Scroggins advises publishers to identify three major talking points for each featured title. “We make sure authors talk about the books, of course, but we don’t ask them to ‘sell’ their books in interviews,” she says. “Instead, we focus on the key takeaway topics, believing that interest in the book will follow when an audience is interested in the speaker.”

PR Strategies

When planning PR efforts, publishers benefit by distinguishing short- from long-lead media outlets, dovetailing traditional PR with social sharing, and relying on PR professionals if in-house resources are lacking.

“The first and most important step in getting traditional media is developing a solid galley list of media outlets and getting the advance review copies mailed out three to six months prior to publication date,” Flatt says. Pitch first to long-lead media outlets—monthly magazines, top-tier radio and TV, trade media, and the like. With these pitches, include hard copies of the books you want them to cover, she suggests. Closer to the release date, pitch to short-lead media, including blog sites and local outlets.

When budgeting time and energy, Obando-Desai advises publishers to focus on media that cater to a book’s target readers. Coverage in The New York Times may be prestigious, but if it doesn’t reach a book’s audience, it may not translate into sales.

Savvy publishers use social sharing to amplify the effect of traditional PR. After the “Inside Edition” segment aired, Deep River noticed a bump in online sales of Beautiful Scars, but the most significant results occurred after the company shared the media links on its social channels. “As a new company, that brand-building piece was huge for us,” says Scroggins, estimating that the Deep River spends twice the time on social media as it spends on traditional PR.

Deep River worked with an agency to launch Beautiful Scars, but it now handles PR in-house, consulting with the agency as needed. In making similar decisions, Flatt recommends that publishers consider the time needed to pitch each title, the extent of their media relationships, and their ability to develop creative hooks and angles.

PR Persistence

PR has never been simple, but by knowing a book’s audience, finding the right hook, and engaging with reporters on relevant topics, publishers continue to succeed with traditional PR, even in the digital age.

Causey’s advice to fellow publishers is simple: Start small, and work hard.

“It’s certainly a time-consuming task,” Scroggins says. “But traditional media hits still can make a major impact and can create content with which to fuel your social and online campaigns.” ⦁

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the author co-op Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse is the author of 17 books. Among her most recent are WRITE YOUR BEST BOOK: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO WRITING BOOKS THAT RISE ABOVE THE REST and WHAT EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD KNOW, as well as WEALTH WOMAN: KATE CARMACK AND THE KLONDIKE RACE FOR THE GOLD.

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