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What Makes Publicity Work:
An Expert Who Learned from Experience Tells All

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When I sat down to write How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson, my intention was to publish it only on the Web as a for-sale, downloadable document. I planned to market it mostly by radio, working in pajamas and never having to leave my cozy home. Ha. Right.

I set up all the background mechanisms–including charge-card merchant agreements, search engine tags, and a shopping cart–and figured the world would beat a path to my door. It quickly became clear that people wanted a book they could read on the bus, on the beach, or in bed. It seems that most people (read: non—Silicon Valley nerds) are just not ready to cuddle up with a good screen.

Research That Paid Off

I knew Arson would have to become a book-book. I also knew I did not want to use a big, New York—style publisher, because, during my 25 years as an office organizer, I had organized offices for authors who were–well, let’s just say they were disenchanted with their big publishers.

That left one alternative: self-publishing, about which I knew absolutely nothing. But I was game. Little did I know how gamey I would become before it was all over!

I began by touring publishing houses, book printing plants, and distributors. I interviewed authors, self-published and otherwise. I met with bookstore owners and clerks, and generally got a picture of how books were manufactured, which books people bought, which they left behind, and why. This research turned out to be worth every minute and every cent I spent. I used everything I learned during these interviews within the next several months.

Behind all these conversations was a sound–a sound like a babbling brook that never stopped. When I paused to listen, I heard the name “Dan Poynter, Dan Poynter” murmured over and over. Finally I picked up a copy of Dan’s Self-Publishing Manual and devoured it. Eventually, I also devoured John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Book.

Once I understood (or thought I did) the components of book production–cover design, professional editing, layout, size, and all the registrations, stamps, seals, bells and whistles I would need during this journey–I consulted The Self-Publishing Manual again for a potential book packager. I reviewed Web sites and talked to or e-mailed more than 30 people.

During this process I was fortunate enough to stumble across Cynthia Frank (Cypress House/QED Press) in Fort Bragg, California. I say “fortunate” because Cynthia’s reasonable voice was like a cool hand on my rapidly fevering brow. While I blabbered on about ISBNs and CIPs, paper weights and font sizes, bar codes and page numbers, Cynthia merely said, “We can do that for you.” I had found my go-to gal. She stood by patiently while I floundered about, using an independent but inexperienced typographer here and a family member as an editor there, frantically reinventing the wheel as I went. Cynthia never once burst my balloon.

A Saturation Strategy

Fast forward: it’s a year later, and people are going nuts for Arson. The megadollars are still to come (we’ve sold about 2,000 copies so far), but Internationally syndicated radio shows are calling, print media are excited, corporations and libraries are ordering, meeting planners want speeches, premium buyers are knocking on our doors, and many individual buyers have purchased multiple copies. We have had zero bad reviews, and news services keep picking up our press releases; every week I find a few more when I Google up the title. And one day this past April I got The Call from USA Weekend.

How did we get all this publicity? Aside from the basics–professional cover design and typesetting, the CIP block and an index so libraries would want the book–the answer was lots and lots more research (on titles and cover options), test runs (on willing victims who read content and made comments), and pre-pub sales (in the back of the room at speeches), plus lots and lots of homework on distributors and wholesalers, retailers (including gift shops), book clubs, and premium buyers.

Publicity, promo, and saturation have been my watchwords. I’m not smart enough to be afraid to pick up the phone (or the mouse), so I contact the biggest media names; I figure the worst they can do is say “No.”

My own background in publicizing my consulting and speaking businesses–which included stints in the National Speakers Association, Meeting Professionals International, and numerous other groups–also helped me keep my name out there. But I think the capper is that being an author opens doors. I never dreamed how many doors.

Known as an Expert in Istanbul

Now that I have a book, I’m “real.” People call me or e-mail me from anywhere and everywhere to get my opinion, as though I were some sort of an expert or something. Just the other night I was on a panel with two other authors, as an expert on how to publicize your book (reinforcing the observation that an expert is someone who is standing up while you’re sitting down).

I recently got a call from a man who said his friend in Istanbul had heard of the book and wanted a copy. So it’s now officially known worldwide (hey, I can stretch a little here!).

Last week at lunch in a fabulous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, a friend began tugging frantically on my arm and whispering urgently. I kept asking, “What?! What?!” Finally I deciphered his words: “Robin Williams!” I looked up and there Williams was with his wife, sitting not seven feet away from me. We acted unimpressed, but before we left I asked my friend, “Do you think I should give him a copy of my book?” (I have learned to be bold.) I signed a copy for them and, in the interests of decorum, had a waiter send it over. They looked at the cover, laughed out loud, and waved a “Thank you.” (I later learned that, while I was in the ladies’ room, they came over to the table to say thank you again. I guess the lesson here is, don’t drink too much tea.)

By the way, I never sought celebrity endorsements for blurbs. I figured the chances were too remote, so I used what I call real-people quotes and a preface by the famous San Francisco columnist Jon Carroll (who is a client.).

Publicity Building Blocks


Getting publicity, it seems to me now, is like flirting: If you act too interested, the other side (the media) won’t be. But it’s also like exercise: You can’t get in tip-top shape all at once. I put so many leads out there, week after week, that something was bound to pop. Of course, to hedge my bets, I sent to big-name media first (I’ve been rejected by the very best!). I also knew enough to target suitable prospects so as not to waste time, money, and galleys.

I sent galleys to more than 300 media names nationally, some people I knew, some names we came up with via the Web, etc. Another 300 or so went to interested parties who responded to my PMA co-op mailing material (I’m still participating in these mailings, since $300 or so gets my book in front of 10,000 people).

Other things we have done to build publicity include:

· Developing a database of current and past clients, business associates, prospects, media, bookstores, libraries (and what I call my boosters–people who have asked, “How can I help?” and who will get word-of-mouth going). We pull specific names and send them something at least every month, with a tie-in to an upcoming event (John Kremer’s Celebrate Today lists events and occasions).

· Putting a magnetic sign on my car that shows the book cover, Web site URL, and toll-free phone number. People love it!

· Having postcards made up and giving them away at readings and to business associates, even leaving them in public bathrooms. I figure that one mailed postcard will be seen by dozens of people as it goes through the postal system.

· Gluing book covers to all four sides of the banker’s box I use to collect and take mail to the post office or FedEx. Inevitably I sell a copy while standing in line, and a dozen more people see the cover. In other words, never missing an opportunity to let it be seen. Hey, I’m going to be out running errands anyway!

· Having a downloadable version on my Web site.

· Giving a copy to each member of the audience at corporate speeches when it’s appropriate, or selling copies at the back of the room.

· Reminding people that we offer quantity discounts (a note or coupon to that effect goes into each of my mailings).

· Creating a brochure, including a faxable order form that I’ve given to my boosters and asked them to leave in cafés, etc.

Eventually, I hired a publicist to pursue premium sales, which is our next big line of attack; and it turned out that publicizing the book to print media, radio, TV, and premium possibilities all at once got buyers started calling us.

Liz Franklin has been an independent office organizer, consultant, and public speaker since 1979. She tells us she wrote How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson to reveal that “discipline simply doesn’t work for rebels like you.” To learn more, visit http/www.franklinizer.com.

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