Book Publicity: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

It’s not easy to secure publicity for books, and I doubt anyone would argue when I say that the difficulty is much greater when said book is published in electronic format only. Even with print-on-demand copies, we often find ourselves having to convince certain reviewers to merely take a look before saying “no.” But this is changing, however slowly, and instead of wallowing in the sense of futility (Note: it’s not futile), I like to think that eBooks offer their share of perks when it comes to publicity efforts. I think the key lies in changing the way we think about book publicity and realistically considering where that leaves us in the digital-only business.

I have worked with publicist Lucinda Blumenfeld on a number of digital-only projects for Diversion Books, and have watched her expertly handle the difficulties posed by digital-only formats and still land killer placements. I asked her to share her thoughts about the changing publishing landscape as it relates to publicity, and provide some key takeaways regarding best practices and how to stay optimistic.

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Every book that you could at one point feel in your hands has today become something you can instantly access on your cell phone. For authors, publicists and publishers, this has meant that we’ve needed to re-think the traditional publicity tools—print reviews, radio, and television that once, in the gilded age of publishing, worked so well for hardcovers. More than ever, it may now be online marketing that makes the PR difference.


Permanency and Possibility in Online Outlets

The moment physical became virtual, publicity both expanded and became more limited. Expanded, because we’ve never known a time when so many online outlets have existed—not merely the digital counterparts of print magazines, but an infinite sea of online programs and blogs, each with their own set of followers. When a book is covered online, a title and link are given permanency. Readers have the opportunity to click directly to buy. When it is so easy to move from point of mention to point of sale, and when eBooks are priced affordably (under $5), the possibility of the impulse buy is all the more tenable. The chance that any person of a younger generation will see an interesting author interview on television, remember the name of the author or book, remember to find it the next time he or she is by the internet or browsing in a book shop, and finally buy that new book in hardcover at a price point of $25.99…well, it’s a big leap of faith you’re taking on a consumer. The “un-immediacy” of how books are still presented today using these major outlets will be even more of a challenge for forthcoming, instantly gratify-able generations—if those outlets still exist.

When I learn about a book on Twitter, one 140-character tweet from someone who shares my interests can move me to action. Maybe I click on the link to that blog review. From there, a good review will seamlessly send me to an author’s website or Amazon page.


Online PR is Not Less Credible, and Possibly Even Profitable

For eBooks, and particularly those self-published, the reality is that NPR, Today, and People Magazine are not reasonable targets. Forgetting any argument of stigma, the lack of “physicality” becomes an issue for events; you simply don’t have something to hand sell. To further complicate matters, these longstanding book reviewers are often still of the hardcover “old school,” preferring to see physical review copies of books. This is the limiting side of publicity as it exists currently, not future. Fortunately, authors are understanding more and more that there are all kinds of ways to sell a book; a different kind of “hand selling” that may be less a blanket approach, and more about targeting individuals in reading communities like Goodreads, or promoting their own events via Togather, and gathering a fan base to help.

Happily, I’ve witnessed authors in successful campaigns, thrilled by the snowballing effect of online coverage—the kind that doesn’t start and end at publication, but which builds momentum and endures. In best case scenarios, great websites, blog reviews, and social media buzz are capturing the attention of NPR and newspaper reviewers, and a fortunate author can benefit from all means of exposure.


Thinking Comprehensively, From the Start

The basic principle of publicity hasn’t changed. A book doesn’t necessarily need to be epic in order to sell (that sales spike may be fleeting), but the promotional “message” does need to grab attention, whether a book is physical or virtual. This is easier for thought-provoking nonfiction, but even fiction authors the most talented of whom have a very distinct voice, can use Twitter and Facebook as a sounding board. One fiction author I work with has had incredible success on his blog and on Facebook using his trademark narrative voice to fashion soliloquies of the everyday, reporting his observations and experiences just as he would in his fiction writing.

Packaging a book is still the critical point where marketing and publicity begins. The mistake I see over and over is the author who publishes a book, finds disappointing publicity results out of the gate, and then looks to find a publicist to troubleshoot and make rain. Think big, as well as much earlier: hire someone at the beginning of the process, inviting a publicist’s or consultant’s opinion on artwork, layout, jacket copy, pricing, and book website before the book launch. The lead time to publication is far more important than attempting publicity after the fact. For eBook authors, don’t belabor your jacket cover. Your readers don’t live in bookstores, where attractive book designs really matter. Belabor the content, those first pages when the reader compelled to browse your book is either hooked, or not.


Social Network as You Would Network in Real Life

Be savvy about social media. Increasingly, we see backlash against the “feed the author” paradigm. Would you walk into a room, hand your business card to someone, and ask on the spot that he gives you a job reference or introduces you to a contact? The same principle applies of social media. At one point, it was new and sort of cool to receive the mass book announcement, the “tweet me, Like me, buy me” email that became de rigueur for authors. But now, saturated with such requests, potential allies—contemporaries and readers—can be understandably turned off. Social networking needs to be carefully thought about, achieved with more subtlety and grace. Think again of how you’d walk into a room, business card in hand. You would greet and get to know the person with whom you’re networking, then offer your resume. You would do no more but let that person read about and consider you. For authors, providing a free book is an even better value proposition. The right connection between author and reader should organically elicit the relationship, and finally the desire of someone who likes you work to help. Ultimately, these relationships in aggregate become a fan base—or “fangelists” as I call them—people who opt in to promote your book, by whatever means feels most comfortable to them.

Readers make their own buying decisions. They read and watch different content in different mediums. The primary purpose of marketing and publicity for eBooks, just as traditional books before them, is to design an infrastructure intended to generate word of mouth. For all authors, this means understanding that the wait may be long for the big rewards, but that there is gratification to be found in the smaller, more numerable, and more permanent placements along the way. All this requires is a change in our perception of publicity, and long-view, comprehensive thinking.


Lucinda Blumenfeld is the owner of Lucinda Literary, a publicity and literary agency for the new media era of publishing.

2 thoughts on “Book Publicity: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

  1. Paul J. Krupin

    Media really don’t care about the book. They care about the how many people in their audience will be interested in the content of the message and the value to their audience. It’s easier to achieve the credibility needed to assure media of the quality of the author’s credibility with a P-book over an ebook. Here’s my best advice for authors and publishers wanting publicity that helps sell books: Turn your people on.

    The message has to make people pay attention and want more of what you have to offer. If you don’t succeed at this, even an article in USA Today won’t help you sell books. Identify the hot buttons that get your audience jazzed.

    Ask them, “why do you like this?”

    Pay attention to what you said that produced howls of delight. Study your testimonials and reviewer comments, ask your mother or kids. Just figure this out and focus on it. What you focus on tends to get bigger.

    Identify what you do that turns people on, and then do more and more of it. Then prepare a variety of presentations that hit those hot buttons again and again in varying lengths from 30 seconds to ten minutes in length. Every word you say has to make people crave more.

    If you bore them even momentarily, you will likely lose them.

    This is the key to PR success and marketing success as well.

    You can’t say “buy this amazing provocative book!”

    You must be amazing and provocative. You must do what you are best at in your own unique way. You must entertain, educate and stimulate. You must give people chills and thrills. And you must practice this and perfect this messaging until you can do it again and again with adequate action producing results (=sales).

    Once you develop, refine, and prove YOUR MESSAGING, based on the actions people take in response to what you say and do (= proven sales), then the rest is easy. Then can you use technology (all the types of media including social media) as a force multiplier to extend and share and repeat the message and thus get the results you dream of achieving.

    Paul Krupin

  2. Jonathan Winn

    I gently disagree with Paul’s focus on \messaging\. Yes, you need to have a message, especially when dealing with the media and potential readers. One that is unique, catchy, memorable, and leads the listener — or reader — to want to know more about you and what you do. But if you hook them on the message and then lose them on the quality of your product (i.e., your book), you’ve lost them. Period.

    So although it’s important to be able to effectively and easily sell what you write to potential readers, it’s more important — in my opinion — to have work, especially if self-published, that is equal to if not better than what the Big Six are putting out. In presentation, in story, in characters, in formatting and editing. No typos, no weird formatting mistakes, or \lose\ for \loose\ or \then\ for \than\ — shocking mistakes I’ve read in recent self-pubbed books.

    To me, it makes no sense exerting the incredible energy necessary to build an audience if your writing, your product, isn’t smooth and polished.

    No amount of \messaging\ can disguise shoddy work.



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