The Truth About Public Relations
For anyone practicing PR or considering crossing over to "the dark side," this mediabistro.com seminar led by frequently-quoted authority on media and hype, Richard Laermer, will provide practical insight, revealing everything you want and need to know to work effectively with journalists. You'll learn why even a good news release is a bad idea and why journalists are jealous of PR folks. Think publicists and PR pros are the same? Think again. Date & Location: mediabistro.com 494 Broadway (Spring & Broome) New York, NY 10012 212-929-2588 Cost: $65 In this seminar, you can also expect to learn:
Book Promotion with an Attitude
Author Says: Hire Good Help, Demand Quality, and Keep on Rockin'Editor's Note: Author Billy McCarthy, a former Atlantic records recording artist and music industry personality, leveraged real life experiences and insider insight to orchestrate his debut novel, The Devil of Shakespeare, a compelling thriller that "delivers a punch to the gut of the entertainment industry, spotlighting obscene appetites for fame, backstabbing charades, cut-throat tactics, and the bitter consequences of celebrity."
McCarthy's corporate music business experience helped prepare him for the challenge of promoting a first novel by an unknown author. But he still faced many challenges and disappointments, and he shares some of what he learned with this article.
"I root for 'the little people,' the underdogs with a passion who refuse to take 'no' for an answer," says McCarthy. Independent authors, especially writers of fiction, are surely the "underdogs" of the publishing world today. These insights should help them avoid some of the book promotion.
pitfalls they'll encounter along the rocky road to success.
* * * * *
Listen: It was true in the music business, and it's true in the publishing business - even the pros need professional help!
Should the self-published author hire a PR firm? Yes, EVERY author should hire a PR firm, even if they are published by a heavyweight like Random House or S&S. In most cases, unknown authors have the in-house PR and marketing staff assigned to their book’s campaign, and putting trust in that is a BIG mistake. I would never count on any success from the in-house PR efforts of any publisher. You’ll likely get one press release, ten phone calls -- and fifty prayers at night -- said by you, the author.
More and more these days, authors are starting out by self-publishing. If I were a self-published author, my goal wouldn’t be to sell thousands of books -- a battle you’ll most likely lose. Shoot for perhaps five or six hundred copies, enough for a reputable independent publisher to take interest. A reputable independent publisher that is linked with a distributor like IPG, PGW, or Consortium, that can muscle books into Borders, Barnes & Noble and other retail chains across the country. Now you’re really feeling like an author.
A self-published author has a big mountain to climb, but hiring a PR agent can help land your book where it counts: on a healthy online book site, possibly on television, and certainly on the radio. Believe it or not, most television or radio producers really don’t care (or bother) to research if an author is self-published or with a Random House -- as long as you and your book can talk the talk, most will take you. On the other hand, an author personally phoning in a pitch on his or her book to a noteworthy media source has just confirmed -- me, myself, and I only love my book. In the end, it’s always best for an artist in any creative endeavor to have another mouthpiece pitching their “brilliant works.”
How does one find the right PR firm for their book? Send them your book first -- listen to their ideas second. How are they going to map this war out? Yes, the book world is a war. You’ve put your soul and blood into writing your book for years -- the PR firm must now audition for you as to why you should hire them.
NOTE: Not all firms or PR agents will take you on. Don’t be insulted by this. It could mean, A) they don’t take on self-published authors. B) They’re simply not clever enough to find that unique angle to pitch you or your book and are honest about it -- which is a rarity, but if it happens, be grateful and move on.
PR agents are similar to telemarketers -- and very quick to burn out. There are a “few” (and only a few) reputable PR firms that have been around for a while because they’re always rotating in fresh blood, but their firm forever holds key long-term media relationships and contacts. A PR agent fresh out of college into such a firm is very eager with great ideas but in most cases their phone pitches are weak. If you do choose a firm, there should be a point person, a veteran who oversees that eager rookie assigned to your campaign. Who’s pitching these “must two” on your behalf? Must #1) Small media placements that plant the seed and create visibility early on before your release. Must #2) Large media placements -- I wouldn’t want a rookie pitching MSNBC, or the Chicago Sun Times -- I’d want their boss pitching it -- and I’d expect it.
Everything should be in writing -- a five-page game plan -- before you plop a retainer down. Do not go on word of mouth or promises. Of course every agent will scuff, “We can’t promise specific media placements.” Ask them to rate their media contacts “hot, warm, & cold.”
What are the warning signs of a "bad" PR firm? The biggest sign is when they don’t return your phone calls or emails within the first 24 hours after you’ve handed over the retainer. CANCEL THE CHECK AND FIRE THEM. There’s no excuse for such lax behavior in the 21st century -- it’s a sign of what’s ahead in your relationship -- and it’s a very bad sign. Another bad: the PR firm is focused too much on reviews, reviews, reviews! Who really cares about reviews these days? Your chances are slim to none anyway, being an independent or a self-published author. I’d take a personal profile piece over a review any day -- especially if you’re an author who has something to say. You and your book are much more interesting to know about than any jaded book reviewer can reveal.
A six-month contract is also very bad -- short for “I’m going to dangle a carrot in front of you right before the beginning of a each new month and never deliver.” PR campaigns should be 90 days with a two-week notice to terminate from the writer. If results happen, of course you’d stay on for 90 more days.
I signed a six-month contract on my first book campaign and fired the first two firms who conned me into it. Do some research. Google the PR firm and a few of their clients. If neither come up, they’re very weak -- and you’ve been oversold.
Remember, calling a former or present client for a referral on the firm doesn’t mean anything -- you probably won’t get a straight answer -- the former dissatisfied client is the one who “had the terrible read” and the happy client rarely shares or meets your standards of success.
“Timing is everything,” especially to independent authors when promoting their books. You don’t want to release a book in the fall -- that’s when the Stephen Kings and Jackie Collins release their books to take advantage of the holiday rush. Besides, no one does serious business in the media from December 1st through January 3rd -- they’re faking it at their desk. Shoot for spring or summer. It’s much easier to pound the promotional turf and take advantage of fests, book fairs, and so forth.
Don’t rush your release to make a season and take into account when the deadlines are for your publisher’s sales catalog, which in the end is a big part of soliciting your books in different regions and markets. You should commit to hiring a PR firm a month before your galleys are delivered to you. Do not put your PR agent’s name on your galleys or any promotional materials -- let them sticker it on or you’ll be forever stuck should you replace them in the middle of your campaign.
The first two weeks of your book release should be the busiest two weeks of your book campaign. You shouldn’t go more than three days without doing an interview or something to promote your book -- this is where you will feel the value of your publicist. The US magazines, GQ and Playboy have a three month lag before going to print. Newspapers prefer five to six weeks prior to your book release -- if your PR hits on these media don't meet these time frames, count on getting tossed in the trash.
Every good PR hit should lead to an even greater one. Make a story out of nothing -- that’s a killer PR firm.
A Note on Sending Materials to Reviewers and Reporters:
An effective press kit should be bland, in my opinion. With my first campaign I was coaxed by some into fancy folders and a five to six-page bio, synopsis, blurbs -- the whole works -- just way too much information!
A simple one-page bio will do, with a personal “small” note to an editor, maybe a post-it sticker highlighting certain pages if your book is non-fiction. The fancier you get these days, the less attention from an editor or reviewer. Everything is fast food; get to the point with less text. As a music producer I would get all these fancy CD’s airbrushed 8x10’s and colorful posters. I knew before I even opened them -- this is from a rich-kid rock band with no talent. Sure enough, I was right. On the other hand, it takes the right mind to understand this theory. The majority of literary agents put too much focus on font types, fancy presentations and a neat folder. But I’ll tell you right now, to a reviewer and journalist it’s a turn off. They can care less. Just give them your book and put your life history on the jacket.
Yes, printed press materials are still important, and I still believe that the value and influence of print press out-weighs the Internet because the attention and detail of surfers isn’t as fully absorbed as the guy reading the pages of the Chicago Tribune or The New York Times while sipping his morning coffee. I believe Internet surfers (and I’m one of them) tend to skim the surface for the fat facts. Don't stop trying to find ways to get coverage in ANY media, it all helps and it all adds up.
* * * * *
About the Author:
Billy McCarthy released his first novel, The Devil of Shakespeare which includes a music CD with a title song to the novel. His soon to be released second novel, Beat Me 'til I'm Famous, will chronicle his days on the Sunset Strip in HOLLYWOOD amongst the notorious, infamous, and "dream-seekers."