Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unconventional book promotion idea...not ready for prime time

An author emailed me yesterday with an unconventional book promotion idea that he wanted to run by me. Who knows how many book publicists he contacted besides me? All I could do was give him my opinion, which was based on my experience, and leave it at that.

The news wasn't what he'd hoped. Because that author was curious about his idea, I thought others might share his curiosity. In the spirit of helping others, I'll let you know what we discussed.

The author's book was very narrowly focused, and he was wondering whether it might be a good idea to conduct a radio book promotion campaign that consisted of calling into radio shows that were discussing his book's topic. While on the air, he wondered whether he could promote his book.

Aside from the fact that his book is on such a niche topic that I wondered whether the author would come across even one radio show in which the area was being discussed, I had a few other issues with his unconventional book promotion idea. Here's the text of the email I sent to him in which I raised those issues:

Certainly, calling radio shows as a guest when you hear the topic being discussed is something you can do to proactively promote your book. The benefits are that, obviously, you know listeners are interested in your topic; it's free; and you get air-time and, potentially, could mention your book and Web site. However, you'd be hard-pressed to build an entire marketing campaign around this single strategy. Your topic does, as you say, fall into a niche market. Where would you find a wealth of shows that are discussing your topic and will allow you on the air as a caller? You might find a couple, and if you do, great; call in (presuming the show accepts listeners' calls) and try to get on the air. From that point, good luck mentioning your entire name (radio show callers rarely get to identify themselves beyond "Stacey from Boston" or "Bill from his car phone") and the fact that you're an author. Much more good luck would be needed if you expect to mention your book's title, where people can find it, and your URL. The guest on that show ain't gonna help you because, frankly, you're the competition. The host? Not so much, because you're not part of the agenda, and the host isn't there to plug your book. The exceptionally spontaneous and kind host might be willing to suspend the agenda and the rules "just this once" and allow you to plug your book, or might invite you on the show another time to plug your book, but that would be very unusual. More likely, you'll face either antagonism (at worst) or resistance (at best).

But I'm not suggesting that you avoid calling into radio shows when you hear your topic being discussed. One of my clients* (see note below) got lucky late, late one evening. I'm an avid radio talk show listener, and one night, I heard a national radio talk show host (an ex-host, unfortunately) lament the fact that few academics stepped forward to appear on his show. He said something like "I suppose they're too good to do talk radio shows." It so happened that the host, without a guest, was covering my client's topic. Well, obviously, I called my client (at his home, at night -- it could have gone either way, but my client was grateful) and quickly explained the situation. Then I gave him the radio show's call-in telephone number, hung up, and listened with a big smile as my client got on the air and introduced himself as a professor and someone who had written a book on the topic. The host, cool guy that he was (and is, even though his show is off the air), asked my client to stay on the phone to talk with him while the show took a commercial break. Again, the circumstances in this case were absolutely perfect. I received a hysterical phone call from a producer asking me to fax the media kit over immediately, and of course, I did so. Then the show came back on-air, and the host announced that he was lucky enough to have with him an academic who just happened to be listening and was willing to stay on the air with him for an hour. That felt good, from my perspective, and lucky, from my client's perspective, but I guarantee you that we couldn't do it again without putting in far more time and energy than it would take to just launch a traditional, it's-proven-to-work, why-fix-it-if-it-isn't-broken radio campaign.

If you're not into the concept of launching your own radio campaign, you can always record and attempt to distribute your own podcasts. You can also hook up with a service that offers authors (or any experts) the opportunity to host their own online radio shows.

So there are alternatives to spending the next few months sitting by the radio, going up and down the dial, listening and hoping for an opportunity to interject your sales information on the air without paying for the advertising time. Frankly, given the number of coincidences that would have to occur in order for you to get ANY opportunities to market your book on-air as a radio show listener, I'd say your time and energies would be far better spent focusing on another marketing effort that may or may not involve radio.

* Note: The professor I'm referring to as "my client" actually was an associate's client. He was on vacation for a couple of weeks and had left his clients' contact information, and media kits, with me "just in case" something came up. Since something "came up," I was delighted to pinch-hit as the author's instant publicist, even though we didn't have a formal business relationship.

Thus ends the text of the email I sent back to that author. I have mixed feelings about having sent such a discouraging email to an author. On the one hand, every book promotion strategy was "unconventional" until an author or publisher tried it, found that it worked, and inspired other people to implement the strategy in their own book publicity campaigns. On the other hand, there are only so many hours in the day, and we'd be ill-advised to squander so many of them in the pursuit of a book promotion strategy that is just not going to work. If I saved that author as much time and energy as I believe I did, then I'm glad I was able to help.

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