Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What Makes a British Bestseller?

What makes a British book a bestseller? According to this Times Online article, a British book becomes a bestseller the same way that a U.S. book gets there: publishers make deals with bookstores to push certain books, and the chosen books climb the bestseller lists.

Most of us want to believe that books on the bestseller lists are the books that enjoy the most successful book promotion campaigns; the most adulation from readers; and the best word-of-mouth from everyone. Alas, that's no truer in Britain than it is in the States.

Readers beware: the featured novel in the bookstore probably is not the novel that book club members are falling over each other to read. Rather, it's the book with a supportive publisher who is wealthy enough to cut a deal with the bookseller. Merit and money may sometimes go hand-in-hand, and bestsellers may sometimes deserve to be bestsellers. But the odds of that happening seem depressingly meager.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Defining an Effective Press Kit

As we were electronically tossing around a press kit draft yesterday, a client and I were working to come up with something we could rush out with the galleys in the next week or so. Under that deadline pressure, the client admitted that she still wasn't sure what the point of a press kit was.

My first reaction was to be a bit frustrated. After all, we'd talked about the purpose of a press kit extensively. However, now she wanted more...and it challenged me to really think about it. What are book publicists trying to achieve when we craft press kits? What do effective press kits add to book promotion campaigns? What's an ineffective press kit, and how can you avoid writing one, and what happens if you do?

My quick response to the question, what's the purpose of a press kit, is this. It's to capture the interest of a journalist and provide enough information about the author, and the potential story, so that the journalist can take the next step -- whether that means calling a book publicist to arrange an interview with the author, or simply writing a book review.

An effective press kit stands out in a positive way from the rest of the day's mail. It addds credibility to the author. It informs, it entices, and it leaves the journalist wanting more . . . and, one hopes, going to the source (whether it's the book, or the book's Web site, or the book publicist, or the author) to get more. It provides enough detail so that, if a journalist wanted to do a quick-and-easy story with little effort, he or she would be able to borrow enough copy from the press release to do that -- or, if the journalist wanted to do an intelligent interview with the author, the interview questions that would launch such an interview would be right there and ready to go. An effective press kit is tight, stays on topic, and is simple to read. It provides the key book information (title, author's name, publisher, ISBN, price, and so forth) in a discreet place.

In ineffective press kit sounds like a commercial for the book and/or the author. It hypes. It exaggerates. It throws too much information out at once, or it's disorganized or contains jargon, and is difficult to wade through. It lacks the key book information. It calls into question the credibility of the author and/or the book. An ineffective press kit will all but guarantee that the journalist will not interview the author, and it's probably a good bet that an ineffective press kit would also make a book review less likely to happen.

So what's the point of a press kit? I think the point of a press kit is to pitch a story to the media; to sell yourself as a credible resource; and to interest the media in finding out more. A press kit should be subtle and powerful. A press kit should launch a media story.

How can you blow a press kit? By turning the press kit into a overt advertisement, and by giving journalists an excuse to question your integrity and motives.

In other words, a press kit has to sell you as an expert, and it has to persuade the media to cover a story . . . but it has to do so without appearing to sell anything at all.

That's the challenge of creating an effective press kit.

Do it right, and you'll build a solid foundation for the book promotion campaign of your dreams. Do it wrong, and you'll hamper all of your other book promotion efforts.

There's a balance you have to strike, and it's up to your book promotion specialist, and/or your publisher, and/or you, to determine what that balance is.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Future of Book Publishing -- Maybe

BEA attendees have seen the possible future of book publishing -- maybe -- they're not all enthusiastic about it. You guessed it. Books will go electronic, and an unscanned book will be an irrelevant book.

Among those who were not happy about the digital revolution, John Updike looms large. To me, John Updike always looms large because he's one of my favorite novelists, but his quote about the possible transformation of the publishing industry is classic. in A Seattle Times article includes this observation. I'm quoting:

"As I read it," Updike said, "this is a pretty grisly scenario." He counted himself as one of the "surly hermits refusing to come out and play in the digital sunshine."

Well, I wonder how many book publicists are excited about the prospect of "playing in the digital sunshine." I have some ideas about how to construct a book promotion campaign so that you don't have to send physical copies of books to the media. For example, the production wizards behind the concept of "book trailers" and "bookpresenters" certainly have my attention, and I look forward to working closely with some of those production houses in the future on digital book promotion campaigns.

Sure, there's another part of me who would love to be a "surly hermit refusing to come out and play in the digital sunshine." But there can only be one John Updike, so for now, I'll cast about the digital sunshine for future book promotion opportunities -- even if they do bring me farther into the uncharted territories of the digital book world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Diet Book Publishers: Beware

There's a new diet book in town, and it will not lack for book promotion opportunities. See, the author is Oprah Winfrey, and it's landed its author the best nonfiction book deal ever. You can read about it here.

So what would it be like to find yourself in the middle of a book promotion campaign for your diet or fitness book, at the same time as Oprah's book publicity machine gears up? I'll be honest. I'm one book publicist who would rather not find out.

Oprah's book promotion opportunities include appearances on any national television show she chooses, and in virtually any other media outlet that she'll grace with her presence. Moreover, Oprah's book promotion campaign will encompass visibility on her own TV show and in her own magazine. With book promotion opportunities like that, Oprah could turn her own version of the Yellow Pages into a bestseller.

What's the left for competing books, when Oprah gets done with her book promotion campaign? We shall see...but if I were in the market to promote a diet and fitness book, I'd begin immediately -- before the hoopla surrounding Oprah's diet and fitness book begins. Either that, or I'd wait until Oprah's book promotion campaign wrapped. Timing, in this case, will be everything.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Promoting Literary Fiction

The Sunday New York Times had a story about promoting literary fiction that drives home several few points.

1. Book promotion -- at least, of literary fiction -- depends on the support of a major publisher.

2. Even with the support of a major publisher, book promotion doesn't guarantee books sales.

3. Publishers can promote only a finite number of books per season, and that means some novelists -- even those with an excellent track record -- won't make the cut.

4. Even when a novel belongs to such a luminary as Philip Roth, it helps to have a nonfiction news hook (as did "The Plot Against America," which received all kinds of media attention because it was perceived to have political overtones).

Major houses lay plans for their A-list literary novels, and editors compete with one another within their own publishing companies to push their book ahead of all of the other competing books in the catalogue. If it's this difficult for a mainstream literary novel to succeed, can you imagine what it takes for a self-published book in the same genre to have a chance? This is why so many book publicists are reluctant to promote novels.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Biggest Book Promotion Party of the Year.

The annual bookselling convention, BEA, is the largest book promotion party of the year. It's a chance for publishers and authors to get their wares before booksellers and rights buyers from all around the world. And it all begins this afternoon at 4:00PM in Washington, DC. If you're not one of the lucky people who gets to attend BEA this year -- and, as the owner and operator of a one-person book promotion firm, I'm not one of the lucky people who gets to attend BEA this year -- you can read about the event all over the news, including at the Washington Post's Web site.

It's never too early to start planning to attend next year's BEA, if you're so inclined. Who knows? Maybe I'll see you there.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Would Desperate Housewives want to read your book?

Here's a book promotion scenario to make television show addicts squirm. Your publisher realizes that buying a commercial for your book during Desperate Housewives (or another TV show) will be ineffective because so many viewers use the latest technology to skip commercials. Therefore, your publisher instead pays the producer of the TV show to incorporate your book into the plot. Your book then becomes the reason Gabrielle is so unhappy, or Susan chases the wrong man. Your book wins, but the show suffers, and let's face it. Which do you care more about: book promotion or your favorite television show?

Okay, never mind that question. Still, you might want to check out MSNBC.com's article about product placement on television shows. The practice has been going on nearly as long as television has existed. I can still hear Lawrence Welk interrupting his show to explain why the benefits that viewers would derive from taking Geritol, or the goofiness of watching members of the original Star Trek crew acting oddly excited about some of their props that were being marketed as toys that season.

But that was before TiVo and other technologies have made commercials a difficult way to sell things, and have inadvertently encouraged soda companies and other vendors to get creative in their promotion efforts. Could the next product sold on a network television program be your book? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The book publisher did it.

Who committed an act of libel? Was it the author of Paperback Poison: the Romance Writer and the Hit Man or its publisher, AuthorHouse? According to Claire Kirch's article in PW Daily, the book publisher did it.

Here's what's interesting to me. AuthorHouse doesn't call itself a publishing house. On its home page, AuthorHouse bills itself as a team of "author advocates" who can "help you choose the best book publishing options and the most effective marketing tools."

In other words, AuthorHouse allows authors to self publish, and they don't impose editorial standards on their clients' work.

AuthorHouse may have provided the mechanism that allowed a libelous book to be printed and marketed. But if I'd been on that Kansas jury, I would have noted that a company like AuthorHouse doesn't evaluate its clients' work, and probably doesn't even read it. That's the business model, and while it may leave book reviewers scratching their heads, it would seem to exonerate AuthorHouse from responsibility if anything goes wrong.

I'm surprised at the verdict. A jury said that the book publisher did it, but I wonder. What will this do to the future of print-on-demand publishing? If I were iUniverse, I'd be scared now. I'd be very scared.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Surprise from Bowker

The BusinessWire story's headline reads: "U.S. Book Production Plummets 18,000 in 2005, According to Bowker Statistics; Smaller Publishers Show the Largest Drop in New Titles...."

The decline in U.S. book production is the first since 1999, according to the story, which gets its information from Bowker's Books in Print database.

Fewer books means fewer authors promoting books, which could be good news for your next book promotion campaign. But before you book that flight for Chicago or New York, remember that every author (and every book publicist) in North America is still pitching story ideas to Oprah, Today, Good Morning America, the View, and so forth.

With the costs of paper and transportation rising, it probably should come as no surprise that publishers, large and small, are being especially cautious these days. And who knows? That may eventually lead to explosive growth in the world of ebooks.

One way or another, the media will find the authors it needs to speak as experts about every topic under the sun. Will the shrinking number of new books cause less competition among publishers and authors for book promotion opportunities? Stay tuned.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Online Book Promotion

Here's yet another reason to emphasize online book promotion campaigns over traditional book promotion campaigns. According to a new CNN.com article, the circulation of most (not all, but most) newspapers slipped still further in the last six months. The New York Times and USA Today's circulation has climbed slightly, but other newspapers -- including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe -- have lost subscribers.

No book publicist would recommend avoiding newspapers and pursuing only online venues. But the truth is that newspapers are becoming less relevant while their online counterparts are becoming better trafficked all the time. Book promotion campaigns must include pitches to online venues as well as the bricks-and-mortar publications.

At the very least, there's no longer any need for an author to complain that an article mentioning his or her book appears "only online." Online is getting to be a more important venue every day.

Riddle: How do you get a bibliophile interested in switching to ebooks?

Give up? The way you get a bibliophile to jettison those precious paper relics and embrace the digital revolution is to tell him or her that books are now being made of elephant dung. You then let the image, um, ferment in the bibliophile's imagination.

Here‘s my proof from Sentinel.com that some enterprising Thai, elephant-embracing activitists are , indeed, making paper from elephant dung (well, you didn't think I'd make up a thing like that, did you?). The story goes on to suggest that cow poop and bison messes may be the next frontier.

Try putting adding those books to your valuable collections, book lovers! Not the sort of reading copy you'd bring to the beach, is it? Or snuggle with under the covers, flashlight in hand?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that a book made from animal feces is ineligible for book promotion -- far from it. I'm just saying that I'm probably not the best candidate to handle those particular book promotion campaigns. Too squeamish, am I.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Senator's Book Publicist

Who is Senator Ted Kennedy's book publicist? That's the question that was on my mind when I read an article in this morning's Boston Globe Magazine about Ted's new children's book.

In the article's second Q&A, the senator mentions his son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy. Here's the context. Ted tells us that Patrick's asthma is one of the reasons why Ted and his wife, Vicki, acquired the "non-allergic" dog, Splash, who is the subject of children's book Ted is currently promoting.

As someone who understands the motto, "the show must go on," I can sympathize with Ted's wanting his book promotion campaign to move ahead despite the personal problems he faces. However, I have a hard time understanding why Ted's book publicist may have thought the timing of this particular book promotion "hit" was a good idea.

Ted's asthmatic son, Patrick, was recently admitted to a drug rehab program a day or two after he was involved in a car accident. There are those who believe that Patrick should have been given a breathalizer test at the scene of the car accident. Additionally, there are those who say that Patrick has given conflicted statements about the quantity, and quality, of his memories of the car accident and what may have precipitated it.

In other words, Patrick is having serious problems right now, and since Patrick is Ted's son, it would be a fair statement that Ted is having serious problems right now as well. And what is Ted doing right now, as he sips his morning coffee? You guessed it. He's reading an article about his children's book.

There's a time to promote books and a time to not promote books. In my opinion, when your son is having serious problems is a good time to suspend a book promotion campaign for your children's book.

Maybe the senator's book publicist asked the Boston Globe Magazine's editor to kindly pull the article, and the editor refused. That would certainly call into question the editor's judgment, wouldn't it?

Ah, well. I'm a great fan of children's books, but I wasn't in the market to buy Ted's book, anyway . . . even before I saw that his son's drug problems didn't put a dent in his book promotion campaign efforts.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blurbs -- Book Publicity or Editorial?

In practice, most book promotion campaigns begin about three months before a book's publication date. Therefore, as a book promotion specialist, I don't get involved in securing endorsements for books that I promote. That's an editorial function, and it's handled either by the book's editor or the author him- or herself.

That allows me to say, with impunity, that I got a chuckle out of the May 3, 2006 Dogmatika post titled "This book will not change your life." It discusses the fact that blurbs have become meaningless, since all books have blurbs that sound alike -- and they all sound over-the-top and difficult to swallow.

All readers have their own pet peeves when it comes to "blurbsters" -- the authors who apparently are willing to endorse anything, from fast food restaurants' placemats to books that were seemingly written in Sanskrit. In fact, books of a certain genre that lack an endorsement by these habitual "blurbsters" seem naked. Why didn't so-and-so endorse this book, a reader might wonder. Does it truly stink or something? Or is the author just completely out-of-the-loop?

When disingenuous praise of a book is mandatory, and a book looks naked without a blurb by specific blurbsters, you know something is goofy. Perhaps it's time to start a new trend in book marketing: honesty on book covers. How about if we see blurbs like this? "My husband wrote this novel, and I haven't actually read it yet, but darn, he worked hard on it, and I truly hope you'll support his efforts by taking a chance and buying the book."

Perhaps it won't wash, but you know what? I do wish that it would.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Rising Costs of Book Promotion

Is the cost of book promotion increasing? Yes, if the price of stamps rises again. The Associated Press story, which made it onto MSNBC.com, is threatening a three cent increase for first class stamps beginning as early as May of 2007. It doesn't mention the projected cost of mailing a flat-rate Priority envelope, which is the preferred mailing method of most book publicists with whom I've worked.

As snail-mailings become increasingly expensive, I'm growing increasingly fond of finding new ways to promote books online. (Of course, the pundits are always working on a way to charge us for sending emails -- and, some day, they might just figure out a practical way to do it.) Still, even in book promotion campaigns that rely heavily on online publicity strategies, interviewers will need copies of the book, and the least expensive way to send those books is to use the U.S. Postal Service.

Rate increases mean that the price of book promotion campaigns increase. There's no way around it. So if you're planning to promote your book in the summer of 2007 or thereafter . . . consider yourself forewarned.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

When You Can Get Audiobooks for Free

If you could get audiobooks for free, and if the process were as simple as bringing your MP3/WMA player into your local public library's computer and click on the right icons -- would you? That's the challenge posed for Boston-area library patrons by this story. Apparently, the Boston Public Library is the first library in New England to use OverDrive Download Stations. And, to add to the temptation, BPL library card holders don't even have to visit the library itself. Instead, we can log onto http://overdrive.bpl.org and snag our freebies there.

Some of the publishers who have contributed to the library's catalogue are: Brilliance Audio, Blackstone Audiobooks, HarperAudio, and Time Warner Audiobooks. If they're okay with making their work available to patrons for free through the Boston Public Library, then who am I do balk at the opportunity?

I'm a self-admitted book junkie, and yes, I like books. I love books. I want books. I need books.

But ... I also like authors. I need authors. And authors need book publicists to promote their books, not to help libraries give their books away for free.

What happens to royalty statements now, in this age of "Sure, I'll take that book for free. Why not?" That remains to be seen, I suppose.

In the meantime, I'll check out that Digital Library Reserve page. But I'm not ready to download anything quite yet.