Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What makes the news?

What makes the news? A Parade magazine reader posed that question to columnist Marilyn vos Savant on October 28, 2007.

The reader, Brian VerHage of Fort Mill, S.C., asked Marilyn why news stories always seem to report bad news exclusively. Here's the Parade column.

Marilyn answers the reader's question, and as I read her response, I thought: Well, yes. Here's where Marilyn's celebrated high I.Q. and common sense would really help us out with book promotion campaigns. If only we could get inside the minds of assignment editors and news producers, then just think how effective would our book promotion campaigns be!

I'm fond of Marilyn's column, and I have a lot of respect for her high intelligence (and that facile mind of hers that can work through just about any puzzle a reader can pose -- seemingly, in an instant). But I'm not sure she was 100% on target with her perspective about what makes news.

She was partly correct. Yes, news is a sudden happening. Non-news is a non-happening, of course, or something that happened so gradually that no one noticed it (and, presumably, nobody cared about it), as Marilyn points out.

But let's take it a step farther. News is what happens when someone says, "Hey! Wait! I've reached a conclusion, and here it is!" or "Let me be the first to point this out: there's a trend happening here!" And news, of course, is when the media reports that the someone in question is saying it.

Also, let me take a stab at answering the reader's question. To quote Brian VerHage exactly, the question was: Why do nearly all the stories on newscasts focus on negative events?

I just want to reassure Brian that, sometimes, the media is all over good news. In fact, sometimes the media is so saturated with good news that it makes some media consumers (or this media consumer, anyway) squirm.

Here in Massachusetts, the Boston Red Sox World Championship win has been saturating all the local news outlets. In fact, everywhere you turn -- TV, newspapers, radio, and the Net -- it's Sox, Sox, Sox! There's so much good news for Boston sports enthusiasts that there's little room for any other type of news.

This was not the week to get mugged. Nobody cares. It was not the week to have your house catch on fire. No sympathy from the press. It was not the week for a strange infection to hit a local school. Wouldn't even make the radar screen.

No, this week, Boston-area news is about one thing, and one thing only. The Boston Red Sox have brought good news to the Red Sox Nation, and have brought grim news to any author who's trying to conduct a book promotion tour in the Boston area for the past week or so.

Good news, as it turns out, is not necessarily good news for authors and publishers who are trying to do some book marketing in the media.

Of course, Massachusetts' good news isn't good news for everyone. Thank goodness, there's always Colorado for those who are seeking book promotion opportunities.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Scrap that book promotion opportunity!

I told you about an experiment that Massachusetts' mass transit system -- the MBTA -- was trying. It was called T Radio, and it was going to replace ipods, newspapers, and conversation as ways for Boston-area commuters to pass their time while they were riding around on trains. It was also going to present book promotion opportunities for intrepid authors who didn't mind trying to market their books while aggressive commuters jockeyed for seats on crowded trains during rush hour.

Well, scrap that book promotion opportunity. The MBTA riders didn't like T Radio. They really, really didn't like it. They sent emails to the authorities in charge of the mass transit system and complained about what they called "Torture Radio," and asked that the plug be pulled permanently. And the MBTA authorities listened. Here's the story, from the Boston Globe.

This story leaves me feeling the way I do when a TV show that I meant to watch because the critics rave about it gets cancelled, and I haven't had a chance to take a look at it yet. Well, okay, the analogy breaks down here because Boston's subway riders didn't rave about T Radio. They hated it. Still, I think the medium had potential, and I might have liked to check it out for myself. Okay, let's face it. I would have hated it, too -- but I'm sorry I didn't make a trip into Boston via train so that I could hear T Radio just once before the station went dark just so that I could have heard what it was that everyone hated so I could decide for myself that it was, indeed, terrible and deserved to leave the airwaves.

Oh, well. Another book promotion for authors has bitten the dust. That probably means about 46 new book promotion opportunities will arise next week to take its place. And it's our lot in life, as book marketers, to find out just what those new book promotion opportunities are.

Book promotion, book promotion, book promotion. If ever there were a moving target, book promotion is it. Pity the book publicist who has to keep up with the media changes to make a living!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Boston Globe reporter speaks out about book reviews

Just read an interesting Boston Globe article, "Internet offers book reviewers a new chapter," by Alex Beam.

In that article, Beam points out that newspapers accept a lot of advertising dollars in their book review sections. Thus, by trimming back (or by eliminating) their book review sections, they're actually sabotaging themselves. I never thought about it that way, but now that I have, I'm curious about why newspapers have been so willing to cut out a section of their publications that, potentially, was a moneymaker for them.

Is it because the switch from paper-based book reviews to Internet-based book reviews is inevitable? Will readers switch their allegiances from, say, the Boston Globe's book review section to the online Barnes and Noble bookstore ( reviews, regardless of what newspapers want?

In fact, if book reviews are moving to the Net, then can feature stories be far behind? How long will it be before the Boston Globe whacks back all its editorial content in favor of putting it up on its Web site -- perhaps for the benefit of subscribers only?

It's a strange new world, the idea of online book reviews. And yet it's happening all around us. Alex Beam's article suggests to me that there's nothing readers can do to change that. I wonder....

Monday, October 22, 2007

From Tinky Winky to Dumbledore

Note to J.K. Rowling: I don't care about Dumbledore's sexual orientation.

I don't mean that I was sort of busy the day that the huge revelation about Dumbledore's attraction to another male character in the Harry Potter book series appeared everywhere in the media, all at once.

I mean: I don't care. I just really and truly can't get my mind wrapped around the fictional sexual orientation of fictional characters in a fictional world. This is a consistent theme with me. Not only do I not care who the imaginary Dumbledore might have been fictionally attracted to, but I also didn't care which doll the Tinky Winky teletubby would have been attracted to, if he/she/it had been attracted to another teletubby doll.

I similarly don't care much about David Copperfield's sexual orientation although, admittedly, that saga promises to be a bit more interesting -- but only a bit. David Copperfield is an assumed name of a man who makes a living pretending to be able to perform magic, which makes him another fictional character, of sorts, as far as I'm concerned. Need we go into my feelings about Michael Jackson's romantic persuasion? I think not.

Okay, the Harry Potter books have outsold every book you can name since the 1997 release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Good for Rowling.

But, now that the series has been concluded, do I really have to hear the back story of each and every one of the 12 million fictional characters (including the owls and rats and who-knows-what other creatures) that populate Rowling's imaginary world?

Today, we know that Dumbledore is gay. Tomorrow, must we find out that Hermione had acne? Or, perhaps, that Ron needed braces?

Come one. Give me a break. Sometimes, there's such a thing as too much book promotion.

Rowling, could you leave this one alone now? Please?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jon Keller, Part Two.

In the event that you were waiting at the edge of your seat to learn what Jon Keller's editor had to say about Jon Keller's book, here's part two of the Jon Keller saga. Jon Keller, as you'll recall from yesterday's blog entry, is the Boston-area media personality whose new book, The Bluest State, contains a multitude of quotations that, apparently, are unattributed to the sources from which they were originally appropriated. The Boston Herald broke the story yesterday and followed up on it today.

The Boston Herald (to which Keller frequently contributes, by the way), touched base with Michael Flamini who edited The Bluest State for St. Martin's Press. Flamini is quoted as saying (I'm psraphrasing here) that, since Keller's book is for the trade rather than the academic press, it doesn't need footnotes or a meticulous bibliography.

Well, then.

Equally frightening to this book publicist is the fact that Jeff Kiernan, the news director at WBZ-TV -- one of the two Boston-area television stations for which Jon Keller is a political analyst -- says (and here I'm quoting the Boston Herald article) that he has "full confidence in Jon’s integrity and in the excellent work he does.”

Unfortunately for those of us who receive at least some of our information on a daily basis from Boston-area media outlets, Kiernan doesn't explain why he has full confidence in Jon Keller or what, exactly, he means by the word "integrity." Perhaps the Boston Herald truncated Kiernan's comments. If so, then I would appreciate hearing the rest of what Kiernan had to say, and I trust other media consumers would be interested as well.

For the entire Boston Herald article, click here.

Oh, and to conclude the tale about the middle schooler I mentioned yesterday who failed to footnote that encyclopedia entry in her seventh grade homework assignment.... She was given a consequence. She was asked to pen an admission of guilt (for committing the p-word offense) along with an apology to both her classroom teacher and the principal of her school. And she did, and as a result, that young woman will remember to include footnotes in all of her future homework assignments for a long time to come.

This youngster was in middle school. She now knows better than to leave herself open to the charge of plagarism.

How interesting it is to me that some professional journalists out there haven't learned that lesson yet.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The type of book promotion nobody wants.

As an author, you're hungry for media attention...but not the type that political analyst Jon Keller received from the Boston Herald today. According to the Boston Herald, Keller may have used without attribution quotations from a variety of print sources in his new book, The Bluest State.

Keller is a high visibility media personality in the Boston area. He has a regular gig as a political commentator on television and radio, and he's a regular contributor -- interestingly enough -- to the very publication that just outed him as a potential, well, borrower of quotations without attribution.

I hesitate to use the p-word, but that's the word that was used to describe the act of a middle school child I know who once used an encyclopedia entry to round out a homework assignment and failed to footnote that source at the bottom of her seventh-grade paper. That child came home from school crying. Jon Keller? Well, I don't know what his response to the Boston Herald's allegations are, because the paper didn't print his response.

But here's what I couldn't help but notice. To date, Keller's book (which, by the way, was published by St. Martin’s Press) has sold about 2,000 copies. That's a fair number of books for an unknown, first-time author. (Well, okay, it's not a fair number of books for anyone -- but it does at least represent the first printing of a cash-strapped publisher with very modest expectations for an unknown, first-time author.) It's less impressive a number when you consider the fact that Jon Keller is everywhere, all the time, including in many venues that have given him airtime and space to promote his book.

Everyone wants book promotion opportunities. And everyone presumes that all book promotion is good, and all media attention -- good or bad -- will eventually lead to book sales. That's what book publicists hope, too. Generally speaking.

In this case, though, we may be finding that sometimes authors get exactly what they deserve.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Doris Lessing has a MySpace page. Do you?

Doris Lessing has something you may not have. Yes, yes, Doris Lessing has a Nobel Prize in literature, but that's not what I was talking about. Doris Lessing has something far more impressive than a Nobel Prize (shoot -- any author can get one of those if, say, that author generates one of the world's most noteworthy bodies of literary work over the course of her lifetime).

Doris Lessing has a MySpace page.

The New York Times broke the news to me with this article.

Doris Lessing, at age 87, "gets it." Or, at least, she understands that she doesn't "get it," so she's partnered with somebody who does -- and she has 240 MySpace "friends" -- and counting -- to show for it.

Now here's a literary genius who probably wouldn't know an email account from an iPod. Yet she's taken the advice of a technically-savvy admirer, Jan Hanford, and developed a Web site as well as a MySpace page where fans can connect with her, express their admiration of her work, find out about future projects, and so forth. It's especially wonderful to think that Lessing found her way to Cyberpace and the world of online book marketing when you consider the fact that her publisher, HarperCollins, wasn't in on the deal. In fact, according to the NYT, Lessing's adventures in social network were "news to the HarperCollins online marketing manager, Jeffrey Yamaguchi."

Social networking is similar to blogging in that, while it seems to create online buzz "somehow," few of us over the age of 21 have a firm grasp of how, exactly, it works. But that's okay. As Doris Lessing has demonstrated, understanding the mechanism behind cyberspace community building isn't the point.

Partnering with someone who "gets it" is the point. Suspending disbelief, getting creative, and taking the plunge...that's the path to creating online buzz for your book. And, come to think of it, it's probably at least part of the blueprint Lessing would endorse for scoring a Nobel Prize in literature, too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Charles Adler Book Club

Every author wants to score a national television show appearance. But can national radio shows have a major effect on book sales? Yes, and perhaps that's truer now than it ever was before. The first radio-based book club (that this book publicist has heard of, anyway) has been launched. Corus Radio and the Penguin Group are working together to launch the Charles Adler Book Club. Click here to find out more.

The book club will focus solely on fiction, as do the major TV book clubs. But that's okay. For a novelist, it's a dream-come-true for a book club to select his or her work. Nonfiction authors have so many other book promotion opportunities. Experts can be interviewed in the national media because they're experts, and finding an interesting media hook is frequently a matter of time, experience, and luck. But, for novelists, snagging a book promotion opportunity in the national media can be far more difficult -- even if the novelist is established and well known.

If the Charles Adler Book Club takes off, perhaps other influential radio shows will decide to launch competing book clubs, too. This could be the start of a beautiful new book promotion possibility....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some good news!

Congratulations to my client, Jeremy Haft. He appeared on CNBC-TV's "Squawk on the Street" on Friday and had a chance to plug his Penguin/Portfolio book, All the Tea in China. Go, Jeremy!

And, also on Friday, a producer from the Rachael Ray's nationally syndicated TV show called to request a copy of Debra Fine's book, The Fine Art of Small Talk. Yay! It would be a natural fit. Debra has a new book coming out in a few months, and I'm hoping she'll have an opportunity to plug both books -- her upcoming book and her "classic" book, on the show. More later on that book promotion opportunity, if it develops....

In the meantime, who said that book promotion sleeps on Fridays? That's not always true....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And we need this...why?

A radio network aimed specifically at Boston's mass transit riders is about to be launched. Major train hubs in the city (well, in what we Massachusetts types call the city -- in New York, I realize that "the city" has a whole other connotation) will air news, music, weather reports, and more on T-Radio. And, if riders are enthusiastic about the pilot program, the concept will spread to other subway stations throughout Massachusetts, and all riders throughout the system will get to listen to a prescribed radio station for the duration of their commute.

And we need this ... why?

I was a Red Line rider for years, and one thing I always managed to do during my commute was to entertain myself. How did I do this? I read books! Don't gasp. It's true. I did read books. And, if I was looking for additional diversions, there was always a street musician available to entertain me (Tracy Chapman, it should be pointed out, honed her singing skills by performing for the masses at subway stops in the Boston area).

I'm not sure what T-Radio will do to the popularity of the free newspaper that subway riders can pick up and peruse during their rides around Boston. I'm also unsure about whether T-Radio will cut into book sales in the near future. (Who knows? Maybe T-Radio will even turn out to be a book promotion venue if author interviews are included as in their "entertainment features.")

Still ... given a choice between having to listen to a radio station during my commute to the city, and being able to read a book (or newspaper) of my choosing, I'd have to go with the written word. Yes, I'm biased, because I make a living in an industry that relies on book sales, and I'd probably be flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant if book sales were seriously diminished.

However ... T-Radio in place of street musicians? T-Radio instead of books? T-Radio as a substitute for meeting someone who's sitting next to you and makes a friendly comment or witty observation?

No, thanks. I'll stick with entertaining myself on the T. I think other subway riders will figure out how to entertain themselves, too, even if -- in the "worst-case scenario" -- T-Radio doesn't quite work out as planned and commuters must fall back on their own resources once again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In other Oprah Winfrey news....

In other Oprah Winfrey news:

NBC Universal has just committed to buying the Oxygen television network that Oprah founded. The selling price? About $925 million.

Here's the story.

Seems to me that, the more television networks we have, the fewer entities that own them. The same is true for radio stations, newspapers, and magazines.

So what does all this consolidation mean for book promotion possibilities?

Well, on the positive side, bigger is better. The tiny cable TV show that wasn't worth appearing on hardly exists anymore...and, maybe, it won't exist in the very near future. When the big media conglomerates finish their shopping sprees, even the humblest media outlets will have the largest potential audience that technology -- and money -- can buy. An appearance on any media outlet is going to be a book promotion bonanza. There won't be any such thing as only appearing on the Oxygen Network in a very short time. Which "insignificant" media outlet is next?

On the negative side, if your book's message or theme is idiosyncratic, ahead of its time, subversive, or just plain unpopular -- watch out. Unless your book appeals to the masses, it's going to get increasingly difficult to find book promotion opportunities for it, unless you figure out how to spin your story so that the media decision makers see it as mainstream.

But...back to the sale of the Oxygen Network. And that $925 million. What is $925 million, anyway? Are there any book publishing profesionals out there who are making anywhere in the neighborhood of that kind of money? Oh, well. We can only dream....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The most obvious, simplest book promotion trick.

If you're an as-yet-unknown author, sometimes you'll go to extraordinary lengths to score a book promotion opportunity or two. Successful authors, too, sometimes have to struggle to compete for the traditional media's limited space and airtime.

Let's face it. How many authors do you know who have all the book promotion opportunities they could possibly hope for? Not many ... so it never hurts to be reminded of an easy book promotion secret.

The secret works as well for veteran authors as it does for first-time authors. It's so obvious that you've known it all along, but I was just reminded of it, so I thought I'd share it with you while it's on my mind.

Be gracious. Charm people, and they'll make a special effort to tell their friends and relatives, "Buy so and so's book! You'll love it!" How do you do that? It's not rocket science. If a reader emails you to say something positive, hit the reply button and craft a warm, heartfelt response. If a reporter interviews you, send him or her a personal thank-you note. It makes a difference: people who work in the media are always telling me that they don't receive thank-you notes often enough, and it makes their day when they do get one.

What brought that to mind was that, a couple of days ago, I started a book review blog (more about that another time, when I've added more content to it and I have some bragging rights to a more robust book review venue). I was inspired to start the blog by a novel I'd just bought by Mark Childress, with whom I'd been smitten since I found Crazy in Alabama (which, for my money, is one of the funniest and most poignant books about Southern life that I've ever read). His latest book, One Mississippi, was calling out to me at Barnes and Noble. So I bought it, inhaled it (the way you'll inhale a book you love), and blogged about it. Then, because it was the first book review I'd penned for my new blog, I found an email address for Mark Childress on his Web site and emailed him a copy of the book review.

And what do you know? I just received a gracious, witty response from an author who didn't need my review, but was delighted to connect with someone who'd taken the time to write it, anyway. How cool is that -- to receive an email from a favorite writer who wasn't thinking about the promotional value of that email. He was just being a nice guy.

Many famous novelists (and not-so-famous authors) wouldn't have taken the time to write. (In fact, many relatives wouldn't have taken the time to write, but that's a whole other story.) And I'm sure Mark Childress had no ulterior motive in mind when he responded to my email -- nice people don't need any special motivation to be nice. But ... you know what? If Mark emails every fan who emails him with the same warmth that he just exhibited, and if he sends a thank-you note to every reporter who takes the time to interview him, and if he smiles at everyone in the bookstore who's flipping through a copy of his book -- he'll be rewarded.

You can't buy the word-of-mouth you'll gain from just being a good soul. But, surprisingly, the simplest book promotion "trick" is probably the one that fewest authors are inclined to employ. They overlook it because it's too simple and too obvious --- and, perhaps, too time-consuming. What a pity.

Oh, yeah. And please snag a copy of One Mississippi at your earliest convenience. You will love it, and you'll be reminded of what it was you loved about books all along.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The public speaks about book promotion.

What does the public have to say about which books receive their share of book promotion opportunities, and which books languish in obscurity? Well, in this age of social networking, the public might just be the final decision-maker of what's worthy of potential book buyers' time and attention, and what's unworthy.

I can Digg it. Sort of.

Well, here's the news of the day. has just acquired a journalism-by-committee Web site called Newsvine. That brings to the book promotion table terms and concepts such as "citizen journalism," "social media," and "non-professional reporting." Here's's brag about their new partner, Newsvine, and all that their partnership will contribute to the democratizing of news coverage.

This could be seriously good news for unknown authors who are launching, or who are about to launch, book promotion campaigns. I mean, with potential buyers getting involved with social networking sites -- some of which have gone terribly mainstream in recent months, there's more of a chance that your book will come to the attention of your potential readers even if you don't land an appearance on a major television show. All you have to do is create Internet buzz, and your book is on its way.

On the other hand, for unknown authors who are over the age of, say, 20, all of the social networking skills necessary to create Internet buzz are about as simple to acquire as, say, the ability to perform "Swan Lake" while wearing cement-filled sneakers and a down-filled parka -- underwater.

Ah, well. It's a strange, new world. Anyone who wants to play in the new arena of book promotion would do well to learn its ins-and-outs, despite the fact that the rules seem to change every second, on the second.

I'm up for it. And you?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oops! She picked it again!

Oprah's Book Club strikes again. Yes. Once again, the good folks at the Oprah Winfrey Show decided to choose a book that didn't need any more publicity with its book club logo. The offering? Love in the Time of Cholera. Granted, it's a nice, cheerful title (as usual), and will certainly provide Oprah fans with hours of light entertainment (which is what we've all come to expect of Oprah Book Club selections).

But why doesn't Oprah choose fresh, new authors who could benefit from the book promotion that her endorsement would provide? Why doesn't Oprah choose to introduce her audience to books they wouldn't hear about, if it weren't for Oprah's recommendation?

In days of yore, Oprah's book club catapulted unknown authors -- say, Jacquelyn Mitchard -- to the top of bestseller lists. (Remember The Deep End of the Ocean? That was worthy of Oprah's magic book club logo, and many of us wouldn't have had the pleasure of discovering it if Oprah Winfrey hadn't pointed the way to it.)

But Gabriel Garcia Marque, the latest recipient of Oprah's endorsement, won the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature, for pity's sake! He's already a luminary in the literary world. Why does he need the visibility that Oprah Winfrey's book club offers? Well, for the same reason that Tolstoy, Pearl S. Buck, and John Steinbeck needed it, I suppose.

But just once ... just once! ... I wish Oprah and her book-loving staff would harken back to their beginnings find a wonderful, budding novelist whose work is worthy of our notice, and whom we haven't yet discovered for ourselves, and that they'd grace that novelist with all the book promotion potential that her book club logo would provide. I know a book publicist or two who would help Oprah's producers find these gems.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Audio Book as Book Promotion Tool?

Would you buy a book after you've listened to the audio version of it? Stephen Colbert seems to think you will. He's selling an audiobook version of I Am America (And So Can You!) as a book promotion vehicle. In other words, he's hoping that people who pay $17.49 to download his audiobook from will be so enchanted with the book that they'll spring for an actual copy of it ($16.19 for a new copy at


In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I'm not a huge fan of audiobooks. But, if I wanted to use an audiobook as a book promotion vehicle, I'd probably want to give the audiobook away at a discounted price. Yes, I know that audiobooks usually cost more than their hard copy counterparts. But if your goal is to sell the hard copies and the audio copies of your book, then something has to give. Are you really expecting your potential readers to be so enamored with your book that they'll pay for it -- twice?

Well, maybe Stephen Colbert can expect that of his fans. But for the rest of us? I think I'd stick to other book promotion vehicles, such as media appearances and blogging, and keep readers purchasing hard copies of the book.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Blogging for Book Promotion

Here's one of the best articles I've seen on how to promote your book by using a blog. It's key message is that you should create a blog as a first step in every book promotion campaign, which is what I've been saying since the advent of blogs. People read blogs, and search engines love blogs. If you want people to hear about your book, and you want Google to recognize your book...yes...create a blog for it.

If you want some guidance on how to create a blog for your book, you might check out an ebook called Blog Your Book to the Top. At $29.95, it could be a worthwhile investment and give you some ideas to launch your online book promotion campaign. Disclaimer: I haven't yet read the book, but it's on my list of reference materials to get to "in my spare time."

Blogging for book's not as sexy as getting a call from Oprah Winfrey's producer, but every little thing you do to promote your book adds up. So why not give it a try?