Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Change, Change, Change

Well, literary boys and girls, I'm sorry to be the book publicist to break it to you, but...well, there's just not easy way to say this. Amazon and Borders are getting a divorce.

It wasn't anything that you did. In fact, it wasn't about you at all. It was just that Borders needed its own Web site. Sometimes, that happens, even when two companies loved each other once upon a time and cohabitated (or, at least, shared a Web site) for years and years (in this case, seven years).

Borders new Web site, you may not be surprised to learn, is Borders.com/. And Publishers Weekly's story about the Amazon / Borders breakup is right here.

Note that Baker and Taylor is handling fulfillment for Borders.com. Also, whereas Amazon offers free shipping for book orders that total more than $25, Borders lets you pick up orders at your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore for just the price of the gas you'll need to get there. Hmmm....

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stifle yourself, Barry Nolan?

Barry Nolan, beloved Boston media personality, was told to stifle his outrage at the local Emmy Award that was granted to Fox News Channel's Bill O’Reilly. He didn't. He was fired from his hosting job at "Backstage" that airs on CN8, The Comcast Network.

Acoording to a Boston Herald article, Nolan knew he was risking his job when he disseminated leaflets that contained some of O'Reilly's quotations, but "nobody likes it when people tell them to stifle, not even Edith Bunker."

No, they don't. And I'm surprised and disappointed that a major market media outlet such as CN8 would penalize Barry Nolan -- a personality whom Bostonians grew to admire during his days as co-host of the long-gone, but never forgotten "Evening Magazine" -- for his respectful and justified demonstration of dismay over the local Emmy Award's choice of honorees.

We, as media consumers, enjoy telling ourselves that we control the media with our choices. If we admire Barry Nolan, then we watch him, and he gets more airtime. If we find Bill O’Reilly's belligerence intolerable, then we ignore him, and he gets less airtime.

It seems that, in this case, media consumers didn't get a vote. But, if this media consumer did get a vote, then TV viewers in New England would continue enjoying Barry Nolan for many, many years to come as the host of "Backstage," and Bill O’Reilly would be pounding the pavement right now looking for another platform for his malice.

I also believe that no one -- no author, no expert, and no well-intentioned person with a respectful message to disseminate -- should be barred from airing that message. No one should be "stifled." And certainly not a good soul like Nolan.

But that's just this media consumer's opinion.

Friday, May 16, 2008

As a consequence of a book tour...

As a consequence of a book tour, there is now something singular and very much appreciated available on FoxNews.com: a decent current photo of William Shatner. Well, everything's relative.

Shatner's new book is called Up Till Now. He appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor," as part of his book tour, to promote it. You can reach the transcript of the interview online, in case you missed it.

Naturally, the interview revolves around the famous "Star Trek" feud. It turns out that Shatner and Nimoy did not instantly love each other, nor did everyone else in the "Star Trek" cast necessarily worship at Captain Kirk's shrine.

Big shock there, huh?

Seems that, even if you're William Shatner, you still have to pitch the "news hook" to producers if you want to promote your book, and then suffer the indignity of seeing the interview focus solely on that.


But, okay. At least we got a reasonably bearable new photo of William Shatner out of it. Beats watching those Priceline commericals.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And speaking of social networking...

How funny! I was just blogging about social networking and the fact that Facebook (and other social networking sites) are rendering Oprah (and other traditional media venues) irrelevant for the under-25 crowd. And now I read an article on a ZDnet blog that announces Comcast's acquisition of Plaxo.

Which means (says the social-networking savvy book publicist) that a cable television giant has just melded its world with that of a social network. By extension, that may mean that, in the not-so-distant future, any TV show that you (or members of the millennium generation) are watching may have to compete with on-air updates, invitations, pokes, messages, and who-knows-what-else from their online social networking buddies.

Think about it. You've finally scored a national TV show appearance. You've even enticed a wider audience than your specific target audience to the airing of that TV show. It's the perfect, dream-come-true book promotion opportunity. And then -- SLAM! -- your appearance is interrupted by special bulletins from Plaxo members across the globe who must, must let other Plaxo users know about the date they had last night or an upcoming exam or....

It's a vastly different world out there for those of who promote books. Ready? Get set? Learn!

More confessions of a book publicist

This book publicist has to confess something: this morning, she wrote on a wall. But it wasn't vandalism or desecration. No. The wall in question was a Facebook feature. And another thing: this book publicist was invited to write on it, and that makes a difference.

At least, I think it does.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not only a book publicist. I am also an adult, and in a perfect world, I wouldn't have to ever log onto Facebook, mySpace, or any other social networking venue. I could beg off and let the young'uns play in their virtual world while I limited my communications to, well, the real world.

But here's the thing. Book promotion is what I do for a living, and although I'm still conducting book promotion campaigns the way that I did 15 years ago, I'm also integrating new book promotion strategies that weren't even invented 5 years ago.

To me, keeping up with the new methods of communication and media outlets is an important part of my job. How can I function effectively as a book promotion specialist if everyone under age 25 is scrawling on a Facebook wall, and reading other users' Facebook walls, unless I can scale a Facebook wall, too?

And how can I know that mySpace is "out" and Facebook is "in" until, as a registered user of both sites, I've noticed a lack of activity on one site and a surge of activity on the other?

Ultimately, how can anyone promote books if she's only targeting traditional media outlets, and media consumers under age 25 don't even turn on their television sets except to watch DVDs?

So, yes, I'm exploring some of the social networks, and I'm toying with texting instead of emailing, and I'm twittering, and I'm keeping up with everything that's invented, as it's invented, and I think anyone who's seriously contemplating a book promotion camaign has to be experimenting with more media outlets, and more types of communication, than the old tried-and-true venues.

Sure, we're adults. But those who spend their free time writing on Facebook walls won't necessarily hold that against us. And twittering? That's as legal for us grownups as it is for the college crowd. Unless new laws are now published first on Facebook....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A reflection on the media

Every now and again, you realize that book promotion isn't the most important thing in the world. In China, at least 18,000 people may have lost their lives because of an earthquake. I can't imagine the suffering the Chinese are experiencing now. I can empathize, because I've felt pain -- but not that kind of pain.

And, as a separate but related matter, try to imagine this: You're a journalist in Myanmar. You've just survived a natural disaster that has killed thousands. And now you're living in fear of the government which, according to a CNN.com article, is scapegoating members of the media now. See (I'm trying to see, but again, it's almost impossible to imagine this): the government feels that, if word about how tragic the cyclone really was ever leaked out beyond Myanmar, then its (the government's) credibility would be undermined. Therefore, journalists must fear for their lives if they do their jobs and report the story.

You know, we're trying to get publicity for books, and we see journalists as a means to an end: increased visibility and, ultimately, more book sales. But try telling a Myanmar-based journalist whose life is in danger today that your focus is on book promotion. Sort of puts things in perspective for this book publicist.

But here's a story that I read yesterday that makes me feel that, sometimes, journalists have the best job in the world. Before her widely-published obituary, had you ever heard of Irena Sendler? To see her picture is to know that she was an angel. Ms. Sendler was a Polish hero who saved the lives of 2,800 Jewish children and babies during World War 2. She went into the Warsaw Ghetto, and she found a way to take out these children -- illegally, obviously -- and to give them a chance. What's more, she made a list of their real names hoping that somehow, some way, they could be reunited with their biological families after the war.


Ms. Sendler was living in relative obscurity in Poland until a journalist, somewhere, figured out who she was and what she'd done. Now she's the object of worldwide appreciation, veneration, and awe.

That's what a journalist should be doing. They shouldn't be in hiding, and they shouldn't be fearing a knock on their doors, as they must be now in Myanmar.

As my immigrant grandmother told me about 15 million times, during her lifetime, we are very lucky to be U.S. citizens. We may not always appreciate it, but on days like today, I think I do. Reflecting on the media makes me realize how lucky we are to be here, now, and contacting the media about our books -- rather than trying to find food, water, shelter, or lost family members.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spreading Your Eggs Into Various Baskets

The key to success -- book promotion success, or any other kind of success -- is to spread your eggs into various baskets. Thinking "this is the one!" or "getting on this show will be the making of my book!" is a sure-fire way to disappoint yourself and sabotage your book promotion campaign.

Here's a case in point: authors who think that Google is the only search engine in town, and who are putting all their SEO (search engine optimization) eggs into Google's basket will be in for a hard landing (and a painful reality check) when the Next Big Thing in search engines comes along, and Google is out of the picture.

I just read an article on MSNBC.com called "Where Does Google Go Next" that talked about employees fleeing Google, as they do all companies -- whereas, once upon a time, they probably had hoped that working at Google would be a lifetime appointment. The article points out that Google, too, is vulnerable to the shortcomings of all companies.

It's hard to think about the Great and Almight Google as a corporation, but that's all it is: an ordinary companies that has risen high and, one day, will hit the earth again. Signs of that are already visible. Imagine if Microsoft's offer to buy Yahoo really came to fruition? Good grief! How fast can you refocus your SEO efforts, when the need arises?

So, yes, optimizing your book Web site for Google is still the smart thing to do. But be ready for that to change. One day, in the forseeable future, gaining visibility for your book Web site will be focuses on a search engine other than Google. And authors and publishers who put all their digital eggs into Google's basket might find their book promotion campaign floundering because of that choice.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Book Promotion Costs Increase - Part 2

Well, the Post Office Guy let me down. As of yesterday, he still didn't know how much it would cost to mail flat-rate Priority evelopes -- the type that I routinely use for mailing out books and press kits to the media. I know. I asked. He shrugged.

The Supervisor Post Office Guy heard and saw the exchange, and he jumped into the conversation. Yay! A Supervisor Post Office Guy! Now I'd get the answer! I was especially hopeful to get clarity about the book promotion costs increase -- which will take effect on Monday -- when the Supervisor Post Office Guy offered up the information that he'd ordered the new postage. Yay! An answer! And what, exactly, will the book promotion cost increase be, Mr. Supervisor Post Office Guy?

Well, he couldn't say, exactly. He knows that he ordered $4.80 stamps (the old rate for flat-rate Priority envelopes was $4.60). But he doesn't know for sure whether $4.80 will be enough to mail all my flat-rate Priority packages. In fact, lamentably, the Supervisor Post Office Guy doesn't know if there will still be a flat-rate Priority package rate as of Monday.

Priority rates might depend on zones which, as you've probably learned by now (presuming you use the US Postal Service to mail packages as part of your book promotion campaign), is post office parlance for "the distance your package is traveling." So, if your package is crossing enough zones -- according to the Supervisor Post Office Guy at my local post office -- then the $4.80 rate might increase. Maybe. To something, that he can't say just now. Because he doesn't know for sure.

In fact, he suggested that I just sit tight until Monday, when he and I can find out together.

I love surprises. Most people love surprises.

So here's a surprise that awaits us. We'll be surprised to find out how our book promotion campaign costs will increase as of Monday.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Book Promotion Costs Increase

If you use the US Postal Service's flat-rate Priority offering to mail books and media kits, then the price of your book promotion campaign is about to increase. As of Monday, the rates will change. That's the good news.

Well, okay, it's not good news, but it's the best news that I have for you.

As I mailed out a handful of books and media kits today via the flat-rate Priority service, I asked the Post Office Guy at my local branch what the new rates would be. The Post Office Guy shrugged sheepishly and showed me his voluminous update postage rate information package that covered every possible postage rate increase-related topic under the sun -- but didn't contain even a hint about upcoming Priority rate changes.

The Post Office Guy, who has spent much of the past 15 years or so helping hapless customers like me keep up with the ever-evolving rules, quirks, and pricing structures of the US Postal Service, promised to put a note into my post office box with the information I requested as soon as it becomes available. "Or you can just come in here with some unstamped flat-rate Priority packages on Monday and be surprised," offered the Post Office Guy as an alternative.

Thanks, Post Office Guy. And thank you, too, Pundits in Charge of the US Postal Services Communication Flow. Thanks to all of you, I now know exactly how much my book promotion campaign costs are going to increase as of next week, and I can clearly inform my cilents and other concerned citizens who are in the midst of book promotion campaigns about what the specific changes will be.

Any time after the new rates take effect, that is.

Oh, yeah. And one more thing. The Post Office Guy told me that the flat-rate Express service the Postal Service once offered is no longer exactly a flat-rate service. The rate will depend, in part, on the destination zone. He fears the same will be true of the new flat-rate Priority rates, but he can't say for sure. Stay tuned...or check with your local post office on Monday.

Perfect Book Promotion Pitches

If you send out a lot of book promotion pitches, the way that I do, then you write for a tough audience: the media. In fact, if the editors and writers of top magazines and newspapers are on your media contact list, then you are writing for the toughest -- and, potentially, the most critical -- audience imaginable. A press kit (and that term now includes traditional press kits as well as online, digital press kits) is not the place to demonstrate your confusion about grammar, spelling, or word usage. Even casual emails to the media -- surprise! -- have to be cogent, correct, cohesive, and clear.

It's easy to write perfectly, all the time, if you're a well-programmed software program -- but I've never met an author, publisher, or book publicist who falls into that category. Alas. The second-best way to create book promotion pitches that enhance your credibility, rather than encourage recipients to roll their eyes and shake their heads, is to look up anything of which you're unsure.

I've just found a great online resource, and I want to share it with everyone who's in the midst of a book promotion campaign. In fact, I want to share it with everyone on the planet! Note: The site doesn't charge users, and even if it ever starts to charge users, the owners aren't paying me a referral fee. My enthusiasm comes not from the potential to profit from this referral but, rather, from my deep and abiding love of the English language. Check out this link: http://www.bartleby.com/.

Why? I'm glad you asked. On Bartleby's Web site, you'll find searchable copies of Fowler's The King's English (yes, it's British, but still); The Elements of Style; the American Heritage® Book of English Usage, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and more.

Finding this site has made my day. It's also eliminated my last excuse for getting anything wrong, ever, in any of my outbound book promotion pitches.

It's also, potentially, addictive. Note to clients: Don't worry, I'm bookmarking the site now and won't click it on again until after hours. I can do it! I can do it!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Book promotion mistake: torturing your message

Don't get me wrong. One of the most effective ways to garner book promotion opportunities is to tie your book (and blog, seminars, multimedia book shows, podcasts, and other informational offerings) into the headlines. As a book publicist, it's part of my job to keep an eye on news stories and current events, and to suggest ways to tie your messages into the news.

But a common mistake this book publicist sees is: taking it too far.

If there's a presidential election coming up, suddenly, every author is trying to find a presidential election media angle. Sometimes, it works, but when you have to put your message through torturous machinations ("as a nutritionist, I can talk about how Hillary Clinton's diet has probably changed during the campaign based on how her clothes seem to be fitting her" or "as a real estate professional, I'd suggest waiting until the Democratic party has nominated its candidate before putting your home on the market") to justify a pitch.

I've had two clients, already, ask me to craft a pitch to the media that would run something like, "here's some fashion advice for Barak, Hillary, and John" and "here are the five verbal mistakes that the presidential candidates must avoid."

Now put yourself in the shoes of a producer or editor. Every publicist who approaches you, and every author and publisher who pitches you, has an election-related media angle. Every one of them wants to advise presidential candidates. And you've been running dozens of election stories each week, and you've spoken with hundreds of experts who are tying their messages into the election. You've heard thousands of election-related news hooks, and at this point, you have election story ideas all over your desk, your floor, your email box, and your voice mail. You're drowning in election stories.

Which would appeal to you more: yet another election-related news hook, or an unrelated story idea?

The answer is that, when coverage of a particular news event (today, it's the presidential election, but soon it will be another story -- a celebrity's demise, another O. J. Simpson trial, a natural disaster, or what-have-you) reaches the saturation point, then the media welcomes -- in fact, the media demands -- other story pitches.

Be bold. When other authors, publishers, and book publicists are offering advice to presidential candidates or Britney Spears or O. J. Simpson, try offering a more hard-hitting news angle. Conversely, when the news is filled with natural disasters, crime, and morbid economic predictioins, try pitching a light feature story idea. Instead of torturing your message to fit the news story of the day, offer your expertise in ways that the media will find refreshing.

Producers and editors, too, need a break from politics (and the recession, and O.J., and the Olympics, and...). During those times -- when the media is weighing itself down with the same-old, same-old news hooks -- try offering them something, and I think you'll see the book promotion opportunities you've been seeking.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Authors: have you been to Boston lately?

Boston, Massachusetts is a literary hotbed. So says novelist Mameve Medwed as quoted in a May 4 Boston Globe article titled "Novices peek at literary world."

Well, yes. I knew that Massachusetts had bragging rights to some of my favorite authors, past and present. Louisa May Alcott, famously of Concord, once lived on Beacon Hill, for heaven's sakes! I've read in her bio that Lois Lowry -- The Giver, anyone? -- lives, part of the time, on Beacon Hill, too. So of course: Boston is filled with literary greats.

But who knew that Boston was also the home of "Muse and the Marketplace," which the Globe describes as a two-day conference run by the independent writing center Grub Street Inc." I didn't, I'm ashamed to say, even though this was its seventh year in operation.

Me? I'm not only a Boston-based book publicist, but I'm also a rabid Massachusetts-based book reader, and I can guarantee you: the eighth annual "Muse and the Marketplace" will find me in attendance, drinking in the company, and talents, of the Massachusetts-based writers who help make Boston a literary hub.

Is the "Muse and the Marketplace" a book promotion opportunity? Certainly, but it's also a chance to meet new Boston-area authors and get a first-peek at their works -- and I, for one, will never let that opportunity slip by again.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Do you need a blog promotion specialist?

Everyone blogs. But it occurs to me that a lot of bloggers are making the same mistake. They're thinking: If you blog it, they will come. Well, no.

If you blog it, they will come -- if you promote your blog.

You know the drill. You can be the world's best blogger, but if no one knows about your blog, then you're blogging for your own amusement. That may be fine, if you're a hobbyist with lots of time on your hands to express yourself on a subject and then move onto your real life.

But if blogging is part of your real life -- if you're blogging to promote your book, to bring visitors to your Web site, to help producers and editors find you, to optimize your Web site for search engine placement, to build brand, to enhance your online visibility, and to disseminate your messages -- then you have to publicize your blog.

You have to think of your blog as a product that needs your publicist's time and energy, just as you think of your book, Web site, and seminars as products that must be promoted and marketed. Your blog publicist should understand the viral marketing potential of your blog and should have a track record at bringing visitors to your blog.

If you blog, they will come -- but your blog promotion specialist has to "think outside the blog" to make that happen. Does your book publicist lack the blog promotion experience? We can help. We also offer ghost blogging services. Email us at sjmiller@bookpr.com, or visit our web site for more information.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I'd like to thank the Academy, and....

This year's YouTube Video Awards have just been handed out, and for this book publicist, that begs the question: could your multimedia book show (presuming you've uploaded it to YouTube and other video-sharing sites) go "viral," be seen by millions of people, and perhaps even win the online video equivalent of an Emmy?

And, if it did, would that necessarily turn your book into a bestseller?

Historically, book promotion efforts have been related to book sales (book publicists of integrity won't tell you exactly how the two are related, because we can't know for sure -- but we do know that there's usually a correlation between the two). But there's been no one huge book promotion hit -- no, not even an appearance on "Oprah" -- that can guarantee an author will sell a specific number of books on a given day, or that the number of books sold will be enough to catapult the book to the bestseller lists.

But, then again, traditional media outlets haven't resulted in the type of viral marketing enjoyed by the winners of the 2007 YouTube Video Awards. Those videos are everywhere. Links to those videos are in your inbox, because several people you know sent them to you. Those people didn't even have to enjoy those videos to pass along those links. They simply had to be get a chuckle, learn a couple of things, or believe that -- in some way -- the videos were worth a few minutes of your time. And that's it: the links land in your inbox, you pass them along to others, and those recipients pass them along to still others, and...before long, the number of viewers for that video probably leaves the number of viewers that any national TV show boasts in the dust.

Which leads me to wonder: for authors with a book to promote, and the budget to create a multimedia book show, why are you not getting out there and hiring a production conmpany to create a video for you? Why are you putting all of your book promotion muscle behind traditional book publicity instead of exploring the possibilities of online book promotion such as multimedia book shows?

There may be reasons that I don't understand. But perhaps someoone could explain them to me, because -- after watching the success of the videos featured in this year's YouTube Video Awards -- I believe that book videos should be a part of every author and publisher's bag of tricks. And you?