Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some things don't require promotion -- and your credit card information is one of those things.

Some things don't require promotion -- and your credit card information is one of those things.

Call me a paranoid book publicist, if you'd like, but I want to pass along something that just happened. Put it in this context: Last year, right around this time, my credit card (one that I used to keep in my wallet at all times) was stolen. No real harm was done, since I discovered the problem within a week and was able to successfully dispute the $1,000 worth of charges the criminal had run up on my card (all the purchases were made in person in local stores, by the way, that did not require a buyer's signature or identification).

So that's the back story. Now here's the story.

This morning, I received two unsolicited emails from a major national chain of home improvement stores (not the one with the massive orange buildings) providing me with my password information, "that I'd requested." Um, no, I didn't request my password -- nor, by the way, do I recall ever signing up to use this site. However, I must have, because the password was one that I actually sometimes used, and it was one that no one could arbitrarily figure out.

So I called the phone number that was provided in the email to request that, to guard my security and privacy, they delete my existing account from their database. The customer service representative proceeded to ask me a lot of personal questions -- including my password. I refused to give it to her, obviously, because to do so might have potentially given her access to my credit card information. And how did I even know that I was actually calling he store that I was supposed to be calling (although it all sounded very legitimate when I made the call and got what appeared to be the store's voice mail system).

I was so uncomfortable that, once I hung up (without providing any sensitive information beyond my name), I hacked into my account and changed my password.

I'm also passing along this story as a reminder that this is the season for criminals to have a field day with people's identity information, credit cards, wallets, and more. Hold onto your belongings tightly in stores that are crawling with shoppers (and, hopefully, also with security personnel), and shop online only at stores that you know and trust.

A bargain is only a bargain if you come away from the transaction with your identity and personal belongings intact. And even something as innocuous as an email that comes from a major national chain of stores can constitute a risk if that store's security protocols are sloppy -- or nonexistent -- and their customer service representatives have been trained to do little more than perpetuate the problem.

This book publicist is giving thanks that she's as paranoid as she is and for the lesson she learned last year, right about this time. Who knows? I little bit of paranoia might actually keep identity thieves and credit card information swipers away this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt passes...but don't take it personally.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has just passed on all publishing manuscripts ... but don't take it personally. It's strictly an economic decision. While HMH will focus on publishing (and, presumably, promoting and selling) books that are already in their "very robust pipeline," the executive editors have orders to decline all new manuscripts until further notice.

So says a November 24 article in Publishers Weekly which starkly paints the bad news: This will be a "not-so-merry holiday season for publishers."

Well, okay. Times are tough. But that doesn't mean authors have to sit on their butts and lament the fact that no one will buy their books, or that their publishers don't have the budget to promote the books they've already sold.

Authors can self-publish, and it's not so hard to do. Books, Web sites, and listservs devoted to self-publishing abound. Services like LightningSource and CreateSpace make it possible to get a book into some, or even all, of the traditional distribution channels far more quickly than Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, on its best day, could.

Also, for books that are already in that "very robust pipeline," it's possible to promote a book even if the publisher allocates little of its budget toward the cause. Authors can embark on a self-directed book promotion campaign by contacting media outlets themselves or hiring a book promotion specialist to help.

Publishing and selling books doesn't depend on such major houses as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt anymore. HMH has admitted it. It's time for authors to accept it and move on. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has problems ... but that doesn't mean the world of publishing books has come to an end. On the contrary ... a whole new world of possibilities is opening for us all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Don't read today's "Boston Herald."

If you love reading -- and I doubt you'd be reading a blog about book promoting if you didn't -- then I'd advise you to steer clear of today's edition of the Boston Herald. It's the bearer of two bad-news items.

First, the Herald reveals the chilling news that Cambridge, Massachusetts' Out-of-Town News is in deep financial trouble and may be forced to close.

If you've ever been to Harvard Square, then you know the Out of Town News stand. It's the first thing you notice when you emerge from the subway's Red Line and the place where you probably indulged your curiosity about every imaginable newspaper and magazine, from all around the world, as you waited for a friend or just relaxed before your next engagement. A Harvard Square devoid of the Out of Town News stand would be like ... well, like a Downtown Crossing lacking a Jordan Marsh and a Filene's. Which, granted, has already happened so, presumably, the Out of Town News stand could succumb to the competition from the Internet. But -- what a terrible loss that would be for all of us.

And another reason to avoid opening the Boston Herald this morning is that their reporter, Christine McConville, asks the question, "Will Someone Step Up to Buy the Boston Globe?" I'm not sure we have to worry about Boston's becoming a one-newspaper city just yet (and it isn't as though the Herald, which is Boston's number two newspaper, doesn't have its axe to grind), but still, it's disheartening to see anyone raise the possibility that the New England Media Group, which is owned by the parent company of the New York Times, is in dire straits.

The economic news of the past few months has been horrible for all of us. But doesn't it sometimes seem as though those of us who love books and newspapers and magazines are dealing with a dual problem -- that we're staring at the dominance of the Internet at the same time as we're watching the slowing down of the economy?

Anyway, don't open up today's Boston Herald -- and don't log onto their Web site, either. You heard it from this book publicist first.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maybe Rupert is right, but....

Rupert Murdoch has just declared that newspapers are alive and well, and rumors of their death have been greatly exaggerated. That, according to an Associated Press article that describes Murdoch as a "global media magnate."

Presumably, Murdoch has interests in other media outlets besides newspapers, so he can afford to be objective. The Associated Press, too, sells its stories to media outlets beyond newspapers, so perhaps Rupert is right. Perhaps book publicists and others who are conducting book promotion campaigns can pitch away to newspapers, as always, and pretend that these are the good old days when newspapers mattered, and when the Christian Science Monitor didn't even have its own Web site, and when the Los Angeles Times and other major dailies hadn't even thought about cutting down on the number of book reviews they published.

Hey, this book publicist had some good newspaper-related luck recently. For one pitch, last week, I was able to report back to a client that the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Metro, and the Chicago Tribune were going to cover the story. (Actually, it wasn't only a question of reporting that the newspapers were covering the story. Three of those four publications requested an interview with the author.) I'm a believer. Newspapers are alive and well, and they're relevant. So...I agree with Rupert, and I'm delighted to see that the Associated Press is spreading the word that, for the foreseeable future, traditional newspapers matter and can still do a book promotion campaign a world of good.

In fact, newspaper publicity can even give book promotion campaigns a greater boost than before. Now that just about every newspaper has an online presence, most newspaper stories (and, by extension, the experts featured in those stories) receive online visibility. So a news story automatically becomes part of an online book promotion campaign. No author would turn down the opportunity to appear in the New York Times -- particularly, when the New York Times will get you some attention on its site as well as in print and bring extra readers to you (and, hopefully, to your book).

The one hitch in my faith in Rupert Murdoch's optimism (and the Associated Press's gleeful reporting of the same) is an email that I received this morning from the Chicago Tribune. "Want more jumble?" the ad's caption wants to know. Apparently, Chicago Tribune's readers (I assume that I'm considered a Trib "reader" because I regularly pitch stories to them) can receive 10 percent off the retail value of various puzzle-related products (a couple of board games and a calendar, if I'm reading the ad correctly).

Okay, then. The Chicago Tribune is selling some stuff this holiday season to raise some cash. I find that a little bit scary. But, as I said, okay. Just because the Chicago Tribune is offering 10 percent off their toys doesn't necessarily mean the publication is facing rough economic times. It could mean...well, it could also mean that the editors of the the Jumble and wanted to share it with their readers. Yeah. That must be it.

Oh, well. I'm still delighted that my client is getting a pop in the Chicago Tribune for her book, and I'm thrilled that the owner of many newspapers around the world have validated newspapers as worthy media outlets -- at least, in the short term., the Chicago Tribune is selling board games. Tomorrow? Well, let me just say this. If, tomorrow, I should happen to find an unsolicited email from the New York Times, I will be truly cautious about clicking on it. Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Too much promotion, perhaps?

Sometimes, viral marketing opportunities happen out of the blue ... and I wonder whether, sometimes, the recipients of all that publicity can receive too much promotion.

For example, this morning, someone sent me an email full of political cartoons. The first featured a link to a Web site that looks a lot like the New York Times' site -- but isn't. Whoever put together the "joke" used what appears to me to be the New York Times' logo and style.

In fact, I can't help but wonder whether the creators of the parody site intended to fly under the New York Times' radar. If so, that's probably not happening. If I received an email linking to the parody site, then I imagine thousands of people received it.

And I wouldn't be surprised if some of those people are lawyers who'd be interested in pursuing the legalities of using a publication's logo and style. I'm assuming that it was done, in this case, as a joke and without the Times' permission but, of course, I don't know for sure.

Regardless, I wonder if this will turn out to be one of those cases where too much promotion, and too much viral marketing, is a bad thing. We shall see....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proofread book promotion materials.

Proofread book promotion materials. All book publicists, and everyone who promotes a book, does that automatically. Media kits are proofread from top to bottom, multiple times, before you stuff them into Jiffy bags with books and send them on their way. Media kits that are riddled with typos lose credibility (just as books would, if they were similarly afflicted), and they're likely to end up in the trash. We don't want that, so we take the time and make every effort to prevent that from happening.

However, the Internet is far less forgiving than any other medium. Paradoxically, we tend to be far more casual about proofreading when we use the Web to disseminate our book promotion materials.

So much of the time, we're sending out email pitches, and you know the problem with email. It's so immediate that we devalue it, and we're so quick to hit "send" that we often don't take the time to proofread each message before it goes out. Plus, we can be cocky. I know I can be cocky. I was practically born with a keyboard extending from my fingertips, and my accuracy has always been decent ... so I can send off email pitches with impunity after giving them a casual once-over most of the time. Ah, but it's the other times that are the problems. I know, from experience, that producers and editors hold onto my email pitches. Sometimes, media decision makers respond to my emails months, or even years, after I've sent them a particular pitch. Can you imagine finding a typographical error in an email that you sent 18 months ago, and that a reporter has held onto all that time? Not good.

Similarly, it's so easy to publish materials online that we think almost nothing of letting press releases and even blog entries "go live" after giving them the most perfunctory double-check. But ... no one is perfect, and you don't know "awful" until you've found a typo you created memorialized -- forever -- all over the Web.

Typos don't help your credibility, and they don't add credibility to your book promotion campaign. So learn from a book publicist who's been there. Proofread. Make the time. Use a dictionary; don't rely on your spell-checker.

Once Google finds your typo, your typo takes on a life of its own. Google believes (and, consequently, people who use Google believe) that you're uncaring, illiterate, lazy ... and you can't prove differently.

Try telling Google that you've found the typo, and you've fixed it. Impossible. On the Internet, metaphorically speaking, your book is always in its first printing, because that first printing is always archived and available. Typos are forever, and so is remorse.

So take the time to proofread before you publish book promotion materials and blog entries. It's worth the time you put into it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book promotion tip

Here's a book promotion tip: If you want to sell a book, then just become president of the United States.

You don't want the job? Well, I don't, either. But the book promotion strategy is working out very well for President-Elect Barack Obama. According to the Los Angeles Times, we'll be seeing at least nine Obama-related books in the next few months. The LA Times quotes Dermot McEvoy, a senior editor at Publishers Weekly, as saying that the election was "the biggest thing for publishing since Harry Potter."

However, the fairy dust isn't sprinkled on all presidents in equal measures. Witness George W. Bush's failure to announce a book publishing deal. His wife, Laura, may beat him to the punch. See an Associated Press article that is running that says Laura's people have been in touch with at least three publishers about selling them her memoir.

There's a lesson in here somewhere. Maybe becoming president of the United States is worth it for the book promotion value alone ... or maybe just being a likeable soul is what does the trick. Hmmmm....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blog promotion is similar to book promotion

Yesterday, Media Bistro published an interesting article called "Only Two Percent of Bloggers Can Make a Living." It cited Technorati's annual State of the Blogosphere report that found only 2 percent of bloggers earn enough money through blogging to quit their day jobs. The other 98 percent of bloggers certainly reap other rewards through blogging, but what 100 percent of bloggers have in common is what 100 percent of authors have in common: without promotion, there are few rewards.

Book promotion is necessary for people to find out about your book. Without media attention, potential readers won't know about your book. TV and radio show interviews, and newspaper and magazine articles, all help your book promotion effort, and few authors would argue that book promotion is a luxury. Authors know that book promotion is an integral part of their efforts to reach potential readers and, ultimately, to sell their books.

It's the same with blog promotion. You can have the best blog, and you can update it daily, and you can provide information that's vital to thousands of people. But unless you treat blog promotion as you would book promotion, few people will ever benefit from your words. You have to let the media know about your blog, and you have to let the Web know you're out there ... and you have to convince people that your blog is worth the time and energy to subscribe, or at least to peek at occasionally.

Blog promotion is another marketing project. But, if you're in the midst of a book promotion campaign, then you already know what to do. You know the elements of a blog promotion campaign. Use your book promotion skills to publicize your blog, and you'll find your readership growing.

I'm not saying that you will be -- or even that you should be -- part of that 2% of bloggers who quit their day jobs and make a living through their blogging. But why not be part of the 98% of bloggers who reap the benefits of blogging, and who understand that their book promotion skills cross over into the world of blog promotion? You're already blogging. Now it's up to you to make blogging worth your while.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book promotion means web site promotion

Book promotion means, in part, web site promotion. Driving traffic to your web site, and selling them on you, and proving your expertise, can be as important as that big media hit. I'm not dismissing the importance of traditional media exposure. TV and radio show appearances, and newspaper and magazine interviews are important elements of a book publicity campaign. But no book promotion campaign is complete without a focused effort on bringing visitors to your web site (and/or promoting your blog).

Arvinder Singh has written an article called Most Cost-Effective Way To Publicize Your Website that offers tips on using bylined article placements to promote your web site -- which, again, can lead to long-term book selling opportunities.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Book promotion in a down economy

Yesterday, my 20-something-year-old niece gemailed me to ask where she can find free ebooks online. My niece was looking for something to read, and she didn't want to pay for it.

Well, okay, that's good news and bad news. My niece is part of the growing group of consumers who are low on funds and who consider books to be a luxury item. That's the bad news. The good news is that my niece wanted to read a book! That's not something I take for granted. You'd think that she'd have picked up the gene to become a book junkie from one relative or another. Alas -- apparently, it doesn't work that way.

Anyway, I thought of the Gutenberg Project. I wanted to double-check the link (which, by the way, is right here), so I went to the Gutenberg Project site.

I hadn't visited the site in a long while, and perhaps you haven't visited the site in awhile as well. If that's the case, then I'm delighted to report that the site is growing and evolving. The Gutenberg Project's catalogue has grown, and it has added audio books to its offerings.

In short, the Gutenberg Project is promoting books, and reading promotion is book promotion. Sure, those of us in the publishing industry want people to buy books, now has become a way to promote reading. The price is right. So what's not to love about it? Book promotion is book promotion, and Gutenberg Project is promoting books by promoting reading, and that's good for us all.

Similarly, Publishers Weekly Daily just announced that Daily Lit has just begun sending free samples of selected books to subscribers via e-mail and RSS feed. If you're familiar with Shareware, then you already understand the concept. Books are free to try out (or sample). If you like what you see, you can buy an electronic version of the book. As the Daily Lit site says, you can "get what you want[,] when you want it." In fact, you can customize the frequency, time, and length of your book samples.

I'm about to sign up for Daily Lit myself, and I plan to go back and take a closer look at Gutenberg Project this weekend and see what looks good there. Free books? I'm there. Book promotion? Again, yes -- any sites that offer free books are promoting books and promoting reading, and my thanks to everyone who offers the gift of books to me -- to my niece -- and to all of us.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Yet another Associated Press story caught my eye.

Yet another Associated Press story caught my eye. It seems that a goodly number of noteworthy writers (Toni Morrison, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ayelet Waldman, and others) consider President-Elect Obama to be "a peer, a thinker, a man of words."

Finally ... a president who is a book person.

I'm good with that.

It's been a long, long time.

The irony of book sales.

Few of us would turn down media attention. Publicity helps sell books, is what we believe, and it's what we know.

Look at Tina Fey. Her "Saturday Night Live" impersonation of Sarah Palin goes viral, and a publisher hands her five million dollars (or, at least, that's the latest figure I've read) to write a book on -- well, something. That's how it works: you get the media's attention, and then you sell books. One plus one equals two. Fey's publisher believes it. Book publicists believe it. Every author and publisher I've ever worked with believes it.

But there's an exception to every rule, and here's an example of how too much exposure -- if it's exactly the wrong type of exposure -- can jinx book sales even before you put your fingers to the keyboard to write your book. It's the case of soon-to-be former president George W. Bush.

According to an Associated Press article I found in the International Herald Tribune, Bush's unpopularity will make it nearly impossible for him to get a decent price for a memoir. The publishing pundits quoted in the article would advise Bush to wait until all the bad publicity he's received over the past eight years fades away before he even thinks about pitching a book.

Not to worry, is my reaction to the story. George W. Bush probably has more on his mind right now than selling a book....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why can't I get book reviews?

An author emailed me yesterday to complain that his self-published book has been discriminated against by reviewers. "Ive been trying for months to get my latest novel reviewed," was the gist of his message, "and, so far, I've had no luck. Can you help me?"

As a book promotion specialist, I'd love to be able to say, "Sure, I can. Sign this contract, and you'll have the book reviews you're seeking in no time." But, as you probably know, it doesn't work that way. Rather than take on a client who would surely be disappointed in the results of a book promotion campaign that focused on garnering book reviews, I sent the author an email that said:

...Unfortunately, only a few authors have ever had the good fortune to be able to count on reviews for their books. Now, with the ease of self-publishing (there are so many more authors than ever before) and the rising editorial costs (every newspaper and magazine you might mention is focusing on survival, and book reviews are often the first place they can make cuts), that number has decreased exponentially. Stephen King may be able to count on a review in Publishers Weekly. The rest of the world? Not at all, and authors shouldn't take it personally, because book reviews aren't garnered by books that "deserve" them. They're garnered just a few "regulars," and an occasional truly lucky soul, and that's the way that it works now.

I've been a book publicist for nearly 20 years, and I've never focused on reviews as a way of promoting books. I'm glad of that, because those book publicists who do focus on garnering book reviews are figuratively up a creek without a paddle right now. I focus on getting media interviews for authors who have some expertise in the areas about which they write. For example, if you're a former pilot, then I might pitch you as an aviation expert to radio and television shows, and to newspapers and magazines. It's a tricky approach for fiction, but it's a way to get press and airtime.

If you must seek book reviews, then the thing to try would be to approach the top Amazon reviewers. They're lay people, not literary gurus, but you can approach them. It can be a frustrating process, even though Amazon provides contact information for many of them. Because they're so influential, and they're the "only game in town," everyone approaches them ... and getting them to review a book is getting to be as challenging as getting Booklist to look at a book. Still, it's another avenue to pursue. A final possibility is to pay for reviews. Although that approach violates most of what they taught us in media classes, way back when, paid book reviews have become mainstream, if not exactly something about which authors (the one in the know, anyway) would boast.

I wish the news were better on the book review front, and I wish I had a magic cure for the challenge you face. But I would suggest you find avenues for promoting your work (having a web site is an excellent start, and disseminating press releases would be another) that would be far more fruitful than focusing on book reviews. Don't take a lack of reviews to be a statement of your book's worth. Probably less than one percent of all books published, in any way, will enjoy reviews. As the Los Angeles Times folds its stand-alone book section, the Christian Science Monitor decreases its daily publication to weekly publication (and continues to publish daily only online), you can see that the problem doesn't lie with your book or with you. It's just the reality of book publishing, and while no one enjoys it, it can provide an opportunity to try other, exciting media straegies.

Good luck, and who knows? Maybe I'll be hearing or seeing you in the media one of these days....

By way of reply, I received an email from author from the email that made it clear he was grateful for my thoughts but would continue to pursue book reviews. I told him to bear in mind that most monthly publications required ARCs several months before books' publication dates. I haven't heard back from that author but, I have a feeling, he's not taking "no" for an answer....