Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer reading advice from Stephen King

I'm an unabashed Stephen King fan. Nearly all of his books are "keepers," as far as I'm concerned, and I have kept almost all of his books from Carrie to
Just After Sunset: Stories. So I'll take reading advice from him. At least, I want to hear what he has to say.

So I checked out his latest column, "Stephen King: 7 Great Books for Summer." I clicked on that article gleefully, in part to see what King's recommendations were, and in part to see which lucky ("anyone I know?") novelists had earned the book promotion opportunity of a lifetime (well, okay, one of the book promotion opportunities of a lifetime -- I certainly didn't mean to slight you or your book club, Oprah).

Imagine my surprise when I found that one of the authors to receive a book promotion opportunity via this Stephen King was none other than ... Charles Dickens. Seriously. Little Dorritt is one of King's "7 Great Books for Summer [of 2009]" picks.

It's been awhile since I've read Little Dorritt, and maybe there's something about it that I'm not remembering, but ... well, it's Little Dorritt. It originally was published between 1855 and 1857, and it was written by Charles Dickens who, by the way, is beyond benefitting from the book promotion opportunity of a lifetime.

Whereas (if you're following my train of thought) many -- maybe a gazillion or so -- hardworking novelists who are currently living and hoping and praying for a book promotion break of a lifetime could actually savor Stephen King's praise and bring any resultant book royalty checks to the bank.

There's nothing wrong with giving a nod to a classic novel, and I'm glad Stephen King recognized the work of one of my favorite novelists. But ... Stephen? Next time you're called upon to recommend seven novels to the book-buying public, would you please consider giving a helping hand to seven deserving novelists who could really use the boost? I wouldn't presume to tell you which new novels I'd like to see you recommend next time out ... although, as a book publicist, I do have some great suggestions. And my clients would owe you for it ... forever!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Could a Skype-driven book tour work for your book promotion campaign?

Could a Skype-driven book tour work for you? Maybe, at some point in the not-so-distant future, it could.

If you're currently setting up signings, speaking engagements, and other events at bookstores as part of your book promotion campaign, then you might want to check out Publishers Weekly's article, "Visiting Bookstores Virtually." The article describes an experiment that Random House is trying with two of its children's book authors: Jerry Spinelli and Libba Bray.

Random House arranged for its authors to participate in Skype phone calls to bookstores, and the selected bookstores arranged for children to be part of the calls. The lucky kids had a chance to visit with the authors, virtually, as pets and other family members wandered into their home offices. And the authors didn't have to pack their suitcases and travel from one city to another to meet their fans.

The bookstores took a risk, because this is the first time they've used Skype in place of having an author actually appear, in person, to talk with an audience. Who knew, ahead of time, whether the technology would work, or -- even if it did -- whether it could keep an audience of young people entertained? And, for authors, it took a leap of faith to look squarely at a Web cam and trust that, somehow, they were connecting with their fans.

But, according to the PW article, it worked. Then again, as the article points out, both of these authors have a huge fan base. They were also playing to an audience that's excited by Web cams and Skype -- rather than a group of adults who could very well be turned off, or intimidated, by it.

So will you be participating in a Skype-driven book signing in the next week or two? No, probably not. But a year or so down the road . . . who knows? Things change so quickly in the world of book promotion that, some day soon, it might make perfect sense to trade in your plans for a traditional bookstore tour for a virtual one. You might find, as these pioneering authors did, that a Skype book tour provides even more opportunities than a standard book tour to foster intimacy and connections with your readers . . . and you might find yourself trading in traditional book tours for Skype-driven book tours for good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Google steps into book promotion arena?

Hey! I didn't realize that yesterday's Google homepage doodle was about book promotion! I thought it was about a scientific discovery!

Yesterday, Google's homepage featured one of those intriguing doodles that I had to click on before I could start my day. What was that weird drawing, anyway?

It turned out to be a fossil or, more specifically, the "missing link" -- which, happily for Colin Tudge and Josh Young, coauthors of The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor (published by Little Brown and Company) -- was the subject of their new book. The book's publication date, by the way, was(May 20, 2009, which was the date that Google featured that promotional doodle on its homepage.

We all know that prominent search engine placement is a critical aspect of book promotion. If your book's web site is prominently featured in Google, then potential book buyers will go right to it when you've been interviewed on radio or television, or you've been featured in a magazine, newspaper, or online article. Driving traffic to your book's web site is a first step on the path toward selling potential readers on your credibility, expertise, entertainment/news value, and so on . . . so I've always said that SEO (search engine optimization, which for books' web sites involve writing articles and op-eds, social bookmarking, posting press releases in online "banks," and the like) is a key to book promotion (and book marketing, by the way) success.

But I never imagined that Google itself would overtly take a hand in an author's (or a publisher's) book promotion campaign! How cool would it be to have Google link to your book, via its daily doodle? How many thousands of people would click on that doodle to find out about your book, and perhaps to visit your book's web site?

Now if only Google would make its daily doodle available to advertisers. And if only the cost were less cost-prohibitive than, say, inventing a new species or a new planet where life forms could live . . . and if only ordinary authors and publishers could afford to give it a try.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book promotion geared toward libraries.

Most of the book promotion that I do is geared toward conventional and online bookstores. Some few books that I promote can be bought only at authors' web sites (it's very rare that books I'm hired to promote are not available via, but it still occasionally happens).

So I ask questions about distribution before I agree on a book promotion campaign because I know a bit about distribution to bookstores and via web sites. But I know little about book promotion that's geared toward libraries -- or, specifically, toward librarians. How do librarians choose their acquisitions? Which trade publications (aside from the obvious ones that contain the word "library") do they read? How else do books get on librarians' radar screen?

I was, therefore, delighted to find an article online by Sherry Thomas, a Bantam historical romance novelist, called "How Do Romances Get on the Shelves–Library Shelves."

Although the article addresses the question of how librarians choose which romance novels to acquire, it also sheds light on the process of libraries' acquisitions, in general. It seems as though the goal is to bring your book to the attention of librarians. If you can accomplish that, then there's no guarantee the librarians will buy your book -- but, at least, your book will be up for consideration.

My thanks go out to Sherry Thomas for shedding light on how the mysterious process of libraries' acquisitions work -- and, too, for offering hope that library patrons can sometimes be persuaded to buy their favorite books once they've test-driven them (so to speak). I've read that libraries are busier than ever these days with so many people opting to borrow books instead of buying them. It's reassuring to think that not all those book borrowers are committed to short-term relationiships with their favorite books. There's still room for selling a borrower on a book if the book is good enough -- and making the book good enough is the job that most authors do best (at least, they always tell me that "writing is the easy part". So that article made my morning!

Monday, May 18, 2009

So...Scribd has opened an online store.

Good for Scribd. Far more interesting to this book publicist, though, was the fact that I read about Scribd's new ecommerce venture in no fewer than three major media outlets today: Publishers Weekly , the Washington Post, and the New York Times.

Jeez. I care only marginally about the fact that Scribd will now charge readers for digital content (books, magazines, newspapers, research reports, etc.), and 80% of the proceeds will go directly to the contents' publishers. (Scribd's service will only be as impressive as its content, and I haven't had a chance yet to check out the site -- I'll reserve judgment until I have).

But I am blown away by the amount, and the quality, of media exposure that Scribd's new ecommerce venture has received. Imagine if, in the midst of your book promotion campaign, your work was featured in PW, the Post, and the NY Times on the same day? My goodness! That would be an accomplishment, for certain!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Media kit creation is a team sport.

Effective media kits are something that you must help to create. And you can do it, even if you've never written a media kit or even seen one. A book publicist will take the lead, but you should take an active part in the media kit creation process -- whether or not your book publicist explicitly invites your participation. That will ensure that you'll be satisfied with the results, and you'll have the winning media kit that you can stand behind.

A media release focuses on a particular angle rather than on your entire book. Only you know for certain what you'd like that focus to be. Your book publicist will have an idea or two about the main thrust of the media kit -- he or she typically has read your book and spoken with you, and knows what's likely to get the attention of the media and book buyers -- but your vision (and your goals about how you want the media to perceive you) is what matters most.

The media kit represents your book and you, and it helps to shape your image and build your brand. Your reputation is at stake every time someone reads it, and that ultimately makes it your responsibility.

Your book publicist may have a great track record in the publicity business, but he or she is unlikely to create the perfect media kit for you without your thoughtful input. Your book publicist can get the ball rolling by creating a competent first media kit draft, but your participation should kick in even before your book publicist begins to conceptualize the release. Here are a few of the key contributions you can offer:

∙ Media hooks. Your publicist tunes into the media's news sources and knows what's going on in the world. But you know which current events are most likely to resonate with you, and which news stories you feel the most passionate about. If there's something going on in the news (or there's an event that's about to take place) that you'd like to emphasize in your book promotion campaign, then let your book publicist know. Your book publicist can incorporate that news hook into your media kit, and you can offer quotations (which can take the form of comments on the news story) that will work well for the release, too.

∙ Language and concepts. Are there key phrases and ideas that come up frequently in your line of work or your area of expertise? Don't make your book publicist figure them out -- provide a list of the words and ideas that should make their way into the media kit.

∙ Questions. Book publicists often include suggested interview questions in media kits for the journalists' benefit. You know what you'd like Jay Leno to ask you if you're sitting on his couch .... your publicist can only guess what those questions might be. Imagine that Jay (or your favorite talk show host) is asking the questions most likely to elicit the information you want to provide, and deliver those questions to your book publicist. Good questions, your book publicist can create. The questions you want the media to ask you, your book publicist can only guess at -- unless you make them clear.

∙ Story ideas. Your book is filled with possibilities for media stories. Although your publicist can guess which stories you want the media to pursue, you should establish (or, at least, strongly suggest) the direction and let your publicist know which avenues are the most attractive to you. Your book publicist can easily and smoothly work them into the media kit.

As a publicist, I read every client's book before I begin to work on the media kit. I think about how the book's content might tie into current events or news happenings as I'm reading. I highlight paragraphs, flag pages, and note specific passages. I do my homework before I start to create the media kit. And, because I have a sense of what's likely to work as part of a media kit, I'm glad to put together a media kit draft that serves as a launching pad for the final product.

Once I've sent my clients the first media kit draft, I expect them to read it with an open mind. The draft isn't going anywhere ... it's only a starting point.

It's the client's responsibility to actively get involved in the media kit's creation so that the second draft will be better than the first. No media materials are leaving my desk until I have my client's approval, and I hope I won't have that approval until my client loves what we have created together.

I ask my clients to get back to me with their suggested edits (most of my clients use MS Word's "track changes" mode to accomplish this) that reflect their vision, ideas, branding, expertise, and media goals. I incorporate those editorial suggestions into the next draft of the media kit, add my own edits, send it back to the client ... and so the revision process goes.

The media-kit-in-progress makes its way, via email, between the book publicist and the client for as long as it takes -- usually, about two days -- until we've created a tightly woven, exciting media kit that delights both the book publicist and the client.

Yes, a book publicist potentially could create a decent media kit alone. But that shouldn't be good enough. And that doesn't reflect the way that I prefer to work, nor does it reflect the way you'd want me to work. I want the author or publisher to participate in the media kit creation process so that everyone involved will be thrilled with the results.

Media kit creation is a subjective process. How can a book publicist know what an author or a publisher is hoping for unless the client offers specific ideas and suggestions for creating the ideal media package?

In short, an author/publisher who is willing to participate in the creation of a media kit will surely be happy with the results and will be more than repaid for his or her investment of time and energy. Those who do not will likely be disappointed with the results, no matter how competent and creative the book promotion specialist who is involved.

So provide your book publicist with your ideas before, and during, the book promotion process. You'll love the results, and your book promotion campaign's success will reflect your efforts.

You know how you’d like the media to see you, and your book publicist knows how to make it happen. Your knowledge and your publicist’s book promotion experience: that's the winning combination.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Singing for book promotion opportunities?

Can singing karaoke style provide you turn into a viral marketing opportunity? Yes, it can. Check out a video that Lara Zielin posted on YouTube.

Can Lara sing? Well, I'll let you decide that for yourself (Susan Boyle isn't worried about the potential competition, though, is what I'm thinking). But does Lara know a book promotion opportunity when she dreams one up? Oh, yes, she does.

Lara's video was inspired an editing letter she'd received while her debut novel, Donut Days, was in production. She turned her angst at having to rip up her manuscript into a playfully angst-filled musical response as she runs away from the letter.

She then cleverly posted the video on YouTube (clearly, she didn't mind editing the video first, and -- as someone who's had a bit of experience here, I must say that she did a very respectable job with that). Lara was able to link back to her web site, and mention her novel's title in her description of the video.

I found out about the video not because I regularly troll YouTube but because Michelle Reynoso, who works at Safeguards Technology, mentioned the video in a LinkedIn group post.

Thanks to Michelle, and thanks to Lara for coming up with an innovative book promotion idea. I hope Putnam Juvenile appreciates you, and I hope Donut Days sells at least 100,000 extra copies because of your ingenuity!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Amazon's Kindle -- harrumph.

I've been pumped to buy an Amazon Kindle, or whatever the state-of-the-art ebook reader turns out to be once the publishing and technology dust settles. But stories like this one in today's New York Times make me wonder: is the technology going to enhance our enjoyment of books and other things in print, or will it just be another source of irritation?

It turns out that the Kindle, which has that text-to-voice feature, doesn't know how to pronounce the name of the United States president. It's also not clear about how to pronounce the name of Boston's basketball team (it's thinking "Celtics," with a hard C, instead of "Celtics," with a soft C).

Speaking of irritants: Look, if I want to mispronounce words, I can do it on my own. I don't need the help of an ebook reader. I accept the fact that my Garmin GPS unit, which also is equipped with that text-to-voice feature, can't articulate street names as clearly as I'd like. But, then, I use my GPS unit to do that which I cannot -- namely, to (usually) get me from point A to point B without taking me through the Amazon rainforest. But reading? I've been doing that for myself since I was about five years old. And, as long as my eyesight holds out, I expect I'll be doing it for myself as long as I live. So, if the Kindle (or any ebook reader) is going to lend an electronic voice to the conversation, it has to do a better job than to decide that "Barack" rhymes with "black" and "Obama" rhymes with "Alabama." If there's a person or place in the news and I'm seriously concerned about mispronouncing it -- and if my radio and my television set break simultaneously, and I don't have access to a computer -- then I can see asking the Kindle to tell me how to pronounce, say, Thomas Cholmondeley or Abu Ghraib. If the voice-to-text technology is going to help me get lost in the linguistic equivalent of the Amazon rainforest, then I don't need it.

And I'm not sure I'd be excited about paying for that which I don't need.

So fix the technology, Amazon (and other ebook vendors), or you're just giving this book publicist an excuse to sit on the sidelines of the emerging technology for an even longer period of time. I'm excited about the new technology . . . now you just have to show me that the whole package really works, and you'll have yourself a new customer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Good news for book promotion campaigns...sort of.

Well, here's some good news for those of us who are in the midst of book promotion campaigns -- but it comes in the form of bad news. The post office has just increased its rates for first class postage and for mailing postcards. You can check out the new rates at which, for some reason, is easier for this particular book publicist than going directly to the "calculate postage" page on the U.S. Postal Service's Web site.

Anyway, if you conduct snail-mailings of media kits, or if you send out postcards to your mailing lists, to try to drum up book promotion opportunities or book sales, then you'll be spending more now than you would have spent two weeks ago on your endeavors.

But I promised you some good news, and here it is. If you're sending out books and media kits via Priority mail, or you're sending out books via Media Mail (no paperwork allowed), then the rates will not go up. So, for most authors and publishers, the rate increases will probably not end up increasing the costs of a book promotion campaign -- for the time being.

I have faith that, one day soon, the rates for the rest of the United States Postal Services' offerings will go up again and, when it does, that will send the costs of book promotion campaigns soaring yet again.

But, for the time being, we're safe. Unless we want to mail our mom a belated Mother's Day card . . . but none of us would be in a position to have to send our moms a belated Mother's Day card, would we? Me? I took my mom to see the new "Star Trek" movie on Mother's Day. Maybe not the best movie choice in the world for my mom but, hey . . . I enjoyed it. For the most part. I could have done without the explosions and violence, but then, I guess the director of the movie had to spend that gazillion dollar special effects budget somehow.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

James Frey's dubious choice

We'll do a lot for book promotion opportunities . . . but would you write a novel that includes an account of Oprah Winfrey saying compromising things about "some mistakes she made" on tape? That's what James Frey chose to do in the paperback (the hardcover edition omitted the Oprah section) version of Bright Shiny Morning, according to Wednesday's Guardian.

Frey already has incurred the wrath of Oprah Winfrey by admitting that he fabricated certain elements of his Oprah's Book Club pick, A Million Little Pieces. Along with major book sales, he scored an on-air scolding from Oprah, which couldn't have been a whole lot of fun for him.

Is that Oprah addition to Bright Shiny Morning Frey's way of getting the last word in an argument? Maybe, and maybe it even feels good to Frey as though he's "won" -- but, if I were in his position, I wouldn't mess with Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah isn't some sort of a Mafia don, and I'm not suggesting that Frey should be afraid that she'll respond to the accusations against her in his novel by getting one of her producers to leave a horse's head in his bed. But Oprah's voice in literature is a powerful one, for better or worse, and I wouldn't want to hear that voice raised against my work and me, if I were a novelist -- and I wouldn't court Oprah's wrath in an effort to sell more novels. It seems unworthy and cheap.

If Frey is such a brilliant writer (and I wouldn't know first-hand -- I delayed in reading A Million Little Pieces and, once the controversy broke, I decided not to purchase the book at all), then he doesn't need to talk trash about Oprah. And if he isn't as great as he apparently thinks he is, then Frey has no right to invoke Oprah's name (and try to compromise her reputation) to sell copies of his novel. Certainly, he most likely has a legal right to do so (Oprah Winfrey is a public figure, so I'm guessing it's easier to get away with bad-mouthing her than to pick on another, anonymous citizen). But morally, I think Frey is completely unjustified in telling tales about Oprah as part of his book promotion efforts. I'm not sure what James Frey was thinking, but this is the clearest-cut case of "biting the hand that feeds you" I've seen in a long while.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Stephen King waves his Amazon Kindle 2!

For the past couple of weeks, I've been following the travails of the Boston Globe. Will it survive? Will the New York Times Co. close its doors? (It looks as though it will survive for the time being. According to the Boston Globe's web site, the last of the Boston Globe's unions has finally reached an agreement with the New York Times Co., and all that's left is for the union's membership to ratify the agreement.)

Anyway, while reading every scrap of information I could about the Boston Globe's troubles and those of other newspapers across the country, I stumbled across a Time magazine article called "Will Amazon's Kindle Rescue Newspapers?"

The article talks about a Kindle with a larger screen that's supposed to serve up newspapers (and textbooks) more easily for readers and postulates that this, finally, could be the answer for those of us who -- what? Wanted our broadsheets but didn't enjoy refolding them when we were finished with them? Or didn't want to deal with the overseas-based home delivery staff when subscription issues went awry? Or didn't want to deal with vending machines to buy a copy? Well, I'm sure the larger-screen Kindle will rescue the concept of reading newspapers for some segment of the reading population (I'll get back to you as soon as I figure out which segment of the reading population that is, exactly).

But what really jumped out at me about that Time magazine article was the picture of Stephen King holding a pink Kindle aloft with the biggest grin on his face that I've seen outside a candy shop or toy store. King, who has published a book directly to a Kindle, is enjoying the technology. If you have any doubt about his motive in working directly with Amazon -- if you suspect that he wanted to stick a finger into the eye of mainstream publishers just because he could -- then one look at that photo will tell you differently. King loves the Kindle. He loves being a part of the publishing revolution. He'd love being a part of anything that involves books, because Stephen King loves books.

King isn't holding a copy of The Stand in his fist and saying, "I wrote this great book. I am great. My books are great, and they're not changing. Let's stay where we are and talk about how great everything is" -- as the rest of the civilized world explores new publishing possibilities. King is at the forefront of the publishing revolution, and he doesn't have to be there. He wants to be there, and I respect him for it. And, yes, I love him for it, because I feel as though he's holding my hand through what could be a challenging and frightening ride to an unknown plane of publishing existence.

What could feel threatening to a book publicist (and to a news junkie) feels a lot less threatening, somehow, when I see Stephen King's gleeful expression and can feel his enthusiasm, and his eagerness, for what lies ahead jumping off the page. I can feel King's delight, and I can -- yes, I can -- share it.

I'll have the Boston Globe to read tomorrow, and I'll have hard copies of books to read next week. And the month after that? Or the following year? Who knows? Maybe I'll have a Kindle 2. Maybe I'll have an iPhone with that Kindle application installed on it. Or maybe I'll have a Sony eReader or that thing Barnes and Noble seems to be working or, or maybe I'll have an ebook (and enewspaper) reader that I haven't even heard of yet.

As long as I have reading materials, I'll be good. I can read them, and I can promote them ... whatever they are.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Do book promotion campaigns require tolerance for hate?

Do book promotion campaigns require tolerance for hate? Obviously, they do not. And, as a book publicist, I will never understand why authors subject themselves to interviews with talk show hosts whose on-air persona is about spreading rancor, narrow-mindedness, and xenophobia.

I'm aware that some of the (in my opinion, although I recognize it's a question of personal taste) chief offenders -- Don Imus and Howard Stern among them -- aren't leaving the airwaves any time soon. But I hope that a Boston-area radio talk show host by the name of Jay Severin whose idiocy just came to my attention will be leaving his world, WTKK-FM, for a distant galaxy permanently. Severin, it seems, thinks that Mexico (and, by extension, those who live in Mexico) is to blame for the Swine Flu. I can't quite follow the logic, but apparently, Severin thinks the spread of H1N1 is tied to illegal immigration . . . which, somehow, gives him the right to give voice to racial slurs on the air.

However fast and furious the pace of booking author media interviews might be, I can guarantee you that I would never knowingly schedule an interview with an individual who is disrespectful toward anyone on the air . . . or who earns a living by putting people down. Subjecting authors to foolish, unwise, or short-sighted talk show hosts is no way to promote books . . . and it's no way to run a book promotion firm, either.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Could Boston become a one-newspaper town?

Could Boston become a one-newspaper town? Well, yes. Boston could even become a no-newspaper town at the rate newspaper closings are going (check out this story). We all know by now that the Boston Globe's future is precarious. The union leaders have blown past their second deadline without coming to terms with the Boston Globe's owners -- or, at least, the four unions haven't all successfully met the terms dictated by The New York Times Co. for keeping the Globe in business.

Meanwhile, the Boston Herald has turned into a cross between a celebrity magazine and a sports magazine -- and its editorial content, even in those areas, seem to be diminishing every day.

So the question, for this Massachusetts-based book publicist, isn't so much whether Boston could become a one-newspaper town. It's whether Boston could become a no-newspaper town. And the corollary, of course, is this: If Boston becomes a no-newspaper town, what will that mean for book promotion campaigns? Clearly, book reviews in newspapers are becoming distant memories. Yet, strangely, most authors and publishers who contact me still open their conversations with, "My goal is to have my book reviewed in the New York Times or another newspaper of that caliber. Can you make it happen?"

In a word, no. I can't make it happen, and I'm already recommending that authors and publishers take a look at their own newspapers and make note of how few books are actually reviewed therein, and the origin of those books. If your book is already in print, and if your publishing house isn't among the major ones, and you're not paying for newspaper space . . . then its probably not going to see the inside of a newspaper. Instead, you should be focusing on other book promotion opportunities -- and they're out there. You have to be more creative than ever, but that's what book promotion has always been about -- creativity -- and that's a good thing, after all.

I wish the Boston Globe employees and readers luck and success as we see what happens next. Maybe there's still the possibility of a future for Boston's number one newspaper -- for a little while, anyway.