Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Publicity and Promotion
I’m really happy to have Katie Bond of Thomas Nelson Publishing visiting at Seekerville today. She’s been tremendously helpful to me as a new and very inexperienced author.
As Publicity Manager, Katie Bond is privileged to represent all the creative, talented writers who’ve found themselves at home in Thomas Nelson’s growing Fiction division. Before coming to Thomas Nelson, Katie served as a publicist at WaterBrook Press, handling corporate communications, events, and book campaigns. She began her career at Peachtree Publishers as a publicity and marketing assistant. She holds a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, with emphasis on literary essay, Southern literature, and children’s books. She also completed the Publishing Institute, a graduate program at the University of Denver, in 2004. A feisty cat named Chapter keeps Katie and her husband Bryce company at home in Nashville.
Cara: Katie, would you tell us the difference between the Publicity and Marketing departments at Thomas Nelson?
Katie: The distinctions in promotions are different for every publishing house, and the lines blur all the time as new approaches are introduced. Marketing is comprised of Publicity (generally any unpaid buzz for a book) and Advertising (paid placement). My publicity work includes media outreach (seeking interviews, reviews, and features on an author or book), events (conferences or in-store signings), blog tours, and other unpaid promotions. Our team produces advance copies of books for media and the Sales team’s use. As well, I coach authors and our internal team on talking points and other needs, to make sure they’re prepared to represent themselves and the company in the best light. I push news out (press releases on new titles, awards, etc.) and monitor breaking news and trends, always looking for ways to position our novels and our company well.
Cara: How much of your advance should you budget for publicity? Should a debut author spend a different amount than a multi-published writer?
Katie: I’d recommend speaking with your marketing team to get a feel for what kinds of promotional projects they’re planning for your book, and most importantly, to ask how you can best supplement their efforts. The most important investment you can make as an author isn’t your money—it’s your time. Your team will be able to give you an idea of how best you can spend your limited hours, and how to interact with your readers to build your brand. If you desire to set aside finances to supplement what your publishing house is planning, ask specifically about how best to use it. Do account for the little expenses that add up: your mileage, if you’re planning to visit stores, and shipping supplies and postage if you’re doing any promotional mailings of your own.
Cara: What are the biggest bangs for an author’s marketing/publicity bucks nowadays? Is it ads in newspapers? Website contests? Blog tour giveaways? Are book signings the most effective use of our time?
Katie: The best investment is necessarily different for every author and project—and that’s half the fun. Every campaign is a learning experience for our team and authors. As for book signings, I have a pretty strong opinion. If an author has a major platform and pent-up demand from fans for live appearances, we do all we can to set up and promote successful book signings. But for the vast majority of authors, the investment of all involved—from publisher to store to author—isn’t returned with enough sales or exposure to make it worthwhile. Signings used to be the only way readers could connect with authors; with developed online networks, that’s no longer the case. Even some bestselling authors have trouble drawing a crowd in a bookstore, a fact that has a lot to do with that desire being met with online connections instead. That said, I do support drop-in visits for authors. When my authors are traveling for business or pleasure, I encourage them to notify me in advance so we can call ahead to bookstores in the area and give them the notice that an author is to drop by. The goal in these visits is gratitude: thanking the retailers for their support of your work.
Cara: What are the positive and negatives of blog tours?
Katie: We love bloggers and their contribution to the buzz about books online, and we’ve been scheduling blog tours for several years. I think the concept of the tours will continue to evolve, and rings of bloggers develop as online promotions continue to become more sophisticated. It’s best though to think like a reader when you’re spending energy and investing copies of your book in setting up tours. Readers stay interested when they find unique content (original reviews, interviews with the author, etc.) and will quickly disengage when they find only reposts of back cover copy readily available elsewhere. We’re pretty free with giveaway copies used on blog tours, too, when those are used to drive traffic and involvement.
Cara: What promotional items are the most effective? What are least effective?
Katie: Attend any industry conference and you’ll find yourself leaving your hotel room or checking in at the airport with more trinkets than your local McDonalds. Again, think like a reader when you’re brainstorming about tchotchkes. Can you remember a pencil or keychain that made an impression on you, and encouraged you to purchase a new book or engage with an author? Or did these end up forgotten in a box or in the trash? I moonlight in the wedding planning industry and always tell my brides the same thing about favors given to guests: something guests can eat, or something they’d be pleased to actually use. Anything else is simply contributing to the junk drawer.
Printed items are little different: bookmarks, bookplates, or postcards. Used purposefully and sparingly, we think of these as more impressions for you as an author. Smartly designed, and providing good information—like how to connect with you online or enter a contest—they can be worth the investment for use as leave-behinds for bookstore visits or as business cards in other social settings.
Cara: Do you have any unusual or ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas that have worked for authors?
Katie: I’ll never ceased to be amazed at the creativity of the authors I’m privileged to represent, and I think I’ll have a new anecdote every year. Top of mind right now, I remember one of our authors calling to ask me if it’d be okay for her to accept an invitation to host a signing at an unusual venue… the local liquor store in her town. The owner had planned a holiday party and really wanted to showcase the author and her Christian fiction titles. We all scratched our heads for a bit, but agreed that we couldn’t see a problem with her bringing salt and light to a place not used to selling novels. The event turned out great, and provided one of my favorite photos of all time: a customer holding a case of beer in one hand and clutching a novel in the other! The key here though? The author’s desire to invest her time and energy in her community. She appeared gracious, and because she was so eager to greet her neighbors, she made some new fans. That same author is also very involved in online communities, and her fans have come to know her for authentic engagement. She asks for and listens to their opinions, and is rewarded with loyal readers.
Cara: How can a new author make the best use of his or her time promoting their book when so many are working full-time jobs?
Katie: Plan, plan, plan. We’re all guilty of getting lost in online surfing, wasting time and energy on efforts that aren’t fruitful. Set aside a certain amount of time each day for answering email from readers, media, and your publishing house, plus time for watching what’s happening online. Then stick to it. If you have the luxury of a less rigid schedule and you’re able to devote a few minutes several times throughout the day to social media engagement, you’ll likely find a rhythm that works easily for you before long. Remember that the first step to success is active listening. Spend time observing how other successful authors engage online with peers and their readers, then model that approach. Think of the online friends you most respect: they probably aren’t the ones with the most to say, but with the most interesting things to say.
Cara: When or how early should an author begin actively promoting their book? How early is too early?
Katie: The key here is what’s encompassed by “active book promotion.” Everything you do in engaging online or with traditional media is part of promotion—you’re developing a persona of interest to readers, and creating a network of support of other authors who can lift you up to their readers. That can and should happen as soon as possible after signing a first contract, and in the “downtime” between releases. Join conversations about reading, lift up what other writers are publishing, thank readers for their feedback. Become a student of industry publications. Then, when you’ve reached the point when a release is imminent (and there’s an actual action item: book will very soon be available in stores for purchase), it’s time to start talking about that. Readers are more inclined to purchase from authors they trust—those who’ve done more than shout about their new releases for a month before dropping off the grid until the next book’s out.
Cara: Should the authors of category/series books promote their books any differently than authors of trade paperbacks? Does the length of time a book will remain on the bookstore shelf make any different to the ways an author should go about promoting his/her book?
Katie: This will vary case by case, but the difference will probably be in what the publishing house may do: primarily promoting the line of books as a whole (series) rather than promoting individual authors’ releases (trade). But from what I’ve seen and know from friends who write series titles, this difference doesn’t have to affect the way an author promotes herself. The same guidelines apply for authentic engagement with readers and media.
Cara: Are there any things a publisher can do to promote a book that an author can’t do? If so, what are they?
Katie: Publishing houses have respected relationships and sway with retailers—and often have the first opportunities for inclusion in retail promotions. The gatekeepers are inundated with more books than they could ever place or promote, so they rely in part on opinions of esteemed salespeople who help to make recommendations.
The same is true for many media opportunities: a reporter looking for insight into a story and suggestions for an interviewee. That reporter is likely to ask a representative at a publishing house. But once a publicist suggests a best possible candidate, the reporter will do more research to learn about an author—how does she engages online, how professional she is, how likely she is to give an interesting quote—before he agrees to an interview.
Cara: Do you have suggestions for authors concerning publicity and promotion?
Katie: Every author’s plan is different. But here’s what never changes: gratitude and poise go a long way. Know that while you will always know your book better than anyone else could, PR and Marketing professionals who’ve been involved in the industry for even a few years have probably assisted in launching or managing the careers of dozens of authors—with front row seats for some of the most successful campaigns.
Publicity’s biggest challenge? We’re only limited by our budgets and time—there’ll always be more that could have been done. That’s a hard pill for an over-achiever to swallow! Approach your publicist to ask what you can do to best support her efforts, and don’t forget to thank her for all that surely goes on behind the scenes. I love my work, and count the talented and gracious authors I’ve represented as the greatest of blessings on the job.
Katie, thank you so much for joining us today! You’ve been so helpful.