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How to create buzz for your book during the pandemic

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Over The River Public Relations was founded in 2000 by two former Random House, Inc. executives–Jennifer Richards and Rachel Tarlow Gul. OTRPR is a public relations agency that specializes in promoting books, authors and publishing initiatives. We deliver personal service and attention to detail, along with the resources normally associated with larger PR companies, such as strong relationships with the national media, trade associations, and booksellers. Find them here: overtheriverpr.com or directly at rachel@otrpr.com and jennifer@otrpr.com.


Last week we were lucky to host Jennifer Richards and Rachel Tarlow Gul of Over The River Public Relations in a webinar about How to create buzz for your book during the pandemic. It’s a challenge many authors have suddenly found themselves in—having to step up their game to make sure they can get in front of their audience and sell as many books as possible. Dan Gerstein, Gotham CEO, had a helpful and in depth conversation with Jennifer and Rachel about practical tips for what authors can and should do on their own to help promote their books and what outside help there is to publicize it. Below are the highlights:

1. How has the pandemic affected the ability of authors to get attention for their books? What are the biggest challenges they have to overcome?
Be aware of these disruptions:
–     Production of the book may be on hold—some printers are closed.
–     Distribution of the book may be on hold.
–     Publishing houses may be on furlough.
–     Review copy mailings delayed or canceled. This can be disruptive because you need physical books for Instagram, for example.
–     Non-essential reporters may be on furlough.
–     No in-person interviews.

2. What new strategies and tactics have you seen that been particularly effective?

–     More virtual event opportunities
–     Instagram Live interviews
–     Facebook Live interviews
–     More people are spending time on social media – looking for virtual entertainment.
–     Publishers are more open and collaborative – they will work with you and share content you provide (Q&A’s, essays, music playlists, photos) on their company websites, and with booksellers.

3. What are strategies authors should do on their own to promote their books?

The key is to make it as easy as possible for your audience to find you and learn about your book. Here are 8 things an author should make sure to do:

1. Create a website – these days websites are like business cards and it’s crucial to have one. It can include minimal information – bio, description of the book, Q&A with the author, reviews, etc. Or it can be interactive with links to blogs, social media, regular updates, etc.

2. Build your connections – if you haven’t done so already, several months before your book is published you should work to build your social media contacts. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. these contacts will prove to be important and helpful when it comes time to spreading the word about your book. This is especially important during the COVID 19 pandemic, when your social media connections will be crucial to help spread the word about your book and to help find opportunities for virtual events, interviews, reviews and other coverage.

3. Write op-eds – whether you are a nonfiction author or a fiction author, there are probably several topics related to your book that you can and should discuss. Why not try writing an op-ed and submit it to your local paper, the Huffington Post, relevant blogs, etc. to help build your audience. Make sure the title of your book is in the byline.

4. Write essays – you should also try and place original essays in relevant media outlets. It’s great to have a few essays published to time with the publication month of your book, but it’s also important for readers to learn about you before your book is out. Online magazines, journals and blogs are usually very open to these essays. Pay attention on social media for opportunities that are posted by editors, journalists, and fellow authors. This is especially important now, during the current health crisis, when readers won’t find your book by browsing through a bookstore or talking to their local librarian. Also, many reviewers are either on furlough or way behind on their coverage and these essays could be great opportunities for publicity during these difficult times.

5. Gather contacts in niche markets – several months before publication date is also an ideal time to research any niche markets and media outlets that might be relevant to your book. Are there organizations or specialty museums that might be interested in hosting an expert like you for a lecture? Would your book appeal to a music reporter or someone who covers politics? Try to think outside the box and beyond the typical book channels. If your publisher doesn’t have the time to do all of this leg work, then it’s important for you to try and get it done.

6. Create talking points – think about timely, engaging topics you could discuss in an interview or during a book event, and share these talking points with your publisher. These talking points might also help your publisher distinguish you and your book from the competition.

7. Get to know your local media, bookstores, speaking venues, community. Before you send a media/speaking engagement wish list to your publisher, research the media, bookstores, and speaking venues on your list. Watch the television shows, listen to the radio programs, read issues of the magazine, read the blogs and newspapers. Are they a good fit for your book? Do they ever talk to non-celebrities? Are they doing virtual events or zoom discussions while venues remain closed and everyone is avoiding crowds? Do they ever cover books published by small houses? Make sure your wish list is a realistic one. If necessary, break up the list into two lists — realistic and dream lists.

8. Use your personal and professional contacts to promote your book. There are several ways to use your contacts to promote your book, and here are a few suggestions:
–     If you know prominent leaders in your field, or perhaps one of your MFA teachers is a well-known author, ask if they will give a blurb for the book that you can use on the book jacket, the book’s press release, etc. Ideally you want a blurb several months before publication.
–     Do you know your local librarians or booksellers or leaders at local or national organizations that are directly relevant to your book? Ask your contact if she would consider hosting a book talk or reading or a signing with you once the book is available.
–     Are any of your contacts reporters or journalists? Find out if they know anyone who covers books or your related field and see if they can get a copy of the book in front of the right editor. Or maybe they can give you the name of an appropriate reporter who might be interested in your book.
–     Do your contacts have large social media following? Ask if they will post about your book to help spread the word.
–     Encourage your friends, family, colleagues, etc. to post reviews of your book on Amazon, GoodReads, B&N, etc.

4. What lessons can authors take away from that?

THREE key ways to reach readers — the broadcast and print media; social media; and community outreach. A 360 approach to the publicity campaign.

5. What are the advantages of working with an independent publicist at this time?

You have someone on your team who can solely focus on you and your book. If your publisher isn’t available, your publicist will be. The publicist should be able to adapt to the media’s needs and try different pitches and angles to see what will interest the media.

6. What criteria should authors use in choosing a publicists to hire?

1. A publicist’s experience
–     A publicist should have experience in the book industry, since the book editors and other industry contacts have specific deadlines and certain ways of doing things.
–     Make sure the publicist has experience working with your kind of book.
–     Be suspect of publicists who make guarantees.
–     A publicist should be comfortable writing pitches tailored to different audiences that are appropriate for your book.
–    Follow up is key. If your publicist is just sending emails without any kind of follow-up, the pitch will probably not be received. Sometimes follow up is OK by phone (this varies from person to person, your publicist will know) and other times it might include new “ammunition” like a review or award or a timely news issue.
–     A publicist should have experience in the book industry, since the book editors and other industry contacts have specific deadlines and certain ways of doing things.

2. Timeline
–     Ask for a timeline so you know the overall plan.
–     Ideally you should start working with a publicist at least 6 months before publication date. (6 months – long lead outreach; 3 months – short lead).

3. Working with your freelance publicist

–     A publicist or your publisher might give you an author questionnaire to fill out — the more details you provide your publicist, the more effective your campaign will be. Details include a bio, media contacts, lecture schedule, etc.
–     When you begin working with your publicist, be honest about what you are willing to do, and what you are able to do. If you are uncomfortable doing phone interviews, tell your publicist! If you are overwhelmed and don’t have time to write guest posts for websites or print venues, be honest about that. If you do not want to write free content, be clear about that from the get-go.
–     Talk to your publicist about the materials she will need to publicize your book effectively. In general, your publicist will need at least one hi-res jpg photo of you, biographical information (see author questionnaire), and ample copies of your book – Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs), e-galleys, the PDF, and finished books for review copy mailings.
–     Trust your publicist – if you’re hiring her for her expertise, trust her judgment about who to approach, when to approach, and how to approach. Doesn’t mean you can’t make suggestions, but… Trust your publicist!

If you’re looking for an independent publisher for your book, you can reach out to Over The River Public Relations. They are available at:

Jennifer Richards: jennifer@otrpr.com

Rachel Tarlow Gul: rachel@otrpr.com

 


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