Peeling the Onion of Author Publicity

author publicity stephen king

If you hang around long enough, you may find yourself being name-checked

Does a writer need publicity? We’ll never know for sure. There are indie writers who are successful without performing what we think of as publicity. They write books that readers want. They provide them in a series, so that readers who like Book #1 will buy Book #2 and so on. If the books become popular enough, they create publicity for the author. No one knew who Andy Weir was until “The Martian” sold hundreds of thousands of copies and drew the attention of Hollywood.

career indie author logoBut I think that, at some point in every successful writer’s career, publicity comes into play, whether initiated by the author or the media.

Chances are, most authors will have little opportunity for publicity. As of 2016, it appears that marketing through online ads, maintaining your mailing list, and judicious use of marketing services such as BookBub promise a greater return than seeking publicity. This is particularly true if you’re a one-person operation.

But it’s worthwhile to consider the possibility of publicity when thinking about your marketing plan. It doesn’t take much effort to email a journalist or write a press release. Most of the time, it will come to nothing. But if you stay in touch with people, chances are they will think of you when they need you, and the potential payoff can be big. If nothing else, that rare interview or magazine mention can give you a much-needed boost of confidence that you can persevere as a writer.

The Types of Author Publicity

Publicity and marketing are two different beasts. Publicity is any technique used to get a media outlet to cover you and your work. Marketing is when you’re doing things or paying others to do the same thing.

In other words, placing an ad in People magazine is marketing. Getting a People writer to profile you is publicity (same with getting a People reviewer to write about your book).

There are many different types of publicity, so much that this section will restrict itself to areas where an author can have an effect. It’s doubtful that promoting your book by planting yard signs by the road or flyers in grocery stores will be very effective.

Examples of publicity include (but are not limited to):

* Issuing press releases announcing new releases or news tie-ins to your book

* Pitching you and your book to the media, whether TV shows, radio shows, newspapers, magazines, podcasters, and vloggers

* Newsletters

* Posting material, podcasts, videos on your blog or on other sites

* Producing material based on your work, such as excerpts from your book or articles based on your research

* Public appearances

Most of the above will be covered in their own sections.

Peeling the Onion

The Onion Author

Not this Onion.

When considering your publicity options, it’s helpful to think of it as an onion consisting of three layers:

1. The outside skin is local media outlets. This includes the local newspaper, radio, and TV station, bookstores and retailers that your book covers, freebie newspapers.

2. The next layer is regional outlets, including the above found in neighboring larger cities. If you live in a major city , then your local and regional outlets are combined. For example, I live in Hershey, Pa., so my regional outlets include those in nearby York, and Philadelphia. There are also regional magazines such as Susquehanna Life, Pennsylvania magazine, and Philadelphia magazine.

c. The national outlets are what you would expect: The New York Times and the Washington Post; the major networks and the cable channels; National Public Radio; and major magazines. I would also put in this section, because of their global reach, major websites such as Slate, Huffington Post, and The Onion’s AV Club.

I created the onion model as a way of thinking about how you can move through the media world. It determines your avenue of approach and how you want to pitch you and your book.

For example, local outlets may be interested in you because you live in the area. It would help if your book is tied to the area in some way, such as setting your mystery in your hometown, or publishing a non-fiction book on an historical event in your area. In addition to pitching your work, you are also pitching your local ties.

On the national level, no one cares where you came from. They would be interested more in how entertaining or informative you are.

Another reason to use the onion model in your thinking is because each level you succeed at makes you more effective when you approach the next level.

The reason is simple: Successful local appearances prove to gatekeeper that you have what it takes to succeed with them.

Actors and models have what are called “sizzle reels.” These are short videos, no more than a few minutes long, stitching together their best performances and/or images. Casting directors use them to get a quick idea how well a person registers on camera.

Your publicity clips generated locally act as your “sizzle reel” to an editor considering you as the subject for a profile, or if a bookstore owner is thinking of having you give a talk.

How to Pitch Yourself

The process is simple: identify, observe, and serve.

Identify what outlets are available in your area. This means looking around locally or online. List newspapers, magazines, giveaway papers, local TV shows with a segment about residents who do interesting things.

Observe them for openings into which you can see yourself or your book. This means looking at yourself from their point of view. Do they publish briefs about author appearances? Do they review books? What kind? Could your book be among them?

What do they focus on: the compelling personal story, useful information viewers want to know, or a news hook on which your book can hang? Are they serious or humorous?

This means looking at yourself objectively. You may have to conclude that may not have a compelling story to tell them. It’s also likely that they may not consider your story appropriate for their needs. So don’t bother asking them to review your book if they don’t review any books. Don’t be surprised if the editor at may not want to write about the author of a book you’re promoting as “hotter than 50 Shades of Grey.”

Serve means just that: Pitch your story to them, or have your spouse or friend step in if you’re embarrassed about promoting yourself. Find out who to reach at the outlet and send them an e-mail or a letter and whatever promotional material you think they would need.

Keep the pitch brief and to the point. If you learned what the outlet publishes from the Observe stage, you should recast your pitch to match its tone and focus. The more you’re in sync with their needs, the greater the chance they’ll say yes. Be sure to include a direct link back to the part of your website containing your “sizzle reel,” including author photos and book covers. Show them that they’ll have good pictures to download and print or display. In other words, do as much of their work as possible. Media people are human, and if you make it easy for them to do their job, they’ll be more likely to invest their efforts on your behalf.

How to Do Their Job

What do I mean by doing their job for them? This:

* Can they find your book cover and author photos in a format they can use. Print media need images set at 300dpi.

* Can a writer find your biography, full of material they can draw on for a profile? I try to have two biographies available, a short version only a paragraph long, similar to what I put in my books, and a long version that contains more personal details (I don’t put that version online, but I tell them that it is available if asked.)

* Can TV producers find any video of your public appearances, so they can judge how you sound, how you answer questions, what you look like on camera?

Mind Your Manners

If they don’t respond, try again a few weeks later. If they still don’t respond, stop. Don’t get snarky with them, or begging. Contact them again only if you have a new book coming out that you think would work, and don’t remind them that they rejected you before (although it wouldn’t hurt to say, “I approached you before about [Old Book Title], and I wanted to tell you about [New Book].”

author publicity

Don’t give any sign at all that if they decide to cover you, that they’ll regret it.

Yes, it sucks being rejected, but don’t take it personally. Only those who have worked behind the scenes know how many people are banging on their metaphorical doors seeking publicity. For example, as a book reviewer at a small newspaper — 90,000 subscribers in a town few people had heard of — I was getting more than 30 books a week from major New York publishers to fill 1-4 slots per week. I had to turn down major authors because I had no room to review them. The same will happen to you.

So keep trying. Keep your name in front of them. There may come a day when they need somebody, and that’s when your efforts will pay off.