On the morning that he was first published, Truman Capote wandered Manhattan in a depressed fog. He had expected his debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, to land with earth-shattering force. Yet, life went on around him, uninterrupted. People walked their dogs, grabbed their coffee, rushed in and out of skyscrapers, and frantically hailed cabs. Far from being hailed as America’s next great novelist, Capote felt ignored.
No product is as personal as a book, and its release can inspire all kinds of emotions and expectations. Publicists may not be able to temper an author’s, ahem, enthusiasm for their work, but can they make sure it gets read and even talked about?
According to Otter PR publicist Brittany Bearden, making a book stand out among the thousands–or, these days, millions–published every year is more challenging than ever. But it’s still possible to get noticed, she says, as long as you make the right offer.
Say “Yes” to the Press Release
“Always add a cover letter offering review copies to your press release. Although pitches are more effective than press releases, with a book, you shouldn’t skip the press release portion. Journalists are going to want more information before they decide if they want to invest their time reading a book,” Bearden says.
Besides sending out the press release directly to journalists, she adds, always send it out via a wire service as well, though not necessarily an expensive, top-tier service. “AB Newswire gives me better results than other, much more expensive newswires,” she says. “Make sure that the subject line of your press release includes the words ‘new book’– it’s important for people to know what the ‘news’ is.”
Also, Bearden notes that children’s books should focus on the lesson that the book has to teach children, rather than the characters, illustration, or storyline. For example, a children’s book might teach children table manners or teach children to befriend others who are different than them. The lesson is much more likely to secure coverage than an adorable cast of characters.
Another tip: don’t include the name of the author and book title in the subject line of the pitch, unless the author is a known name, like J.K. Rowling or Gillian Flynn. These belong in a large font, centered and italicized, under the title as well as in the details line under the title of the press release.
It’s also important to go wide. “While many people just send their press release to book reviewers, they are really limiting themselves. There are many other journalists out there who cover different beats that are willing to review books. If you wrote a business book, you should also be approaching business outlets,” Bearden observes.
Another strategy for promoting a book is promoting the author as a thought leader. This works best with non-fiction books. The author can offer expert interviews on the book’s topic, as well as guest pieces about business transformation or even demonstration interviews to TV stations–say, whipping up the recipes from their vegan cookbook. A caveat: interviews and guest pieces should be presented as more educational than promotional. “Show off the author’s expertise,” Bearden says, “Let journalists, reviewers, and readers all see your client as an expert.”
And while Bearden acknowledges that your local bookstore or Barnes & Noble probably shut its doors a while ago, there are still millions of bookworms out there. Publicists should consider pitching their client for an old-fashioned book or speaking tour, she says, or else for reading/signings at influential independent bookstores like Book People in Austin or Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Even a local reading may get picked up by a book-centric podcast or a national program like BookTV.
“The stereotypical writer is an introvert,” Bearden says, “which makes it even more important to get their work in front of an audience. Just be clear what they–and their book–have to offer.”