By Alex Segura
I’ve written a few blog posts about my experience with certain things - from agents, revisions, social media, dealing with reviews and more. But I realized late last night that I’d forgotten a very important one: Publicity.
This is doubly important to me, because I'm a publicist by trade. For over a decade, my job has been to promote authors/creators and their work through interviews, book reviews, book events, conventions and the like. It’s a fun job - and allows me the chance to be around creative people and help get the word out on books I love. I mostly do publicity in the world of comics and graphic novels, but I think there are lessons that can be applied to our world, as mystery writers.
So, here’s a peek inside a publicist’s brain, and a few hints as to how you, the author, can help get the word out on your book when the time comes.
Say hello. Big publisher or small, chances are high that your publicist is swamped. Once the deal is locked in and you know when your book is coming out, find out who your publicist is and reach out. Don’t send a list of demands, suggestions or marketing ideas. Just offer to meet for a cup of coffee or to talk over the phone to introduce yourself. Eventually, the conversation will veer toward your book, how to promote it, etc. But get to know the person first and allow them to get a sense of you as an author, so the publicist can figure out what to do. Plus, it adds some humanity to a job that is very often done just through email or conference calls. If your publicist is good, they’ll take you up on it.
Pool your resources. Know a reporter at Paper X that’s been bugging you to review your book or interview you? Have a list of contacts/bloggers/fans that will review all your books whenever they come out? Great! But tell your publicist. They can help coordinate the press and, most importantly, time it properly. A good review does squat if it doesn’t hit at the right time - either right as the book is coming out or around big events (book tour stops, conventions). A publicist will always appreciate you making their job easier, and they’ll remember that when they have to do extra work on your behalf.
Ideas! As noted earlier, publicists are busy. At small companies, it’s often 1-2 people handling all the publicity for the entire line. Some small publishers don't have a dedicated publicity person (!). At bigger companies, publicists are spread thin handling dozens of books or numerous imprints. It’s a 24-7 job that doesn’t allow a lot of room for a personal life or, ha, sleep. So, when an author - after the introductory phone call, natch - has some realistic ideas about promoting their book, they usually see this as a good opportunity. Plus, it gives you a chance to actually influence how your book is promoted - which is cool, assuming you have a somewhat collaborative publicity person. Go in with ideas that are both realistic and relevant to your work. Don’t expect them all to be approved and be open-minded. Odds are, you’ll come to a greater solution together. Collaboration is the fun part of the publicity stage - you finally get to talk about your work, as opposed to sitting alone and creating it.
Don’t go rogue. This is related to my last point, but merits its own slot. It’s bad for to unload in a public forum, especially the press, about any internal issues you’re having with a publisher/publicist/etc. If it’s someone who published you long ago and you’re being vague and maybe someone can figure out what you’re talking about - that's up to you. I, personally, would just keep gripes private. Your call, though.
If you have an issue with your current publisher or with how your book’s been promoted, talk to your publicist or publisher directly and professionally. Don't emotionalize it, either - it's easy to be labelled "difficult," and if your points are clear and fact-based, it's much harder to be tabbed as such. If that’s not working, bring in your agent. Airing your dirty laundry in public makes everyone look bad and doesn’t help improve the relationship that still needs to work to promote your book.
Make yourself available. “Why hasn’t my book gotten enough press?” I’ve heard that a few times over my career, and the reasons are usually pretty clear: sometimes books don’t resonate with people. It’s the harsh reality of timing, coincidence and the universal consciousness. Some things just don’t click. It’s up to your publicist to help combat that. Every publicist is different, but we all have methods to fight a case of the blahs - but we need the author’s help. Were you free to do that interview your publicist asked you to do? Did you do that signing? Were you up for the radio or blog tour? No? That’s probably part of the reason why your book isn’t getting any press. Realize that once your book is out or about to hit, you need to be available to do whatever they ask (within reason) in terms of promotion. It shows you’re a team player and that you’re invested in making the book a success.
Now, if you have done everything you’ve been asked to do and you’ve suggested things that you feel are valid (“This blogger wants a review copy” or “This reporter called me and wanted to interview me”), then you have grounds to complain. Publicists, like anyone else, come in all sizes. Some are great, some are not-as-great.
Hope this helps! Please share your own experience in the comments.