Q: I'd like to know what would be expected of a new author determined to help all she can, and when she (me) would just be getting in the way. I know not to attempt to draw my own cover art, what else might be a faux pas?
A: Really great question. Yes, indeed, sometimes an author can be overly helpful. And overly helpful author can sometimes be more frustrating to a publicist than an author who refuses to do any promotion at all. At least in the latter case, the publicist isn't being interrupted all day by a barrage of phone calls and emails.
First you need to understand what the window of time is for your book project; that's the time where your publicist is actively (or sometimes, not so actively) promoting your book. Here's a rough timeline of how publicity works (and do keep in mind that every publishing house is slightly different so this by no means should be taken as gospel):
- Initial conversation with publicist: The timing of this can vary. If the publisher is planning to send you on tour for your book, this conversation may happen as far out as a year before publication. After all, they'll need to ascertain your availability and give you ample time to arrange for time off from a day job, if need be. They'll also need time to get your event booked into various bookstore calendars, which usually needs to happen about six months before pubdate. If, however, you aren't be sent on a book tour, this conversation usually happens about 4-6 months prior to pub date.
- Author questionnaire: Sometime during the above time frame, you'll receive an author questionnaire (most publishers send one, but not all). This questionnaire may come from the marketing department, your editor or your publicist, depending upon the publisher. The purpose of the questionnaire is get as much useful information about you, your book and any possible media contacts you may have as possible. It helps determine where to send the galleys, where to pitch you for local (and possibly national) media, and what kinds of things the marketing department might successfully try to promote your book. Don't ignore this questionnaire!
- Author photo: Again, sometime during the above time frame, you will be asked for a high-res head shot for an author photo. Some authors are under the mistaken impression that a publisher will send a photographer out to your house for a photo shoot. If you're Stephen King, James Patterson or J. K. Rowling, this might happen. Otherwise, this is your responsibility. (Read your book contract; it says so right there.)
- 4-6 months prior to pubdate: galleys sent to book trades
- 3-5 months prior to pubdate: remainder of galleys sent to long-lead media, magazines, newspapers and any other appropriate media
- 6 weeks prior to pubdate: Finished books are in the warehouse, finished book mailing w/ press release and/or press kit goes out to short-lead media, online reviewers, local and national media (TV and radio) and anyone else that may have been left off that initial mailing.
- 6 weeks prior to pub date through 6 weeks after pubdate: Active window of publicity. This is the time during which your publicist will be focusing on your book, doing follow up calls to reviewers and media, booking interviews for you, keeping the sales force informed about breaking publicity news for your title, and generally trying to keep your book in front of the media and sales force. Communication with your publicist will vary from conversations every day (sometimes several times a day if you are on tour) to weekly updates. Your interaction with your publicist really depends on the amount of media coverage your publicist is able to get for the book; they'll need to touch base with you to fit interviews into your schedule and let you know of any new confirmed reviews.
- 6 weeks after pub date: Your publicist is now actively moving onto other book projects. Unless your book is in the Top Ten of the New York Times bestseller list, or unless you are on an extended tour (for example, when I toured Matthew Stover for the book tie-in for Star Wars Episode III, he was on tour for 32 days straight, which meant that the active window of publicity was considerably longer than normal), you will be expected to start handling your own publicity. Communication will start drying up. It's perfctly okay to contact your publicist during this time if you have questions or need advice on something, but you shouldn't be hounding him/her for new interviews and/or reviews. This is the time period during which many authors become "that annoying author". Don't become that author!
- 3 months after pubdate: Your book publicity is effectively in your own hands from now on. Start thinking about the following things for your next book: what worked for you, what didn't, what would you change if possible, were there any publicity opportunities that you think were missed, was there anything that surprised you (in a good way!), etc... When you have your initial conversation with your publicist (who may or may not be the same publicist, by the way - every house differs) for your next book, have your post-mortem in front of you for easy reference. When I worked with Terry Brooks at Del Rey, this was always the first conversation we had when planning for the next book, and it was extraordinarily helpful for me in planning his upcoming publicity campaign.
So what can you do to work most effectively with your publicist? How can you make it easier for your publicist to do his/her job promoting your book?Okay, I thinks that's about all I can think of right now, but as always, I encourage you to ask questions in the comments field. And if you are a publicist or marketing professional, please feel free to add your own tips; I'll add them to the post above!
- Get your author questionnaire back as soon as possible, filled out as completely as possible. This is the time for you to let your publicist know if you'd like copies of your book sent to specific personal contacts for either quotes or reviews. (And this shouldn't need saying, but I'm saying it anyway: do not list Oprah. You will lose all respect and your questionnaire will be passed around and laughed at for all eternity. Spare yourself this, please.)
- Let your publicist know as far in advance as possible your travel and personal schedule. If you will be unavailable for interviews on a certain day because it's your child's birthday or something, let your publicist know. If you are planning any travel at all, let your publicist know. Even if your publisher won't send you on a tour, your publicist may be able to set up a bookstore event or some local interviews in the city you'll be in. S/he'll also be able to arrange for you to do stock signings at local bookstores. If you are planning to attend a writing conference or convention, let your publicist know in advance. S/he not only can try to get you some panel programming or set up an event, s/he can also let the sales force know that you'll be in that city so that they can be sure there are books in the bookstores. Here's an example: fantasy author Greg Keyes is also a tournament-class fencer; he frequently travels to fencing competitions all around the country. When I worked with him as his publicist, I always tried to set up at least one bookstore event or local interview in the cities where the competitions were held. And if you having speaking engagements coming up, let your publicist know!
- Get a cell phone: Yes, I know that some of you have an aversion to cell phones. Get over it. When your publicist needs to get hold of you to see about scheduling an interview, s/he doesn't want to keep a reviewer, feature writer or producer waiting until you get home to check your messages. That's a great way to lose an interview altogether. If you're on a book tour, you absolutely must have a cell phone. Plans change, flights get delayed, interviews get postponed. You need to be accessible at all times. Get a cell phone.
- Have access to email: I've worked with authors who insist on doing everything by telephone. It's time consuming and leaves no paper trail in case you need to access information later or need details of an interview in writing.
- Hire a professional to shoot your author photo: As sad as this may be, author image sells a book every bit as much as the content of that book. Having a great head shot for your book jacket can only work in your favor. It may be tempting to have your wife or brother-in-law or that Pakistani guy who runs the bodega down the street take a photo of you to save money, but you get what you pay for, and a professional head shot is well worth the money you'll spend. Make sure that when you do this, however, that you own the negatives or digital files. Get this in writing. Otherwise, your publisher will need to keep purchasing the rights to use the photo from the photographer, and that leads to a very annoyed art department.
- Don't be a prima donna: Nobody likes a prima donna. Think about about what you're asking for before you ask. Is it really necessary or did someone tell you that this is what you're supposed to ask for as an author? Difficult, high-maintenance authors develop a reputation with publicists, booksellers, producers, media escorts and other authors. How do you know if you're behaving like a prima donna? Take this easy quiz: You're on book tour, have just arrived at the airport in Los Angeles at 8:00 PM and your car service hasn't arrived to pick up to take you to your hotel. You A.) pick up the cell phone and call your publicist at home in New York (where it is 11:00 PM), complain vociferously and wait for s/he to call the car service company to find out what happened, B.) hail a cab to take you to your hotel, save your recipt for reimbursement later, check in and after doing so, call your publicist's work number to leave a message letting him or her know about the mix-up with the car service. If you chose option A, congratulations! You're a prima donna! If you chose option B, you're a normal, rational adult, capable of surviving your first book tour without having your hand held. Does the publicist need to know that the car service screwed up? Absolutely! Does the publicist need to know this at 11:00 PM at night? Probably not.
- Understand the hierarchy of publishing and to whom specific questions should be directed: The only questions that you should be asking your publicist are those having to do with publicity, ie, questions having to do with interviews, reviews, book tours, press materials, getting books to event venues, requests to send a book to a specific reviewer, etc. If you want to know how your book is selling, you ask your editor. If you want to talk about ways to best utilize your massive website email list, you talk to the marketing department. If you are getting calls from friends who are not seeing your book in bookstores after pub date, you call your editor who will inform the sales department. If you are doing a local event and notice that the bookstore in question has no display copies of your book, you call your publicist. You see the difference? And if you don't like a review of your book that you just saw on Amazon.com, well, you don't call anyone. There's nothing your publisher can do about that. Just suck it up and move on.
- If you hire an outside publicist, be sure that s/he and your in-house publicist are communicating: There's nothing worse than finding out that a freelance publicist is duplicating your hard work. Make sure that your freelance publicist is in constant communication with your in-house publicist. Have them coordinate who will be working on what part of your campaign. For example, your freelance publicist may be focusing on getting you online and podcast interviews while your in-house publicist focuses on radio and print media.
- Do not ever - I repeat - DO NOT EVER contact a reviewer on your own: You may be tempted to reach out to a particular reviewer to whom your publicist has sent a copy of your book, in order to "helpfully" follow-up with that reviewer about your book. Don't. Do. This. Ever. It is incredibly unprofessional and can result in your books never being reviewed by that particular reviewer again. Additionally, you may be tempted to ask for a list of all the places your publicist has sent your book. This is perfectly acceptable but understand that if your publicist sends you this list, s/he will do so without attaching any contact information. This is for two reasons: 1.) to protect the privacy of the reviewer/producer and prevent what I mentioned in the first sentence, and 2.) this information is proprietary and confidential; giving out contact information could result in your publicist being fired. (Likewise, as an unpublished author, you should never reach out to follow-up with an editor to whom your agent has submitted your manuscript; this is one of the biggest mistakes a potential writer could ever make.)
- Keep your agent in the loop: Your agent is your advocate; keep him/her in the loop about anything going on with your book, including publicity and marketing plans. Too often an agent won't know about a potential problem until it's too late for the problem to be fixed. If your publisher wants you to come in and meet with the publicity and marketing folks, ideally your agent should accompany you. If you are having problems communicating with your editor or publicist, you need to let your agent know. Handling these kinds of situations is part of our job. Before you go to your publicist's supervisor, go to your agent. Your agent can try to remedy the situation first, and if not, then s/he can go to your publicist's supervisor on your behalf. We work for you; let us do our jobs.
- Don't be afraid to share your publicity and marketing ideas; just do it the right way: If you have ideas for marketing and promoting and publicizing your book, share them with your publisher. Ideally, you should do this early on, in a written document that you send to your editor, who should then send it on to the marketing and publicity department. You can always ask your publicist if s/he received it. Schedule a telephone appointment to go over your ideas with publicity and marketing. (Hopefully, your editor and agent will be included on this phone call.) If some of your ideas are shot down, accept it gracefully and move on. Your publisher may not have the time or budget to implement all of your ideas. Likewise, some of your ideas may not be the kind of promotions that your publisher feels will drive sales. And selling your book is the whole point. And some of your ideas may just be plain stupid. (Hey, it happens to the best of us!) Also, don't be afraid to ask for certain things: postcards and bookmarks are fairly inexpensive and easy to produce; more often than not the marketing department will say yes.
- Don't be afraid to communicate with your publicist; just do it the right way: Don't call your publicist several times a day with new questions. Don't send your publicist more than one email a day. Instead, gather up as many of your questions as possible into one email, and then wait for an answer before sending off another. If your publicist hasn't responded within 24 hours, it is perfectly acceptable to leave a voicemail message follow-up. As a publicist, I received upwards of three hundred emails a day. Sending ten or twenty angsty/helpful/"hey, I've got an idea!" emails a day to your publicist will not help your book campaign, and can frequently hurt it, as your publicist is spending valuable time - time that s/he should using to pitch your book to media - placating a needy author. [See above re: prima donna.]
- Don't forget to say thank you: It's not necessary to buy your publicist or editor or marketing person a gift. But it's absolutely proper to send a thank-you note or email after your campaign is over. And you'd be surprised at how often authors don't do this. Say thank you. It'll go a very long way toward earning you respect as a professional.