By Barbara Cave Henricks and Rusty Shelton
The days of fat advances and bookstores buying tens of thousands of copies of a single title are gone – enjoyed now only by the lucky few with household names or status. For the rest of the world’s authors — and there are some 300,000 titles published annually according to the American Booksellers Association – the process of publishing has undergone a major change. No longer is the author’s job done when he has delivered something brilliant that can be bound between covers or transmitted to any one of a dozen digital reading devices. Authors now have a second job, one that involves connecting with the media and the masses to first build a platform, and second, make themselves and their ideas “discoverable.”
This platform is something that authors like Seth Godin and Gretchen Rubin, Chris Brogan and dozens of others have built via the tools in the online world that allow them to share their ideas, collect followers, engage them in conversation, and essentially grow an audience hungry for more. That hunger is the very thing that sells books – or “content,” as it is increasingly called.
Authors need to engage in this effort no matter what direction they go in publishing their work – whether through one of the major publishing houses, a less traditional publishing model or a self-published work. A robust platform is proof of an audience — a critical component in selling your content to an agent, a publisher, a reader, or someone in the media.
Growing Your Platform
When it comes to building your platform and growing your audience, the challenge is the bewildering array of options in the social media toolbox. Where to turn? Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, a dedicated website, a regular blog, or even the latest craze, Pinterest? The answer is easy to give, but much more difficult to execute. The key is selecting and utilizing these tools according to the time an author has to devote to this effort, the sites that are most heavily trafficked by their core audience, and perhaps most importantly, the tools which they have mastered or feel most comfortable with. Mastery of Twitter, for instance, involves becoming adept at communicating in 140 characters and knowing the best way to use that connection. Twitter is a terrific place to develop relationships with a core group of media, influencers and organizations that share a subject interest. It’s a bad place to post what amount to ads or pitches for your book.
Working the Media
When it comes to the second part of your job – making yourself and your ideas discoverable – your focus is on the media. In this new environment, one of the most effective ways to catch a journalist’s attention is not solely by pushing pitches at them – it’s by giving them a reason to find you online. Based on slashed newsroom staffs and lower budgets, there are fewer journalists covering more stories than ever before. As a result, journalists are increasingly looking online for story ideas and sources (89% do so, according to a Cision/George Washington University Study). As an author, one of the most effective ways to get good publicity is to make sure they find you when they are looking for an author or expert in your topic area.
This often starts with a great website powered for solid search engine optimization with a fresh, dynamic blog. Authors should constantly keep an eye on the news and, when a story breaks in your topic area, be among the first to write a timely blog post about it. You may be surprised at the number of inbound media requests it generates.
Intertwining Traditional and Social Media
This is just one example of how social media ties to traditional media in such a way that the two are now truly intertwined. Previously, publicists relied on the first round of coverage for a book to prove public interest in a subject and entice others to cover it. This was tedious and time-consuming. It involved a trip to the Xerox machine to photocopy articles or reviews, and mail them (yes, snail mail them) to the media with the hope that they would not want to miss covering a title experiencing a wave of popularity. Now, with sites like Delicious and a press room on an author’s website, nearly all media hits can be bookmarked under one convenient link and emailed to a journalist who can then peruse the coverage of a book or an author. Even better, this means that coverage is never truly local anymore. A review in The Baltimore Sun or the Kansas City Star, once confined to being largely useful only in that market, is available for all to see via a simple online search, not to mention potential syndication.
The intertwined social and traditional media give authors another advantage as well. They leverage against one another rather effectively and again, much more quickly than previous methods. For instance, an Op Ed in the New York Times or large feature story in Fortune can link to an author’s website, drawing in readers who regularly read those publications but might not necessarily be looking for the book. In reverse, interactive social media campaigns that grow swiftly and rapidly, commonly known as going viral, are great proof to traditional media outlets that the public is fascinated by an idea. These campaigns may compel a journalist to cover the phenomenon. Such social media buzz, which happened for books like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project or Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, become news stories on their own and often lead to traditional media coverage.
The exciting thing among all the speed and connectivity is that the balance of power is shifting. Authors have more control than ever, and fate rests more securely in their own hands. Every day, someone is using that power to create and share more compelling and creative content — which, in the end, is the goal of committing thoughts to words in the first place. From the Gutenberg Bible to the free e-book, the good news is that while the method of consumption has changed, the content itself remains the magical and essential component in publishing.
Barbara Henricks is CEO of Cave Henricks Communications, a media relations firm for authors and companies. Founded in 2007, the company represents firms such as IBM, Amazon, and Gallup, and publishing companies including Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Jossey-Bass, and Harvard Business Review Press. Learn more at www.cavehenricks.com.
Rusty Shelton is President of Shelton Interactive, a full service digital agency that focuses on books and brands and integrates publicity, website development, social media. In the last year, the company handled campaigns for 13 bestsellers and handled PR for major literary brands like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Harvard Health Publications. Learn more at www.sheltoninteractive.com.