« Digital, Resources

Discoverability and the New World of Book PR

By Barbara Cave Henricks and Rusty Shelton

magnifying glassThe 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.

DISCUSS: What Tool is Most Effective for Promoting Your Work?

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    I’m so happy to come across the truth being spoken about Twitter as a means to promote your book: a “bad place to post what amounts to ads and pitches for your book”. How absolutely true! A lot of my writer friends are convinced it works, it seems that publishers won’t touch a newbie author who hasn’t got at least 500 followers on Twitter…I don’t know whether that’s true, but I doubt it. I know that I have never bought a book on the basis of a Tweet, and I wonder who has, if anyone.

    The suggestion to intertwine traditional and social media is interesting and I have no doubts it works very well for non-fiction. It’s a no brainer to post an article in your area of expertise on your blog everytime something new develops in your field.

    But for fiction? This is harder. Maybe you can play on your book’s setting if it happens to be an attractive exotic place. Maybe you can highlight the social issues in your novel (if any). But if it’s a standard “genre” book? How do you stand out? I know some authors who tirelessly blog about their novel writing, giving out excerpts, sharing their anxieties and their writing discoveries but I wonder…Who reads such blogs? Other writers? Will they buy your book and create a buzz around them? That’s of course the basis for so called “blog tours” and “writers’ interviews”. But how effective are they with readers? Quite frankly I have no idea and I hope a discussion gets started here and that I shall learn something!

  2. M.J. Rose
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    This is a great article for non fiction authors but not for authors who write fiction. Rarely will a fabulous op-ed in the NYT help sell a novel. So far the only soc media that has really benefited novelists is to post fan fiction and then turn it into a trilogy:)

  3. Posted April 4, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Claude-

    Thanks for your comment! While I agree that building a platform as a fiction author is harder, it’s not at all impossible. I think novelists have to look at social media as a way to build relationships with four main groups–authors/influencers, journalists/bloggers, groups/book clubs/organizations in their topic area and readers.

    For example, let’s think about a blog for a fiction author who is working on their first book. Many authors use this blog as a place to talk about the writing process and get frustrated because few outside their personal network are yet interested in such updates (because they don’t know the writer yet).

    Instead of focusing on blog inward, I think one of the best things such an author can do is use the blog as a relationship builder with key authors and influencers in their target area. They can start doing this by writing reviews of top releases in their genre (reviews with insight only another thriller or Christian fiction author could write) and hosting author Q&As. Instead of going to leading authors in a certain topic area with an ask (endorse my book, how can you help me?, etc.), that new author is now in a position of pulling leading authors and influencers to their blog via smart reviews and Q&As. This ‘pay it forward’ approach can be a great way to both build connections and establish a valuable resource for readers in their topic area.

    MJ-

    Thanks for your comment as well. I agree that most novelists aren’t getting op-eds in the New York Times and the approach for fiction certainly isn’t nearly as clear-cut, but there is plenty that they can do to intertwine traditional media exposure with their social media strategy. For example, each time a novelist goes on the air for a radio or TV interview or gets a byline at the bottom of a contributed blog post or review, their goal should be to drive the audience back to their website permission list with a call-to-action beyond “go check out the book.” This might be a story contest, an assessment, a free chapter, a writing contest or something along the lines of The Noticer Project (www.thenoticerproject.com), which was an interactive campaign we worked with our friends at Thomas Nelson to create for The Noticer, by Andy Andrews. That campaign extended the message of the book by giving it a nonfiction hook–noticing the five people who made the biggest impact on your life. I think it’s always good for novelists to think about the nonfiction hook within their book and whether or not there is an opportunity to create a campaign that extends the book online by giving their audience something to run with, like The Noticer Project.

    Instead of promoting one book, novelists can drive readers to join their platform via Twitter, an email list, etc. as a way of building a foundation for future titles. The hard part is coming up with the specific campaign that motivates a reader to take action, but the good news is that if an author can create it, it often becomes a tremendous hook for the media.

    In summary, I think social media can be a great resource for novelists, though it is a different approach. For new novelists, it can be a great relationship builder and for more established novelists, it can be a way to extend the book and give it additional PR potential.

    I really appreciate the comments and discussion on this!

    Rusty

  4. Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Yes, author platforms are huge these days. The Age of the Platform is here. As you write, it’s important to use existing platforms (FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) as planks in your own. What’s more, keep up with emerging platforms and sites. While I doubt that Pinterest will supplant Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google anytime soon, why not spend a few minutes there setting up a presences?

    Sage advice.

    Phil
    http://www.theageoftheplatform.com

  5. Posted April 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    The problem is with balancing actual writing with marketing and promotion and where to do it. I use Twitter because I find it a challenge to distill my work down to 140 characters. I also have connections with thousands of readers through my follow list. More and more authors are following me without prompting, and I have access to the latest news as well. I stopped blogging because I have found that commenting on other sites grants me the ability to get my site mentioned. I find Facebook to be a time suck, and I don’t use WordPress or Blogger because they are bound to specific site protocols. My marketing is confined to classified ad sites and sites which allow promoting. It seems that book clubs are not designed to accept promotions from authors. In fact, readers there are quite hostile, which in a way negates the purpose for which the clubs are founded. Yes, it is difficult to get through to my target audience but I keep trying, and that is all I can do.

  6. Posted April 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    This sounds a lot like my post of many months ago at Write It Forward that authors were now the real gatekeepers in publishing. As MJ notes this is much truer for nonfiction than fiction. This is mainly because fiction rarely has a new’s worthy hook.

    Actually, this information reminds me of what I heard from all the gurus at Digital Book World in January. About a year out of date, but still on target. The problem is very few experts in publishing have ever bothered to really consider the author as a key player. The focus was on distribution. Now its discoverability. The distance between author and reader is the internet. The time between author and reader is as slow as the local internet. A big time game changer that hasn’t really sunk in with the Big 6.

    As you note correctly, the key for a fiction author is not marketing but building community. Networking is key. I’ll be sitting down with a reporter from NY Times Magazine next weekend in Chicago reference success in indie publishing, but I also know the reality is, even if mentioned in the article, it will lead to few, if any sales.

    What will lead to continued success in growing a 7 figure indie publishing enterprise in 18 months is networking.

  7. Posted April 4, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    There’s a lot to be said for making “content” “discoverable” and, working within the right channels to do so. Tweets and media coverage may work for fiction, but in my world (STEM) we concentrate on library sales. When approaching those customers, you simply have to be integrated with the systems they use to “discover” and buy “content”. If you aren’t integrated with the library acquisition systems you’re not likely to get a sale unless a faculty member comes to the library and requests your specific title– good luck getting that mechanism to work for you. If you are a publisher, and you’re not being treated on an approval plan by one of the few remaining book vendors, then you need another means of getting in to the acquisitions ecosystem– if your book is high level scientific, technical, engineering or medical, have your publisher send us a review copy, or get one to Book News yourself… it’s one of the few ways to guarantee that you’ll have meaningful metadata presented to the people buying such titles, and get that same information included within OPACs where users might actually find it.

  8. Posted April 28, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    This is great. A lot of useful information here. be sure to check out http://wattspublishinggroup.com for all you need to know about publishing. they have an article on the top ten companies to publish your book.

  9. sara milano
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    I find it all ludicrous. Writers everywhere doing a thousand things that are not ‘supposed’ to be hyping their books, but that is what it is. A zillion so-called ‘experts’ looking for attention so that they can sell their books. But of course no one is supposed to acknowledge that that is what they are doing. It is inherently dishonest.

    I buy a book because I want to read it. I am not interested in the author’s blogs or tweets or facebook ramblings..I am interested in their next book, if I like their work. I believe it is about the work and only that. The author is not the brand.

    I don’t and never will do Facebook. I think it is putting everyone back in the sandbox. Pandering to the most juvenile aspects of ourselves. Posting the numbers of friends? What are we, 6? And with Twitter, we are to be ‘followers’ and ‘leaders’. Unbelievable. I have never been a follower in my life. Most people have little to say that is truly interesting. A few do and with any luck they will put it in a book or essay or whatever. The best of themselves, not the most mundane.

    I think the challenge is to sell quality work without jumping on the latest bandwagon, like lemmings to the sea…

  10. Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I’m just about to have my first book published – it’s called The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers. I’ve been working over the past few months to build my twitter following, set up a facebook page and am slowly learning how to communicate well with my audience! I’m actually enjoying building new friendships in the process. In terms of connecting to traditional media, at the moment that feels quite intimidating, but I’m sure once reviews begin to come in I’ll get the hang of it! If anyone fancies finding out more about my book come and find me on facebook http://www.facebook.com/danielingrambrown or add me on Twitter @daningrambrown – would love to say hello!

  11. Victoria Victoria PR
    Posted March 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I thought this was a very insightful blog post. As a publicist, the one tip I’d ad is to be succinct. Too many well-intentioned articles lose their audience in the first paragraph or even sentence…don’t be afraid to go bold! http://victoriavictoriapr.weebly.com/promotion.html

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