Do you need a publicist to market your book?

4:51 AM Posted by Lori Calabrese

As most writers know, it's not just about writing the book, it's also about marketing it. Marketing can be a daunting task for a big or small press author, especially if you don't have any experience or little time. Perhaps, you've considered reaching out to a publicist to help, but just aren't sure of the benefits and whether or not it's for you. That's why today we're talking to Rebecca Grose.

Rebecca Grose is the president of SoCal Public Relations (www.SoCalPR.net), a freelance publicity firm specializing in children’s and young adult books. With almost 20 years in literary p.r., she offers full-service promotional campaigns for clients in all genres (YA, picture books, historical fiction, middle grade, etc). Originally from Michigan, she lived in New York for eight years, working in children’s publicity at several major publishing houses (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, DK Publishing), and now resides in San Diego, where it’s always sunny and warm (well…95% of the time).

Rebecca not only tells us about how she got started, but also offers some advice on how to get the word out about your book...

Tell us a little about your background and how you became a public relations specialist who focuses on children's and young adult books.
Years ago, I worked in publicity for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ), here in San Diego, but on the adult side of the business. In fact, I had the great honor of being involved in promoting The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Of course, at that time, I was only an assistant, so I handled making her travel arrangements, creating her itinerary, that sort of thing. As my career progressed, I loved the challenge of a campaign, working with great authors, and meeting new people.

In 1995, I moved to New York – the hub of the publishing industry, and worked for several major publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and DK Publishing. But my career took a different path and I was hired by the children’s publicity departments, which I liked so much better! I handled p.r. campaigns for award-winning literary giants like Walter Dean Myers, E.L. Konigsburg, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, and was totally hooked! The looks on the faces of kids when they met one of these amazing luminaries was so rewarding and inspiring. And the camaraderie within the children’s publishing industry was quite different than when I worked on adult titles – in children’s, everyone understands the importance of early learning and reading for kids, and although there is still competition between publishers, it felt like one big extended family. I had an opportunity to attend amazing book launch parties and major events (the stories I could tell…), plus accompany my authors on multi-city tours and to national media appearances. It was an incredible experience! (P.S. one of the last books I worked on in New York was a picture book, Langston Hughes: American Poet…by Alice Walker; in a way, I felt like I’d come full circle in my career.)

In 2003, I moved back to San Diego to start my own freelance literary public relations firm, and have since had an opportunity to work with numerous authors at various stages of their careers, including helping many first-time authors launch their books and start building their brand. It has been very rewarding on so many levels, especially when I have clients who hire me time and again – whenever they have a new book they’d like to give an extra push.

What are some of the services you offer your clients?
Everyone’s needs are different, so I work closely with my clients to determine our best plan of attack. We brainstorm together to design a tailored campaign that will generate the most impact for their book and achieve their goals, whether it’s an author tour, online media coverage, niche market research, local appearances, radio blitz, or any combination. My services include creating press materials (press release, author bio, Q&A, praise sheet, etc), which are approved by the author. I also work with bookstores, libraries, and festivals/trade shows to schedule appearances, signings, panel discussions, presentations, and provide written confirmations to all involved while working with the venue to maximize publicity for the event. Of course, I also pitch media contacts for features, interviews, reviews, round-ups, chats/guest blogs, and more.

Consultation is a key part of most projects for my clients throughout our campaign (and beyond), answering their questions re how best to interact with the publisher, giving suggestions about creating promotional materials or how to update their website, etc. Working together, we become a team, and it’s helpful for authors to have an experienced publishing insider to bounce ideas off and ask advice.

You can find out more about the services I offer by visiting my website: www.SoCalPR.net

What do some of your clients say is their biggest challenge?
I talk to a lot of authors, and what I hear over and over again is that they really aren’t comfortable with promoting themselves to booksellers, libraries, or media. They don’t enjoy the business end of the industry, they’d rather be immersed in their writing! It can be difficult for an author to know the best way to pitch an appearance or an interview, which is where someone with experience can certainly help. But also, most of these contacts prefer an objective approach; it’s easier for them to deal with a third-party than directly with the author.

You've created buzz for many books--in what specific area have you found the best success (online sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or media kits, etc...?)
The online community is definitely the best way to build a buzz, especially if you can achieve a domino effect with multiple bloggers…each having followers/readers who then spread the word to their friends/family, and so on.

What’s most important in this realm is for the author to become actively involved in their own success. These sites are comprised essentially of readers who thrive on direct communication with the author, either through an interview or guest blog, or when the author is a member and leaves a comment or chats with others on the site. It’s much more genuine (and effective) when this type of grassroots buzz is generated, than when a publicist or marketing person tries to post info about a new book to any of these sites.

My role in this is to facilitate and fuel this interaction for the author…set up chats and blog tours, help them identify the sites that would be the best fit for them to join, etc. In addition, I work with a lot of other online media to secure reviews and author interviews to feed into the buzz we’re building.

What's your best advice for a small press author to build a buzz for their new book?
An author’s best resources are the contacts they already have…friends, family, teachers they know, the clerk or manager at their local bookseller, etc. (see #4, below)

With that in mind, here are a few helpful tips:
1) accept the fact that you will need to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of marketing/promoting yourself (and possibly hire someone to help you)
2) create a website at least 2-6mos before pub date (even if you start with just one page), include it on everything (promotional materials, press materials, letters), ask the publisher to list it with your bio on the jacket flap (if possible)
3) use an email signature which includes your book title, pub date, website (don’t make it too lengthy), and include it on every communication!
Example:         Mary Smith
                        Best Book Ever Written (April 2011)
                        www.marysmith.com
4) put the word out to friends, family, anyone you can think of, and ask for their help in spreading the news about your new book; these are people who want to help you, so let them!
5) if not already a member of book sites, blogs, etc, join a few that interest you and become very active; comment on other books, author interviews, etc. (remember to include your email signature, see #3)

What do you like best about your job?
Working with people…authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, media contacts, etc. I truly believe it all comes down to relationships, and I continue to enjoy my ongoing friendships in every segment of our industry. It’s especially rewarding to bring others together, such as introducing an author to a key librarian who has amazing outreach in their community, or putting a bookseller in touch with several authors for an upcoming special event, etc.

Bottom line – it’s all about bringing people together, in one way or another, and I’m happy to do my part.

Thank you for this opportunity to answer a few questions for your members and readers!

For more information:
Rebecca Grose
SoCal Public Relations
socalpublicrelations@yahoo.com
619.460.2179
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