Erin MacDonald-Birnbaum is one of the most experienced book publicists in the industry.
She has worked on more than 300 campaigns over the past 11 years with Smith Publicity and has represented clients across all genres—from first-time self-published authors to established writers with traditional houses. Her clients have appeared in People, TIME, Newsweek, the New York Times, and virtually every major media outlet in the country.
Here, she answers our five questions.
Describe what book publicity looked like when you started your career, versus what it looks like today.
It wasn’t nearly as connected as it is today. When I first started, social media hadn’t really taken off (there wasn’t any Twitter or Instagram or LinkedIn), and we didn’t have the immense amount of online resources at our disposal as we do today.
The recent surge of self-published and independently published books have created substantial dialogue in the industry, particularly in the past five years. How have these books changed the landscape, in your opinion?
The biggest change is that anyone can be a published author now with a few clicks of their computer mouse. I think most importantly, it’s allowed a lot of great writers and stories to be found/read because they have the opportunity to publish their books themselves when perhaps they didn’t get the notice of a traditional publisher. I think we would have missed out on a lot of great stories that way. It’s really made what was once an “exclusive” club of select authors a much larger group of writers from all walks of life and all over the world. It definitely made the book world a heck of a lot more interesting.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when handling their own book promotion and publicity?
I think the biggest mistake people make when handling their own publicity is that they don’t realize this is truly a full-time job. This isn't something they can just do on the weekends or a few hours at night after work but to really be successful in promoting themselves or their project, they have to dedicate all of their time to this endeavor as they would a career.
What are some of the proudest moments of your career?
I have a few. On a personal level, it’s that I have been in this business for over 11 years. This is a stressful, high-pressure and fast-paced job and I am proud that I have made it this far and still love what I do. On a professional level, I think anytime a publicist secures those “big” runs for their clients is a really proud moment because most people don’t realize the hours, days, months and sometimes even years it took to see them come to fruition. The first time I got a book I was promoting reviewed in the NY Times Book section and coordinated a five-page spread for an author of mine about his book in People Magazine were both very cool and exciting.
If you could give writers one piece of publicity advice for self-promotion, what would it be?
Make sure you don’t oversell. Any time you are promoting your book, you should always be thinking: How is what I am sharing beneficial to this audience?, whether it’s someone reading an article you wrote or were quoted in or an interview you give on radio or TV. You should absolutely highlight your book, but you should always provide that takeaway the audience can apply to their daily lives. So, for example, if you wrote a book on retirement, maybe you write an article on the five biggest retirement mistakes and how to avoid them or if you are a chef, you do a TV segment and show three great smoothie recipes to start your day. Bottom line, bring value into whatever you are doing to promote yourself or your book.