Competitive doesn’t begin to describe today’s book market. The booming print on demand and self-publishing industries, coupled with mainstream publishers, has flooded the market with thousands of new releases each month. With an infinite number of books and authors vying for attention from a finite number of media outlets, book publicity is a tough, sometimes brutal business.
Many authors choose to self-promote, but most still reach out to professionals for help with at least some aspects of their promotion. For both novice promoters and veteran professionals alike, the pitfalls of book publicity are many. In my experience handling over 200 campaigns, I know what can sabotage success, the errors of both omission and commission that can derail a campaign, and how human tendencies can adversely affect promotion.
What follows are the 7 deadly sins of book promotion; the mistakes and actions that can destroy an author’s chances to get substantial media coverage.
If you think sitting back and watching royalty checks roll in is your destiny, think again. Virtually all authors must ‘get out there’ and be seen and heard. Book signings and tours are not passive events; they require a hunger for success and kinetic energy level. Interviews can be a gold mine or a disaster for one who puts forth a half-hearted effort. Publicity doesn’t happen, you have to make it happen.
Lazy authors languish in the million rankings on bookselling sites.
If you are promoting a book, prepare for your pride to be pierced a few times. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen authors make is letting a negative review or bad interview derail their determination.
The author believes her book is a bestseller; it is her baby, her labor of love. She has great pride in what she has written, so much so that it has created an excessive belief in her abilities and her book. When the tough times come, pride begets anger which begets frustration which leads to disillusionment.
An author must go into promotion knowing not everyone will fall in love with the book. I often ask my clients, “Do you like every book you’ve ever read?”
Roll with the punches, and stay the course. Put your ego on bed rest.
Eight out of ten authors who call me inquiring about publicity tell me they want to be on Oprah. I tell them, invariably, that it’s probably not going to happen for them, that we can and should try, but the odds are akin to the lottery. But authors see others on the show and are envious. They ask “If that person is on, why can’t I?” “My book is better than his!”
Envy serves no purpose in book promotion. The only way other authors get great publicity gigs is because they tried. If anything, you should learn from them. Watch them carefully, examine their topic, and then examine your own project. We all can learn something from others; I still do every day.
How does lust come into play with book promotion? I have both an extreme example and more common ones from my firm’s own ‘case files.’
Good publicity can be intoxicating. Being on talk shows, having articles written about you … it all makes you feel good, and it should. I always tell authors to enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever. However, letting your good time change you, or bring about actions which have nothing to do with the hard work of promoting your book can be disastrous. Losing focus – taking your eye off the ball – is a surefire way to run into trouble.
Example #1: During one of the first conversations I had with a prospective client – a middle age author with multiple books – he told me (and I must paraphrase here) he wanted to get publicity so he could attract women. He was serious. Needless to say, his campaign lasted only one month; we tried to keep him focused on the steps needed to get exposure for his books, but we couldn’t, and we parted company.
Example #2: The more benign type of book promotion ‘lust’ comes in the form of letting success change who you are, and make you long for things which you never envisioned before. In our firm we call these clients ‘addicts’ – they get so enthralled with success that the book becomes secondary. They want more and more exposure, but not so much to sell books, but to feed their own newly-found desires to acquire things – from sheer fame for the sake of fame to popularity and the overwhelming desire to have others simply notice them.
In the end, lust almost always makes for an unhappy ending to what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Gluttony in book promotion touches upon several of the other sins. In its purest form, it is the insatiable desire to ‘consume’ as much publicity as possible, and not being satisfied with each opportunity. Local radio interviews, for example, become unsatisfying, and an author starts to shun them because she wants more and better opportunities. A book review in a small newspaper is dismissed as insignificant, because she wants more. A local TV opportunity is declined because there aren’t enough viewers to fulfill the need for exposure.
I routinely run into these exact scenarios, and inevitably, we ‘lose control’ of our client, and the campaign starts to slowly dissolve because the author is literally never satisfied, and will not appreciate ‘smaller bites’ of publicity while the bigger opportunities are pursued.
Book promotion is akin to a seven course meal. You start slowly, testing the waters, then move onto the next course. You proceed in a steady, measure manner, enjoying every course while building confidence and momentum.
Don’t demand all seven courses be delivered to your publicity table at once. Enjoy the entire experience of the meal and be patient.
Like gluttony, greed is the offspring of several other sins, and perhaps the most common sin of book promotion. Here is a classic example:
● An unknown, first-time author comes to my firm. He is nervous, unsure and wary of what will happen in his campaign – all perfectly understandable and expected concerns. The campaign begins slowly; and a few radio interviews are secured. All is well.
● The campaign starts to achieve momentum. The radio interviews start streaming in. Instead of one a week, we are booking four and five a week.
● Our client has confidence now, and is thoroughly enjoying the process.
● Things start to change. The level of radio interviews takes a dip, and we encounter the lull which happens in most campaigns. Instead of four or five interviews a week, it drops to one or two.
● The author, having become accustomed to many interviews each week, demands more. He is not satisfied with the interviews we secure, and will not be satisfied until we reach and maintain the level we had achieved.
● He becomes disillusioned and decides another firm can fulfill his hunger for more and more interviews.
Greed is what I call a ‘coffin nail’ in a campaign. Once it starts, it is very difficult to control and typically ends in a campaign which veers off track wildly. Greed may be good on Wall Street, but it will bankrupt a book promotion campaign.
Anger comes in many forms in book publicity. I once worked with an author who received a brutal review of his book, and was so angry he proceeded to drive over 200 miles to the reviewer’s location, storm into the office, and scream at the reviewer. This was, putting it mildly, a bad move.
The reviewer, in an unprofessional move, contacted reviewers at other newspapers in his company’s chain, and urged some colleagues to review the book. Five additional negative reviews appeared in the ensuing weeks.
It is important to keep in mind that when promoting a book, you are opening yourself up for scrutiny, in fact, you are inviting it. You want the scrutiny and attention. Assuming everyone will react positively to you or your book is foolish and immature.
The same scenario can happen in radio interviews. Many authors don’t realize that ‘hostile’ interviews can make for great talk radio, and actually get more listeners curious and interested in your book. If a host starts throwing punches at you on the air, throw yourself into the fight. Trust me, you will have a good time. When your juices get flowing, you will be more animated and colorful, and listeners will love it.
We are all Sinners
Book promotion is a distinctly human process. It is an emotional, scary, exciting and stimulating experience. Anyone promoting a book will at various times experience both disappointment and excitement. All authors will also be tempted to ‘sin’ at various times in a campaign. As a publicist, I expect this and understand it.
As in life, recognizing your ‘sins’ of publicity, and stopping them before they cause problems is key. Book promotion is more a marathon than sprint, and because of this, the opportunities to veer into negative promotional ‘behaviors’ are many.
You can always atone for your sins by getting back on track, enjoying the ride, and realizing you are involved in a wonderful experience.
by Dan Smith