By Paula Margulies
An author asked me recently what I consider to be the most important characteristic to look for when hiring a publicist to promote a new book. I explained to her that while certain factors are crucial – being able to write a good press release, having lots of media contacts, knowing the ins and outs of a particular genre, and being honest, professional, and personable – I believe that the most important characteristic of a good publicist is persistence. For while industry savvy and a long list of connections are the general hallmarks of most experienced PR professionals, those who are really successful are the ones who have made it their business to keep asking for a yes until they hear one.
There is a fine line, of course, between being professionally persistent and being an annoying pest. Booksellers, reporters, and media producers are busy people, and many of them will not mince words if they’re in the midst of a deadline or are dealing with a rush of customers.
And timing is equally important. Call too often, and you can be branded as a stalker. But call too little, and chances are you might never have the opportunity to make your pitch.
What's important to remember is that bookstore managers and media reps are looking for ways to draw an audience to their bookstore, publication, or news program. They know that their customers love to meet their favorite authors and, for media types, that their viewers want to hear all about what's hot in the publishing world. But because booksellers and media pros are busy people, we publicists (and authors who do their own book promotion) have to learn to create good pitches and follow up until we have a chance to give them.
As in any business where you're requesting or selling something, the secret to hearing a yes is to be persistent in a professional manner. And it doesn't matter if you're being persistent by telephone or in writing. I prefer to make my initial contacts by telephone. If I'm successful in reaching the person I'm calling, I'll have my pitch organized beforehand, so I'm ready to pass along the information as succinctly and clearly as possible. If there is interest, I usually send pertinent information (press release, bio, author photo, and book cover art) by email immediately after I call. And I'll follow up as much as necessary until I have a definitive answer.
Even if I get an immediate yes to my initial request for a signing or interview, email follow-up is crucial. I'll contact the author to find out if the proposed appearance date and time will work, and then send a confirmation email to all concerned. I'll also indicate if the author will be bringing material prior to the signing, or go over protocol and content prior to an interview. And I'll set up a tickler in my calendar to make a follow-up call close to the appearance date (usually the week prior) to ensure that all the details, including event set-up, book orders, time limits, travel arrangements, driving directions, parking, etc., are covered.
If the person I'm trying to reach isn't available when I make my initial call, I like to leave a brief message explaining who I am and why I'm calling. I then try to get an email address where I can send the relevant information and follow up again in a day or so.
If a person says she'd like to think about offering a signing/interview/media appearance, I try to give her a respectable amount of time – anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks – to do so before calling again. Sometimes, as in cases where authors are coming to the U.S. from overseas, the timing might be more urgent. I try to account for scheduling crunches by making my initial calls with as much lead time as possible, so that I have enough of a window in which to call back if a contact is difficult to reach, or to follow up if the arrangements are complicated or require some time to nail down.
There is always going to be the occasional person who will rudely state that his store doesn't do signings because they're a waste of time, or the producer who will claim that your client and/or his book are just plain not interesting. But in over 20 years of working in marketing and publicity, I can honestly say that those individuals are the exception, rather than the rule. Most of the book sellers and media personnel you'll deal with are professionals, and if you are honest and courteous, they'll respond in kind.
As an example of how being professionally persistent can work, I once had one of my clients call to say that she was going to be in Washington D.C. in a week and could I please set up a couple of book signings for her. A week is generally not enough lead time to set up any type of event, but this particular author was up and coming, with more than one book in a popular genre, so I told her I'd do my best. I managed to set up a library signing, but had no luck with any booksellers. During the last call on my list, I spoke with a bookstore manager who passed on doing a signing, and then mentioned that one of the store’s book clubs would have been interested if my client were coming later in the month. I thanked the bookseller for her time and asked if I could email her some information about the author to pass along to the club anyway. The next morning, the bookseller called me back and said that she'd given the club members the info I'd sent, and they were so impressed with it that they'd decided to move their monthly meeting up a couple of weeks so they could host my client.
The moral of this story is that if you're organized and professional in your approach, you can usually obtain the publicity you’re looking for. The bottom line is to be persistent, thorough, and respectful of the people you're contacting. Consider how you prefer to be approached and, when in doubt, treat booksellers and the media accordingly. And, as Winston Churchill so wisely advised, "never, ever give up" until you get the yes you’re looking for.
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.paulamargulies.com.