Monday, November 27, 2006

Who helps generate buzz?

Status: still pregnant. Ready to explode at any moment.

Question of the day: I'm in the process of shopping for an agent, and one of the things I think I have going for me is the fact that my book could get a lot of publicity. I was wondering if you could explain who handles the publicity for a book - me, my agent, the publisher - and how the process works.

A very timely question because I've spent the past few weeks brainstorming with my in-house publicist, editor, agent and marketing manager. A few things you should know right off the bat: a) it's fabulous that you think there's a wide audience for your book, but that b) every author probably thinks this or else he might not write his book to begin with, and c) the only opinions who really matter here are the agents you're shopping to and the houses he or she will pitch.

But let's just say that yes, you land an agent and then proceed to sell the book asap. What happens next? (Well, next is pushing it because there are a ton of steps in between selling the book and doing PR, but you get my point.) At some point, most houses/imprints will send you an author questionnaire - an elaborate Q/A asking for any and all of your media contacts, whom you think this book will appeal to, which cities might be good book tour stops, etc, etc, etc. This questionnaire will be passed to the PR dept, and you'll be assigned a publicist. USUALLY. I say usually because there are a ton of factors that go into this process...

Such as: 1) almost inevitably, hardcover books get more reviews and more PR, so if you've sold a hardcover, you're likely to get more attn from the publicity dept. 2) What genre you write in. I have friends who write paranormal romances, for example, and all but acknowledge that getting reviews, coverage, etc, is an uphill battle. 3) The size of your advance. The more money a house pours into your book upfront, the more effort they're likely to put in to recoup it. This isn't a hard and fast rule, to be sure, but in general, it seems to apply. I think I've read other authors say something along the lines of, "If your advance was under 50k, you're not going to get a whole hell of a lot of in-house publicity attention." FWIW. Note that I say, "in-house," which doesn't mean that you can't generate attn on your own.

Okay, but I've digressed. From here, I'll tell you about my own process because I can't speak for others. My publicist (who is a rock star) and I have worked together closely to target a list of magazines. newspapers and eventually TV/radio outlets, put together press releases, blurbs and a q/a with moi, and sent these materials out last week along with the galleys. I feel very lucky: my publicist really loves my book and is smart, sharp and hard-working. For every author who says this, you'll hear of five others who feel like their publicist is overworked (to no fault of her own) and doesn't have the time to devote to said author's book. Our next step is to collaborate with the marketing manager (who is also a rock star) who has been assigned to the book. She'll help come up with different marketing ideas - in my case, perhaps working with a breast cancer charity, etc, a few tour stops, as well as dealing with in-store placement (yes, publishers PAY for those front tables and cool signs that you see at Barnes and Noble, etc), all of which are contingent on a budget. The PR stuff you do for free; the marketing stuff all requires cold, hard cash.

At the end of the day, however, it should be said that the only person who is guaranteed to work hard to generate publicity and press for your book is YOU. Which is why I've hustled my ass off to try to finagle articles, essays and reviews for TDLF. Because at a certain point, my publicist and mktg manager will be handed another book, and they'll have to refocus. And I'll be left holding nearly all of the balls. So, my advice, and I've heard this echoed from every author I've ever spoken with, is not to rely on anyone else to get the job done. You want publicity? Go out there and generate some yourself.

So, authors, what has your experience been with getting press for your book?

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