While most of us were just trying to get through January, some of the publishing industry converged in midtown Manhattan for Digital Book World: two days of panels, speakers, and networking followed by Indie Author Day. One session, How to Work More Effectively with the Media, was particularly interesting to me as a member of a media company.
How would their answers reflect my own? Do we at Foreword see things the same as these media giants? Turns out the answer, for the most part, is yes! Despite being primarily concerned with selecting and promoting big books, the comments and suggestions from the panel are relevant for anyone getting their titles out into the world, big publisher or small.
On the panel, moderated by Yona Deshommes, associate director of publicity at Atria, were Alexandra Alter, publishing reporter, the New York Times; Melissa Eagan, executive producer, the Leonard Lopate Show; Ellen Frankman, senior producer, The Takeaway; Tina Jordan, senior editor, Entertainment Weekly; and Robin Sanders, planning producer, CBS Sunday Morning. In response to the overarching question “How can book publicists work more effectively with the media?” here’s what they had to say.
How do you sort through books?
Covers count! Sanders gets upward of 50 books a day, and the covers are her first introduction to their content. Make sure your cover reflects your content in the most professional way possible. For more insight on amateurish covers, check out our interview with Joel Friedlander, proprietor of The Book Designer blog.
Other than covers, a good blurb or press release can be effective. Shiny packages and confetti, not so much.
How about starred reviews? Do they affect your decision-making process?
Not really. Other than occasionally using them to assess trends in the marketplace, reviews are less important than the quality and relevance of a book, and the voice of the author. Sometimes, Eagan asserts, a book may not be particularly good but the idea is good, and so the author may be worth a second look for an interview or background.
They do matter to librarians and booksellers, though, so make sure to include any starred reviews on your sell sheet, including your Foreword review. Need a sell sheet? We can help you!
How about social media? Has that changed your decision-making process, in terms of book selection?
Word of mouth is still so important, and social media is the obvious place to start. Get that conversation started however you can! A social media platform isn’t THE deciding factor when selecting a book, working with bloggers and authors with a strong social media presence can help, and provides more background for a story. An accommodating publicist can offers Author Q&As, feature stories, and any ancillary content when pitching books to the media, to give as many hooks into a story as possible.
Of course social media provides more ways to promote a title. What may not work in print may work digitally. What doesn’t work on a website might be good for a podcast. Alter has had success hosting a live illustrating session with children’s picture book authors and a slideshow of jackets. On The Takeaway, Frankman often does entire segments around something that’s happening on social media.
No matter how your title may be noticed online, be sure to share the good news! Jordan is “always surprised when publishers don’t pick up the ball and run with it.” Retweet, people!
What else matters to you when selecting a book to feature?
TRUST. We heard this loud and clear. Our panel knows who to trust. Good publicists know their audience and they know how to match a pitch to a media outlet. So be trustworthy! Even if you don’t know the person you’re pitching to, you can still garner trust. Don’t tout your book as the next Harry Potter.
Furthermore, know who you’re pitching to, and know their audience. Each of the panelists are looking for, or immediately eliminate, certain things. Sanders features almost no fiction on CBS Sunday Morning, whereas others feature. “Why will this book work for us?” is what’s important to any media outlet. Craft a personalized letter to answer that question.
In terms of pub date lead times, there was no consensus. Prepublication is typically preferred, but certainly pitch a backlist title if it becomes relevant. (hello 1984.) Frankman is specifically looking for books to move the national conversation forward, especially in regards to criminal and social justice, regardless of publication date.
Overall, know your media contacts. Research their show and their audience. Make sure you’re a good fit for them. Know what they prefer in terms of genre, ancillary material, and publication dates. Most of all, be smart! What would make you take a second look at a book?
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Ilyssa Wesche is the Sales Manager at Foreword Reviews. Let her know what you’re reading at firstname.lastname@example.org