What You Need to Know About Publicity Before You Self-Publish

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An efficient media strategy can put your name and your book in front of a far bigger audience of potential readers than you can possibly reach yourself.

Unfortunately, many self-published authors assume that traditional publicity is out of reach. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Reaching a wider audience involves a solid author platform and a book marketing plan.

Once those are in place, it’s time to focus on publicity and media coverage.

Over 30 years working in the media, I’ve been contacted by all kinds of people who wanted access to my audience — including authors, filmmakers, recording artists, comedians, businesspeople, as well as publicists representing those people.

Their pitches have ranged from elaborate and expensive (custom-made folders, branded tchotchkes, publicity materials printed on the fancy stationery) to some that were very simple (just an email or a few sheets of paper).

The best pitches weren’t necessarily those that were the most elaborate or the most expensive. In fact, what the best pitches have in common has nothing to do with expense or extravagance.

At the most basic level, a media pitch is simply correspondence that explains your story angle. It doesn’t require a formal press release, glossy paper, or a presentation over hors d’oeuvres or martinis.

At the end of the day, all that matters is whether your story angle will keep my audience engaged. You can send it via singing telegram — sure, it would get my attention — but it’s not going to help you if I don’t believe that my audience wants to hear your story.

Here are five common myths about publicity for self-published authors Click To Tweet

Plus ways to break them as you start your own promotional campaign.

Publicity myth #1: It won’t work for my kind of book

Every type of author has a fair shot at being interviewed, profiled or reviewed.

Sure, some types of books are easier to sell than others — but any kind of author with any kind of book is just as eligible for coverage from print, broadcast and digital media. It’s all in how you present yourself.

The next time you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, take a look at the magazines racked next to the candy. The cover text text shouts story hooks that pique your curiosity. That text has one job: Get you to flip open the magazine.

The cover lines promise you the answers to secrets, gossip about someone’s private life, and tips to be healthier, wealthier, and/or wise. The text almost never proclaims, “Here’s a product that exists!” They’re always focused on topics and story angles that will make that audience turn the pages.

Now, let’s look at your book. No matter its primary topic, there are likely to be more discussion starters than “This book exists.” The topic of the book may lend itself to discussions about money, health, or issues of public interest.

But what if it doesn’t lend itself to an easy discussion starter? Maybe your book is a novel, a retelling of some obscure historical events, or a how-to book on building cabinets.

If that’s the case, you may have to dig a little deeper. But discussion starters are in there somewhere. What can you share about what inspired the book, or what you learned while writing it?

Publicity myth #2: Media coverage is expensive

Actually, publicity, by definition, doesn’t cost anything at all. If you have to pay for it, it’s called “advertising.”

You can book an interview yourself with just an email and a PDF copy of your press kit. And email and PDFs are free.

Now, should you hire a publicist?

Think of it this way: A good publicist can be like a guitar teacher or a tour guide or an athletic coach.

You don’t need to hire that person to play the guitar, take a mountain hike or train for a marathon. But a good teacher or guide may help you get results faster than you would have alone.

You may decide to hire a publicist or a marketing team. You just don’t have to.

If you’re going to be your own publicist, the first job is to figure out whom to contact. How do you do that? Let’s think of it as a series of circles around your target. Working our way from the outside toward the center:

Don’t be mesmerized by the size of a particular outlet’s audience — if that outlet doesn’t speak to your audience, you’re just wasting everybody’s time.

Remember to tailor your media pitch — which is more of a letter than a traditional press release — to a specific person at a specific outlet. Start with a goal of contacting 3-5 media influencers. Get some small wins before you start gambling away your time trying to get on The Today Show.

Remember, every time you appear in the media is valuable to your long-term goals.

Publicity myth #3: The media only cares about famous people

TV producers and print editors and webmasters only care about their audience.

Media producers are interested in any guest or topic that will hold that audience’s attention. If you can make a compelling case for your news angle’s appeal to the audience, you have a realistic chance of getting booked.

If you can make a case for your new book (as reviewed in myth #1), you’re well on your way to grabbing producers’ attention.

Publicity myth #4: All I have to do is announce myself

The best publicity pitches succinctly explain your story hook and why your idea is suitable for that specific audience. Since media professionals are always on deadline, “Here I am, figure me out!” pitches never get anywhere.

If you want that media contact to take you seriously, make your pitch clear and to the point. Explain who you are, why you’re pitching, and your story angle for their audience.

A strong publicity pitch will go past the “This book exists” angle and use that book as a discussion starter for that audience. In fact, the pitch may not even be about the book at all. It could be about a part of your research, or how current events can be viewed through the lens of your book.

Your story pitch won’t always be directly about your book. The resulting coverage will always include your book, since you’re the expert. See the difference?

Publicity myth #5: I only have one shot at media coverage for this book

For several years, I was the editor in chief for a group of music magazines. During that period, one of the sharpest publicists I knew found a brand-new excuse to pitch something about a particular client every six to eight weeks.

Some pitches got her client into the news column, some got the band into the review section, and some led to interviews. She understood that a strong publicity strategy unfolds over time.

How about you? Can you think of five or more different points of entry to start a discussion about your book?

As you plan your promotional campaign, think beyond “Here I am!” announcements and dig into what you have to offer readers, viewers and listeners.

If you know your target audience, and you know the media outlets that speak to that audience, there’s no reason you can’t come up with a great pitch. More importantly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t come up with a brand-new pitch for that audience every few months until you publish your next book.

And then the cycle can start again.

What tips do you have for authors pitching themselves to the media?

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Chris Well has worked 30 years in magazines, newspapers, radio broadcasting, and digital media. If you’re ready to create your online press kit, get this free checklist from DIY Author.... .

DIY Author | @DIYauthor

Chris Well
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  1. This is really a great article. I am thinking about self-publishing, probably next year, btu I’m already thinking to my promotional campaign. I love your take at it and your positive stance. It’ inspiring 🙂

    • Thank you, Sarah! I’m glad the article helped you. And remember, you don’t have to wait until the book is published to begin reaching out to the media – as long as the focus of your media pitch isn’t necessarily on the book itself, but on your area of expertise. Good luck with your promotional campaign! 🙂

  2. Brooke Warner says:

    I love your positive attitude, too, Chris, but I also think that representing yourself as a self-published author only accentuates that you are self-published. I have a publishing company, and I’ve seen really tremendous results for those authors who have hired publicists; those who represent themselves simply don’t know what they don’t know. And even the ones who had some marketing experience have not been able to make the kind of inroads traditional publicists have been able to make. I’ve totally changed my own tune on this and now recommend every author I work with—whether they’re self, hybrid, or traditional—hire their own publicist. Even the traditional houses aren’t doing enough to support authors, so to my mind hiring a publicist goes with the terrain of being a published author today. Your thoughts on this?

    • Hi, Brooke – the examples that you mention would have been the result of several factors, including how the authors picked their media targets, how they made contact, and how they framed their pitches to relevant media influencers. (Perhaps the authors you mentioned were blasting out mass impersonal emails.) Since I don’t know the specific circumstances, I can’t speak directly to their results.

      What I can tell you from experience is that whether an author represents herself or himself is not a problem. An author with the right mindset can absolutely pitch to a media influencer with a platform and be taken seriously.

      You’re right, an author needs to know how to do it. An author can’t go into a pitch all bull-in-a-China-shop, flailing his or her arms, and bullying the influencer with a sense of entitlement. (The author should also never lead the pitch with, “I have a book.” Nobody cares.)

      For authors who need help learning how to interact with influencers gracefully, the information and the training is available: There are articles online, there are teachers (including myself) who can walk authors through the process, and even your local college or university may offer classes in basic media training.

      However, please don’t think that I am anti-publicist. My message is not that an author *shouldn’t* hire a publicist – but that authors shouldn’t feel that it’s a requirement.

      For many, hiring a publicist may be cost-prohibitive. Or they’ve had difficulty finding a good publicist who can really help.

      My article was not speaking to authors who have access or the means to hire a professional publicist or marketing team. I’m merely explaining to the rest of the authors that they have every right to be included in the public conversation, too.

      A good publicist is like a good trail guide. That trail guide should make your journey easier – but as long as you stick to the trail, you don’t NEED that trail guide.

      I can tell you from personal experience on both sides of the desk – as that media producer, and also as an author myself – that having a publicist is no guarantee of success. (I’ve received some terrible pitches from professional publicists, and I’ve received some fine pitches directly from eventual interview subjects.)

      All that media producers or media editors care about is whether you have something of interest to share with their listeners, or their readers, or their viewers. An author can absolutely send one email to the right person and say the right thing and be booked as a guest or scheduled for an interview.

      As I teach my students, the pitch should almost never be about the book itself. The author needs to pitch an engaging story or topic or news angle. The author, of course, is the expert who will speak or share on this topic. (“And – oh, look at that, this expert has a book!”)

      I hope that helps clarify my position, Brooke. If your authors are getting good results from their publicists, I don’t see anything wrong with that. 🙂

  3. Thank you for the useful tips. Do you have any advice for someone such as myself as regards obtaining publicity for a book of poems? Thanks. Kevin

    • Hi, Kevin – thanks for your question! I’ll be honest here: I would guess that poetry is one of the most difficult types of writing to find points of entry for publicity.

      That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

      Off the top of my head, I suggest you create some news story ideas that revolve around you as the poet. (They would only point to your book as an afterthought.)

      For example:
      * You can conduct a poetry workshop at a local school. Teach the students how to write poetry.
      * You can present a poetry seminar at the local library. Share an overview of great poetry–perhaps from a specific category or school of poetry–and include your own poems in that overview. (So, it’s like a reading but you’re also promising poems from famous poets, too. This now associates you with other poets they may have heard of.)
      * Work with a local theater group or theater students to present dramatic readings from your poetry and other works.
      * Team up with a local coffeehouse to present a panel discussion with you and other poets or scholars or experts.

      Any of the above can be set up in such a way that local media would consider them newsworthy–either because it includes local citizens, or local venues, or local businesses.

      I don’t read national poetry publications–magazines, newsletters, etc.–but if any of them include news about poets and poetry, then one or more of the above scenarios may also be considered newsworthy on a national level as well.

      There may be more ideas than I have listed, but I hope these few will at least give you a place to start. 🙂

  4. I love this. Thank you for writing it. I’ve shared it on my Facebook page to help others learn how they too can promote themselves and their books.

    There are many wonderful ideas in this article I can put to work right away and in the future. And the positive attitude only helps to inspire getting out there.


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