The Elusive Value of PR as a Book Marketing Tactic

The Elusive Value of PR as a Book Marketing Tactic

When I am not being an author, my full-time job is in public relations.

As one might imagine, the value of, say, being quoted in a magazine feature article, is harder to measure than most other marketing efforts. It’s pretty rare to see a direct jump in sales as a result of such a placement.

More often than not, these mentions are cumulative:

A reader sees you over here in a magazine.

Then later they see you over there in a newspaper.

Later, her friend mentions your book as one of many on a list of new releases.

And in this way, a person gradually develops a familiarity with you without being able to point to a specific touchpoint for it.

Because of this, I sometimes find myself in the position of having to explain to clients why what I do for them matters.

The same is true for authors — including this one, despite all I know about the industry.

Investment vs. immediate gratification

The cool thing about working in the communications industry as an author is that I have an insider’s perspective on how to put my own author marketing plan together, and how to identify valuable opportunities.

As a result, I’ve been lucky enough to weasel my way into a few pretty awesome ongoing opportunities, writing this column for The Write Life included.

But life is busy. Especially now that I work full-time again rather than freelance, I have to be picky about where I invest my time.

Despite what my logic and experience tells me, it’s easy to sometimes feel like I’m spinning my wheels, and I’d be better off spewing out sales-y tweets every few hours and watch my Amazon ranking jump a few places with each resulting sale.

But that’s a short-sighted strategy.

I am constantly reminding myself to invest my time and efforts wisely as an author. And that means putting my efforts toward growing a long-term following—not just pestering readings into that one or two next sales.

And guess what? A steady drip-drip-drip of media mentions and bylines is absolute gold for that.

Identifying worthwhile PR opportunities

If PR isn’t about direct sales, what is it about? How do you know if you’ve found a good opportunity? Here are a few guidelines to help you assess.

  • Publication focus: What topics does the publication cover? What biases or agendas does it have? Make sure these align with your own, at least loosely. The same goes for the article topic.
  • Readership: Who reads this publication? You should be able to find this information on the publication’s “About” page or in its media kit. For most publications, this is also pretty clear from the home page: who are they talking to?
  • Time investment: If a reporter approaches you for an interview, this is easy — just ask them how much time you should plan to set aside to talk with them as you schedule. For a byline, be sure you’re aware of the parameters like word count and how much research is involved. As a writer, you should have a good sense of how long these take you already.
  • Payoff: Sometimes this is literal — you contribute content and are paid for it. Other times this is about exposure to an audience, the link in your byline, or the credibility that comes with being associated with the publication. Just make sure you know what it is, and that it’s worth it for you.

When these factors all add up, you’ve got a winner.

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“All press is good press”

This mantra is false.

First of all, negative coverage is, in fact, bad. (One exception to this: If you’re getting hammered for standing up for something you know your audience agrees with, or that you consider more important than your audience.)

Another manner of “bad press” is media coverage that makes you look bad by association.

If I offer services that help authors build their platforms (ahem, I do), and I guest post for a marketing service that has a reputation for ripping people off, that’s a terrible association for me to have.

Value wins

Public relations works because it gets you in front of readers and clearly demonstrates your value and/or credibility.

Critical to this is, it’s about what you can offer your audience, not about what they can offer you (like book sales).

After a slow sales report, we all have moments where we want to climb to the highest hill we can find and shout, “For the love of God, buy my book!”

But shouting at people, of course, is no way to foster a relationship. and that’s what public relations is really about.

Just like social media and a lot of the other most impactful long-term platforming tactics, public relations is looks at the long tail success.

And if you’re an author looking for a career in this business, that’s exactly the game you want to be playing.

Do you use public relations to expand your platform? How’s it worked for you?

Filed Under: Blogging, Marketing

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  • Colin says:

    Thanks Emily for replying and Kathleen for the turtle analogy. Recently a magazine editor asked for a copy of my first novel. A publisher wants to re-publish it. I believe the fact that there is a sequel in the pipeline has helped. Also, is any author truly satisfied with his or her published novel ? I certainly have a better understanding of the process and potential readership. Memories of childhood are that of buying from a bookshop, because the cover appealed. This plays out in the adult world with publicity. The reader might be disappointed when they meet the author where they have perhaps imagined a character in the novel to be the author. Primarily, you want to entertain the reader and hope that they share your enthusiasm for your novel, through the story and characters portrayed. Publicity needs crafting in the way that you craft your writing.

  • Thomas says:

    I have had events for my two books, one at a time, and sold a few here and there. I have learned to avoid coffee shops because I take time off work to show up and the poster is not up and the sample book is gone. My best sales was at a Art Gallery/Bar or bake shops.

  • JazzFeathers says:

    PR is what I’m dedicating at the moment. I do believe that cultiventing a readership is the winning strategy for any author.
    It isn’t really getting me anywhere in terms of sales, and I do know that part of the problem is that I only have one book out at the moment, but sometimes it’s frustrating nonetheless.
    Still, I’ll go on. Write more books and keep PRing.

    Thanks for a great article.

  • Kathleen EVANS says:

    Excellent article Colin!

    Targeting one’s audience and fostering a relationship is vital to success.
    There are documented subliminal and psychological underpinnings at work as you mentioned with the 7 points of contact.
    Overnight success is rare…but the turtle wins the race!

  • Judy Herzl says:

    As someone who also works with authors to build platforms, I love this article. Many people publish and don’t realize that they are building a relationship with their audience from the get-go whether they are a self-published author or publish with a press. And that people who seem like an overnight success usually have been doing those incremental steps for some time. Thanks!

  • Kirk says:

    I am a self published first time author. Is it worth while advertising in magazines such as New York Review of Books, Foreword Indies Review, IBPA Independent as well as many others?

    • What I would say about investing in advertising is this: Keep it in scale with your sales. The typical consumer needs seven points of contact with your book/brand before a sale is achieved, so you can’t count on a single far-reaching ad making a big impact. Instead, I’d recommend making your biggest investments, investments of time (rather than money) when you’re getting started. Look for ops to connect with niche communities, book bloggers, etc., participate in events in your area, etc.

  • Thanks for reading, Rakesh.

  • Thank you for the reminder that this is a long-term game. I’ve had three talks/signing/events in the last three weekends and have been feeling a bit down about the tiny number of sales they brought.

    It’s a good reminder to keep trying and stay focused. Every event, every blog post, every short story sold will help build toward that final goal of quitting the day job. 🙂

    • I have those events, too. Keep at it! I found I do my best with about one event a month–I’d be exhausted and frustrated after three back to back weekends, too! Look for a pace that you can sustain.

  • Colin says:

    Product placement by a main stream publisher is a head start for an author’s novel. A team dedicated to public relations will craft the image of you as an author that meets criteria in the current book world. Your novel is straightaway streamed into the right genre and book shop. This is not the case for a self publisher and there is an initial trial and error ingredient in your public relations approach. Initially, perhaps a mention in a local newspaper. An invitation on to a radio show There needs to be an awareness that presentation in the public arena is an important part of the overall message. An online presence means you need to be responsive to readers comments and enquiries in a positive and helpful way. It is extremely rewarding to get replies from readers, who have read or are reading your novels.

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