The Elusive Value of PR as a Book Marketing Tactic

by | May 10, 2017 | Blogging, Marketing | 14 comments

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?