Kate Appleton, Authoright’s Senior Publicist, shares her inside scoop on how book publicity works and why the unknown world of journalists and reviewers shouldn’t be scary at all when you have a professional on your side.
A regular working day for a PR professional is pretty systematic and broken up into straightforward time segments (do not judge me; I am organised). During my commute to work I often catch up on the day’s news headlines and review social media for any useful or opportune stories to latch onto for any one of my authors. On arrival at the office I check and respond to my emails and shriek in joy if someone has responded to my carefully structured pitch, before swiftly deleting Google updates. After which, from around 10.30am until mid-afternoon, I actively contact various journalists via email, phone and social media to pitch a story and secure coverage for each of my authors. I do my pitching at this specific time because it is the optimum opportunity to catch journalists on their downtime before deadlines loom. The afternoon is then occupied by scheduled marketing meetings, the writing of press releases and pitches to go out the following day, and the generation of well-researched media lists.
Working with the media is complicated. And that’s an understatement.
As a book publicist, I’ve gained some extremely useful insight into the inner workings of newsrooms and some top tips on how to contact the media and obtain positive results. However, I’m also aware of the glaring and rife inconsistencies. My role is often a bit like learning a foreign language – you happily learn the endings to ‘er’ verbs and then your teacher gleefully presents you with a wad of paper listing the exceptions to that rule. So I reiterate: it’s complicated.
Over the course of my day, the most common questions I receive from my authors are:
Is [insert media or journalist] still interested in my story?
When will the coverage be published?
All of which are extremely understandable and valid questions and ones which your publicist is (or should be) endeavouring to answer on your behalf. But sometimes even the best PR professionals are hit with a proverbial wall of silence from journalists, and patience on all sides is key. Here are a few things to understand about what your publicist is up against:
Nature of news:
Journalists – whoever they write for – receive over 300 emails a day on average. The majority of these are from PR executives trying to pitch stories on behalf of their clients. That’s competition number one. Add to the mix: breaking news, seasonal trends and topical issues. On any given day, many journalists will be writing about a mix of these things.
Now brace yourself, as this is going to sound unduly harsh. A journalist does not care about you. Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. If it helps, they don’t care about me either; journalists want a story, one which is suited to the publication they write for and one which their readers will enjoy. Therefore, sometimes what you’re offering might just not be suited to them. But when this is the case, they often won’t tell the publicist; they just won’t respond, full stop. Other times, the story needs to be discussed with the editorial or features teams, which takes a few days of back and forth, reworking an angle and providing more information. Then, the holy grail, when there will be a straightforward “Yes” and everything will move quickly. So although it’s understandable to ask “What’s happening?”, it’s often more important to leave matters to your publicist and trust that they will be in touch with details of any interest. I promise we’re not hiding anything!
Securing the right angle:
In order to optimise the opportunity for publicity, you need to have an open and honest relationship with your publicist in which you divulge all potential angles for publicity. I cannot stress enough the importance of squeezing out every last angle or storyline for each and every client and exhausting all avenues in which to pursue for coverage. On average 25,000 books are published each week in the UK and US alone, so book reviews are often hard to secure, and – especially with bloggers – coverage can take upwards of six months to appear. Therefore, your publicist needs the equivalent of your CV in order to cast the net far and wide and establish threads, however tenuous, across all media. Because regardless of how strong a story is, it needs to cut though the masses and reveal itself like a beacon of light to journalists. Are you a third-degree black belt? Do you garden in your free time? Have you fostered more than twenty stray kittens in search of homes? No angle is too obscure or unrelated to your book. And even though you may think “What about my book?”, once an interview or feature is secured, your publicist can guide you on how to turn it to your own advantage and also ensure your book is credited within any piece of publicity. Plus, the more angles there are to work with, usually the greater the longevity of a publicity campaign, because once a story has been covered, other journalists are unlikely to repeat the coverage.
Sidelined by a deadline:
Unless your story is time sensitive or an exclusive, do not expect coverage to be immediate, especially if it’s in print. (Digital formats, of course, have a speedier turnover of content.) It should be noted that even if a journalist conducts an interview with an author and everything is moving on swimmingly, it can still hit a bump for many varied reasons. Royal babies can be announced, Scotland can be in the grip of a referendum or David Beckham might have launched another line of male underwear. Or, more annoyingly, the editor of the publication might for no particular reason take a dislike to the story and cancel its appearance. The journalist in question might not be permitted to communicate all the detail back to your publicist, which is as frustrating for us as it is for the author. But too much inquiry from us can risk damaging media relations, so we have to strike a fine balance between being aggressive and learning to interpret media signals deftly. It’s the nature of the beast. As a publicist I continually follow up for confirmed publication dates, links, and PDF or print copies of any coverage for each client and duly inform them of the details and feedback I receive.
And at Authoright we practise what we preach because, overall, over 95% of our authors receive publicity coverage for their book, ranging from book reviews on independent blogs to an exclusive splash in the Daily Mail, with its 175 million monthly readers. The outlook is positive for all authors, but managing expectations is a publicist priority and when we do not have an immediate answer it isn’t because we’re hiding anything. It’s that we are also playing the patience game with you!
Kate Appleton can be found tweeting @AuthorightUKPR