Sunday, August 31, 2008

Selling the sizzle

A theme I keep returning to is the necessity to think of a book as a product and to build an integrated marketing campaign for that product if you want to be financially successful with it (even then, it’s a crapshoot). One of the elements of marketing a book is publicity.

Enter the book publicist
Different book publicists offer different services. The key function they perform, though, is to secure author appearances in the media. They work hard to do this, and they get paid well for this service. But it’s vital to the author (whether you are self-published or published by a major house) to understand where the publicist’s job starts and ends: a list of dates, times, and places where you are scheduled to appear.

That’s not enough. I mean, sure, it’s plenty from the point of view of the publicist who sweated bullets to get you those appearances and put the list together. But it’s not enough for you to think your marketing problems are solved. The reason it’s not enough is that the fact of having interviews does not guarantee book sales. It’s what you do in the course of your interviews that motivates listeners or viewers or readers to go out and buy your book.

Talk about the subject, not about the book
If you’re a novelist, this means you talk about the characters as if they are real people with lives outside the narrow slice you documented in your story. Or it means you talk about wartime Austria, if that’s where your story is set. Or it means you talk about the historical figures you based your characters on. You don’t just summarize the plot of your novel.

If you’re a nonfiction author, it means you talk about your field of expertise or about the context in which your book has application and meaning. You don’t recap the table of contents.

Know your material
Some interviewers may lead you into a discussion of the book itself, even if that’s not a great idea. Review your own book before the interview. Reread it if necessary. If the host asks you about page 57, you’d best be able to get to page 57 pronto and be familiar with what’s there as soon as see it.

Learn how to speak on the radio
If you’re uncomfortable as a speaker, the audience will know it immediately. Get coaching (see if someone in the drama department of a local college is available as a private tutor, or join Toastmasters, or join a community theater troupe). If you’re subject to stage fright, ask your physician to prescribe a beta blocker to take before interviews (only if it’s safe for you, of course).

Speaking on the radio, speaking on television, speaking on a podium, and answering a print reporter’s questions all have different dynamics. If you don’t have a good intuitive grasp of how to handle these different situations in a way that keeps the audience engaged, be sure to address this issue with your coach, too.

Don’t forget to plug the book
Your host should do this for you, of course. But if not, get the title and author into the conversation at least three times in the course of the interview. And if you have an in-person interview, remember to take a few copies of the book with you. You never know who might be happy to buy one from you.

Above all, enjoy yourself
No matter how shy and introverted you think you are, you can learn to enjoy sharing your ideas with an audience in an engaging way. Don’t focus on your fear; focus on the opportunity to reach others who share your interests. People will respond to your enjoyment and positive attitude. If you can’t convey those, you’re unlikely to turn that hard-won and expensive publicity opportunity into book sales.

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