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« Lesson 16: I’m Here, Now What? (Inside Pitch U) | Main | Lesson 14: Writer’s Miranda Rights (When You Pitch Your Book) »

Lesson 15: Building Buzz: The Basics on Pitching the Media

 **This Lesson is part of the January series “30 Pitch Lessons – 30 Days.”  Pitch University Pitchfest weeks and Expert-In-Residence weeks kick off the 1st full week in February.** 

Today we have a Lesson from Shelby Sledge, Media Relations Manager, and Peggy Keefe, Client Development Director, from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists.

I first met Phenix & Phenix about 8 years ago when I attended a special pre-conference workshop at the Agents Conference put on by Writers League of Texas (all agents, all the time!)

Their media strategy for authors is amazing.  And while there are many, many things you can do on your own to promote your book, there are "big game" strategies that need a true pro like Phenix & Phenix. 


You're Not Just Promoting to Readers 

Once you land that stellar book deal with a publisher it’s time to start thinking promotion.

Publishers love authors with plans past the writing of the book. It takes a lot of work to make a book successful and no matter who your publisher is, the more work you put into marketing and publicity, the better your book will do in the marketplace.

So how do you promote your book to the media? We’ll be breaking down the basics on what publicists do, what the media does and what you can do to help both.

What Is a Publicist and What Do They Do?

pub· li· cist  [puhb-luh-sist] noun:

 A publicist's main function is to generate press coverage on behalf of clients and to serve as the bridge between clients and media outlets. A publicist writes press releases, manages campaigns and does other public relations functions.

What do publicists do?

1. Create press kits: A press kit is a set of materials written with the media in mind. Common pieces found in a press kit are:

a. Press release: Written like a news story and meant to offer newsworthy items 

b. Author bio: One page biographical profile that includes credentials, a back story and other relevant information

c. Collateral material: Often times, this can include clips from past media exposure, fact lists that can be run as a side bar, sample media questions or any other item that provides additional credentialing or news value to media

2. Find hooks: One primary function of a publicist is to create newsworthy pitches, angles and hooks for media. Typically it’s in the form of a story idea. HINT: Want to know what to offer? Read your local paper or a national publication. Publicists know what the media needs, and successful authors do too. 

3. Go beyond the book page: If you’re a consumer of news you may have noticed book review sections at news dailies have dwindled significantly in the last few years. So what does that mean for the author and publicist? We have to take the book beyond the book page. Are you an expert in something? Do you have a unique back story? Can you provide a useful sidebar relevant to the book and the news cycle? All of these tools are ways publicists and ultimately authors can get media exposure beyond the book page.

4. Target specific outlets and reporters/producers: A publicist is also going to target specific media appropriate for the book’s genre. “Women’s Health” is probably not going to be interested in a book or author whose message is all about beer and babes. 

5. Nurture and build relationships: Publicity is all about building and nurturing relationships with media. The better an author or publicist can help a media outlet tell a story the more likely that media outlet will use the author in their story. Go above and beyond by providing information that may not directly benefit you and they may just come to you for help in the future.

6. Pitch media, mail books, follow up, repeat: Publicists are continually offering unique story ideas to various genres of media. Some media folks want the book prior to discussing anything, so in those cases a publicist will mail a book first and then follow up. This process in various degrees can take place a few times throughout the duration of a campaign.

What the Media Does

1. Entertain and inform: Outlets perform a specific function. Ask yourself if the outlet provides hard, breaking news or content that’s softer and more lifestyle-driven. Answering these questions will point you toward the types of topics they may be interested in.

2. Find valuable, credentialed sources and experts: Are you an expert in a specific topic? An author doesn’t always have to have degrees to be an expert. A passion for and a lot of hours spent on a specific hobby may be just enough to call yourself an expert. 

3. Find newsworthy and/or entertaining angles to a story: Media is always on the hunt for the “who cares” aspect of a story.

*HINT: Publication dates matter: Dallas Morning News editor Michael Merschel said they receive about 300 books a week. Can you imagine?

So how do they sift through all the options? One easy way to narrow down the stack is with pub dates. For long-lead magazines, plan to send your book anywhere from three to six months prior to the release date.

For short-lead news dailies, plan on one to three months ahead of time. Sending books past the pub date may get it rejected without a second glance just because of the vast quantity the media has to sort through to even begin reading. 

What You Can Do

1. Think like a reporter: Look for the “who cares” in your book and ask how it ties in to what’s currently going on in the news. Is there a holiday tie in? An anniversary? Breaking news? What is in the news now or around the book’s pub date? What makes you an expert? What is unique about your book?

2. Monitor the news: Google alerts are a great way to do this. You can monitor a set of key terms relevant to your topic. Don’t forget to add in your name and your book’s title also so you know about media hits when you start receiving coverage.

3. Engage in social media: Using Facebook, Twitter (see article), blogging and other online activities help build relationships and a brand. Are you blogging about news items or your topic of interest? We’ve actually seen major television shows find our authors online because they were a strong voice on a specific topic on their blogs!

4. Follow the rules: Media is really particular about how, when and to whom they are pitched. Here are a few key rules to remember:

a. Don’t pitch at same time your publicist is pitching—this creates confusion and could result in the media ignoring the book altogether

b. Contact the appropriate person at the outlet

c. Follow up, but not too frequently, and do take no for an answer 

d. Give plenty of advance notice before events, but don’t expect coverage too early beforehand



We hope this post has been useful and wish you all the best of luck in pitching your book to agents, publishers and the media! If you are planning your own marketing and/or publicity campaign, feel free to use our blog as a resource. We write about publicity, marketing, industry news and have an FAQ section as well.

And, if you’re interested in hiring a publicity firm to do the dirty work for you, we have a post on that, too: Pitching A Publicity Firm: A Guide For Authors.

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Reader Comments (8)

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Free of Snark, Finger Pointing, and Personal Attack

This is a professional environment. Be professional. No one is fooled by the phrase, "I'm just being honest."

Agents and Editors will be viewing your comments. If you can't be kind toward your own fellow-writers, the thought is you'd make a pretty miserable client.

Don't be* that* writer.

January 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterDiane

I've heard some wonderful comments about this article!! They're right. Really good tips.

I was wondering about your experiences working with novels. What kind of media hooks have you been able to find? I've thought about this for some time, and I believe there really are media hooks in many novels... but they're usually not obvious hooks.

Love the article!

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

That's a good question. Fiction definitely needs good hooks to get more coverage beyond book reviews. What we look at when analyzing whether we can take on a fiction title is whether the author has ties to his or her subject matter (did a lawyer write a legal thriller or a mechanic a kids' book about talking cars?) or if the topic is timely (does it tie into current events, relevant holidays or awareness months?). Many authors write from what they know so they do have a personal story or experience they can talk about that is similar to the book.

As an example, we once worked with a fantasy-fiction author who was a well-credentialed educator. She also happened to be an avid video gamer and the books originally started as character profiles for a friend's video game. Knowing that, we positioned her to speak on using video games in the classroom and discuss ways educators can engage students and make learning fun. Obviously she wasn't interviewed every time all about her book, but this helped build her platform and allowed her to discuss how video games fueled her creative passions, pointing back to the book.

Oh, and thanks for the compliments, Diane!

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