Friday, August 31, 2007

Is getting banned good for your book? It could be.

One of my favorite books of all time is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which also happens to rank high up on the American Library Association’s list of 100 Most Challenged Books from 1990 to 2000. Although the somewhat-controversial book wasn’t included in the curriculum of my high school’s English department in Middle Of Nowhere, Texas, that didn’t stop me from reading it.

With the ALA’s 26th Annual Banned Books Week next month, the organization has started building buzz again for its list of most challenged books of 2006. At the top of the list is And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. The children’s book covers the true story of two male penguins living in the New York Zoo who partnered up to raise a baby penguin after the egg was abandoned by its original parents. The book received a total of 546 written challenges last year. According to the ALA, a challenge is “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” Other books on the 2006 list include Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. The ALA carefully noted that The Catcher in the Rye, which annually holds a top spot on the list, didn’t make the cut this year. I guess people aren’t so offended by Holden Caulfield anymore.

It bodes well for the PR industry that, excuse the cliché, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Challenged and banned books are way more interesting to the media and the public than the books that are easily accepted into schools and libraries without a second thought.

Controversy, when packaged correctly, can be a very good thing for book sales and a great thing for your publicist.

Do you have a favorite banned book? Are there any books you’d like to see banned from libraries, Amazon and any other retail outlets, just because? Apparently B&N has reneged on its plan to ban O.J.’s book (so much for the moral stance).
I’ll go first. I'd like to ban Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, just because it’s Paris Hilton.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Media buzz words are publicity gold

Bromances. God’s Warriors. Frenemies. These are just a few attention-grabbing buzz words and phrases the media has latched on to over the past few weeks. Buzz words are a media favorite (and not-to-mention useful PR tool), not only because they make great sound bytes and headlines, but because they spice up evergreen issues like pop culture, religion and girl politics.

Recent movies like "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" have received widespread media coverage all summer thanks to their box office success. Belinda Luscombe deemed such movies as “bromances” in her recent Time Magazine article and set off a lively debate about two movies that Jerry Garretson aptly jokes are “more about broken wind than broken hearts.”

God’s Warriors” made a great title for CNN’s six-hour series on religious fundamentalism among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Although CNN regularly reports on the effects of religion on politics and culture, attaching the term “God’s Warriors” to the series generated a new buzz among viewers, and glamorized an issue that many Americans consider a tired news topic.

You might glance right past a newspaper article with a tired headline that read “Do You Have Friends You Don't Like?” But you might take a closer look if the same article had a catchier headline asking, "Do You Have a Frenemy?”

It helps authors and publicists to think in terms of headlines and buzz words when writing press releases, creating new pitches and talking to the media about your book. Editors, reporters and producers receive thousands of pitches each day and using a buzz word, phrase, or catchy headline is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

For those of you who are still writing your book, now is a great time to start thinking in terms of buzz words—how can you get creative with your topic? Watch how the media covers your subject matter over the next few months and start thinking like an editor. Those of you who are promoting books right now, take a hard look at your press release or pitch. If it’s not eye-catching or newsworthy, go back to the drawing board.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Give Your Book a Face

Simply put, social networking sites are self-promotion at its finest. You create an account, give it a face by selecting the best picture ever taken of yourself, highlight your interests and personality by carefully constructed/witty statements, boost your perceived popularity by adding as many friends as possible and post updates about the fabulous goings-on in your fabulous life.

So it was only a matter of time before social networking sites became a hotbed for business professionals to connect…and authors should hop on the bandwagon. It’s time to give your book a face.

This is a critical period for books; the rise of literary social networks is happening at a time when the review sections of some newspapers, particularly in the U.S., are starting to shrink. Sites such as Facebook and MySpace can provide endless opportunities for you to promote your book and spread your message.

A primary reason authors should look into such opportunities is to directly and instantly connect with their existing audience, and reach out to thousands of potential readers. While it's common procedure for authors to hire web designers to create sites dedicated to their books, social networking sites offer an easy (not to mention free) alternative to keep fans in the loop. You can join an online book club, create your own Q&A forum, meet up with fellow authors and post your op-eds as well as any upcoming book events! It’s also a great place to include radio and TV interviews.

Since you’re reading this blog, you must be somewhat savvy on the inner workings of the web, so I challenge you to make your presence known!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where have all the book people gone?

I’m a self-professed book worm. I always have been and always will be. My love affair with books began as early as pre-school. I have vivid memories of my father reading to me from the pages of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Missing Piece, Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. When I was 6, I named my first dog Teeny Tiny (which seemed fitting as she was a miniature dachshund) after one of my literary obsessions, The Teeny-Tiny Woman by Paul Galdone.

I guess it’s no surprise that my passion for books led to a career in publishing, more specifically, in literary PR. But what does surprise me, is that I stand virtually alone in the U.S. as an avid book reader (particularly one in her mid-20s). I recently read an article that I found disconcerting. According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday, one in four Americans read no books last year!

Since January, I’ve read nine books, not including the ones I’ve promoted since then (which would make the grand total of books read this year 23.) In an effort to save books from collecting dust on the night-stands everywhere and to motivate others to feed their brains – imagination not excluded – I took a survey of my fellow P&P staffers to find this year’s top picks from their reading-for-pleasure lists (clients not eligible). Here are some of our recommendations:

Amber Childres
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Penguin)
2. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (Vintage)
3. Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (Algonquin)

Amy Currie
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage)
2. The Fool’s Tale: A Novel by Nicole Galland (Harper)
3. The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga, Book I) by Mary Stewart (Eos)

Elizabeth Peppers
1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead)
2. Deception Point by Dan Brown (Pocket)
3. Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Scribner)

Tolly Moseley
1. The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (Viking)
2. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Vintage)
3. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl (Penguin)

Rusty Shelton
1. 11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944, by Stanley Weintraub (Free Press)
2. The Corporate Coach by James B. Miller (HarperBusiness)
3. Castaway Kid by R.B. Mitchell (Tyndale)

Stephanie Mayabb
1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin)
2. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin)
3. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Pantheon)

Katie Andrews
1. How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo (Bloomsbury)
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Vintage)
3. Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson (Dalkey Archive)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No shelf space for O.J. at Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble made a bold move this week by becoming the first bookstore chain to say they will not be stocking O.J.’s book, If I Did It, on their shelves. The always image-conscious retailer opted instead to make it available online and via special order for customers.

Borders is leaving the door open to stocking the books, saying that though they won't be promoting the book "in any way," they want to leave the choice up to customers. Borders is betting that the media frenzy surrounding the launch of the book will drive customers to their stores--especially with B&N out of the picture. Unfortunately they're probably right. Both bookstores will also make the book available on their online stores, as will

After the book became Judith Regan's downfall many thought it would never be published. I wish I could say I was surprised that another publisher picked it up. With B&N refusing to stock their shelves with the book, and Borders boycotting promotion for the book, I'm anxious to see what the PR team representing the book for Beaufort Books comes up with to promote the release.

Next up: Paris Hilton

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Friday, August 17, 2007

How to land coveted ink in trade publications

There are numerous trade publications within the book industry, including Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, CBA Retailers + Resources, Publishers Weekly, and several others. While each trade publication reserves most of their ink for book reviews of upcoming titles, they also feature content focused on current events within the publishing industry. For example, PW is packed with bestseller lists, news on recent acquisitions and sales, Sara Nelson’s wisdom, a slew of reviews on upcoming titles and other tidbits. Coverage in book industry publications like PW can be extremely important to an author’s career and such hits are among the most sought after bookings for publicists and publishers.

In Wednesday’s post we showcased a starred review for a book that releases this fall, Entering Hades. Though an early review in PW is a boon for your publisher and a great stamp of credibility for your book, there are other ways to get coverage in trade publications. Most people know how to submit advance review copies for consideration, but how do you get coverage in other parts of these trade pubs?

Position your book as something that is part of a bigger trend. This week religion book editor Jana Riess wrote a story for PW titled “Not Your Mother’s Parenting Books” and discussed the ever changing nature of parenting in a world filled with MySpace, Facebook and other social networking nightmares. Bonnie Batey, Key Brands Marketing Specialist, at B&H Publishing Group garnered some great visibility for B&H and Vicki Courtney, by positioning herself as a resource on the topic. Here’s an excerpt of the coverage:

"Getting the word out about any book requires going after media exposure, and B&H Publishing Group has a multilevel campaign planned for the September release of Vicki Courtney's Logged on and Tuned Out: A Non-techie's Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation. According to Bonnie Batey, key brands marketing manager, Courtney will do a national blitz of paid radio "Virtue Alerts" to help parents stay abreast of the latest technology, while continuing as a regular talking head in national print and TV news segments about Internet safety."

Bonnie was able to connect B&H’s innovation with Riess’ interest in this trend and scored some great press for Courtney.

Be okay with not being the center of attention. See the last point for PW’s emphasis on trends and trendsetters. It’s great if the article or mention is all about you or your book, but understand that coverage of your book will likely be in addition to others in the article. If you are looked to as one of several sources for an article, be thankful that they thought enough of your insight to cite your expertise.

Enlist your publisher’s help. Publicists at major publishing houses often have the best relationships with editors at trade publications because they ship advance review copies of each title they represent as soon as the manuscript is available. If you have an idea for a story idea, ask the publicity team at your publisher to see if they have a contact they think is appropriate for the pitch.

Don’t forget the the e-newsletter. Industry e-newsletters often tout unique coverage on more niche topics – material that didn’t make the cut for the magazine. These are great opportunities for exposure that are often overlooked by authors and their publicists. For example, you’ll want to alert the editor of PW Religion Bookline or PW Daily to let her know when you’ll be appearing on a nationally syndicated radio program, a popular talk show, or in a top daily newspaper talking about your book for their “Authors on the Air” coverage.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The buzz is building for Entering Hades

Congrats to John Leake, whose debut release Entering Hades just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Here’s what PW had to say:

★ Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer

John Leake. Sarah Crichton/FSG, $25

(336p) ISBN 978-0-374-14845-4

Austrian Jack Unterweger was many things to many people—celebrated author, well-known bon vivant and loyal friend. To prostitutes plying their trade in Vienna, he was a ruthless killer. When he hanged himself in his jail cell after being convicted of murder in 1994, Unterweger brought to a close a story of cold-blooded murder that crossed social boundaries and international borders. As told in page-turning, savagely intimate style in this debut by translator and editor Leake, Unterweger’s vicious killing spree comes alive in horrifying detail. Released from prison in 1990 for an earlier murder, Unterweger quickly began killing again. Passing himself off as a journalist, he took to calling the relatives of his victims. “At 5:00 p.m. the same voice called back and said, ‘They lie in the place of atonement, facing downward, toward Hades, because otherwise it would have been an outrage.’ ” His 1991 murder of a hooker in Los Angeles proves his undoing as the American police, working with Austrian authorities, track him down. Leake gets bogged down in the minutiae of the 1994 trial in Vienna, but this is a minor glitch in an otherwise cracking good true-crime tale that, while demonstrating respect to the victims, conjures a character in Unterweger that readers will not soon forget. (Nov.)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The flipside: what to do when the host isn't prepared

Picture this: your publicist has secured an interview opportunity for you on a nationally syndicated talk show. Thanks to media training, you’ve fine-tuned your message and feel confident to go on the air. This is the media opportunity you’ve always dreamed of!

Next thing you know, you’re sitting across from the host while the producer counts down until the show is live and on air. Then the unthinkable happens—the host stares ahead like a deer caught in the headlights. She stumbles over words, forgets what questions to ask and doesn’t have a clue what you or your book is all about. You feel as if your dream has been shattered.

Unfortunately, interviewers can be off their game from time-to-time, but it’s your job as the guest to remain calm, cool and collected. Even under the worst of circumstances, an author can boost their likeability by being prepared and professional.

Recently, an ABC News Now entertainment reporter crashed and burned in an interview with Hollywood actress Holly Hunter. While ABC has been extremely supportive of the News Now host – who later explained that her ear piece failed while she was interviewing Hunter – it’s apparent from watching the clip that she was not ready for this interview.

As publicists, what really stands out for us was how Holly Hunter kept her composure during the interview-gone-awry. Not once did she seem thrown off by the host’s flubs. Hunter maintained her professionalism and still managed to plug her latest project.

While Media Training is a great way to prepare authors to perform under the pressure of a TV interview, there is no way to plan for problems such as bad interviewers or technical malfunctions. If you do get caught up in an interview that isn’t going as planned, here are some things you can do to make the most out of the situation:

•Don’t panic. The camera is on you, and if it’s a live interview, there is no time to edit out disapproving facial expressions or nervous laughter. Keep your composure as the actress in the interview did. Smile, nod and maintain eye contact. If your eyes start dodging around the room for answers, you’ll be the one who looks unprepared.

•Take the lead. While this isn’t always an appropriate thing to do, it might be your saving grace if the interviewer seems stumped for questions. Try using bridging statements such as “On the other hand,” or “But the most important thing is…” as a way to bring the host back to your message and develop some new questions.

•Don’t interrupt or correct the host. Sometimes, an interviewer might introduce you incorrectly. To avoid looking arrogant or rude, try to cover up their mistakes throughout the interview. You’ll have the opportunity to offer accurate information and reference your professional by using statements such as, “In my work with…” or “In my 30 years of experience in...” or “My book, which comes out next week, is about…”

•Mention your book. If the host uses the title of your book, another way to bring the interview back around is to use your title as a reference tool. In our Media Training, we urge authors to mention the name of their book at least three times. The repetition should help your title stick in an audience member’s memory. You can say, “One of the things I talk about in “Insert Title Here,” is…”

•Don’t go on the defensive. Remember, odds are that the host has not read the book and is not extremely familiar with your message. Most hosts receive a press kit from their producer (who got it from your publicist) about five minutes before they start interviewing you. If they make a mistake, push through it and explain your message as if you're pitching your book to a complete stranger for the first time.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

An unprepared author can’t fake a good on-air interview

The host will be able to see through the façade in a matter of seconds. The audience can't help but catch on after a few minutes. The truth of the matter is this: if you’re fumbling, mumbling and stumbling through your interviews, you will limit your credibility as an author and may throw out your future chances to land larger (possibly national) interview opportunities.

While some lucky authors get a chance to “warm up” with smaller market interviews before stepping up to the national programs, there’s no excuse for being unprepared for any type of interview. Media often breeds more media, assuming that your interviews have gone well. The flipside is true when interviews don't go well. Producers and program directors often do research on a guest before booking them on the show, and they might dig up the dirt on past interviews. Word travels fast among members of the media. Moreover, most television producers will request that an author’s publicist send them footage from a previous interview just to get a feel for how an author “performs” on the air.

In addition, you never know when, where or with who your first interview might be. For instance, if you wrote a book on bridge safety you might have conducted your first interview with Kyra Phillips after the terrible bridge collapse in Minnesota last week.

Trust us; we don’t want to hear after-interview feedback from our media contacts about guests that stand out more for their incompetence than for their media savvy. But sometimes an unprepared author slips through the cracks. The horror stories we have heard from media contacts range from inappropriate attire (Who would show up to a TV interview wearing jeans and a T-shirt?) to language barriers (It’s always a good idea to speak the same language as your interviewer.) to a fairly common complaint about authors – their answers were simply long-winded book summaries. Remember, chances are that you didn’t land that on-air opportunity to spend 15 minutes summing up your book and telling the audience where they can buy it.

When we pitch a guest or interview opportunity with an author to one of our media contacts, we are going to be judged as a firm by how well that author does on the air. For that reason, we encourage every author we work with (that doesn’t have prominent media experience) to go through our in-house media training program before we put them on air. During media training, we prepare each author to perform their very best in an interview – whether with small market or national media. With special workshops covering print, radio, online and television opportunities, our media training program helps authors develop their message, cater to diverse demographics, speak in sound bytes, lead an interview and, perhaps most importantly, promote their book without sounding like a sales pitch.

For a great example of a prepared author, check out Constitution Translated for Kids author Cathy Travis in an excellent on-air interview with Fox & Friends.

For those who want to go through an abbreviated version of media training, mark your calendars for P&P’s Writers’ League of Texas workshop on November 10, 2007 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. During the workshop, we will lend our media expertise to help authors prepare to go on-air! For more information, visit the Writers’ League of Texas events page here. See more details below:

Media Training: The scoop on getting quoted, going on the air and effectively promoting your book

Workshop Summary: Getting on the air is hard enough, but what do you do once you have landed a radio, television or print interview? How do you make the most out of each opportunity? Can you plug your book without sounding like a salesperson? Join guest literary PR pros from Austin's own Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists as they teach the ins and outs of promoting your book in the media. During their information-packed workshop, they will share everything you need to know about working with media across every format. The workshop will include breakout sessions for print, radio and television opportunities and will feature interview practice and sound byte development.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Securing print coverage beyond book reviewers

When many authors think of print coverage they think of book reviews. While it’s true book reviews provide great visibility for your book (especially trade reviews), it’s important to remember that opportunities for print coverage go far beyond the Sunday review section.

This week Nancy Rue ( was used as a source in a Chicago Tribune article titled, “The right way to talk about fallen stars,” on July 29. Rue has authored many books for tweens and teens, including upcoming FaithGirlz! releases Body Talk and Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques and Really Mean Chicks (Zonderkidz/HarperCollins, September 2007). Rue’s mention in the Chicago Tribune is a great example of how an author can rely on their professional credentials to secure media opportunities beyond book reviews.

It’s no secret that space for book reviews is slowly disappearing in major print outlets around the country. Some papers are getting rid of their book reviewers entirely (such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution) while others are increasingly relying on wire services for their reviews. Though many within the book industry are understandably upset with this trend, as publicists it just means that we have to get more creative with our pitch angles. We do this by thinking of ways to tie an author’s area of expertise to the stories that newspapers and magazines are looking to cover. Instead of focusing solely on the book, our publicity team will be pitching Rue as an expert source to comment on issues related to tween and teen girls – in this case, the lack of young female role models in Hollywood.

How can you apply these principles to your release? Have you thought about promoting your expertise on topics related to your book in addition to promoting the book itself? If not, you should. Sometimes being quoted as a source in an article can be just as visible as a book review. What’s more, if a reporter feels you’re a source they can trust, they will often keep you in their “expert file” of contacts for future stories. A number of clients we worked with years ago still get calls to comment on stories related to their expertise.

When major print outlets use you as a source they establish credibility, build your platform and encourage readers to find out more about you and your latest projects. If a media opportunity arises that doesn’t seem directly related to your book, don’t say “no, thanks” right away. It’s a way to get your foot in the door and presents an opportunity to plug your book.

Think outside the box:

•What are your credentials?
As literary publicists, we have to try to think beyond the book. It’s just the nature of this business. In fact, any good publicity firm will use author credentials as a major factor in their decision to represent a book. So, what academic degrees do you have? What companies have you consulted in the past? Are you a CPA? Worked with high-risk kids for 20 years? Do you have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do? Involved in any charitable organizations? How do these different experiences relate back to your book?

•What’s everyone talking about?
Lindsay Lohan’s latest fumble opened up an opportunity for Nancy Rue to be used as a source in the Chicago Tribune article. Have you heard anything going on the news lately that relates to your book or professional credentials? Do you feel confident that you could say something pertinent about it? What comments and ideas can you bring to the debate that differs from competing expert sources? If you are currently writing your book, practice connecting your message to breaking news over the next few months—it will pay off once your book releases.

•What news cycles are coming up?
The media operates according to editorial calendars that are used year after year. Though breaking news trumps seasonal stories, you can bet certain topics will be covered by print outlets around the country this fall. Think about ways that you can plug your message into these seasonal news cycles. A few of the seasonal stories that will be covered over the next several months include back-to-school preparation (August), Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) and the most sought-after news cycle for authors: Holiday Season, which includes a wide variety of potential hooks, from weight-loss to family-focused/human-interest opportunities.

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