Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wait, did you say pre-interview?!

You just arrive home from picking the kids up at school and the light is blinking on your answering machine. As you start to listen to the message you realize it is your publicist—you know she’s been working hard to get the message out but you are sick and tired of writing contributed pieces. She warned you before the campaign started that it was going to be time-consuming but she’s working you like a dog and you just can’t churn out another article this afternoon.

As she begins her message the tone of her voice let's you know she’s excited: "Just wanted to give you the news that my contact at NPR has finally got back to me and...they’re interested!"

Yes! Terry Gross here I come, you think. You begin planning the afternoon—your agent will be thrilled with the national interview and the other members of your writers group will be so jealous. In your haste to cheer with friends you almost miss the catch at the end of the message.

Hang on, did she say “pre-interview?” Gulp.

Authors and publicists have been dealing with the dreaded pre-interview for years. It is a mainstay of the most high profile national broadcast programs, including several NPR shows, national morning shows like “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” syndicated daytime programs like “The Montel Williams Show” and many others.

Producers for these programs love pre-interviews because they allow them to make sure the potential guest can communicate entertaining and informative information to their audience. Authors hate pre-interviews because they know in the back of their minds that they are auditioning for the biggest interview opportunity of their career. I have seen authors get more nervous for this preliminary conversation than the interview itself.

The good news? Programs like these will only schedule a pre-interview if they are genuinely interested in having you on their program. Most authors who go through media training and are prepared to communicate their message effectively do very well in pre-interviews.

The bad news? You may never know why you did not get the interview slot but often the writing is on the wall. If your publicist knows that Kyra Phillip's producer is looking for a guest to talk to her about social networking websites in the two o’clock hour and tunes in the next day to see another “expert” featured, they know the pre-interview did not go well. Sometimes producers conduct several pre-interviews and pick the author or guest they think will bring the most to the interview. Often it does not mean that you did anything wrong but rather another interviewee had the perspective they were looking for.

What can you do to prepare for pre-interviews?

- Know your material. Your publicist will spend time prepping you on the pitch that secured interest from the producer. Make sure you know the subject matter backwards and forwards by having statistics, anecdotes and suggestions ready to go.

- Have an understanding of the angle they want you to take. Often producers are preparing a segment with opposing viewpoints and you need to be ready to back your argument to the fullest. Do not waffle on an issue during the pre-interview if you know they are expecting a strong take.

- Practice. Your publicist will be interested in prepping you for the pre-interview but also ask a friend or family member to run through a Q & A with you. Ask for honest feedback on your performance.

- Do your homework. Think like a producer as you prep for the interview. What market are they trying to reach with their program? If the show is geared for stay at home parents, leave the workplace issues out of the picture.

One thing to always remember if the pre-interview does not lead to an immediate booking is that there are always future opportunities. A great example is a client of ours, Lynette Lewis. A renowned motivational speaker in the corporate community, Lewis’ career self-help book Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos: 10 Strategies for Stepping Up to Success and Satisfaction at Work was released by Thomas Nelson in October 2006. The combination of timely tips, a positive theme and a credentialed author gave our publicity team plenty to work with. The campaign was very successful, resulting in great attention from top 100 dailies, internet outlets, and numerous radio opportunities.

The one that got away during the campaign was a pre-interview with “The Today Show” that did not end up in an appearance during the holiday season. We knew from working with Lewis that she had a lot media savvy and we remained confident that it would turn into something down the road. We got word late last week that her pre-interview had finally paid off, as she was kept in the producer’s file as a “women’s career expert” and appeared on the program yesterday. That’s right, nine months after her preliminary interview.

Pre-interviews are a part of the process for most major national media outlets and if your publicist is able to attract attention on that level, it is very important to be prepared for that opportunity. If things do not work out right away, remember that a good pre-interview may turn into additional opportunities for you down the road.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What can we learn from the NFL’s savvy marketing move?

For those who may not be huge football fans, the National Football League is playing its first game ever outside of North America this weekend. The Miami Dolphins will play the New York Giants in London’s historic Wembley Stadium on Sunday. When the idea emerged from the annual NFL owner’s meeting a while back it was ridiculed as a potential embarrassment to the league:

- What if no one shows up to the game?
- They already play “football” in England...we call it soccer
- NFL Europe never quite caught on and after various re-branding efforts the league was disbanded in June. Obviously, Europeans are quite content with their version of football.

Of all the criticism I heard about the decision to start playing games overseas the one that is most perplexing is “why mess with a good thing?” In other words, since the NFL is the leading major sport in the United States (by a long shot) why would they even worry about playing games outside the country?

This move is not about making more money--though it may lead to that down the road--it is about continuing to grow the fan base for the league and not getting complacent with the success they have already had. In other words, if they want to be as popular ten years from now as they are today, they know they must stay one step ahead of other sports that are sure to start pursuing international attention soon. They’re already getting stiff competition in that department from the NBA. Just look at the list of nationalities represented by the San Antonio Spurs.

So, what does pigskin across the pond have to do with building your career as an author?

I get frustrated when I see authors that are good enough to be household names not taking steps to expand their audience with each book they write. Some authors get stuck in a rut, writing books about the same topic over and over again. It is great if you are an expert on a certain topic, but make sure each book you write provides the reader with a fresh perspective. When authors get comfortable with their current platform, they quit striving to build new relationships with readers that may be valuable to them down the road. Even if you consider yourself to be a successful author at this stage of your career, make sure that you stay fresh with each book you publish.

An example I always like to give authors is Dr. Gary Smalley. Smalley is one of the foremost expects on family relationships in the country and has written or co-written numerous best sellers through the years. He is a go-to expert for media outlets looking for a credentialed perspective on relationship issues, having appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, Extra, The Today Show and hundreds of other high profile programs.

Though he has a track record of success with nonfiction titles, Dr. Smalley paired up with Karen Kingsbury two years ago to release the Redemption series (Tyndale). The series combined Kingsbury’s inspirational fiction with Smalley’s credentialed perspective and sold over 1 million copies in the process. This series allowed Dr. Smalley an opportunity to tap into a new market of readers and was extremely successful.

Dr. Smalley is partnering with Sally John on a new fiction series coming out through Thomas Nelson early next year called the Safe Harbor series. The first book is titled A Time To Mend and I expect this series will build on the market he developed with the Redemption line. If he had never ventured out in a different direction in his career as an author he would not be impacting the number of lives that he is today.

I encourage you to think about the market you have developed as an author. What can you do to build bridges to new book buyers? Have you gotten complacent with your career? If so, is it time to try out a new stadium?

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 19, 2007

Your book with a side of barbecue?

Every once in a while I like to provide a snapshot of a current project that our team is working on. I think it helps authors to get an idea of how a publicist views strategy development for a national launch.

Phenix & Phenix is working with the ever-expanding Texas Book Festival this fall to attract media attention outside the state of Texas. Most within the publishing community already consider the TBF to be among the most prestigious Festivals in the country, but it rarely gets prominent ink outside the Lone Star State. Our job over the next few weeks and on into the future will be positioning the Festival to media outlets around the country by leveraging the success it has had over the past twelve years.

Look for more details about our strategy moving forward!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Major booksellers revamping Web 2.0 efforts, Publicity Q&A

Major booksellers revamping their Web 2.0 efforts
Notice anything different lately on the websites of major book retailers Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders? Within the last three weeks, all three companies have revamped their websites to be more user-friendly and include fresher content. In an interview with Book Business Magazine, B&N’s CEO Marie Toulantis explained:
“We really wanted to incorporate some more elements of content and community, and make it a little more interactive, a little more fun, a little bit more engaging. So we decided to use some newer technologies, some new Web 2.0 things like AJAX and Flash, to present the books in a more interesting light…So again, making the site more interactive, more engaging, more community, more interaction with authors through various interviews and podcasts and so forth, and adding a social networking aspect in the form of online book clubs where readers and writers can connect directly.”
Authors need to follow the lead when it comes to maintaining their own webpages. It’s always a good idea to update content as frequently as possible to give your visitors fresh information and a desire to come back. While podcasting and Flash are great ways to liven up your site, these components aren’t the only ways to keep visitors interested. For the less techno-savvy author, add a comment board to encourage discussion among your readers, include a “Press Room” where you can post new interviews that appear in print or broadcast, and post your upcoming events calendar so your readers know where they can go to meet you in person.

Publicity Q&A
One of our faithful readers, Payton Inkletter recently left us an interesting question:

Q: How do you decide a genre into which your fiction work fits when it appears to validly span two or more?

While genres may seem limiting, they can make your job as an author easier once you understand how they work and how they can help you promote your book. A book genre is a way of classifying books that have similar traits. Some genres are considered their own markets; good examples are sci-fi, romance and thrillers. But the truth is that most books validly span two or more genres. When it comes to pitching your book to the media, you don’t necessarily need to choose one genre to classify your book. The wider your book’s target audience is, the more media-friendly your message will be.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building bookshelves." - Anna Quindlin

While things were bustling Tuesday at P&P for media training, Rusty and his wife were welcoming a baby boy into the world. Warm wishes to you and congrats on your new bundle of joy. May Baby Shelton's bookshelves be abundant and graced by all the classics!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Literary Rivals Too?

Michael Merschel, Books Editor at the Dallas Morning News, runs one of the best literary blogs in the nation. If you are not frequenting this interesting blog, you should be.

This week he piqued my interest with an intriguing discussion on the eve of the Red River Rivalry about which state has more literary prowess: Texas or Oklahoma. Here is what he says:

"It may not be the annual paddy-wagon-filling riot that it used to be, and perhaps someday the big, new football stadium to the east will lure it away, but it still remains a big deal. As in: Thousands of cars will be backed up along I-35 Friday afternoon -- burnt-orange decals on the ones coming from the south, Sooner red stickers on the ones flowing down from the north. All of them colliding into Dallas.

Shamelessly trying to grab a piece of that action for the books blog, today's question is: Literary Texas vs. Literary Oklahoma: Who wins?

Let's take a quick look at the stats:

Oklahoma claims Tony Hillerman, S. E. Hinton and Ralph Ellison.

Texas gets Sandra Cisneros, Larry McMurtry and, even though he lives in Santa Fe, Cormac McCarthy.

Oklahoma claims prolific Western writer Louis L'Amour. Texas gets pulp master Robert E. Howard ("Conan the Barbarian.")

The image of Oklahoma was fixed in "The Grapes of Wrath." The image of Texas was set in "Lonesome Dove."

Texas has "Texas Pages," but I'm not sure which side that benefits or shames.

So you tell me (and the rest of the world): Which state deserves braggin' rights?"

I am certainly biased, but doesn’t Texas win this contest? From the Texas Book Festival to the Ransom Center Archives to a capital city that often bills itself as the “little big apple” of publishing, Texas is often thought of as a literary bastion in the South.

As for the rivalry on the football field...I think we know who wins that one, as UT leads the series with OU 57-39-5.

Disagree? Head over to the DMN blog or post your thoughts here…

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Broken in and breaking out: 5 must-read tips for graduating to the next level

I’ve been in the industry long enough to witness writers in all stages of authordom. There are those who hit the big time, earning spots on bestseller lists and landing exclusive interviews with national media outlets. There are those who have ill-advisedly quit their day jobs to make their grand entrance into the elite literati, remaining vigilantly hopeful that literary stardom is just around the corner.

And then there are those I call “bookstore benchwarmers,” authors who have just broken into the literary scene and are eagerly awaiting opportunities that will take them to the next level.

Unfortunately, most authors find themselves stuck in the “bench-warming” stage. You're a seasoned author, with one or more books in your repertoire . You’ve been through a professional media training program and even garnered some regional media attention. So now what?
First, keep in mind that few first-time authors land coveted invitations from Larry King, the Today Show or Oprah and those who do, do so as a result of hard work and a self-starter mentality.

If you’re ready for this one to be your “breakout book” and you’re eager to graduate to the next level of notoriety in the literary world, start now! Here are a few valuable tips for breaking out:
• Be accessible. Avoid declining regional or local interview opportunities for fear of being pigeon-holed as “small-time.” Smaller market interviews are valuable in terms of building a credible portfolio of clippings and quality video footage. Oftentimes, one local story can multiply into 25 or 50 appearances in other papers, thanks to syndication.
• Keep writing. Be willing to do some additional homework by offering original bylined articles, tip sheets and sidebar content for reprint in magazines and newspapers. What better way to land ink than writing the story yourself? You can be assured you won’t be misquoted.
• Grow your credentials. Consider sharing your expertise by teaching at a local college or within a community organization. Become an advocate in your area, networking for your cause and donating portions of your proceeds to a related charity – do this and you’re likely to earn status as the go-to expert source in your market.
• Take your website to the next level. Keep the content fresh and establish a media room with video, audio and press clippings that showcase your previous interview experience. You want to be prepared just in case CBS’s “60 Minutes” calls requesting past interview footage. Being able to link media members to instant footage is the key to capturing timely interview segments.
• Add to your entourage. You have a publicist, a marketing assistant and even a small fan-base, so how about adding a literary agent to your team? There are agents who specialize in just about every genre, and once you land one to represent you and your book, they can steer you in all the right directions in your writing career. Agents can be your biggest advocates when approaching competitive publishing houses; they can explore international rights for your title and they can even pursue movie options on your behalf.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Publicity Q&A

One of our blog readers sent us a question Friday:

Dear Ms. Andrews--

I'm enjoying your blogs. I'm trying to avoid the POD/subsidy publisher thing. What are my options?

Martin MM

Thanks for the note, Martin. This is a popular question among authors that contact our firm.

Finding the right publisher for your book is extremely important, so kudos to you for doing your research before inking a deal. I’ll start off with a little bit of industry background to get all our readers on the same page.

Print-on-Demand (POD) is a publishing method that has proliferated over the last ten years or so. Books are printed one at a time, as ordered. They are not stored in warehouses and have very limited distribution, mainly through online outlets and special order. No matter what the publisher tells you, it’s very rare to see a POD book sitting on the shelves of Barnes & Noble or Borders stores outside of an author’s local area.

When you’re deciding on a publisher, it’s important to determine your goals first. If you’d just like to have your book available through online outlets and “back of the room” sales or if you just want to sell a few copies to family and friends, POD might actually be a good option for you. In those cases, having solid distribution really doesn’t matter and POD publishing allows you to keep your up-front expenses low. Plus, you’ll be able save yourself the time and energy of trying to find an agent and you’ll be able to see your name in print more quickly. But, beware! Typically the overall quality of POD books leaves a lot to be desired (I have talked to many, many POD authors that were very unsatisfied with the final design of their book) and there are many POD publishers that do not have the best interests of their authors at heart. As a publicity firm, we tend to shy away from publicizing most POD books because of the lack of quality.

A large number of our clients are published through large houses like Thomas Nelson, St. Martin’s Press, Zondervan and others. We enjoy working with these books because they are well-designed, well-distributed and are written by authors with impressive credentials. The first step toward getting your book placed with a top publisher like these is finding a quality agent. I always point writers who are searching for tips on finding an agent to Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware , who blogs frequently about how new authors can find a top-notch agent. Searching for an agent requires the same type of research and precision that a publicist uses when targeting media outlets for a book.

Things to remember when looking for a good agent include:

  • Don’t query agents that don’t rep books from your genre
  • Pay close attention to the agency’s submission guidelines
  • Be patient…finding a good agent can take time (i.e. don’t hound them!)
  • Be wary of any agent that asks for $ up front or recommends paid editing services as a precursor to signing with them.
  • If you have a personal connection or met them at a conference where they requested more information, make that clear in the subject line of your email.

Two good places to start looking for an agent are: agentquery.com and agentresearch.com.

If you decide to pursue self or independent publishing, there are a few quality companies to look at. Our sister company, BookPros, has established relationships with quality distributors like Biblio, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and even National Book Network. Going this direction is going to be much more expensive than POD, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Although there are no guarantees that you’ll sell thousands of copies, if you want a quality book with solid distribution and a national publicity campaign (provided by P&P), they are going to be your best bet. They also sport a proven track record of success, several awards for design and many satisfied clients.

Thanks again for the great question, Martin! If any of you other readers have publishing or publicity queries, please feel free to send us an e-mail or leave us a comment.

Labels: , , , ,