Thursday, March 27, 2008

I-report, You-report, We all scream for I-report

I just used CNN's new iReport function for publicity purposes this week, to promote our young star Isamu Fukui, author of Truancy. I stumbled upon it accidentally, while nominating him for CNN's "Young People Who Rock" - and, lo and behold, my pitch showed up on iReport's website. Check it out here:

The site doesn't format your pitch, doing away with well-organized paragraphs and stand-alone sentences - take that, rhetoricians - but it does give you the ability to rate stories and add comments. The Isamu pitch already got one comment and a couple of ratings, so after you check it out, I encourage you to add your 2 cents in. Because after writing a novel in a single summer at the age of 15, Isamu Fukui is definitely a young person who rocks, no?

Here's more about iReport:
"Welcome to a brand new beta site for uncensored, user-powered news. CNN built the tools, you take it from there. All the stories here are user-generated and instant: CNN does not vet or verify their authenticity or accuracy before they post. The ones with the "On CNN" stamp have been vetted and used in CNN news coverage."

Sounds like a good tool for those of us interested in generating more word-of-mouth publicity for our authors and books.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Re: You stole my subject line

When email subject lines make headlines

A colleague slid a section of a well-respected newspaper under my door this morning. Glaring back at me in boldfaced, all-caps letters is the same subject line of my recent email pitch now posing as an above-the-fold headline! The reporter’s name sparkles in the byline, under said headline. Gasp! What’s more is that this story appears in the very newspaper that stands at the pinnacle of every literary publicist’s daily aspirations! Unfortunate? Yes. Unusual? Not really.

Along the same lines, it’s not an anomaly to see a publicist’s hand-crafted pitch copied and pasted into a query of a ProfNet feed. And since we’re in the business of generating story ideas, I suppose what can be taken from such experience is one part missed opportunity and two parts accomplishment for being right on the money.

In thinking about where I stood on the matter, I polled several publicists in the industry to find out the consensus on “ideas on loan.” The result was a mixed bag: reactions tended to be a little slighted, but a little complimented, too.

One publicist called attention to the fact that the situation, more often than not, tends to backfire with the client. “What’s worse is when my client sees the story and says, ‘Why wasn't I in this one?’” She said, in such case, she wished she could respond to the tune of “well, they liked the idea, just not you in it.”

On flattery, in a sort of round-about way, another publicist said, “Hey, the media is totally using my ideas! It's a sign that my media instincts are on-target and in-line with the reader. But I also feel frustrated - you stole my ideas, media! And worse, you didn't use my fabulous source! ”

What’s a publicist to do about all the idea high-jacking? Well, in a word, nothing. The borrowing of ideas is just part of the biz. There’s an ebb and flow and a give and take with media that seems to balance out over time. One publicist compared her relationship with media to that of a sibling, “someone who steals your socks, the last of your cereal, or even your diary, but ultimately, no one’s to blame - you can’t live without them.”

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Harvard more likely than NPR?

Nobody with an ounce of experience ever said that book publicity was easy. In fact, for well-documented reasons, it is becoming more competitive with each year that passes. That said, publicists rarely take the time to document how competitive things are actually getting.
In yesterday's Publishers Lunch I was delighted to see a mention of a new initiative by Viking/Penguin Assistant Director of Publicity Yen Cheong to keep track of the number of authors covered on NPR. From Publishers Lunch:

Cheong has started a weekly tally of author appearances on national NPR shows as part of a contest for book publicists to keep track of how many books are actually covered. It grew out of a realization, Cheong explains on her Book Publicity Blog, that of "100,000+ authors published each year, the national NPRs interview about 600 of them (I'm estimating a dozen interviews per week) -- which is a whopping 0.06 percent. In other words, getting on a national NPR show is 15 times harder than getting into Harvard." Weekly contest winners will receive the NPR Books Grid, an Excel spreadsheet listing the titles, authors, subjects, shows, interviewers and post-interview Amazon rankings of all the book stories for that week.
What does this mean for authors who have been interviewed on NPR?

Don't let those Ivy League degrees intimidate you any longer.

Those of you interested in another great book publicity blog should check out Cheong's . She runs one of the best we've come across.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Phenix & Phenix interviews Raz Godelnik, Co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris is a great green business dedicated to making the publishing industry more environmentally friendly. They are proponents of "sustainable reading" and their mission is perhaps best summed up by their tag line: "Every book you read was once a tree. Now you can plant a tree for every book you read". Raz was kind enough to let us grill him about green efforts in the publishing industry:

Q: So, what is Eco-Libris? What do you mean by “sustainable reading”?
A: Eco-Libris is a green business that works with book readers, publishers, writers, bookstores, and others in the book industry to balance out the paper used for books by planting trees. About 20 million trees are cut down annually for virgin paper to be used for the production of books sold in the U.S. alone. Eco-Libris raises awareness to the environmental impacts of using paper for the production of books and provides book lovers with a simple way to do something about it: plant a tree for every book they read.

Sustainable reading, as we see it, is when books won’t have environmental impacts and that the process of their production will be done in a manner that can be maintained indefinitely without endangering our natural resources base. This is definitely far from the state we have today, when so many trees - one of the most precious natural resources, are being cut to sustain the growth of the book industry, not to mention the energy consumed in the process and the pollution it produces. In Eco-Libris, we offer the first step to make reading more sustainable. We believe it is of the outmost importance to emphasize the direct connection between the paper consumed in the industry to the trees that are being cut down, and we offer a direct action.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the organization?
For me it all started when I was thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (such as the use of recycled paper) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedbacks about the idea.

The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only less than 10% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative, like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, because books are such a wonderful thing and an important part of our life, so it seemed to me only natural to offer book lovers a new alternative to make their reading greener--planting trees for the books they read.

Q: Just how much paper is used annually to print books?
According to the Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts Report that was published this week by The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and Green Press Initiative (GPI) more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper are used annually for producing books in the U.S. In terms of trees, we talk about 20 million trees, if not more, that are cut down to produce the paper.

Q: Is it enough to print books on recycled paper? What is a “certified forest” with reference to “virgin paper”?
Shifting to using of recycled paper is not the only step that should be taken, but it’s probably the most important one. Not only that you contribute by taking this step to cutting down less trees, you also support the fight against global warming – let’s not forget that deforestation, because of the release to the atmosphere of the carbon that is stored in trees, now accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

If any virgin paper content is still used for printing, using paper that is coming from certified forests is very much recommended. There are few certification programs and the best one is considered to be the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Using paper with FSC certification ensures that paper does not originate from trees in endangered forests, that the forests it is derived from were not converted to single-species tree farms after harvest, that the biodiversity and the resilience of ecosystems is maintained, that concerns of indigenous and local communities are integrated into the forest plans, etc.

Q: Would you say that the publishing industry has been an “un-environmentally friendly” organization in years past?
Let’s start with the good news - you can see a change in the publishing industry in the last couple of years, especially ever since Random House announced in May 2006 that it will raise the proportion of recycled paper it uses to at least 30% by 2010 from under 3% at the time of the announcement. We see more publishers involved in green initiatives and there are around 150 publishers that signed a treatise initiated by the Green Press Initiative, which supports more use of recycled paper and FSC-certified paper.

Yet, there is still a lot more to be done since the starting point of the industry is very far from being sustainable. The book industry (and it is the same with many other industries) didn’t deal with its environmental impacts for many years. Now it starts this process, but I really would like to see it moving faster and greener. We know many eco-conscious readers are looking forward to that.

Q: Where are the purchased trees planted?
Eco-Libris partnered with three highly respected U.S. and U.K. registered non-profit organizations ( that work in collaboration with local communities in developing countries to plant these trees. These trees are planted in high ecological and sustainable standards in Latin America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, and Honduras) and Africa (Malawi) where deforestation is a crucial problem. Planting trees in these places not only helps to fight climate change and conserve soil and water, but also benefits many local people, for whom these trees offer many benefits, such as improvement of crops and additional food and income, and an opportunity for a better future.

Q: What can publishers, authors and literary publicists do to participate in the cause?
There are many ways to collaborate with us. Here are few examples - Kedzie Press, an independent publisher out of Seattle are using the Eco-Libris logo on their new books' cover design and pledged to plant a million trees with us by the end of 2009, Process Media from LA plant a tree with us for every book they sell on their website, Authors like Mira Tweti and Mary Kearns offered our stickers at launch and signing events of their books, planting a tree for every book sold. We will be happy to speak with anyone in the industry that want to go green – to receive further information just send us an email to bd[at]ecolibris[dot]net.

Q: What results have you seen from participation in this program?
Within only 8 months of operations we have balanced out more than 24,000 books which results in more than 31,500 new trees being planted! This is really great and we’re very proud in that, but it’s only the beginning and we intend to keep working hard to meet our goal: balancing out 500,000 books by the end of the year.

Besides that, we managed to raise awareness to these issues within authors, bookstores, online communities of readers and many others that collaborate with us. We feel that we help to increase the understanding to the need to go green both on the demand and supply sides of the industry and even more important – drive them into action.

Q: What advancements in environmentally friendly technology are you most excited about right now in the publishing industry?
A: I am very excited from the work on producing synthetic paper in a cradle to cradle manner, just like the book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ itself. As the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart explain in the book, it is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers – it’s waterproof, extremely durable and recyclable by conventional means. Above all – it can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles made and remade as paper and other products. In other words: sustainable.

What other environmentally friendly suggestions do you have for readers? Do you have any tips for industry professionals like P&P?
A: For eco-conscious readers there are many steps that can be taken to go green such as:
  • Joining the local library.
  • Frequent more used book stores. It's cheaper and much more sustainable.
  • Support book publishers who print on recycled paper.
  • Check out for worldwide book swapping.
  • And support book publishers and writers who partner with Eco-Libris (you can see a list on this page:

Industry professionals can also take many steps to green their operations and business–starting from reducing the energy consumption and paper use in the office to greening their purchases and buying locally. When you buy recycled paper or envelopes made of recycled paper–look for local businesses that sell it and support them. From my experience, as members of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia that buy our office supplies from a local green business, not only that it’s better for the environment and supports the local economy, it’s even cheaper.

For more information on Eco-Libris, please visit their website. To check out our thoughts on going green, please visit the Eco-Libris blog. Many thanks to Raz Godelnik and the folks at Eco-Libris!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SXSW: What rockstars can teach authors

Here in Austin, the SXSW Music Festival kicks off this week. From now until Sunday, things will get a little crazy: Psyched music fans from all over descend on the city. Music gods like Lou Reed mix among mere mortals. And rockstars will do what they do best: party, trash hotel rooms, and leave a thousand besotted groupies in their wake.

At least, that's what they'd have you think.

In reality, being a rockstar is a lot of hard work - and especially in a competitive music scene like Austin. Take rock / indie outfit White Denim. In 2007, they were named "Band of the Year" here in Austin. In 2004, I met the bassist when the band was just getting started, and he taped his glasses together (he may still do this - more on that in a minute). When this individual wasn't practicing with his band, he certainly wasn't trashing hotel rooms: as a matter of fact, he was a teacher. And nearly three years - three years! - since his band's first gig, this talented little trio is finally getting the recognition they deserve, in such illustrious music publications as - wait for it - Rolling Stone.

Rockstars work very hard to get their name out to the public, and since few have the luxury of a publicist, they learn promotion tricks along the way. Here are a few tips you can borrow from their playbook.

1. Nail down your image.

My friend the bassist, in all likelihood, probably still tapes his glasses together. Why? Because he's in a garage band - not a strings quartet. It's "cool" for him to look a little bit messy. Amy Winehouse is also a SXSW veteran - talk about a distinct image. So what's yours? When you make author appearances - whether it be to an agent, a publishing company, or a book signing - remember the power of first impressions. Selling your message involves more than words: it involves an image of you, as an author, that people will remember.

2. Book gigs.
Bands typically book at least a show a month, or up to 10 if they're touring. If you are lucky enough to have a published book ready to show to the public, do not underestimate the power of live appearances. Think of it like market research: who's stopping by your table? Who's attending your talks? Are they young, old, somewhere in between? Mostly men, or mostly women? This brings us to...

3. Listen to your fans.
Sometimes, that sweet guitar riff a band busts out on stage falls totally flat with the audience - um, hello? That's not in the song? If you've got critics - readers, editors, or just trusted advisors to whom you've shown your manuscript - be open to suggestions for improvement. Why? As an author, you're building a platform, and as fantastic as your message is, no one will read it if the words aren't appealing.

4. Rock the festivals.
Over 1700 bands play here in Austin for SXSW. Can you believe that? And of those 1700, a handful create the kind of buzz that eventually launches a successful music career. Maybe you've heard of Norah Jones? So, even if your manuscript isn't complete yet, start attending your nearest book festival, and get a feel for the atmosphere there. Where does your message fit? How are authors presenting themselves? What promo tricks work really well? Are they handing out bookmarks? Signing copies? Giving talks? This is key knowledge to gain as an author: publishing is one thing, posturing is quite another. And some of the most engaging authors I've ever seen just flat out know how to work a crowd: Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers.

Bottom line?

Being in the music industry involves a lot of self-promotion at first. Sure, once you get signed, get an agent, get a manager, etc. it's cake, right? Maybe. But even rockstars have to overcome hurdles at first, just like Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. - better known as Snoop Dogg. ("Cordozar?" Seriously?). But, awful names aside, great rockstars, just like great authors, know how to play the promo game. Do it well, and maybe someday, you too can have groupies.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why We Did It: New Viral Video Marketing & Online PR Campaign

According to Hitwise’s 2006 edition of the "US Consumer Generated Media Report," MySpace garnered the number one spot among the top 20 leading social networking sites, receiving 82 percent of the visits in a month-long period. What’s more, that same report indicated the average MySpace user spends at least two hours on the site per sitting. And that’s just social networking. In January of 2007, Internet monitoring company Netcraft reported that there were 106,875,138 websites with domain names and content on them. YouTube hosts nearly 73 million videos and 2.8 million user channels. Technorati, a blog search engine, currently tracks over 112 million blogs. Clearly, the Internet has become one of our most valuable tools for connecting with other people.

I will be the first to admit that Phenix & Phenix has always been a firm that has resisted PR fads. We have consistently stuck to our guns amidst the latest crazes in the industry, much to the benefit of our clients. Hard work, a focus on building relationships, creative positioning and savvy promotion have allowed us to deliver national media and launch best selling books for years. For that reason, we have seldom seen the value in changing our approach to building brands for our clients. If it ain’t broke…

However, it is no secret that book publicity is changing. It is not just about landing ink and airtime anymore. If a book does not have significant Web presence in today’s digitally driven marketplace, it is missing out on potential sales and long-term media opportunities. Success stories abound for authors who used the Internet effectively to build their platforms. Just this week Publishers Weekly ran a story about Christian author Anita Renfroe, who will now be making regular appearances on "Good Morning America" after they aired her YouTube video and got a great response. Renfroe posted a creative video online that has now been viewed millions of times:

As was the case with Renfroe, success on the Internet often starts with entertaining, eye-catching visuals. As we did more research on viral marketing success stories and talked with agents & publishers about what they have seen work well, it became clear to us that P&P needed a campaign that focused on building platforms for authors online. We also knew that any online viral marketing and PR campaign we designed needed to be anchored by entertaining and informative video clips of the author.

I won't bore you with the specifics of what is included in this new campaign, as you can read more about it here, but it is important to note that this the first new campaign that P&P has launched in years. We're doing so because we believe this is a direction that both the media and the book industry are headed.

We will be updating the blog with more viral marketing success stories from authors in the coming weeks, so if you have one to nominate, let us hear about it!

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