Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"I getz book deel? KThanxBai!" When Web sites become books

Sometimes, all it takes is a quick flash of inspiration to end your spell of writers block and get your book picked up by the ever powerful traditional publisher. Other times, all it takes is maintaining a Web site with pictures of cats and other small critters speaking broken English in block letters to land you a deal (bear with me, this is post is a legitimate one-I promise).

A few posts ago, Stephanie Mayabb talked about the recent rash of movie studios pulling inspiration from literature to fill the seats at the local cinema. Though blogs have been the source of book deals for years, I’ve noticed several, um, unique blogs being tapped by top publishers recently. Take a look:


The LOLCats Web site presents several photos everyday of cats and other animals speaking “Kitty Pidgin”. I won’t get in to the linguistics of it all, but the sentences surprisingly make sense and animals are just so darn cute. The owners of the photos take pictures of their pets and then superimpose little sayings in block letters on them. It sounds insane, because it is, but the Web site has taken off and garners thousands of unique visitors each day. The site has even been featured in Business Week, TIME and the Wall Street Journal. Early this year, the proprietors of the LOLCats juggernaut secured a book deal with Gotham Books. The book will feature pictures from the Web site and will be narrated by Professor Happycat. You just have to check out the site to see what I’m talking about.

Postcards from Yo Mama:

Yesterday, GalleyCat and the site owners made the announcement that this blog will be the next to become a book. Another favorite of mine, Postcards From Yo Mama features reader submitted e-mails from mothers. My favorites are the IM transcripts. The blog definitely reminds me of the short-lived period during which my mother and I tried to communicate via IM.

Extreme Pumpkins:

For those of you who take pumpkin carving seriously, this is the Web site and book for you. The guide to jack-o’latern carving has been wildly successful. Released by Penguin in September 2007, it’s currently on its third printing and has sold over 10,000 copies. Author Tom Nardone made a bevy of high profile media appearances and you can track the book’s success here. I’m not precisely sure what order the Web site and book deal came in, but I can say I know that I’ll never carve a lame pumpkin for Halloween again.

And in an alternative to goofy coffee table pieces, books with more serious topics that were borne from blogs and Web sites have made waves as of late. The best example I can think of is the PostSecret project. The project began as an art exhibit in 2004 in Washington, DC. Creator Frank Warren launched the blog on January 1st, 2005 at Blogspot and presently uploads 20 new postcards with secrets to the blog every Sunday. Since the project launched, Warren has published several books packed with secrets from people around the world and the blog won Weblog of the Year for 2007.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How long is long enough on radio?

I must confess that I have always scoffed at authors who suggest that a 30 minute radio interview just isn't enough time. It might fly by if you are taking five minutes to answer each question, I reasoned—get to the point and enjoy both segments you’ve been given; after all, you only get three minutes on TV.

However, after doing two radio interviews over the past two weeks I am starting to think that my clients may have been right all along. Not only did I leave the interviews wishing we had covered more ground…but I had an hour. That’s right, four complete segments.

How wrong I was.

The program I was on, KOOP-FM’s Writing on the Air, is Austin’s leading literary radio program—the result of a gifted group of hosts, including Lee Davis, Dillon McKinsey, Dora Robinson, Nelin Hudani & Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon and a very eccentric, artsy environment in which to broadcast. Any publicists that have authors touring through Austin should keep the show on their radar.

Senior publicist Tolly Moseley joined me in the interview and the two of us spent the hour discussing topics ranging from the changing state of book publicity to where Austin currently sits on the proverbial publishing map.

As publicists, we specialize in packaging information in bite size nuggets—fit for consumption by on-the-go media members looking for a reason not to read the pitch. We encourage our authors to communicate on the air in the same manner by focusing on sound bytes and answering each question succinctly. Tolly and I did that both times we were on the program but still seemed to run short of time.

As a publicist, I'm not excited about admiting that I couldn't cover all the ground I wanted to cover in an hour. So, what happened?

It's clear that the topic of book publicity is one that can’t be covered in an hour—or that’s what most publicists would claim. That belief sounds oddly familiar to the feedback I get from authors who insist that getting completely through any topic on the air is difficult.

Point taken.

There are certainly ways to make time work to your advantage. Our best clients make more out of 15 minutes of airtime than normal guests do in an hour. They do this by getting to the point quickly when they can. On the other hand, when an answer simply requires more time, they point listeners back to their web site where additional resources are available free. In doing so, they free up airtime for the host’s next question and drive traffic to their site.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paging Sloane Crosley

If you are at all involved in book publicity, chances are you've heard of Ms. Crosley, and her recently-released book, "I Was Told There'd Be Cake."

By all accounts, it is a delightful collection of essays surrounding the mid-20's experience. It is published by Penguin. She herself is a book publicist in New York, is buddies with Candace Bushnell, and has dated Moby. Oh, and she sometimes moonlights for The Village Voice.

God I hate her.

Kidding! In fact, Sloane Crosley seems not only nice, but worth modeling ourselves after, if you're a publicist. Here is what Lockhart Steele (what a name!), former managing editor of Gawker, had to say about Sloane:

“[Sloane is unique] among media people. You deal with so much b******t from people and so much b******t from publicists trying to tell you this is great or this is the next great American novelist.”

And Leon Neyfakh in the New York Observer:

"Ms. Crosley, by comparison, cuts to the chase with editors and writers, and conscientiously tailors her pitches to suit their tastes. In other words, where publicists of all kinds—for movies, books, socialites and dentists—have created a giant wall of noise, Ms. Crosley manages to be heard above the racket, recommending her writers and titles to others with a gentle caress instead of a swift kick."

First of all - dentists have publicists?

Second - Sloane sounds like a fine example of the publicist who has transcended all publicist stereotypes. You know the ones I'm talking about. Loud. Chirpy. Substance-less. Hooray for Sloane for giving book publicists a good - nay, aspiration-worthy! - name.

But here is the number one thing I want to point out about Sloane. And it isn't the fact that her parents apparently named her after Ferris' girlfriend in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

When Sloane is not a publicist, she is an accomplished writer.

Leon again:
"Like a lot of book publicists, [Sloane] has wanted to be a writer all along. She majored in creative writing and did summer internships at Mirabella and The New Yorker. When she graduated and moved to New York in 2000, she did so with the intention of finding a job at a magazine."

Oh Sloane! I see myself in you!

Publicists, how many of us out there secretly yearn to see our name in bylines? On books? Just like our authors!

I think it's worth it for all of us to have a side writing project, outside of book publicity - even if it's a private diary that no one else sees, or a LiveJournal account you maintain under a teenage pseudonym (imagine everyone's surprise when GrrlSuperstar1992 publishes her first novel!). Perhaps the reason everyone, from media to authors, looooove Sloane Crosley is very simple: she is also a writer. She knows what writers want - authors want to be understood, media wants good stories.

So book publicists, can you hear me? It's time to join ranks with our author clients. Sloane Crosleys or not - it never hurts us to be better writers.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From bookstore to box office

Good news for authors hoping to see their works come to life on the big screen - according to news today from Variety, a post-writers strike surge of studios are on the prowl for ideas and manuscripts for upcoming features.

"Feature development execs were bracing for a deluge of feature spec scripts to flood the market after the 100-day writers strike wrapped in mid-February. But the storm, if it's brewing at all, has yet to hit, so the majors are chasing after books and magazine articles harder than they have in years." - Michael Flemming, Variety
Over the years, we've seen a several authors go Hollywood. Philip Carlo's bestselling The ICE MAN: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer was recently optioned and is being directed by Allen and Albert Hughes with Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Jason Blum producing and Terry Winter scripting.
Novelist Janice Woods Windle's True Women was later developed into a CBS mini-series with Angelina Jolie, which might have been the catalyst to her blockbuster career (or so we like to think).
Seeing some after-strike action, one of our current clients just inked a deal on film rights to her book in fact. Not yet at liberty to reveal details, we'll post the news following the studio's official announcement.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Honing your media instincts

(Or, The Difference Between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly)

We’ve all got our fair share of obsessions. Sports teams. Shoes. American Idol. As a publicist, I cultivate one my obsessions daily, on an almost an hour-by-hour basis: the news. It’s my job to stay as informed as possible, across a wide range of media genres. Sure, I caught the last presidential speech on CNN. But did I catch the commentary on The 700 Club? The Daily Show? Bill O’Reilly? Much as we’d like to believe in journalistic objectivity, the news isn’t purist. There’s always a smidgen of opinion, because different news outlets serve different news audiences.

If you think you’ve got a newsworthy book or message, that’s great! But it’s only the first step. I’m going to teach you how to watch / read the news with a publicist’s eye. Not all media outlets are created equal, and neither are books and authors. The trick is to know how to package your message for different audiences, using verbage that is compelling, and angles that are timely.

1.Go on a media diet.
For most diets, you have to give up something: carbs, calories, wheat gluten. For a media diet however, you’ll want to consume as much as possible, so as to familiarize yourself with the types of stories used by different outlets.

Here are a couple of stories taken from’s website:
“NFL considering ban on long hair”
“Dad faces son's alleged killer, sees hope”

Now, here are a couple of stories taken from’s website, on the same day:
“Get your gossip fix now!”
“Chocolate: A health food?”

Given that quick glance, what could you tell me about CNN’s vs. iVillage’s audiences? Would you say one attracts more females? Exactly. If you’re an NFL expert, you won’t pitch the long-hair-ban story to iVillage. It’s not for them. Different news outlets go for different material, so a media diet will allow you to pick out those that are most in-line with your message.

2. Get your buzzword on.
What’s a buzzword? “Bromance.” “Feme-ssance.” “Mompreneur.” You get the idea: made-up words (or phrases) that create puns out of a trendy concept. Bromances are male-bonding buddy movies (like Superbad), the Feme-ssance describes women who, mid-life, find themselves again (like the book Eat, Pray, Love), Mompreneurs are mothers who have gone into business (like stay-at-home-mom-turned-Food Network personality, Paula Deen).

Inventing buzzwords isn’t easy, and definitely takes a little practice. When you see on in the news, write it down for future inspiration – it could come in handy later. Here’s another key: all buzzwords point to trends or hot topics happening right now. We would never refer to Mick Jagger and ex-wife Bianca as “Mianca,” would we? But perhaps you’ve heard of “Brangelina.” So, before you go wild creating buzzwords centered around your message, first devote some serious energy to understanding why your message is relevant and timely.

3. Recognize the difference between hot and evergreen stories.
Mother’s Day comes once every year, on an exact date. Fortunately, political scandals do not. But both have media potential.

If your book, message, and expertise relates to an annual event or time period – say, summertime, or President’s Day – offer the media a fresh look at these well-known time markers. Are you an environmental expert? Offer some ideas on green summer vacations. Are you a financial expert? The public always needs tips on money and savings, so offer tips for saving on your home payments. That is what’s called an “evergreen” angle, but you still want to tie it into sometime that’s going on right now: home foreclosures, for example. It may be evergreen, but the operative word in news is new, and the media looks for timely inflections of lasting issues.

A hot news story may not have a long shelf-life: a young starlet’s pregnancy, a governor’s sundry affair, etc. The media outlets who run these stories aren’t interested in tip sheets or cutesy sidebars – usually. They’re interested in expert commentary, an insider’s view, etc. – people in the know who can explain why this happened, and the repercussions of such an event. Know when your message (and perhaps more importantly, your credentials) is appropriate for these stories. And when it’s not, back off - there’s nothing more annoying to media than fame-seekers desperate for a little airtime! Don’t worry: the perfect story for you will come in time.

4. Have perfect timing.
Different media outlets have incredibly different lead-times. Daily newspapers? Anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours. Monthly magazines? Whole seasons. Sometimes, it’ll be December, and one of my author clients will say something like, “I have an awesome holiday story idea – let’s call Family Circle!” Sorry…they did their holiday stories back in August.

On the flip side, daily newspapers and TV news programs move very quickly. Did a presidential candidate just drop out of the race? If you’re a political expert, then move! You can offer insight into how this will change the direction of the presidential race, what strategies the remaining candidates will use now, etc. If a top-tier outlet is interested in your expertise, be gracious and offer the exclusive (frequently the only way to seal the deal with them anyway). A zillion publicists and expert sources will be after the news in the days to come after a big story breaks, so get your voice in early.

When you watch or read the news, it’s important to know when to jump – and even if it’s a hot story, keep in mind that your message may be more appropriate for delayed, in-depth coverage after the story has broken. This is especially true if your credentials are more abstract an academic: say, a political science professor commenting on the presidential race, rather than a political advisor directly involved in the race.


Watching the news as a well-informed citizen is different than watching the news like a publicist. Honing your media instincts will give you the ability to come up with story angles for your message that are creative, appealing, and timely. Plus, it’s a great excuse to be a little indulgent: sure, you’ve got your daily NPR fill, but have you checked out today? If anyone calls you on it, just tell them it’s “research.”

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A day in the life of a publicist...

When I tell people what I do for a living, it often triggers an eye-widening, brow-raising and ever-curious reaction. “You’re a publicist!? How exciting! Is your job a party all day long?!” My responses: Yes. Sometimes. Definitely not.

Being a publicist has been somewhat glamorized over the years. Just look at Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, a PR exec whose workday activities include lunching with Lucy Liu, exclusive invites to club-openings and champagne toasts at the unveilings of several prominently-placed billboards.

Or, if you’re looking for a younger portrayal of the Pop Culture Publicist, just look at Heidi Montag of MTV’s The Hills. When she’s not dutifully filling her role as reality TV villain, Montag dons an earpiece and clipboard as an event publicist for some of Hollywood’s hottest parties.

Sure, being a book publicist is exciting work. It’s a creative industry, and we get the chance to rub elbows with top members of the media and the Literati. But like any other job, it’s a lot of hard work.

An anonymous publicist for a big NYC publishing house recently shed light into the daily grind of the book publicist with this post in Publisher’s Weekly.

Following said publicists lead, here’s a sneak peek into the day in the life of a Phenix & Phenix book publicist:

6:00 a.m.: Trade in early morning workout for an hour of snooze button-filled sleep

7:15 a.m.: Frantically finish new client’s book while simultaneously drying hair

7:56 a.m.: Settle in for the day, browse through news sites for breaking news, create a “to do” list and drink copious amounts of coffee.

8:10 a.m.: Sort through 57 new emails in my inbox (I guess yesterday’s pitch worked!). Book interviews, mail requested books and respond to client questions.

9:00 a.m.: Phone pitching begins. Call tour media for a book signing in Orlando next month. Start with morning show producers at radio and television stations. Move on to editors at dailies later on

11:15 a.m.: Work on mailing list for a new campaign. Target book editors at daily newspapers, magazines and online review sites.

12:00 p.m.: …and just as the excel sheet of contact information begins to blur before my eyes, I finish narrowing down the list, email my pitch to book reviewers and break for lunch.

2:15 p.m.: Host brainstorming meeting with the publicity team for a new parenting how-to book. What fresh media angles can we come up with today? Internet safety? Cold. Text-savvy mommies? Getting warmer. Eco-friendly families? Hot, hot, hot!

3:07 p.m.: Create strategic plan for new campaign. Research upcoming holidays that might tie in with book’s message and/or author’s credentials. Looks like “Talk Like a Pirate Day” is coming up soon. If only my client were Johnny Depp…sigh.

4:23 p.m.: Coffee reboot before I attempt to rework the lede on a press release for the tenth time.

5:30 p.m.: Attend “media analysis” meeting with sales and publicity team to lend feedback on the media potential of prospective authors. An accountant from Pittsburg who’s written a romance novel about life in the bush of the Australian outback? Sorry—next!

6:12 p.m.: Wrap up loose ends, finalize details on last-minute NPR interview tomorrow and end another day at the office. Whew!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

You can’t judge a book by its cover…

but you CAN judge a person by their taste in books.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review published an essay this past weekend called “It’s Not You—It’s Your Books” about the mysterious power literary tastes can have in determining relationship compatibility.

In other words—if we’re dating and it turns out you’re really into Jean Paul Sartre (insert eye roll here), we might have a problem. It’s probably not going to work out.

Some might think it’s shallow to judge a potential partner based on their taste books, or lack thereof. But, as the article puts it: “If you’re a person who loves Alice Munro and you’re going out with someone whose favorite book is The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the flags of incompatibility were there prior to the big reveal.”

I think those of us in the literary world and book lovers everywhere can identify with this sentiment. So the next time you’re looking to impress a new love interest, remember to think twice before divulging your guilty reading pleasures!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Talk Show High School

AOL Television's widely publicized poll is making the rounds through the internet. We thought we'd provide a quick rundown of winners: yearbook style.

Best All-Around

Most Likely to Brighten Your Day

Best Hair

(Anyone else noticing a common thread?)

And finally...

Least Sexy

But we still love ya, Larry!

Other results? Diane Sawyer was voted the television host most likely to make a good president, topping Jon Stewart and Oprah, who tied. What a cabinet that would make!

See full results here.

For those of us in book publicity, the changing demographics dictating daytime TV are always going to affect our business. We would do well to take cues from the TV titans that are increasing their audiences. Is Ellen the new Oprah? Is her dancing the new "remembering your spirit?" What's driving the legions of viewers out there who are attracted to ladies like Ellen, Diane, and Kelly (besides blonde-highlight-aficionados)?

Labels: ,