Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Writing a memoir? Prove it.

In this day and age, publishing a memoir is a tricky business. Amidst the fall-out of authors such as Margaret Jones, James Frey, JT LeRoy and others, the industry has become somewhat jaded with memoirists. In other words, the proof is no longer in the pudding…it’s in the recipe.

The challenge for memoir writers lies in every stage of the game. From writing to editing, publishing to promoting, authors must go through extensive lengths to prove the validity of their life stories.

Take Rob Mitchell for example. Abandoned by his parents at age 3, raised in the American orphanage system and homeless at 17, Mitchell is now one of the country’s top financial advisers. He knew that if he ever wrote a book about his life, he’d have to make an extra effort to show skeptics that the events of his life were true to the core. And that’s exactly what he did.

In his memoir, Castaway Kid (Tyndale), Mitchell relives his troubled childhood as one of the last “lifers” in the American orphanage system. He spent months researching his personal time-line, digging up official documents to support his memoir. He even produced a website to prove its validity. The site includes documents from his case file at the children’s home; psychiatric reports on him, his mother and father; letters from people involved in his life; and recorded interviews.

As Mitchell's publicist, I think this was a wise move. Recently, I was pitching Mitchell for an interview opportunity on an NPR program to talk about his life growing up in an orphanage. The producer immediately responded to my pitch expressing her genuine interest in the interview, but she also said she couldn't help but feel weary about having a memoir writer on the program in light of all the negative attention swirling around falsified memoirs.

Thanks to Mitchell's research on the front end, I was able to offer his website,, as a resource to secure the producer's interest. She requested the book along with a press kit, and I'm still awaiting word on a follow through.

For those authors out there interested in writing a memoir, I'd advise you to take my client's lead. You never know when you'll be asked to prove it.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Nancy Pelosi's book competition

Speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi is running a pretty killer book tour right now. In a single morning, she's appeared on "The Today Show," "The View," and NPR, with an evening spot tonight on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

While many are familiar with Pelosi's historically significant stature as the first female speaker of the house, this book explores a side of Pelosi we aren't as familiar with - a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom with five kids, who despite her devoutly Democratic upbringing, had no idea she would one day enter politics.

At press time of this blog post (i.e., quittin' time on a Monday afternoon), "Know Your Power" is currently ranked at #308 on It's #3 in the "Government" category. So, who's her competition?

#2 is no surprise - Scott McClellan's tell-all memoir, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." Shocker. But #1, you ask?

Why, that would be "Government Pirates: The Assault on Private Property Rights--and How We Can Fight It," by Don Corace. It's an insiders look at eminent domain abuse. It's ranked #126 overall right now!

Is it because Don Corace is a bigger rockstar than Nancy Pelosi? Well I guess that's a matter of opinion - but it's safe to say Pelosi is more of a household name, I mean, right? For these conditions, we undoubtedly have another hardworking book publicist out there to thank: a publicist who booked Don Corace on Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes" last week.

So, to Don Corace's publicist, wherever you are - hats off. That's a prominent booking, and your author has some impressive book sales to show for it.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quick hits

More good news regarding book review sections

PW Daily reported today that the Los Angeles Times is "folding its standalone Sunday book review section, laying off two dedicated book editors."

Not to be outdone, the Hartford Courant decided to hand a pink slip to its book editor, Carole Goldberg, as well.

Though we've all become a bit jaded by stories about disappearing book editors, it is especially disturbing to see the LA Times make such a move. It's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books coming out of this unscathed.

How to link when a long URL won't work (think Twitter)

Yen Cheong, Assistant Director of Publicity at Viking and Penguin Books, has a great write-up today on the Book Publicity Blog about a website, Tiny URL, that condenses your long URLs to exactly six characters.

Those of you who Twitter know the value of such a service. It should also help with email pitches that are bogged down by out of control links.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wisdom from the Chicago Tribune: Get personal with journalists

Book publicists - heck, all publicists for that matter - walk a hard line. On the one hand, we want to be friends with key media contacts. On the other hand, we don't want to annoy our key media contacts. Why? The more friendly, and simultaneously less annoying we are, the more chance we have of landing solid media coverage for our authors and books. So no better way to start that friendly-but-not-annoying-friendly relationship on the right foot than a cheerful, non-invasive email, right?

WRONG. Let's hear it for the Chicago Tribune (and the Bulldog Reporter, who ran this piece earlier this summer) who eloquently dispels this line of thinking. Publicists: be ye not afraid of the telephone. We're talkers. Let's reach out and touch the media via some phone calls and meetings, shall we? Here's more:

"An email followed by a telephone call really is not the best way to go if you want to get our attention," says Michael A. Lev, business editor at the Chicago Tribune (circ. 957,212). "Instead, I think the way to stand out is to make a call and leave a message first—and then to follow up with your email. I have the same counterintuitive advice for sending materials," he adds. "A press kit followed with a call will be remembered. But an email is just too easy to skip over or delete."

His larger point: "Email or anything on its own isn't strategy—it's a gamble. But tying a phone call to it makes it more than a shot in the dark. A call just makes it more personal"––especially in light of today's spray–and–pray email campaigns. That said, "Journalists want their relationships with PR people to be as concise and focused as possible," Lev stresses. "If you get us on the phone or leave a message, keep it very brief. If you don't hear back, assume it wasn't relevant. We'll get back to you if we're interested." His additional tips:

• Afternoon deadlines are dead—pitch breaking news around the clock. "We are all doing much more with less. We have gone through buyouts—and staffs aren't as big as they used to be. On top of that, we all break news on the web now—at least, we're teaching our reporters to do that. Everybody is trying to develop that new muscle memory—breaking news around the clock," Lev says. "We'll post an alert and it'll just be three graphs on the web. Then we'll follow up with a more in–depth story on the second day." His advice: "Recognize we're on deadline all day—not just in the afternoon anymore. Also, recognize what gets play online and in print—and pitch accordingly. For example, don't pitch the breaking news item for the next day's paper."

To read more tips, including the power of the in-person lunch as well as the power of exclusivity, see the full story.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

ICRS: Day 1

In true publicist form, I thought I'd boil down my day one observations into a few bullet points:

- David Tyree's new book, More Than Just a Catch, is going to be a big, big title from Strang this fall. Strang Senior Publicist Woodley Auguste left the floor at 4 PM to head to LA to attend the ESPY awards with Tyree, an event that is a prelude to a very hectic book tour commencing before the Super Bowl hero heads off to training camp. Auguste is orchestrating a savvy launch amisdst challenging circumstances--Strang & Tyree are lucky to have him at the wheel.

- Tony Dungy seems to be making himself at home in the publishing industry. After he and Tyndale launched his blockbuster Quiet Strength at last year's ICRS, he was back on the floor today to sign his new children's book You Can Do It.

- Karen Kingsbury remains one of the most personable best-selling authors within the CBA. She spent Monday bouncing around from booth to booth signing several of her new titles.

- Our press kits went a lot faster than I thought they would. I brought 20 of them with me, dropped them off in the press room yesterday and by 3 PM today there were only three left. Thanks to Katie and DHL for making sure more arrive in the morning (DHL: your thank you is a bit premature).

- One of our clients, Dr. Kevin Leman, was a popular man today--signing copies of his best-selling parenting book from Baker Publishing Group, Have a New Kid by Friday (not a P&P book). I thought about waiting in line to say hi but I knew he'd be disappointed when I told him Tolly didn't make the trip with me.

- Thomas Nelson's absence was definitely felt.

- I had several meetings with publicists, media contacts and publishers who "just LOVE Austin," making me wonder why ICRS, BEA and other industry conferences don't head to town for future events. Why not Austin?

- Though I sense trade shows are starting to lose some of their steam, it is amazing how much a firm like ours can get accomlished at these events. We are able to pack face-to-face meetings with clients, authors, agents, publishers, media contacts, competitors and other industry contacts into a very short period of time and nothing is as powerful as a good personal impression.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

ICRS: Day 0

Though ICRS formally gets underway Monday morning at 9 AM, the Sunday before the show is always full of important events. For that reason, I left Austin a day early and took a direct flight from Austin to Orlando (thank you JetBlue!) yesterday afternoon. I got into Orlando about 7:30 PM, checked into the hotel, grabbed dinner and watched SportsCenter before drifting off to sleep. Since we have a nine month old at home, I appreciated every minute of sleep that was available to me.

This year I am flying solo--I usually have Stephanie or another member of our team at the event--but since we've been at several events over the past few weeks and we are in the middle of a full campaign schedule, I decided to make the trip on my own this year.

After checking in at the ICRS registration desk, I dropped P&P press kits off in the ICRS media room. Our cover page read "P&P is proud to represent the leading voices in the CBA" and this year we have a number of great books. They include A Tale of Two Sons, by Dr. John MacArthur (Thomas Nelson), Two Wars, by Nate Self (Tyndale), Between Us Girls, by Vicki Courtney (B&H), God in the Marketplace, by Henry & Richard Blackaby (B&H), Trading Places, by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott (Zondervan/HarperCollins), Coming Unglued, by Rebeca Seitz (B&H), Castway Kid, by r.b. mitchell (Tyndale), The Nehemiah Factor, by Dr. Frank Page (New Hope Publishers), Designed for Success, by Dondi Scumaci (Strang), Compelled by Love, by Ed Stetzer & Philip Nation (New Hope Publishers), The Gift of Christmas Cookie, by Dandi Daley Mackall (Zonderkidz), We Believe in Christmas, by Karen Kingsbury (Zonderkidz) & others.

Though ICRS is not near the media event it used to be, it's nice for outlets that are present to be able to see the entire P&P roster in those press kits.

After I dropped the press kits off, I headed to the Alive Communications event at the Peabody Hotel. Alive is one of the best literary agencies in the country and this event was a savvy way to honor their clients and industry contacts before the show got underway.

Rick Christian, who started Alive in 1989, opened the event by thanking attendees and telling a few stories before highlighting three new Alive Communications books featured at the event. One of those books was Two Wars, by Nate Self, and when Rick introduced Nate (after saying a few words about him) the crowd gave Nate a well-deserved standing ovation. Ann Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) then gave a great presentation before the networking got underway.

It was great to see Lee, Rick, Beth & Joel and a number of our clients at the event. One of the many great things about ICRS is the family atmosphere at events like this.

After the Alive event finished, I headed back to the convention center for the media meet & greet session, which featured a panel discussion moderated by the CBA's media maven, Nancy Guthrie. I always enjoy this event because it puts all the industry publicists in one room before the show gets underway. This year's panel included Kelly Hughes (one of the CBA's most respected publicists), Dan Merchant (who wrote and directed a very interesting documentary titled "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers") and David Kinnaman (author of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters).

It was a very progressive panel that brought a refreshing perspective to the table. The main question looming for publicists that represent Christian authors was how can I get top secular media contacts past a) the disdain they have for 'religious' authors and b) the desire to only put Christians on the air to argue a far right-wing perspective in a point/counterpoint debate?

Dan Merchant told an interesting story about his recent Today Show appearance where he had a producer confess "we usually don't do religion because it just makes everyone mad." That same morning The Today Show also covered stories dealing with crime, drugs and other societal ills.

Kelly Hughes closed with some advice that I agree with: publicists have to be honest with their media contacts about the perspective their client is going to bring to the table. If the author is going to rock that producer's notion of what a Christian is (i.e. David Kinnaman), tell them so.

We've always found that the best way to package "CBA" authors for general market exposure is to focus on the mainstream issues that their books deal with (and that they have expertise relating to). FOX News, CNN and other national outlets look to Vicki Courtney as an expert on issues affecting teen and tween girls. CNN Headline News, Nancy Grace and others look to Dr. Les Parrott as an expert on relaitonship issues. The Associated Press, Newsday and others look to Nate Self as a great resource on PTSD and the War on Terror. As with an interview opportunity, an author's focus simply has to shift depending on the market the media outlet is trying to reach.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why ACFW is always on my schedule

I started going to the ACFW conference three years ago and it has become one of my favorite events. When I initially made the decision to start attending the conference, it was partly due to the fact that the event was held just up the road in Dallas, TX. It was nice to have such a big event so close to home for a change. Unfortunately, ACFW figured out that Texas remains extremely hot in September and opted to move this year’s event to Minneapolis, MN.

The conference takes place September 18-21, 2008 at the Mall of America and I'm looking forward to making the trip despite a few challenges.Not only is the event no longer close to home, but it also takes place on a home football weekend for the University of Texas Longhorns (I don’t miss those games). Yet, I’m still flying halfway across the country to attend.


Although we have a great track record with CBA Fiction (thanks in large part to the talents of Nancy Rue, Dandi Daley Mackall and others), since we are so selective about books within that genre that we represent, my decision to return to the conference this year doesn't really have much to do with getting new business.

I did promise to give a presentation on “How to Land Ink, Airtime and Other Coverage for Your Book,” but that isn’t the main reason I’m going either.

I attend because not only do I get to meet talented writers and see old friends, but I always have a good time. ACFW knows how to put on a quality writers’ conference—this is an event that draws hundreds of aspiring authors each year for several reasons:

- Top agents like Beth Jusino, Chip MacGregor, Steve Laube, Joyce Hart and many others are always in attendance and, much like the Writers’ League of Texas Conference, they are there to spend time with the attendees and pick up new talent. This is an event that has launched many a career thanks to the presence of quality agents.

- Publishing houses also love this event, with top fiction editors like David Webb, Kim Moore, Andy Meisenheimer, Alan Arnold, Sue Brower and many others in attendance to search for quality writers with great ideas.

- ACFW boasts success story after success story and many of their top authors got their start at this conference. My first year at the conference I watched an unpublished Cara Putman win an award and, two years later, she is now awaiting the launch of her fourth book.

- Best-selling novelist Brandilyn Collins never fails to entertain as the MC for the event and Rachel Hauck’s music is just amazing.

- It provides a great forum for industry professionals to interact with up and coming authors. Again, although publicity may be the last thing on an unpublished author’s mind at most conferences, I’m always impressed by the number of authors at this event that understand how important good publicity will be to their success.

I was invited to speak to the Central Texas chapter of ACFW a few months ago and at the end of my speech I encouraged each one of the authors to attend this year’s event. I did so because although experiencing breakout success can be tough, few conferences can provide as much insight into the industry as this one.

Registration is still open for this year’s event, so grab a spot while you can.

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Fatal Flaw #3: Not playing your part

Making the most out of the author-publicist relationship

It is important for authors to understand that even though their publicity campaign is being led by (hopefully) a great publicist, there are still a number of things that can be done to assist that effort. Your work is not finished when the campaign starts. In fact, the best author-publicist relationships are centered around teamwork and the ability to work together effectively to get as much media attention as possible for your book.

So, how can authors stay involved and effectively work with their publicist?

- Follow breaking news related to your topic

While your publicist is responsible for staying up to date on current trends, breaking stories and other news related to your book, do you part and keep an eye on what the media is covering and how it might lead back to your book.

Don’t send an email that says “I saw a Washington Post article today on a new study regarding health care for boomers…why wasn’t I included?

Do send an email that says “Here’s a great article on a new study about health care for boomers—this may be a great lead for us.”

No one knows your topic better than you do, so keep an eye on stories that relate to your book and send your perspective on the story to your publicist (w/ formal quotes).

- Study up before each interview

Unprepared guests = poor interviews. While you can't do anything about an unprepared host, you can make sure that you are ready to give a good interview. Here are some things to pay attention to:

*Know the market where the interview is running and have specifics from that area ready to discuss (read the local newspaper online the morning of the interview).

*Know the focus of the interview going in and prepare accordingly (have three examples ready that relate to that topic).

*Research the format of the program and understand the market they are trying to reach (tailor your examples accordingly).

- Turn one media interview into three

Every interview an author does is an audition for more opportunities, so keep that in mind during your publicity campaign. Send a thank you note to the host and offer your expertise when they need a source on that topic in the future. Remember that media breeds media and your publicist is not the only one that can benefit from solid media relationships.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fatal Flaw #2: Saturating contacts

Making the most of the author-publicist relationship

In our continuing series on Fatal Flaws, we want to examine a commonly-held misbelief today: saturating contacts. What exactly do I mean by that?

Some authors think that if their publicist simply got his or her name out to the media, every single day, then surely the media would respond! I mean, how could CNN, The Today Show or Oprah ignore daily email reminders that you are THE definitive source on the economy/presidential elections/peregrine falcons?

Easy: those emails will never see the light of day. Why? Our media contacts will stop reading our emails, or answering our phone calls for that matter, if we're grating on their last nerve.

Asking your publicist to contact the same media contacts over and over again with breathless pitches about your expertise does two very bad things:

1. It threatens your publicist's relationship with her media contacts.

The reason why you, the author, have hired a publicist is because of her ability to create relationships with the media. She wants to help these people do their job - report the news - as much as she wants to help you get exposure. So don't ask her to contact the national top morning shows every day, or even every week, with new spins on your credentials. This hurts, rather than helps the cause. What the media wants from us are key sources at key times, and it's timing, rather than spamming, that will ultimately garner you media bookings.

2. It closes off other really cool publicity opportunities.
If you ask your publicist to constantly call/email the same type of media contacts - let's say, lifestyle editors at the top ten news dailies - then that's time she could have spent contacting other media outlets and journalists who don't know your name yet. Case in point: a parenting expert we worked with here at P&P wrote us a contributed article on airplane travel with kids. Sure, we could have pitched that to family editors, who likely get similar pitches all the time. Instead, we tried travel editors - and got that story placed in the New York Daily News. The lesson here? Trust your publicist to know where your main media potential is - she'll keep following up with those contacts, don't you worry - but always help her think of new and different shows, publications, editors, etc. that might want to hear your message too.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Part One: Fatal flaws of authors

Making the most of the author-publicist relationship

Good stories and fatal flaws are synonymous. Just as long as the fatal flaw isn't yours and doesn't rear its head during the media campaign, right?

At the core of an effective book publicity campaign is a good working relationship between author and publicist, a partnership. To help you get the most out of yours - ensuring your publicist is in your court, is a champion for your cause and has a good rapport with you and your camp - we'll post a five-part series this week unveiling the most common "fatal flaws" of authors.

Fatal flaw #1: Overcommunicating.
Some clients need a little extra hand-holding and that's ok. (Don't we all sometimes?) The author should be in the know and it is our job as professional communicators to communicate plans, progress and feedback from media. So communication is key, but overcommunicating can be fatal.

Your publicist is likely serving multiple clients so 30 minute chats here and there can add up. Over-the-top client communication can, when compounded, detract from pitching time. So how do you strike a balance between keeping the lines open and over-the-top?

Here are some starters:
  1. Don't bog your publicist down with voicemails liek "This is Jane Doe, please call." Leave details on the voicemail so your publicist is clear on the nature of your need.
  2. Rather than shooting off several short emails from your Blackberry, compile your thoughts for the day into one email, in bullet form so you can be sure all your questions are addressed.
  3. Set up a regular weekly call with your publicist to discuss plans and set goals.
  4. Make sure your publicist has a dependable method for reporting on a regular basis.
  5. Don't worry about calling to see if the producers from the national morning shows called back to book, we'll call you.

Stop by tomorrow for fatal flaw #2, saturating media contacts.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sweetly put

Over at Editorial Ass (assistant), another indispensible tip in the vein of ‘How Important Is Your Book, or, Top Ten Ways to Blow a Book Deal #4’:

“Publishing is a funny industry, since there is so much (fairly artificial) prestige attached to so many facets of the business. Meanwhile, it's also a creative industry, in which everyone involved, from author to agent to editor to cover designer to marketer, has invested energy and intellectual capital. Everything is subjective and not easily quantified with dollar signs, which means we measure our successes on softer, less tangible indexes. Pride and egos, therefore, are at stake in a way they are not elsewhere. We all should tread with a light step.”

More on this later.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Reason #127 why Michael Ian Black is a genius

When it comes to book publicity, comedian Michael Ian Black is exhibiting an edgy brilliance in an industry that often depends on book reviews and expert sourcing for pre-pub exposure.

His new book, My Custom Van: And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays that Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face (Simon Spotlight Entertainment), hits the shelves July 15, and already the internet is abuzz—not exactly about the book itself, but about Black’s so-called “feud” with fellow nonfiction writer David Sedaris. (You might have heard of him.)

Setting out to knock the popular literary personality off his bestseller high horse, Black states on his blog:

“Am I attempting to start a literary feud with David Sedaris with the feeble hope that the resultant publicity will increase sales of my book? Yes.”

Not one to settle for just any nonexistent, inappropriate author standoff, Black recently launched a contest for blog readers to turn Sedaris into a supervillan, and he even provides simple tips for casually putting down Sedaris at your next social event.

The Black-Sedaris feud is becoming an internet sensation for the in-the-know literary crowd, garnering top media for My Custom Van, such as Galleycat and Gawker. Now, I’m not advocating new authors out there to start a feud with John Grisham, or anything—but the next time you’re looking to increase your book’s web presence and overall buzz, you might take a page from Black’s humorous and innovative approach to self-promotion.

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