Cover to Cover: The Life of a Book Publicist

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Posted At: January 21, 2012 3:30 PM
by Maria Sanders

How often do you hear someone say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”?

While this adage is true when applied to judging people, it isn’t necessarily truthful when judging a book.

From the front image to the descriptive copy on the back, everything about the cover of a book allows you to determine your level of interest.

Who, though, is responsible for getting you to the point of judgment? Who wrote the copy, designed the jacket, arranged the reviews, scheduled author appearances and worked with the seller to stock the book?

In most cases, it’s all the culmination of a hard-working publicist’s efforts.

Getting the word out

Rebecca Todd Minder has worked in publishing for the last 15 years. Ten of those years have been spent in book publishing, and she is currently the publicist at The University of Alabama Press.

“My main job,” Minder said, “is to ensure our books and authors receive publicity, which we hope will result in sales.”

Publicists like Minder hope to garner this publicity in several ways, including securing author events such as lectures and book signings.

Having an author meet with potential readers and discuss his new book is an essential component to the publicity equation.

“Bookstores don’t sell books, authors do,” Rick Johnson, founder of Final Copy Editorial, said.

Katie Bond, publicity manager for Thomas Nelson’s fiction division, said she and her team work as conduits between their authors and the media.

“We work to present a consistent message throughout,” Bond said.

Bond and her team achieve this consistency by being prepared both internally and externally.

She coaches authors on talking points as they prepare for book tours. She and her team also prepare themselves to field questions and pitch to the media.

Reviews

Publicists also work to connect with appropriate parties to provide reviews for new releases.

Because lead times vary for different types of media, such as magazines, newspapers and blogs, it’s important for publicist to get new releases in the appropriate form to those outlets.

“Galleys [advanced copies] are sent over four months in advance to magazines that require longer lead times,” Bond said. “We wait until we have the finished book to send out for shorter leads like newspapers.”

Special opportunities

Sometimes, as is the case for Bond and Thomas Nelson, higher-profile authors are given publicity opportunities that allow them to also mention a book they have recently written.

Country singer Sara Evans and Fox News analyst Lis Wiehl are currently publishing their books through Thomas Nelson, but both were well-known in their respective careers before becoming authors.

Evans and Wiehl’s notoriety affords them the opportunity to promote their books while acting in their primary roles.

“It’s more of a platform to pitch non-fiction matters,” Bond said. “The book becomes a side note.”

Recently, Bond said, Sara Evans was on the morning talk show “Good Morning America” to promote her newest album “Stronger.” With the on-air time she was already given, Evans was also able to use the opportunity as a chance to spread the word about her newest book “Softly and Tenderly.”

As a publicist, this can be a huge opportunity if you can take advantage of the spotlight already shining on an author and use it to promote their book as well.

Marketing or PR?

Depending on the size of the department in which a publicist is working, a healthy understanding of the marketing mix is an important asset.

Minder is one-third of the marketing department for the UA Press, so she is often working as both a publicist and a marketer.

“It’s all the same. In our marketing department, we have three full-time employees who divide up all of the responsibilities,” Minder said. “We all work with the authors, we all promote the books — Shana [Rivers] handles sales, Latasha [Watters] handles awards and exhibits, and [I] handle the media.”

“So in some aspect, we are all public relations professionals, and marketing is PR and PR is marketing. They really go hand in hand,” Minder said.

Bond expounded on the interrelatedness of PR and marketing.

In the past, Bond said, there was an understanding that anything paid-for fell under marketing, and any exposure gained at no cost fell under publicity.

“The lines are blurred between marketing and publicity,” Bond said.

Social media has contributed to this change as well.

In her article, “Blurring Lines, Turf Battles and Tweets: The Real Impact of Integrated Communications on Marketing and PR,” Janette Dillerstone wrote, “. . . social media is facilitating the marriage of the two [marketing and PR], since it contains elements that both disciplines find appealing and complementary to their existing efforts.”

“Undoubtedly, social media has provided PR with the opportunity to obtain a more central role in marketing…,” Dillerstone said.

Social media has allowed authors to work with publicists to market their own books as well.

“We do a lot of coaching the authors on what to say, and the practical matters of setting up and monitoring the accounts,” Bond said. “Ninety percent of the time authors are very much involved with their accounts.”

Design

A lot of work goes into creating the look and feel of a book. And a publicist has an important role in this process.

Minder writes much of the catalog copy for the UA Press titles, and designs many of the front images herself.

At Thomas Nelson, Bond said is also responsible for giving input in the design process.

“There are lots of factors involved,” Bond said. “We help decide if a book is part of a series how it should look to fit within the series. Or, if the author has previous works how can we set this one apart.”

Whether a publicist is doing the book design hands-on or is contributing to the overall feel of a book, they have a true investment in each title they are a part of promoting.

Summing it up

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read,” Abraham Lincoln said.

Publicists are a reader’s best friend. Without their countless hours spent writing copy, developing design ideas and gathering reviews, most of our favorite books would never have landed on a bookstore shelf for us to purchase.

So the next time you’re standing in Barnes and Noble deciding which book to choose, remember who helped get it on the shelf.

2 Comments

  1. angela

    Great insight. Thank you for shedding light on an often forgotten area of PR. I am a freelance book publicist…new to the field. I could use some insight …how do I market my author and book when he doesn’t have time or opportunity for book tours ? How can I beef up his social media presence ?

    Reply

    • Maria Sanders

      Hi Angela,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. If your author doesn’t have the time to do much touring I would definitely suggest using social media. From my research for this article I found that most authors are heavily involved online. Even if your author can’t be on the road having face-to-face conversations, they should be taking part in an online conversation. Check out Thomas Nelson’s Facebook page and some of its authors as a good examples. Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads are a few places to start finding an audience and jumping into the conversation.

      Reviews are another way to gain publicity for your author’s books. Try getting a feature in their hometown newspaper or in the newspaper or another publication from where they went to college. Knowing what genre or category the book falls into (multiple genres / categories are even better) can be useful in finding beneficial places to garner reviews. A lot of bloggers review books. Look into that as well. If the book is more scholarly and less
      trade-oriented research journals that focus on the same topic.

      It’s really about understanding what the book is about and finding the audience looking for it.

      I hope some of these suggestions help you out! Thanks for visiting Platform!

      Reply

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