SPEAKER SERIES RECAP:  “Wearing a Different Hat: Turn from Writer to Marketer to Promote Your Work” with Book Publicist Claire McKinney

by TWC Director Judith Lindbergh

You’ve sold your book!  Or you’re publishing it yourself.  Either way, with the publication date in sight, it’s tempting to think the hard work is done.  In fact, it’s time to “put on a different hat,” roll up your sleeves, and start planning your publicity campaign. 

Believe it or not, even if your contract is with a “traditional publisher,” you’ll be responsible for much of the heavy lifting.  That’s why we invited Claire McKinney, book publicist (and now hybrid publisher), to share her expertise last Sunday at St. Luke’s Church in Montclair, NJ, in  “Wearing a Different Hat: Turn from Writer to Marketer to Promote Your Work.”

Claire has been in publishing for over 20 years, working with authors as diverse at Toni Morrison and Madeleine Albright.  She truly loves books, even the smell of them, and loves to help authors get their work into readers’ hands. Most recently, she published “Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?” through her own hybrid imprint Plum Bay Publishing.

Claire started off the workshop by emphasizing that big name authors aren’t made overnight, with examples like Stephen King (first published in 1969), Danielle Steel (first published in 1973), and James Patterson – with whom Claire worked at Little Brown early in her career – (first published in 1976).  Each of these bestsellers were nurtured and raised through publishing at a time when there was no self-, indie- or hybrid-publishing, and when bookstores were not only a cultural mainstay, but virtually the only place to buy books.

The publishing industry looks quite different today. Most traditional publishers focus on a handful of “front list” authors who work very hard to maintain and grow their brands.  Meanwhile there’s a shrinking “mid-list,” made up of authors who are not yet widely known.  Despite having a contract, they get very little publisher support.  So how do debut or mid-list authors – especially those who publish themselves – get noticed amid the noise of front-list publishing?

Claire guided us to start thinking more like a publicist. “You have to break your book and yourself into pieces to find the market and audience for your work.  You have to think beyond the bookstore to where media and readers might be.”

She asked us to consider specific elements that we or our books bring to the table. On the list were the following:

  1. What is your book about?
  2. Where does it take place?
  3. Where do you live and where are you from?
  4. What issues or topics are addressed in your book?
  5. What personal connection do you have to your story?  And what professional expertise or contacts?
  6. Who would “love” your book? What do they do and where do they live?

But these questions were just the start.  We broke down these factors into “Book Assets,” “Author Assets,” and “Audiences” – using each category to segment our assets into niche markets.

Claire advised that we should start out local, with family, friends and close communities that we have a direct connection to. Then expand, targeting organizations with special interests that are related to our books.  “Think niche marketing and media – specific people and places that would connect to your book.”

After we’d gathered our assets and ideas, we turned to the tools and tactics that we’d use to reach these markets.  Claire discussed basics like press kits and social media, lists of places to set up personal appearances, and publicity outlets — everything from writing articles for local news to blogging and much more.  We got creative in group discussion, with one author targeting museum book stores, another historical societies, and another community colleges, depending on each book’s topic.

Claire suggested that we work backward from our publication date, scheduling publicity about six months ahead, though articles and social media should start sooner. Since most publications have a long lead times, and social media takes time to develop committed, engaged followers, she suggested starting on these strategies at least a year in advance. “Book publicity is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”

The ultimate truth is that book publicity is hand selling with writers doing all they can to reach their audiences directly.  “The challenge with these niche markets is that the communities might be on target, but they may not be readers.” Turning them into readers is part of the art and craft of marketing – and writing – a fabulous book.

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