Writing Excuses 9.39: Publicity for Books
Key Points: Publicity is all about getting review coverage, interviews, podcasts, blog tours — get the book out in the world so that people know it exists and they can find information about it. Word-of-mouth is what sells books. Get advocates, and get the booksellers excited. A well-written request to the publicist may get you a free book to review. To work with a publicity department, suggest pitches or write blog posts they can use. Suggest trendsetters you know. Put together interesting essays that touch on your book, and let the publicity department figure out where to use them.
[Mary] Season nine, episode 39.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, publicity for books.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And we have special guest star, Patty Garcia. Say hi, Patty.
[Patty] Hi, Patty.
[Brandon] Patty is a publicist at Tor Books. She has… What’s that? Publicity Director at Tor Books.
[Mary] I was just going to say…
[Brandon] I’m sorry. She has worked on my books and many other books and everyone’s books and all of our books, I guess.
[Howard] She’s never done publicity for me.
[Brandon] Well, yes, you don’t really have publicity.
[Dan] You’re not cool enough.
[Mary] That’s because everybody knows you already.
[Brandon] That’s true. You’re already [garbled]
[Howard] That one did go on tape.
[Brandon] And continuing our theme from last time, Patty is also a rock star.
[Patty] True story.
[Brandon] So from the Rats of New York, you’re the bass player?
[Patty] Yes, I am.
[Brandon] So let’s talk about publicity for books. Now, new writers often have a lot of preconceived notions about publicity and about what will happen with books and what works and what doesn’t. I’m going to share a little story here first, and then let you get into it. My most eye-opening moment with publicity, and this might actually be more marketing… That’s one thing that authors don’t get straight, is what is marketing, what is publicity. I came in and said, “So we’re going to do some advertisements for my books?” The… I think it was actually Tom who quoted at me the price that it costs to buy an ad in the New York Times. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but he quoted it at me and my jaw dropped and I realized it was more money than Tor would earn off of my entire book’s print run to run one ad. Suddenly, how this works all changed in my head, where I realized they can’t spend more money on the ad, on one ad for one day, than my book will make. This is why you’re not going to be on TV. This is why it’s going to be very rare to get newspaper advertisements and things like this. So, I’m like, “Well, what is publicity?” I had no idea. Patty’s going to tell us what it is.
[Patty] It is good times, my friends, lots of good times, let me tell you. So, basically, our job in publicity is to get the books review coverage. Get the authors interviews. Get them on podcasts. It’s basically getting the book out into the world so that people that are perusing online or in newspapers or wherever they happen to be looking, to get them information about the book and that it exists. It is, in a way, again the reviews and the interviews and people talking about the book, which is to say, an advertisement is… It’s just like a static thing that’s just kind of off to the side of the page. This is more author interactive. We hope. Because the number of books being published, it’s a lot of zeros, probably close to pi. At this point, and I’m talking about self-published and e-only and everything. So that relative to the number of… Before… Newspapers, back in the old days, newspapers used to do a lot of book review coverage. Well, the newspapers are kind of going by the wayside, unfortunately. Also, they’re shrinking, so there’s no longer a dedicated book section in most major newspapers anymore. So it’s really difficult, but still a lot of people are looking for books. Now that being said, there are some really great ones that cover genre as well, since we’re doing a genre podcast. We’ve got Michael Dirda at the Washington Post who is amazing, and he covers a lot of genre and he’s great. [Dav Morinews?] covers genre, [Bill Figure?] Cleveland Plains Journal, LA Review sometimes does it, so it’s very interesting. I’m just talking about newspapers right now, because again, still a lot of people look to newspapers for book coverage and book reviews. Then, when I started in publicity at 24 in 2006, they had just started doing online reviews and we first started to see the blogs and things. It was Patrick’s Fantasy Hotlist and… What was that name?
[Brandon] Oh, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.
[Patty] Yes, exactly. It was two. It was Pat and it was… Love and respect… Oh, Fantasy Book Critic. With much love and respect, Robert Thompson. Because that’s how he always signs off on email. Much love and respect, Robert Thompson. His name is one word. That is it. In any case, so those were the only two real games in town. But hey, we would take them. Now it’s just grown, I mean, it’s just out of control with the number of online sites and fans and [garbled]
[Brandon] So let me ask you a question on this. How, as a publicity director, publicist, you’re working on a book… How do you distinguish? Like, I will get hundreds of people who want to review copies of my books, and will come and say, “Can you send me one?” I’m always like, “Oh, I’d love to have a review.” But then part of me says, “But we can’t send them to everybody.” How do we determine which of these blogs we’re sending to? How do we allocate our resources? It seems like that’s the most important thing that you can decide, is how do I allocate my resources or the resources the publisher’s given me, the monetary or the time.
[Patty] So, every house is different, but generally publicist get anywhere from 150 to 200 review copies. That sounds like a lot, but when you think that you have to send two to Publishers Weekly, which is a trade magazine, two to Locus, two… There’s certain review places that they want two copies. The New York Times wants two copies, one for the review editor and one for whoever it might go out for review. Let me tell you, every time you follow up and say, “Hey, did you receive this book and will you review it?” There’s a big percentage, I’d say 80% of the time, they’re going to say, “I never received the book.” They did, they just haven’t opened up the package. Because if you’ve ever been in the office of a reviewer, like you’re afraid that one day you’re going to read their obit and they’re going to find just their feet sticking out from a pile of books because they get too many books and so many books.
[Howard] Well, but that’s not a good excuse to not review.
[Patty] Exactly. Because [garbled]
[Brandon] Crushed by Wheel of Time or Stormlight Archive books.
[Patty] Yes. Exactly. Crushed by the Stormlight Archives. In your case, it’s just a one, so… The one book.
[Mary] This book fell off the shelf on to Jason Denzel [inaudible]
[Patty] Exactly. So long, Jason Denzel.
[Brandon] So, Patty, is it… Would you say… My assumption is, having been in the business for 10+ years now, that word-of-mouth is what sells books. Is this our primary method? So it’s really interesting that this word-of-mouth is our method. As I was coming to understand publicity a little bit more, this is one of the things that I started to figure out, is a lot of brands aren’t selling off of word-of-mouth. A lot of like mainstream brands or whatever… Like toothpastes are not selling as much off of word-of-mouth. They’re selling off the advertising. You go into the store, you are browsing for toothpaste, you see the one that you saw the advertisement for, and the advertising on the package makes you buy it. Whereas when you read a great book, you talk about it more, I feel, than you talk about a toothpaste. Unless there’s something revolutionary about it.
[Dan] Maybe your books.
[Brandon] So for a lot of industries out there, what they’re trying to do is brand themselves in the right way so that when you walk by, because everybody wants toothpaste, hopefully, they see yours. Where with books, not everybody reads. A certain percentage of the population is going to read a book for fun next year, and it’s a much smaller percentage than is going to use toothpaste. So our job is not to do the same sort of branding advertising so much as to get some advocates who will talk about our books to people.
[Patty] Yes. You are correct, sir. $500, you are correct. That is true, so that is… That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish by getting the reviews, by getting online mentions, by getting authors that are amenable and have the time to do blog tours where they’ll write blog posts or do Q&As. But another aspect of our job, particularly for me as the director of the department, is I’m trying to get the booksellers excited. Those are the people in the store that when someone goes in the store saying like, “My son likes to read…” But they don’t know what to get them. So the bookseller’s knowledgeable to say, “I have the perfect book for you. You like Regency stories with just a hint of magic? Well, let me tell you so Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey, Without a Summer, etc., etc. That’s my job as a publicist, too, to never stop plugging. But [what you’re assigned to?]
[Brandon] Speaking of plugging…
[Mary] Oh, is it?
[Brandon] It’s time for the book of the week.
[Patty] Already? So fast.
[Brandon] Speaking of plugging, do you have a plug for us of a book that they can get?
[Patty] Oh, God. I wish I was an auctioneer, because I would name every single book that Tor publishes. Because that’s my job, especially with several of my authors on stage here with me and in the audience. But I have to say, the book that I choose to plug is… And this was hard, but then again, not that hard. There’s a woman that… This is her pseudonym, her name is Katherine Addisson. The book is The Goblin Emperor. When I read this book, as… Again, as the director, I have to read pretty much every book that we publish, and it’s very difficult sometimes, and not just because of the amount, but sometimes some of these books are just not my cup of tea because I just don’t like that particular… Hey, we all have that, so I’m just being honest. So I have to be honest, and I told her this… Her name is Sarah Monette in real life. I told Katherine, I was meeting her at C2E2 and I had read everybody’s books that was going. I needed to read hers and I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to read this,” because it was just a type of fantasy that I’m not a particular fan of. I figured I would read 60 books… 60 pages, just to get a flavor of it, and I loved this book. It was so good. It was one of those books where you’re walking and like reading at the same time and trying not to run into anything. It’s a big hardcover, it’s hard to do. It’s just a really great story. It’s a standalone, there is no wait for… You gotta read the next 10 books… Cough, cough.
[Patty] It’s just one book. It is a beautiful story, and it’s really well written. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
[Brandon] I’ve written standalones before. They’re just as long as other people’s series.
[Patty] They are. I know.
[Howard] This one’s available on Audible?
[Patty] It is available on Audible.
[Howard] Outstanding. Head out to audiblepodcast.com/excuse and pick up the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Do you know who the narrator was? I’m sorry.
[Patty] I don’t know who the narrator was. I apologize. That’s over my paygrade.
[Patty] But I would like to say one more thing. That is thank you. We just won Locus Award’s Best Publisher for the 27th year in a row.
[Patty] Let me tell you that we in the office are not… We are all like… You can’t see me because this is a podcast. Basically this look…Aaa! Which is kind of a like surprise, happy, oh my God, my jaws hitting the floor. Because we never expect to win. I mean, I know that sounds stupid, but I don’t want to be like… Oh, that famous actress, Mel Streep, but it’s true. Like we really appreciate it so much, because it’s fan driven and we just never have any idea we’re going to get it. So many great publishers are putting out so many great works right now. We were up against a lot of great people out there. So I just want to thank everybody for voting us again. We always appreciate it. We never rest on our laurels.
[Mary] So, one of the things, going back to something we were talking about before the break, trying to get it out there and having people talk about the book. One of the things we used to talk about when I was doing this sort of thing with theater was that there was a here he that it took seven impressions to make a sale. That someone had to see something seven times, before they remembered it enough to be like, “Oh, that thing. I should pick up that thing.” Do you have a sense of that with publ… I mean, is that something that happens with publicity for books as well, or is that something that is strictly for other types…
[Howard] Do you have cold equations for getting out that many reviews or…
[Patty] No, I mean…
[Mary] Like, is there a critical mass? Like if I get it in enough places, it’ll take off?
[Patty] It’s just… We have had books before where we have… If we do a blog tour, for instance,… A minimum of 20, if we can do up to 40, that’s great, and anything over that, we’re just whoo-hoo! We have had books, I won’t name them here, but we’ve gotten over 100 on line mentions, reviews, super successful blog tour and it just doesn’t do a blip. Conversely, it used to be that authors wanted to be on the Today show, because that sold books. We have another imprint that we do, Forge, and that’s a whole other topic, a whole other show. But we have had authors from that imprint on the Today show and it’s just not even a blip.
[Brandon] Not a blip? Wow.
[Patty] Not a blip, not a thing, not any kind of movement. So it’s really hard to say.
[Howard] Brian McClellan, his Promise of Blood book, I think he’s published with orbit. I picked it up because I met Brian at a convention, and he was a fan of my comic, so… Out of duty, I decided to read his book. It was on sale for like $2.99 or something. I read it and loved it and blogged about it. When I blog about things, I link to Amazon because I need to get paid somehow for giving away things on the Internet. I can track. I have sold 1100 copies of his book. 1100 copies of his book. Funny thing happened, his publicist called me and said, “Can we send you copies of his next book?”
[Howard] At occurred to me that as a publicist, as a publicity director, you probably have your fingers on the pulses of some of these things. How do you do that? Because I would like to be able to get more free books, and I’m wondering how to get on the radar.
[Patty] Well, a well-written… We do, we do have to keep track of a gazillion different things, and that’s why our eyes are constantly rolling in separate directions when you see us walking down the street. But we do keep track of those things. Because we have Lexis-Nexis, which is the aggregator of all the articles that came out, that probably a lot of people don’t know about. Of course, we use Google, so we can tell.
[Howard] Is Lexis-Nexis something that we have access to or is it a…
[Patty] It’s expensive. Mostly, it’s in-house types of people who use it. Basically it’s a way to track articles.
[Howard] Subscription aggregator? Okay.
[Patty] But we would see it through that. Like, “Wow, look at all this activity.” But if a publicist isn’t finding out, and you would like to receive books, a well-written… It doesn’t have to be long, but just tell us what you’re reviewing, how many blog hits you’re getting, a timeframe of when we send you the book… Because a lot of times, we’ll send a book and it doesn’t get reviewed for a year and a half later, which is fine because we want the book to continue to sell, but what if it’s out of print at that point? So we kind of like it to be timely. Please, please, please, please include your street address, because often times if I’m super busy and I get an email from somebody requesting a review copy and they don’t have their address on there… I’m sorry, I just, at this point, I’m going to delete it. Because I just…
[Howard] Don’t have time to go back and look it up.
[Brandon] Patty, I want to go in a slightly different direction with this. Let’s say one of our listeners is a new author, their book is just coming out, and either they have like publicity is just scaring them or they’re feeling like they’re lost. What is your advice for a new author? What steps should they take? What things can they do? How can they work on their own? How can they work with their publisher? That sort of thing.
[Patty] Okay. So the number one number one rule is be nice. Please, please be nice. You would not believe how many people are not nice in this universe. But that’s just kind of an aside. But just have ready… Please know that we have databases that we use, so obviously we’re going to be sending your book to your local newspaper, your local radio stations. We have a great list of science fiction, fantasy… We have it broken down by genre. Like urban fantasy, magical realism, zombies, vampires, cats, whatever… The whole thing. So we have a pretty good list. So we… Writing to us and telling us that we should be sending your book to Locus magazine is just not at all helpful, and it takes time out of our afternoon. So maybe just come up with… If you have like three ideas or something… Of “Hey, here are three different types of pitches you could use. Here’s an idea, use this to pitch, here’s an idea, use this to pitch.” Come up with different… Like maybe write four different posts for blog posts we could use, because bloggers like to receive…
[Brandon] I see a lot of that happen these days. Sometimes… I mean, Barnes & Noble blog will come to us and say, “Hey do you want something…” And whatnot, or “can you do something?” So having a few of these ready could be really useful.
[Patty] Exactly. Have them ready to go.
[Howard] So if you… If the publicist… If the publicity department hasn’t set up a blog tour, are the things that the writer can do in order to get that ball rolling, so that something like that happens? I mean, because sometimes blog tours are effective.
[Mary] One thing that mine asked me was… She didn’t phrase it this way, but if I knew any trendsetters, basically. Like… Trendsetters are people that… Like Howard Tayler…
[Mary] John Scalzi. No…
[Howard] I’m a taste maker.
[Mary] Taste maker, trendsetters… Sorry. Someone people runs from is probably not as…
[Patty] Not as catchy.
[Mary] Yeah. But that would be one of the things.
[Howard] Well, Mary, you’ve got The Favorite Bit on your blog.
[Brandon] Scalzi has one that similar to that.
[Mary] The Big Idea. Which is where I got the idea for My Favorite Bits.
[Brandon] The big idea for your favorite bit?
[Howard] What’s funny is that when I wrote a thing for My Favorite Bit and The Big Idea, and looked at them side-by-side, I realized I am not allowed to write the same piece for both because Mary and John know each other.
[Mary] It’s not that. It’s that we have audience overlap.
[Howard] Well, yeah.
[Dan] When you’re writing something like this, it helps to think outside the box as much as you can. You can only read so many articles of “Here’s what I think of my own book.” The most successful blog tour I ever did was a timeline of the Partials series. Which is not me talking about the series, it was not me talking about the characters or where the ideas came from. It was just a bunch of world building information that was… Ended up being super popular with the audience.
[Howard] Didn’t you do some tour post type things about sociopathy when you were doing the John Cleaver…
[Dan] Yeah. Just trying to get as wide a variety of blog articles.
[Patty] Yes. That’s great. Like have a lot of creative ideas. This whole… About who my favorite writers are and what my writing inspiration comes from, just as much as you get a little tired of hear… Of answering those questions, people don’t really… That’s just not what we want to pitch. We want you to pitch.
[Brandon] You want a really cool blog idea to pitch.
[Patty] Right. Exactly.
[Brandon] If you had it in hand, and Barnes & Noble came to you and said, “We want Brandon Sanderson,” and Brandon Sanderson says, “I can’t write a blog post for you for this.” If you had it in hand, by this new author “We have this really cool thing that this author wrote. Why don’t you take that instead?”
[Brandon] Being there for when the authors who already have a slot can’t fill the slot I think is… I’ve seen when new authors get a huge amount of publicity, it’s when a bigger author drops the ball. I’ve heard Pat Rothfuss talk about the fact that there was a big author at DAW who missed a deadline, and they had already set aside all these resources, and Pat’s book was ready. Pat said, “Yes, I’ll do that.” Then suddenly all of this… All of these things happened. So being ready, being proactive, might be the place to be.
[Howard] Let me… I want to go back to this point that you’ve made because it sounds fascinating. As a new writer, putting together interesting essays that touch on your book. Putting them together in advance of knowing where they are going to go and just handing them to the publicist, publicity department, is a valuable exercise?
[Patty] Yeah. I… Well, not… I mean, we don’t want to make you do all the work.
[Howard] But those… But you having that thing means that if an opportunity presents itself, you can just execute.
[Patty] Exactly. Exactly.
[Howard] That’s a thing that writers can and should do.
[Brandon] We are out of time. I would like to make mention, for Patty’s sanity… You may see Patty at a tradeshow or at a comic con or something. Patty can’t buy your book. Patty’s a publicist. Patty does have people coming up to the booth all the time saying, “Will you read my manuscript to buy it?” That’s not a Patty question. That’s Paul Stevens job, and he’s going to be on our next podcast.
[Brandon] Sorry, Paul. All right. We need a writing prompt.
[Howard] Okay. Here is your writing prompt. You need to write an essay that touches on one of your books that will interest people in your book. You’re going to hand this essay to a publicist. Whether or not you have one. Imagine that you’ve got a publicist. This is the essay that you are writing. I think that it’s an exercise that…
[Brandon] That’s a fantastic one.
[Brandon] Well done, Howard
[Brandon] You’re out of excuses, now go write.