How To Pitch Your Book To Media Outlets
When I was in high school, our basketball team made it to the state playoffs. This was a big deal for our little town and nearly everyone made the trip to Des Moines to watch the game. I remember setting our VCR's to record the local news just in case the game was covered.
And it was! We watched with baited breath and - gasp! - the back of my head WAS ON TV! For a small town girl, that was pretty exciting. Sad, I know. But hey, my head was on TV!
It doesn't matter what age we are - seeing our name in a newspaper, on TV, or hearing yourself on the radio is a big deal. And as an author, it's something that we all dream of. Not only for the thrill of it, but for the potential to reach millions of people in one fell swoop.
But there's an unsung hero when it comes to actually getting an author coverage in the media. Every time you see an author being interviewed on TV, a review in the newspaper, or a segment on talk radio, that was the work of a publicist.
Since publicity plays such a big part in marketing your book, I thought I would go to the very top to get some insight, direction, and answers for you.
Jennifer Smith, who served as the Vice President over Marketing and Publicity for a division of Simon & Schuster, was kind enough to answer our questions regarding publicity and gaining media coverage.
And let me tell you, she's the best of the best!
Her work has included over 60 titles launched to the New York Times Bestsellers list, four Grammy Nominations (2 wins), and countless stories and segments placed on the top national media outlets. She also helped create, plan, and launch the first undergraduate degree program for publishing with Belmont University in Nashville where she served as an Adjunct Professor on Branding, Publishing, and Media Relations. She was with Simon & Schuster since 2004 until April of 2017 when she moved to Australia with her family and started Coffee Loves Wine.
So let's dive in!
How do you go about finding “the hook” that can get an author media coverage? Are there any tips or insight that you can share?
You have to know what you're trying to accomplish and be strategic about who you are reaching out to. I always tell people that “tossing it at the wall and seeing what sticks” will be the quickest way to get yourself blackballed from a producer or editors contact list. You need to become a connoisseur of media and study the craft, knowing what each show is looking for, the flavor of the show, and pitch accordingly. If your book is not a fit – move on. Sometimes it is more important to fit into their content, than to stretch yourself trying to find a “hook” that is far-fetched and disconnected.
What are the most important elements that an author needs to have in place to pitch their book to the media?
Many authors make the mistake of thinking the “best of the best” in terms of media are going to automatically want their book. This isn’t the case. Sometimes you need to realize they don’t care. Therefore, finding the right audience is almost more important than finding the biggest. Producers are getting 900 emails before they finish their coffee in the morning. If you aren’t standing out in that pile, or if you are working with someone who doesn't know what they are doing, you will get lost in the mix.
- Know what are you trying to accomplish.
- Know what sets you apart - why your story is unique.
- Know how you are planing to engage their audience and yours through the story and what type of cross-promotional benefit it may have for them.
What are the media looking for in an author or their story? What makes one author stand out from another?
Media can change from minute to minute and day to day. What works one week may not work the next. Where people go sideways is they see a segment and think “my book would work perfect for that.” The segment has been done, and that isn’t your window. Producers need to have fresh and new - they aren’t going to repeat something they just did.
You should figure out what sets you apart. The only way to do that is to develop a strategy. It can’t be as simple as “look at this new book.” It needs to go far deeper than that.
1% of the time it is dumb luck. The rest is all strategy.
What would your advice be to a self-published author who is just starting out trying to connect with the media? What are the first steps you would advise them to take?
Hire someone to do it for them. So many authors make the mistake of thinking they are a publicity or marketing professional. Unless this is your trade by day, don’t do it. And don’t take advice from friends who are food publicists or marketing professionals working in a different industry.
Books are different than any form of media and there is a specific formula that works. You need to seek out a book publishing professional and work with someone who knows what they are doing, has a good track record, and has an established relationship with top producers & editors.
At what point would you suggest an author hire a publicist to get media coverage? And how much should they budget for those services?
Once the manuscript is handed in, I would suggest they start looking at their marketing and publicity strategy. The actual pitching won’t happen until closer to the book release, but you want to have the foundation built going into that time. This is why authors really need to focus on engaging fans and their marketing strategy, so it can complement the publicity efforts once it is closer to the release date.
If you are working with a publisher, you can inquire about your First Print Run. This is something your agent should do for you. Once you have that number, depending on how high or how low, the ballpark for a PR professional to work with you is $3500 – $7500 a month, depending on the scope of their work. Some may go as low as $2500 just to pitch national media. Others will go as high as $10,000.
Publishers don’t have substantial budgets for new authors, so I always suggest that authors set aside some money from their advance for the purpose of marketing and publicity.
Once an author has turned in their manuscript, what's the most helpful thing they can do for the publicity department? Do authors ever get ahead of marketing and publicity? If so, what should authors avoid doing?
Engage their fans through their social networks, put together their list of “who they know” (real contacts not “I met this person at a party once who went to the bathroom in a stall next to Katie Couric “ – it happens), and really focus on their marketing strategy. Doing all they can to grow and engage their network on the front end.
The biggest mistake authors make is coming out of the gate too soon. If you are not timing your publicity correctly, it is time wasted. This is why I always tell authors to listen to their team of professionals with them.
Thank you so much for your time and insight, Jennifer! Be sure to check out her website, Coffee Loves Wine, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram. She has a masterclass and other information coming out regarding publicity and marketing, so stay tuned for that!