Why Book PR Can Have the Most Impact BEFORE You Land An Agent, by Sharon Bially
The question of how important book promotion is to sales and an author’s career is the subject of continual, heated debate.
On one hand, many agents these days urge their clients to hire an outside publicist no matter who their publisher is, claiming that without robust PR and promotion no book (or author) has a future. On the other hand, many — like WU’s own Donald Maass — stress the greater importance of staying focused on writing, insisting that the real ticket to sales is to craft a killer book. Combined with the fact that the level of efforts publishers make varies wildly and publishers’ in-house teams often shrug indifferently when authors ask if it’s worth hiring help, this makes for a lot of mixed messages, ambivalence and confusion.
Add to that the unclear correlation between promo efforts and sales and the entire issue starts to look like a riddle that’s impossible to solve.
Over the years, though, I’ve noticed one surprising pattern that might offer an answer for many:
When successfully implemented BEFORE a manuscript is even shopped around, book PR can have quite a profound impact, one that will ripple out well into the future.
I know, you’re probably thinking, “Huh? Has she lost her mind?” After all, how can you promote a book while in essence it’s still a work-in-progress?
While it’s true that at such an early phase you can’t promote a book per se, what you can do is promote yourself: your name, your background, your voice and your ideas. As the author, you are the persona behind your work. Thus promoting the book and promoting yourself are one in the same.
Authors who promote themselves in advance of searching for an agent or simply find themselves in the fortuitous position of having an existing media platform enjoy a number of distinct advantages when it comes time to shop that manuscript:
It’s easier to get agents’ attention.
A client of mine who was a regular contributor to Psychology Today and The Atlantic noted this in his query subject line. Within a few hours after sending the query out, he had more than 10 agents ready to read his first few chapters. He attributes this directly to the mention of his media platform in his email.
It’s easier for agents to get publishers’ attention.
It’s no secret that publishers are particularly interested in authors with a media platform — or at least a strong platform (read: following) on social media. Many wonderful books by first-time authors with no platform whatsoever have been sadly passed over. On the flip side, books by authors with an existing platform are more readily considered, and picked up.
Bigger publishers will be more likely to be interested.
For the same reason as above, books by authors with an existing platform are more appealing to larger publishers — who often have larger budgets for advances, marketing and distribution, all of which directly impacts a book’s future. One author I know was turned down by Farrar, Straus and Giroux apparently after much deliberation by the editorial committee due to her lack of a platform. She was, however, ultimately offered a contract by a much smaller press. Like many smaller presses, however, this one offers very little marketing support.
Publishers may offer a higher advance.
Because a platform suggests that an author has an audience to reach, and because having an audience suggests that sales may be stronger, publishers tend to take this into account when calculating the overall investment they’ll make in a book — beginning with the advance. The client I mentioned who had mentioned his Psychology Today and The Atlantic columns in his query got a terrific advance, which he (and his agent) attribute to his platform as well.
Publishers may be inclined to make a bigger promo push.
This, too, is due to the correlation between platform and potential audience. There’s a general sense that promo and publicity dollars are better spent when it’s clear from the outset that a community of people beyond friends and family will be on the receiving end.
When the book is published, the media will be more likely to take note.
Fact: when an individual has been covered by the media before, reporters, editors, producers and reviewers are naturally more interested. The reasons are complicated, related to the definition of the word “news” (which ultimately is what the media produces) but to put it simply, previous coverage adds to the newsworthiness of the overall story.
At this point you may be wondering, “If my book’s not even finished, how can I possibly build a platform?”
There are all sorts of creative ways to build the foundations of a platform long before you’re even done drafting, from becoming a contributor to a popular blog and building your social media network to contributing bylined articles about topics related to your book’s themes. If your book happens to dovetail in some way with significant personal or professional experience you can talk about, so much the better. The key is to make sure your message across the board is fairly consistent in its connection to your writing.
As for how to accomplish this, teaser alert: that’s a whole new topic, which I’ll have to circle back to in another post.