Friday, October 30, 2009

"Aha" Moments at the Florida Writer's Conference

I presented two workshops at the Florida Writers Association's conference in Orlando last weekend (this is me being all workshoppy), an annual event that attracted nearly 300 fiction and nonfiction (but mostly fiction) writers from all over the state. One of my sessions was on how to build book buzz; the other was about how to create a brick-solid platform so you can land an agent or a publishing contract.

The audiences for both sessions were remarkable. They stayed awake -- a big deal for my end of the day time slot for both sessions on Friday and Saturday -- and they stayed engaged. Their questions were intelligent, informed, and relevant. It was clear they were there to learn, which worked real well for me, because I was there to teach.

But I was also there to learn -- from the other workshop presenters, from the lovely people who asked me to join them at lunch and dinner, and from the writers in my workshops. I'm particularly interesting in discovering more about a given author's roadblocks (real or imagined) related to book promotion. When I start to see patterns, I'm better able to address these issues in the content I provide to authors interested in discovering how they can generate book buzz.

During both my workshops and in the one-on-one advice sessions I did with authors (the FWA charges a minimal fee for these sessions as a fundraiser to help offset conference costs), I could see the light bulbs going off over heads as participants began looking at things differently. Some of their "aha" moments came when they realized that:
  • You want to get in front of the people who are most likely to buy your books, not in front of anybody and everybody. Target that effort. If your audience isn't using Twitter, don't use it for book promotion. If your audience isn't watching Oprah, stop putting your energy into figuring out how to get on Oprah.
  • You don't have to do everything that might help promote your book. Pick and chose those strategies that you're comfortable with; implement the tactics that you think you can pull off. There will always be more that you can do, but you'll still make great progress if you focus on what you feel capable of doing rather than trying to do it all.
  • A book doesn't have to be new to get media exposure. If you've got a book in print -- even if it's been around for years -- you can still generate publicity for it.
  • Fiction writers can use blogs to get input on a work in progress, test plot or other elements, and establish relationships with people who read the types of books they write. It's all about relationships.
  • There are a number of ways to build a platform. Working with a handful of strategies that work best for your personality is better than doing nothing at all because one of the strategies (public speaking?) takes you so far past your comfort zone that you end up doing nothing at all.

I enjoyed three invigorating days with the Florida writers and I highly recommend the conference to anyone outside the state, too. These people are serious about their craft. Learn more at

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book Review: PR Therapy by Robin Blakely

There are three reasons why I highly recommend Robin Blakely's new book, PR Therapy: Ignite Your Passion for Promoting Your Products, Services, and Even Yourself!. First, it addresses the fears and anxieties that small business owners, authors, speakers, and others have when they realize that they need (and want) to generate publicity for their products or services.

Authors, in particular, are uncomfortable with what they see as "self-promotion." Because they are so closely aligned with their products, authors fail to see that it's not self-promotion, it's product promotion. This topic came up over the weekend during my "How to Build Book Buzz" workshop at the Florida Writer's Association annual conference. I reminded the person who raised this issue that authors owe it to their readers to let them know their book is available to entertain, educate, or inform. I see it as a public service -- how can you help the people you wrote the book for if you don't tell them about your book? And you're not talking about yourself with the press -- you're talking about your book.

Robin's first two chapters help people better understand what might be getting in the way of their publicity success and offers tactics for dealing with those often self-imposed obstacles. Reading the first few chapters is a bit like having a conversation with your mother ("Of course you can do it! You are brilliant!"), your shrink ("I'm sensing some anxiety about the prospect of incredible success. . . ."), and your best friend ("You go girl!").

Second: It's the only one on this topic that I've seen that helps readers better identify their target audiences. I've written about the importance of knowing your audience well on this blog before, so I was happy to see that Robin spends several chapters on the topic. She helps readers discover how to zero in on the people who are most likely to purchase their products or services.

Third: PR Therapy is loaded with the kind of "here's-how-to-do-it" information that I also provide in my books. People without a PR background need to know the best time of day to call a radio talk show producer and how to craft the perfect pitch. It's all here in any easy to use, follow, and understand format.

Check it out in any local bookseller or on; learn more about the author at

What's the best publicity book you've read?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reputation Management: Penelope Trunk's Miscarriage Tweet

Penelope Trunk's Twitter post last month -- "I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin." -- has generated a great deal of conversation, with of it related to "TMI" (too much information) and pro-choice/pro-life issues.

Narcissism aside (sooo many social networking posts are remarkably self-absorbed), what's most shocking to me about this revelation -- and the language used -- is that it was directed at a professional audience. Penelope Trunk, who provides career advice as "the brazen careerist," is setting a bad example for the people she wants to help. Let's take the personal shortcomings out of this (if you don't want to get pregnant, don't have unprotected sex) and focus on the example she set:
  • The language: No matter where you work, there are going to be people who are offended by the f-bomb. Smart people don't use it in a professional environment (and when your business involves using social networking tools such as Twitter to provide advice to professionals, you're dealing in a work environment whether you realize it or not).
  • The event: I understand that this is Trunk's style -- casual, freewheeling, counter-intuitive, yada yada -- but a miscarriage for most is a landmark event (good or bad). When you speak about it in a cavalier way, you cause pain to somebody who shared that experience, but felt a profound loss as a result. This means you've alienated many in your network.
  • The attitude: It's clear that this was an unwanted pregnancy. Got it. It's also clear that Trunk would have had an abortion. Whatever. I'm not passing judgment here but guess what: Others are. It's a safe bet that many of her "followers," as they're called on Twitter, are pro-life. This kind of comment had to offend them. It just had to. More followers lost.
In essence, Trunk has damaged her platform by damaging her reputation. If she consults for corporations, she's lost a lot of business. Not only is she a loose cannon -- Fortune 500s are not comfortable with this type of ... how you say ... unpredictability -- but employees at those corporations who have heard about this tweet are not going to be Trunk fans.

In subsequent media interviews, Trunk has tried to spin this into something that supports her business goals. She's talked about how miscarriages happen in the workplace all the time, that women won't be equal until they can talk openly about these issues, and so on. All she's done is dig a deeper hole. Her responses might endear her to some, but her attitude further alienates her from the women of mainstream America.

I have spoken to women's groups for years on the lighter side of gender differences and know firsthand that women have boundaries and you have to know and respect those boundaries. Trunk doesn't seem to get that. She could have recovered more quickly from this incredible faux paus by saying, quite simply, "I realize now that my comment was insensitive and inappropriate. I apologize to those I might have offended." Doing this would have taken the story out of the headlines, which is what most consultants to corporate America need and want. Trunk, however, sees it as a way to keep her name in the media limelight. Like Balloon Boy Falcon Heene's father, she thinks that "all publicity is good publicity."

It's not.

I understand that Penelope Trunk is "just being herself," but when you're in the business world, you sometimes have to put a lid on your personality to protect your reputation.

Do you think her business will suffer because of this?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parody Book Marketing Plan Rings Too True

The New Yorker's book marketing plan parody in this week's issue is very, very funny. Too bad it's also very, very realistic.

The e-mail sent to an author by "Gineen" (pron: Jeannine), an intern who is replacing the promotion department, characterizes the overwhelming paralysis that grips authors of a certain age when they're encouraged to do more than "give a talk" to the women's group at the local country club and do a book signing at the closest Barnes & Noble.

Full of laugh-out-loud instructions regarding promoting books online -- "If you already have a blog, make sure you spray-feed your URL in niblets open-face to the skein." and "Then just Digg your uploads in a viral spiral to your social networks via an FB/MS interlink torrent." -- the parody also skewers the always-out-of-the-office schedule of any publisher's editorial and promotion staffers. (I've heard that this particular aspect of the parody is dead on.)

It is a realistic portrayal of book promotion from the perspective of an "I'm not ready for this!" author, but at the same time, the over-the-top missive from Gineen could actually be a dream come true for the "typical" author. For example, Gineen says, "I’ve attached a list of celebrities we think would be great to blurb your book, so find out their numbers and call them up." The average author would have to -- and does -- generate their own celebrity list (and of course gets nowhere with it, but many Oprah-struck authors don't realize that it's a waste of time).

For most authors, there's no blog help or celebrity list development. They have to identify and contact the best people to write cover blurbs, write their own announcement releases because the staff publicist doesn't have time to do it justice, create their own media lists for review copies, blog/tweet/post, schedule book signings (yawn...), generate story ideas for traditional media, create their own virtual book tour, and on and on.

The parody, funny as it is, is just another indicator that more and more authors will need to start creating and executing their book's marketing plan themselves. Even those who used to get that support can see that Gineen the intern can only do so much for her long list of authors.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Do the New FTC Guidelines Mean for Paid Media Spokespeople?

Much has been said this week about the FTC's new guidelines requiring bloggers to disclose their affiliation with companies giving them products to review or paying them to review or promote them. The guidelines also require celebrity endorsers to "disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media."

I'm wondering if this ruling applies to non-celebrity spokespersons, too -- people like me, who are often hired by consumer products companies to represent their brands in media interviews that require someone with in-depth knowledge of a specific topic. These non-celebrity spokespersons tend to be authors or other experts who are in a position, because of their topic expertise, to help communicate a brand's message in a way that a staff spokesperson can't.

Publicists have been more transparent about these sponsorships when booking interviews for their outside spokespeople so that the producers, reporters, and others scheduling the interviews understand that there is an "agenda" involved. But the media outlets rarely share this information with readers or viewers because the spokespeople are well-trained to present information that is relevant and helpful in a non-promotional way. A spokesperson interview shouldn't be any different from another interview where the source refers to a specific brand, program, or product.

Will this change in light of this new ruling? Will talk show hosts, for example, have to add that the guest is paid to share information? If that happens, it will probably do more harm than good. These articulate and informative spokespeople are an excellent source of content for the press, and are very good at communicating a message without sounding like advertisements. They provide information that audiences need and want. Does the average viewer care that a particular product or company paid to get that information out there? I doubt they care anymore than they care that companies pay movie production companies to work their products into storylines or include them in movie settings. I suspect the consumer response to this type of topic is "Yawn."

But what do you think? Do we need to know if any type of outside spokesperson is paid? Does it make a difference in how you view the information that's offered?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

For the Publicist's Toolkit: The AP Stylebook

If you're new to publicity and aren't certain about the rules used by the media for language capitalization, abbreviations, usage, etc. in your media relations tools that include press releases and tip sheets, then you absolutely need The Associated Press Stylebook.

Here's why: Most print and legitimate online news sites use what is known as the "AP style" when writing and editing text for publication so that all of the content has a consistent look. The "rules" include using abbreviations for states that do not match the USPS appreviations (Kansas is Kan., not KS, for example). You want the information you submit for publication to use this style because it means your content will require less editing. Less editing means less work; less work means your material is more likely to be used. This is good!

While you don't need to read it cover-to-cover, you should scan it and then keep it at your desk. I have been writing for publication for longer than I care to share, and I still pull mine off the shelf every once in awhile to find an answer. You can buy it online and in most bookstores, and it's less than $20, so make this investment in your publicity plan. It will give your content more credibility -- nothing's worse than the random capitalization that shows up in the materials of the novice -- and might keep it from being deleted.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Create a Book Trailer: A Q&A with Author Megan McMorris

So many authors are scrambling to learn how to create a book trailer (video) for their books that I thought a Q&A with an author who created her own -- and did a fantastic job! -- would be helpful to others.

Megan McMorris is the editor of P.S. What I Didn't Say: A Collection of 36 Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, an anthology that is selling like bread and milk when a blizzard is predicted -- you just have to have it! When I saw Megan's book trailer, I was impressed. When I found out that (a) she did it herself and (b) it was the first one she's created, I was amazed. I asked her to tell us about how she put it together; here's a transcript of our conversation followed by the video.

Sandy: Megan, I love your book trailer for P.S. What I Didn't Say. What will you do with the trailer -- how will you use it to promote your book?

Megan: Well, so far I’ve posted it on various sites like YouTube, my publisher Seal Press’s site, and the Web site I created for the book. I didn’t know a thing about book trailers before I started this, but while researching mine I found it can be a great way to get people engaged and interested in your book in a different way than words on a page can (I mean hey, who doesn’t like watching videos, right?).

Sandy: I know this is the first book trailer or video you've created, and I have to say I'm impressed. Let's talk about how you did it. What software did you use, and was it hard to pull all the pieces together?

Megan: Thanks! I simply looked around on my computer, and sure enough found some programs that were just little icons I’d ignored on my Mac before, like iMovie and Garage Band.

Sandy: I love the photos. Where did you get them? Did you have to pay to use any of them?

Megan: The pictures are either my own or from the contributors to the anthology, so I didn’t have to pay for any of them. I loved what they sent in, and only wished I could have used all of them!

Sandy: Music really sets the tone and you've made some great selections here for your trailer's "mood." Tell us about the music selection process as well as the permissions involved.

Megan: Here’s the story on that. For the main song, I wanted to go with something jazzy and upbeat, so I created a little reggae type of song through Garage Band. Then after I was searching through iTunes for my little ditty that I’d created, I was clicking here and there (see? You can tell I’ve never done this before, ha ha!) and was like “maybe this is it!” and all of a sudden, instead of my jazzy tune, it was this dramatic opera song that my childhood pal Diane sang last year (actually, that’s us in the picture on her wedding day, me helping her with her veil).

Once I clicked and started listening, after answering my question to “what the heck is this?” of course, I knew then that I had to use both songs, to convey both the cheerful and dramatic types of stories that are in this collection. As for permissions, since I created the one song I just asked myself if I could use it (and I agreed!), and simply shot Diane an e-mail to get her permission, so that part was a cinch!

Sandy: What was the easiest part of this whole process for you?

Megan: Creating the song through Garage Band was so incredibly easy that I was shocked. You just click on a type of music you want to play, and then you can play around with the different instruments to create different sounds within that song template. I’m no musician or composer, and they make it super-easy by already having some songs available, all you’re doing is mixing it up a little to suit your taste.

Sandy: And what was the hardest?

Megan: It was incredibly challenging to figure out how to create the actual nuts and bolts of the video. I do the “press every button within vicinity until it does what I want” approach, so that’s how I ended up doing it. But everything, from placing photos in the frames to figuring out the timing of each frame to putting words on there to laying the music down took a lot of time. But I was determined to do it myself!

Sandy: If you could share one tip with someone else creating their first book trailer, what would it be?

Megan: Be patient, you’ll figure it all out—I had never done this before and if I can do it, you can! Also, if I may, I watched a LOT of book trailers while I was researching this, and I like the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. Have fun with it!

Sandy: Anything else?

Megan: Yes! I want to thank you, Sandy, for always being such a great supporter of book author’s publicity efforts. I really appreciate it and I’ve learned a lot from you since I’ve had the pleasure of taking your class and seeing your advice on the freelance boards!

Here's Megan's video. Let it inspire you!