For this week’s Ask An Agent blog, I thought it would be interesting to interview an expert in the field of book publicity. I asked my long-time friend and colleague Shanon Stowe if she would be willing to be interviewed and she graciously accepted. Shanon is co-founder and president of the book division of Icon Media Group. She has 17 years of experience in book publishing and has launched more than 50 New York Times bestselling books. Shanon formerly served as Director of Publicity for Hachette Book Group, Publicist for Thomas Nelson, Inc., and also co-owned PS Media Relations.
Shanon, you’ve been doing book publicity for quite a few years now. What would you say are some of the biggest differences in publicity today from when you started 17 years ago?
Books and authors are two of my very favorite things! I’m fortunate to have worked in the book publishing industry doing publicity for my entire career. Many things have changed over the years, but the first thing that comes to mind are the types of media coverage opportunities.
Back when I first started, opportunities seemed unlimited--we had everything from a huge variety of daily radio and TV talk shows to countless daily newspapers and a plethora of magazines to choose from. Writers and editors were aplenty and you could always find a book editor who was likely to care about your project.
As the digital age has grown, we’ve seen a huge shift in all forms of communication and gone are the days of every newspaper having a book editor and countless radio and TV opportunities to choose from. But we’ve quickly seen a rise in other forms of media including social media platforms, podcasts, blogs and online news sites. Initially it felt like all the good opportunities were gone, but in reality, we have more now than ever before. We just have to be more creative and open-minded about new media and digital opportunities.
What are some of the greatest challenges to having what you consider to be a successful publicity campaign for a book launch?
The number one component of a successful publicity campaign is a willing, able and eager participant. The engagement of an author is vital to the success of the campaign. Believe it or not, some authors are just not interested in promoting their book. Others are only interested in promoting it with “major outlets.” And others cancel their media interviews a few hours before going on air, or simply don’t show up … which is even worse. This behavior sends a message to the media outlet and the publicist about just how seriously the author takes promoting their book and how little they value another person’s time and investment in their message. This kind of behavior also hurts the publicists’ credibility and relationship with their media contact.
Another major challenge is the competition for coverage created by the sheer volume of books being published. Estimates are that anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million books are published in the United States each year, with at least half of them being self-published. And they all want to be on the TODAY Show. Can you imagine a producer or writer wading through their email, voicemail and regular mail from all the publicists pitching these books? Having a well-connected publicist is key!
What would you say are your primary responsibilities when your firm is hired for a book publicity campaign?
My first responsibility is to know my media contacts, understand their wants and needs, and to serve them well. If I don’t get that right, I cannot be an asset to my clients. My primary responsibility to my client is to invest in their project and help craft the best messaging and pitch for positioning to media. Once the messaging is right, our sole focus is pitching and pitching and more pitching. Bottom line: we’re paid to garner as much impactful coverage as possible for the book and author.
What, in your experience, are some of the biggest misnomers about book publicity?
· It’s easy. According to CareerCast, a PR professional has the 6th most stressful job in America, falling just after military, firefighter, and airline pilot! Enough said.
· Media responses/bookings are in the hands of the publicist. Nothing is more frustrating for your publicist than a media outlet that isn’t interested in or is unresponsive to a pitch. A publicist wants to land as much coverage as possible for their client, but it takes time. Sometimes it takes a really long time. I recently landed a major show for a well-known author that was 5 years in the making. Seriously, I pitched the producer on this piece for 5 YEARS! In the end it was all about timing--the media outlet’s timing. It’s also worth noting that after the piece was taped, it took 5 more months to make it on the air.
· My book failed and it’s the publicist’s fault. I’ve heard it all: the publicist didn’t do their job, wasn’t good at their job, didn’t pitch me/the book correctly, didn’t make any follow up calls, doesn’t have the best contacts, etc. At some point you have to realize that sometimes a topic doesn’t resonate, or the timing isn’t right, or that the media contact just flat out does not care. Berating the publicist about whether or not they called a producer two more times or over the exact wording they used in their pitch is not helpful. If your publicist has a proven track record of success, I promise, it’s not them.
You’ve worked with some of the most well known authors in the business, as well as with first-time authors and everyone in between. What advice would you give to an author who’s just secured their first book deal and will be working with a book publicity team in the coming months?
First of all, congratulations! Being published is an honor and the professionals inside and outside the publishing house who are helping you carry your message to the world are a treasure. A few things to remember about the publicist you encounter:
· Your publicist is excited about you and your message.
· Be nice to your publicist. Your publicist is the person on the front lines representing you and your message to media. Send them flowers. Or chocolates. Or jewelry. Just kidding … kind of.
· Ask questions and be open to honest feedback. Ask your publicist about her media goals for your book and for her honest opinion about media possibilities. Be willing to hear it: your publicist is talking to media on a regular basis and has her finger on the pulse of what will and won’t work.
· Be flexible and available. When your publicist asks you to do an interview or write an article on the fly, try to accommodate. Be willing to move heaven and earth to promote your book. Not only will it show your investment, but it also motivates your publicist to work harder for you.
We hope this provides you with a great inside look at the world of book publicity. If you have a question about book publishing that you’d like answered feel free to submit it for our Ask an Agent series here.