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Writers: The Power of Small (and why press releases don’t work)

A picture of author Carolyn See

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When I worked in a city newsroom, one of my jobs was to go through press releases to find gems. There weren’t many of those clichéd diamonds in the rough. Reporters see so many press releases, they begin to look upon them with suspicion and even resentment.

What’s an author to do? You want an interview. You want your book reviewed. How do you make it happen? The traditional approach was to send out lots of press releases and books. It wasn’t very effective. In fact, sending out a lot of review copies is expensive.

There’s an alternative:

Go small. Go low-tech. Write a note.

This isn’t a practical approach for in-house publicists working for major publishers (but they usually work in short bursts for particular authors, anyway.) The low-tech, patient strategy is for indie authors looking for ways into the media. Unfortunately, publishers focus on very small windows of opportunity. They are looking to move a lot of books quickly (before the book stores send them all back for credit.) Marketing in book publishing has been long periods of silence interspersed with short frenzies. As an indie author selling e-books, you’re opting out of big, expensive and short-term strategies. This isn’t so much for Wiley (publishers since 1807!) authors. This is especially for wily indie authors.

As an independent author and publisher, you can play the long game instead. You can write a note or two a day. One author/guru Carolyn See made it her practice to write a “charming note” every day to an editor or publisher or agent.* Why not to reporters, too?

But there’s a trick to making it effective. You know how I’m always saying that if you want to hit up an agent, don’t look for the big, established names? Agents fresh from the factory who are up and coming in established agencies are better bets. They are still hungry and not as jaded. They don’t hate all queries yet. They still have hope and the scales have not yet developed over their eyes.

The same is true for reporters. The book editor of a large magazine already has lots of books lined up. The independent author has lots of indie-spirit, but most book editors still look down on them. So screw them.

Work on getting into smaller newspapers. Send a charming note to a general reporter who would love to do a cushy author interview instead of chasing some city council member who doesn’t want to speak to them. I’d rather talk to an author than cover a house fire any day.

You know why it will work?

It will work because you will be charming (“Loved that piece you wrote on the local scaled railroad hobbyists so I thought…”)

It will work because general reporters think entertainment reporters have a cushier job (and they’re right.)

It will work because all journalists also want to write a book some day.

And while we’re talking small, send off a friendly email to book bloggers. That counts as a charming note, too.

Ask to guest blog. Bloggers love a break and crave hits, connection, track backs, links and love.

Ask for an author profile. I profile an author on Chazz Writes almost every week. It’s not the New York Times Review of Books, but since they aren’t calling, how about alerting like-minded people to your creations? If you can’t go huge, you can still be ubiquitous.

Instead of just showing up at a bookstore and asking to see the manager, send a charming note ahead of you to break the ice and soften her up for a reading. Better, be even more charming and offer to organize readings for your local bookstore. (Later this year I’ll profile an author who did just that. Not only did he help many other authors, his own career got a boost from building community among colleagues.) 

Your book needs attention. I’m sure you’re already working on developing and maintaining your audience. Don’t forget that etching away at it a day at a time over the long haul can reap big rewards. With patience, you can build your empire. Don’t underestimate the power of a low-tech, targeted, personal and charming note.

These days, the mail is mostly for bills. This approach is more powerful than it ever was because you hate what’s in your mail box. But when you get a letter, you’re excited. It will work because it has worked.

*Read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life for details. Or, don’t fool around and head straight to Amazon to buy her book.

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Filed under: Author profiles, authors, book reviews, Books, DIY, getting it done, links, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

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