I had some great suggestions for blog posts this week from the lovely Book Connectors Facebook group – thank you everybody for commenting! It was really interesting to see some of the questions people were wondering about, and I want to do my best to try to answer some of them in the next few weeks. A common question that keeps cropping up is about publicity – what authors can expect from a traditional publishing house, and what they can do themselves. I will tackle part 1 of that question here – what a house might do for you.
To be 100% clear, I am an editor not a publicist, but I do work closely with our publicity team so I can share as much knowledge as possible, bearing in mind it will always vary house to house and the below primarily relates to fiction. If you are signed by a smaller publisher or a digital first list, do bear in mind there may not be the capacity for all of this, but in another post I will tell you what you can do yourself as there are lots of ways you can promote your book as well.
So, first off – what a traditional publishing house might do for your book. This will definitely vary depending on what list you are signed to, but I can tell you what we do as hopefully that is helpful. First of all, once you have signed your contract, at some stage the publicist for your novel will get in touch with you (either by phone, email or in person) to open up a discussion about the kinds of topics you are happy to speak or write about. At Avon, we have an author questionnaire which will ask you personal information, ranging from the simple things like your DOB to any media connections you may already have, any topics of interest in your past that might link to your book, anything experiences you have which could be interesting to a member of the public. We will absolutely never push authors into talking about things they’d rather keep private, but if writers do have anything that we think could work well for a particular feature or publication, we will always be keen to hear about it. It really is up to the author how much they want to share. For example, your book might be about a woman getting divorced, and parts of it might draw from personal experience. You might want to talk about that, and we might then pitch a feature to perhaps a magazine like Red, which often runs pieces about love or dating. However, you might equally feel that your experience is personal, and prefer to keep it to yourself. Both are fine, but we will ask the question. If you have anything slightly unusual, that will go down well – for example, I used to be part of an American sorority and Marie Claire picked the piece up because it was a bit different. If you can relate your piece to your book, that’s great – e.g. mine is about sisters so I wrote this for Stylist. So the best thing for you to do is look through your book again, think about the themes and how they could be turned into wider features that others might find interesting – you can run ideas past your publicist, and they will know who are the best publications to pitch to. You might need to write a short pitch (2-300 words) if you have an idea of your own, which your publicist can then send out.
After the initial conversation, the publicist will begin reaching out to media – everything from weekly and monthly magazines to tabloids and broadsheets, local radio and festivals. We will do what is called a ‘long lead’ mailer – as the editor, I’ll sort out early proofs of your book or even get finished copies sorted early (depends how efficiently the editing process goes!) and then the publicist will send these out to the media with a press release, which will give a synopsis of the book, a picture of the jacket, and any endorsements or author quotes we have been able to secure in advance. It is really important for this to happen well in advance of publication, because some newspapers and magazines will have their issues planned six months or more ahead of time.
Often, the publicist won’t be told whether a publication will review your book or not until much later on, so if you don’t immediately hear anything, do not panic! Magazines and papers receive hundreds of book pitches and so it can take time for their editors to sort through everything and decide what they want to include. It is a sad fact of today that publications are cutting down on the amount of space they give to book reviews, and that is across the board, but, keeping positive, there is still some space and it’s important for us to pitch for it whatever the case. If you are ebook only, there are less opportunities for traditional reviewing space but worth noting that The Sun and Heat magazine both have an ebook slot.
The other thing publicists will do is chase – our publicist will always be on the case following up with places she’s sent books to, or pitching new feature ideas when they come in. Sometimes, we will be approached by publications saying they’re running a feature about (for example) Christmas weddings, and we will then contact a few authors on our list and see if anyone can fit the bill. We will always ensure that publications including features put a line promoting your book at the end of the page.
A publicist might also get in touch with radio stations in the author’s area, and sometimes television depending on the book and how much traction we think it is likely to get. This can often be a really fun experience for an author, although it’s of course not everyone’s cup of tea (a bit on the nerve-wracking side!) Equally, we will reach out to local festivals as well as the larger, well-known ones such as Harrogate Crime Writing Festival or CrimeFest in Bristol. We will try to get our authors onto panels, or included in author spotlight sessions. These are great because everyone attending a crime festival is going to have a strong interest in books, so you have your tailored audience already in the palm of your hand! As an author, I would advise going along to festivals like this anyway if you have the time, to see how panels work and network with other writers.
If you as an author have volunteered information about your school or university, we would potentially get in touch with them as well. For my book, we got in touch with my old school and they asked me to come in for an assembly as it happened to be book week, and they’re including The Doll House in their magazine – so you really never know where it will lead, and I think it’s always worth asking.
The other thing you might be asked to do by a publicist is have a go at writing short stories. Some authors can feel daunted by this if they’re used to writing novels, but I would advise having a go as it’s a good skill to have and we often secure great placements in Sunday supplements or women’s magazines for these. You will usually be given a brief and a word count, and you can always look at previous stories from other authors so you know the sort of thing to expect.
Another important side of publicity is online publications. Many magazines now run solely online, and your publicist can try to secure placements for you there as well (which is often a slightly quicker process). These are nice because they’re easily shareable and clickable for an author’s own social media. Female First often run nice pieces, as do places like Shortlist and Refinery 29.
What we will also do is organise a blog tour for our authors. I had one of these too and it was great – basically I wrote about fifteen 500 word articles about my book, and each book blogger hosted me on their page every day for two weeks. My topics ranged from the three books I wish I’d written to write to five authors I’d love to meet, and the bloggers were brilliant at sharing everything on social media. Some publishers will organise this for you but equally you can do it yourself – the bloggers are a very friendly lot and if you begin engaging with them you might find they will be happy to review your book or even host an article.
I also took part in a couple of podcasts, which I really enjoyed doing. If you mention to your publicist that you’re interested, and even be specific about the podcasts you’d like to try out, they will usually be able to get in touch for you and the podcast organiser can then set something up.
Another important part of publicity is connecting with your local bookshops, and this is actually something an author can try out for themselves. I always advise my authors to pop in to their locals and introduce themselves, leaving behind either a proof or a postcard if you’re ebook only. Local bookshops are often open to writers coming in for evening talks, and your publicist or editor can arrange for books to be sent if you want to do a signing. The same goes for libraries, and your publicist can advise you on how the process will work if you haven’t done it before. Talks like this are usually on a voluntary basis (especially for debuts) but they can be really nice experiences and are good for connecting you with readers. Your publicist can let you know about other useful events ranging from book conferences to literary festivals, and while they might not always be able to cover your expenses, if you like those sort of things it’s worth going along as it will help raise your writing profile.
So those are the main things which I think you can expect from a traditional house. I will do another post about marketing, which encompasses things like Facebook advertising, offline advertising, etc. and I will also write one which tells you more about what you as an author can do to promote and publicise your book. Please don’t worry if your particular house isn’t doing all of the above – this is just what we do at Avon HarperCollins and by no means a comprehensive guide. Each experience will be different, but one of the benefits of signing to a larger house is that you will likely get some of the above, leaving you more time to write your next book!
If you have any questions just pop them in the comments section below, and happy writing!
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