Wednesday 28 March 2012

On publicity, publicists and doing it yourself

Nowadays, almost all authors have to do much of their own publicity. This is not necessarily a bad thing and, by and large, not something I particularly complain about, although a preferable option would be for me to lounge around being sent bottles of champagne by my grateful publishers and for readers to be queuing up outside every bookshop, desperate to buy my books even if I don't get out of bed.

Here are some reasons why doing it for ourselves can be a Good Thing:
  • Literally no one in the world is more passionate about our books than we are. Just as armies win more battles when emotionally involved, people achieve more when emotionally involved. 
  • We know more about our books than anyone else. We are world experts.
  • We will commit to doing publicity for longer than the two-week-flea-sized whirlwind that a publisher will often provide. Publicity for a book should be opportunistic and strategic, and ideally open-ended, and the author is best-placed to continue this once the publisher has understandably had to move on to other books.
  • Some aspects of publicity are best done by the author: contact with readers, for example. I can't stand Facebook pages or Twitter accounts handled by a publicist pretending to be the author.
Yes, I know, all this is also bloody time-consuming and sometimes embarrassing. It can be so time-consuming that it stops us writing. Listen to me - I know these things.

A good result, however, is that over the last few years published authors have had to do so much of this promotional stuff that many of us have become experts. Our publishers often don't recognise this. They try to make out that it's a secret art, this publicity stuff. It's not a secret art at all. Most of it is common sense and intelligence; and the rest is contacts and hard work.

But the unfortunate truth is that publishers' publicity departments are a) very stretched and b) inevitably focused on their most money-spinning authors. 

There is an alternative to doing it yourself, though: get help. More and more authors are hiring the services of a publicist. And that's what I've done. I would caution you to be very careful about this, though: a lot of money can be spent hiring a "professional" or an agency who may know nothing about you or what you really need. They may promise the earth and deliver SFA. You need to know exactly what you are paying for and be entirely comfortable about it. You need to know what your goals are and how to measure whether you've achieved them; and if you haven't, you need to be able to stop.

As an example, let me tell you my thinking, in my particular case. And then I will introduce you to my delightful publicist.

The situation:
I have many areas of my writing and speaking life - mainly: writing for teenagers and children, with a load of books to promote (and write); writing and speaking about the teenage brain; my work for writers, including, increasingly, speaking to writers and publishers about marketing and Twitter etc; my consultancy, Pen2Publication.

The problem:
I am being asked to do so many events, and write about so many different things, that I have no time for a) promotion or b) for creative writing/thinking, no time to write new books. I'm losing my focus, saying yes to too much, not always for the right reasons. My working life is completely and unhealthily unbalanced.

The idea:
No one can do the writing/thinking for me, but someone could do the promotion.

The catalysts:
1. The realisation that I've spent half a day writing since last November. I am supposed to be writing a novel - I'm still on Chapter Two.
2. I'm exhausted and running to keep up with the work and events I've agreed to.
3. I've done a load of events where I've missed opportunities for promotion because I've not had time to think ahead - not realised I could sell books, not promoted book-selling, not taken leaflets with me.

The conclusion:
I need someone to work a few hours a week, looking ahead at all my scheduled events (and creating more, of the right sort) and seeing how to maximise book-sales and exposure, eg local press, marketing materials etc. And someone generally to rationalise what I do so that I'm getting the most benefit from my energy expenditure. This person could do press releases, something I never have time to do. She/he could liaise with my publishers where relevant.

I've had help in the past with various aspects of my work, as and when I could afford it. As many of you know, the lovely and multi-talented Becky Hearne, who was my assistant, recently got a full-time job with Hachette Children's Books and sadly had to stop working for me. And before her there was Catherine Hughes, also full of fabness, who had to stop because she had so much going on at home. And I've had two wonderful people helping with a specific promotion - Corinne Gotch who handled Write to be Published and Becca Brown who handled the blog tour for Write a Great Synopsis. But this time, I needed someone with a few hours to spare each week, to handle all publicity. And I decided that ideally that person would be in Edinburgh or London.

And so I would like to introduce to you the new member of Team Crabbit: Louise Kelly, sparkly publicist! Louise was the first person I approached and I was absolutely delighted when she said yes. Now, she doesn't have experience of publicity in the publishing world but she has a load of compensating skills and knowledge: she knows my work well and knows me; she is tapped into the writing and publishing world, as a member of SCBWI etc; she's active on Twitter and the various other places where I hang out; she's very bright (PhD no less!) and is full of common sense and clarity.

Unfortunately, she has already started to be extremely bossy, which I do not recall being in the job description. However, I have to let that pass and be nice to her, not least because I'm not here at the moment and she is in full charge of this blog!

Take it away, Louise!


Helen Hollick said...

Hello Louise - if your present boss gets too cocky I'd love you to work for me
(reason: ditto all the above x 2)

Nicola Morgan said...

*frowns a little*

Katalin Havasi said...

Nicola, congratulations on having 1500 members on this blog!

M Louise Kelly said...

"Sparkly"???? We'll see about that. I've been without t'internet most of the day so am feeling more frazzled than twinkly.

But hello all * waves in a semi-sparkly fashion*

As you would imagine I've got no control whatsoever over the crabbit one but I'd say one thing about trying to promote her: It's easy, because she's good at what she does and she doesn't leave an awful stink behind her when she interacts with her public. Erm, you see what I mean, don't you????!

And Helen - love the idea you'd try to head hunt under the crabbit's nose - don't you know her reputation?

Unknown said...

And there I thought, Crabbit, that you were lying in the sun sipping champagne. It's probably just as well that you've left Sparkly Louise in charge! >;-)

Joanne Michael said...

I'm going to miss you Nicola but welcome to Sparkly Louise!

I am looking forward to your posts and input. I will also smile as you endeavour to keep Nicola in line...

M Louise Kelly said...

Never fear, SofaJudgeJo - she's here - as well as not here! The posts will all be hers; i'm just minding the shop!

And Nicky S: Didn't you know, one of the first tasks of any good publicist is to clone the person they're trying to publicise. Makes events scheduling a lot easier. She now has a dual nature: like light, both particle and wave... all at the same time. So watch out!

Katalin Havasi said...

Hi Louise, welcome to Crabbit World!

In what field is your PhD?

M Louise Kelly said...

Katalin - ages since I thought about my PhD, but it was in language disorders after stroke (aphasia). Still find the brain and language fascinating, but hope i'll never have first hand experience of aphasia!

Kristin Pedroja said...

Excellent choice! Louise, you are a star. I presume chocolates and shoes are bonus incentives? :)

Louise, are you blogging someplace about this?

Elizabeth Dunn said...

Would red boots be part of the gig? Because I'd be interested. If I were you. Of course.

Elizabeth Dunn said...

Would red boots be part of the gig? Because I'd be interested. If I were you. Of course.

M Louise Kelly said...

Kristin - I really MUST blog about this, but have been a bit bowled over to do it yet! You'll be the first to know when I do.

and Elizabeth: boots... hmm, she didn't say nuffink about boots - except I'd get a boot up the backside if I didn't run a tight ship here. So, behave!

Nicola Morgan said...

Clearly, there is a great deal of unruly behaviour going on already. Yes, I am indeed here and yet not here. I have blogged ahead in preparation for not being fully here and I am popping in every now and then to comment, but Louise is making sure you all behave (well, kind of - I don't expect miracles). There will be no chocolate or shoe or any other incentives, I'll have you know. Louise will do a fabby (have to be careful as iPad insists on correcting that to "flabby") job even without such things. Though I might bring her back a bit of dried caribou.

Nicola Morgan said...

Katalin - thank you!

Nicky - :)

Louise - I do try very hard not to leave a stink, so I'm glad you noticed. I knew I could rely on you.