To successfully launch your book, you must understand branding, book marketing and social media. Dana Kaye, the owner of Kaye Publicity, Inc. and author of Your Book, Your Brand: The Step-By-Step Guide to Launching Your Book and Boosting Your Sales is known for her knowledge of current trends and ability to come up with out-of-the-box ideas for her clients. In this interview, Dana speaks with publishing pro and How To Write a Book contributor, Jane Friedman, about book marketing, branding and social media for authors.
Branding for AuthorsTweet This
Jane Friedman: I meet a lot of writers who get flustered and tongue-tied when they’re asked to talk about their brand. Part of it is that many of them don’t like to think of themselves of a brand—because they feel it reduces this very beautiful thing they do into something commercial and possibly limiting. How do you help writers think about this topic—to get them past this initial, negative reaction?
Dana Kaye: That’s so true. When most people hear the word “brand” they think of successful commercial brands like McDonald’s and Nike. No writer wants to put their work, their art, in the same category.
That being said, I’m sure every writer would love to sell as many books as McDonald’s sells burgers or Nike sells shoes.
I urge writers to think of their brand as a story they tell the public. It’s a message they convey to their potential readers that provides insight into who they are and what they write. Asking someone to spend $25 for a hardcover book, not to mention hours of their free time, is a big ask. Having a clear brand message reduces risk for the reader and increases the likelihood that they’ll pick up the book.
JF: For the unpublished author, what are the basic branding steps you recommend prior to them pitching their work? Do you think the responsibility and burden to develop a brand is the same for fiction authors as it is for nonfiction, prior to getting published?
DK: The branding needs of fiction and nonfiction authors are very different. For fiction authors, getting a book published is almost entirely based on the quality and marketability of the manuscript. Having an established brand is a plus, but not necessary. As a nonfiction author, the established brand, or platform, is what gets you the book contract in the first place.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, before you go out on submission, I recommend creating a brand statement or tagline. You should have a concise answer to the question, “Who are you and what do you write?” and a clear sense of your target audience. This may change once the book is under contract, the publisher may market the book as YA vs. adult, for example. But by conveying a tagline and target market to an agent via a query letter, you will have done much of the work for them.
Book Launching & Pitching to the Media Tweet This
JF: Writers have a hard time pitching themselves and their books to the media, even with a publicist’s help. Let’s say you can’t afford a marketer or publicist to help you, but you’re trying to pitch mainstream media. What are the two or three things every author needs to keep in mind to make the pitch process worth their time and more likely to succeed?
DK: In my experience, media outlets don’t care who they receive the pitch from, as long as it’s well-written, timely, and professional. A radio producer or book critic won’t turn down a pitch just because it came from the author. The only difference is that publicists 1) have established relationships with the media and 2) have a lot of practice pitching, so we know what works and what doesn’t. But just because we know the media pro, that doesn’t guarantee we can secure coverage.
When pitching media authors should do 4 things to ensure success:
- Include a clear, short, and enticing subject line for the email. No gimmicks. If the pitch is centered on an event, include a date.
- Write a concise, tailored pitch for each outlet. Authors need to demonstrate they’re familiar with the media outlet and clearly outline how they’re book will fit into the outlet’s coverage.
- Send in batches to gauge the pitch and subject line. If you send 10 pitches and don’t receive any responses, change your subject line. If you’re receiving responses, but the answer is no, then change your pitch.
- Follow up via email after 7-10 days, and change your subject line to include “Follow Up”
DK: It depends. If authors have a large network of friends and family in an area, then the best way to ensure that all of them buy the book is to have a party and serve food and booze. Everyone loves a party and they’re more inclined to buy your book if they congratulate you in person and get you to sign their book. People feel more obligated to buy a book in person, whereas if there’s no launch event, they may wait and buy it when they’re ready to read it.
But if the author doesn’t have a huge network of people who are guaranteed to show up for the event, then it’s not worth it.
JF: I’ve seen some marketing and publicity campaigns achieve liftoff by having one or two really well-known influencers recommend an author’s book. (E.g., the Oprah effect!)
DK: Oh, if only there were hundreds of Oprahs who could turn any book into a bestseller with a tweet!
JF: But the big question often is: How do you figure out who the right influencers are, and then how do you approach them in a way that’s actually going to result in a response? Influencers get approached so often, I feel it’s sometimes as hard as getting published to get their attention! Thoughts?
DK: In my experience, the best influencer campaign is when it happens organically. We worked on a book, THE END GAMES by T. Michael Martin, which was having solid sales, but one vlog from John Green shot everything up exponentially. But we’ve also had other influential authors give a plug for books, without any effect.
I could write a 1500 word blog post on influencer campaigns, but let’s leave it to say that the best influencer promotion comes organically. If you want big name authors and bloggers to plug your book? Start cozying up to them WAY before your book is published and ask what you can do to help theirs.
Social Media for Authors Tweet This
JF: OK, let’s talk social media. It’s a topic I really dislike discussing because I think so much is context dependent, personality dependent, and the landscape changes so fast.
DK: Me too. Do you know how many times I had to make changes to my book because Facebook changed their policies or a new social media platform presented itself?
JF: But it’s also the area where I hear the biggest complaints about authors regarding, “It’s such a waste of time!” Do you have any big-picture mantras or principles for authors that would help them avoid the feeling that they’re just investing in a meaningless and unseen vortex of status updates?
DK: Social media doesn’t lead to direct sales. That’s why so many authors see it as a waste of time. But while tweeting and posting to Facebook alone won’t sell a book to a new reader, it serves as another “impression” in the context of your bigger campaign. We need to see a book cover 7-10 times before we remember it, let alone buy it. Publicity, marketing, advertising, and in-person events all count towards the 7-10 times, as does social media. So while your tweet alone will not sell a book, it may trigger a reader’s memory and give them the feeling that everyone is talking about your book, which then leads to a sale.
Social media also allows authors to create a loyal reader community. On average, authors write one book a year. That’s a long time in between books, but social media allows authors an opportunity to engage with their readers year-round, which helps generates pre-orders and word-of-mouth.
Book PR in a Changing Industry Tweet This
JF: There’s so much angst and confusion about what a publicist does and what value they bring to the table. Many authors understandably want to see very specific results from the investment, but specific results can’t be guaranteed, of course. Recently, I heard an author talk about his investment in a publicist as an investment in raising his public profile for many years, over many books, which felt like the right attitude. But of course when you’re focusing on a specific book launch, it can feel like “If this book doesn’t take off right now, my publicity efforts have failed!” How do you balance going after short-term results with the long-term effect that publicity campaigns can have? Or how do you communicate this to authors in a way that makes them feel more confident that their book launch efforts really matter even if they don’t see a direct sales correlation?
DK: PR is definitely a long game. While there is plenty we do to get exposure in the short term, we’re always focused on our clients’ careers one year, five years, 10 years down the road. Dollar for dollar, hiring a publicist, paying for social media promo, and traveling to conferences and signings, may not be worth it. But you’re laying the groundwork for the long-term.
The thing I’ve learned after my years of being a publicist is that while you can do the best you can, there are so many things out of your control. My very first client was out on tour the day Michael Jackson died, which made it impossible to book any media that week. We’ve had authors fly out to appearances, only to be met by hurricanes and tornadoes. Sometimes nothing happens at all, but for whatever reason, the media is buying what we’re selling. Publicity is never a guarantee, but the only thing worse than failing, is never having tried at all.
JF: You’re known for your creative ideas. Can you share an out-of-the-box idea you had for a book launch or pr that really took off?
DK: We’ve executed a number of marketing initiatives over the years that reached beyond typical book promotion. My first client, Jamie Freveletti, wrote thrillers featuring an ultra-marathon runner, so we teamed up with Sugoi running apparel to sponsor her book trailer and share the book with their top accounts. For THE DOG PARK by Laura Caldwell, we hosted her launch party at a local pet store, and later that month, she signed books in their tent at a local PAWS run. Both these initiatives led to reaching a new audience, beyond those who read book reviews or attend bookstore events.
JF: You started working in the industry about the same time I did, and we’ve both seen a lot of change and transformation in the way that books get marketed and sold. Was there a particular flash of realization for you, where you realized the game was becoming very different? Or did the changes creep up on you more slowly, over time?
DK: It was the industry changes that really drew me to publicity in the first place. I was a freelance writer, and with the decline of newspapers and so many of them filing for bankruptcy, I saw the writing on the wall. The term “Blog Tour” hadn’t been coined yet and twitter was first gaining in popularity. I still remember trying to explain it to authors and publishers, “Wait, what do you mean people are following me? That’s so creepy!”
I started Kaye Publicity in 2009, at the height of the recession. Book sales were declining and authors were pressured to find new ways to reach readers. And at the same time, social media was starting to gain footing with the general public, opening up a whole new avenue to reach readers. While there wasn’t a specific moment that I could pinpoint where I felt everything change, that year brought about many changes, and it’s been changing rapidly ever since.
Dana Kaye is the owner of Kaye Publicity, Inc. and author of Your Book, Your Brand: The Step-By-Step Guide to Launching Your Book and Boosting Your Sales. She also teaches a online courses at KayePublicity.Teachable.com.
Jane Friedman has worked in the publishing industry for 20 years. In addition to running her award-winning blog at JaneFriedman.com, she publishes the essential industry newsletter for authors, The Hot Sheet.