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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Could I Be Promoting A Serial-Killer?

In the many years that I have promoted authors to the news media I admittedly have not deeply investigated an author’s background. For all I know he or she is a serial killer.

Fans of Showtime’s Dexter know what I mean (best show on TV these days).

Other than mere curiosity, I would want to know if there is something in my client’s background that will make it challenging if not impossible to promote him. On a personal basis I would also want to know if the person I’m promoting is good or bad and if he or she lives or espouses a life that I’d disagree with or even find repulsive. And yet I purposely have avoided digging deeply into their lives.

For one, I don’t have the time and resources to really investigate, thus I claim willful ignorance so as not to forfeit the potential payoff of representing someone. For another, I am not sure how relevant many things are when it comes to determining whether to promote someone.  For instance, if someone has been falling behind on paying alimony, or their hobby involves Civil War re-enactments, or they are not great parents, does any of that impact promoting a diet book?

Of course, publishers have been burned in the past when they published hoaxes.  Jim Frey’s book turned out to be fictionalized though it was passed on as truth.  Editors still lack the time, resources, and inclination to fully probe the veracity of the works of their authors.

The real question is this: What is my limit – where do I draw the line as to whom I will represent and what I will promote?

It’s a question that should be asked more often by the practitioners in my industry.  On the one hand, there needs to be a professional separation from the personal and on the other hand, it’s not so easy to do. If you’re a vegan, could you really promote a cookbook involving meat dishes?  If you are a liberal, could you promote a book favoring the right-wing?  If you’re Catholic, can you promote a book on Atheism?

Not all of these issues are conflicts. For instance, you can believe in one religion but not necessarily oppose another. I’m straight but I don’t see why I wouldn’t promote a book about gay people. But others may be more exclusionary and rigidly promote only that which they support.

Over time, I find that I’m becoming more open to promote things I normally don’t care for or even downright dislike or disagree with.  I don’t know if I am just selling out and allowing myself to promote things that contradict the world I want to live in or if I am maturing to a point in life that admits I can be big enough to allow for a dialogue on opposing viewpoints and not necessarily convert into believing in those viewpoints.

Promoters are the middle men/women, but I don’t feel I deeply influence the world. I lobby the media to give attention to a client’s message or book.  The media decides whether to give them a voice and how to respond to my clients’ claims and views.  And the reader/viewer/consumer determines what they think or should do.  Maybe I’m just fooling myself. So much of the PR-Marketing-Advertising-Publishing seems to be about creativity, ideology, and passion – and it is all of those things. But it’s also about the money.

Let’s face it, if money was not a factor then the client roster of most PR firms, ad agencies, and publishers would look a lot different and likely be a lot shorter.  How many publicists have promoted a book they thought was nothing special?  How many times did a book they promoted seem so ordinary and no better than the other 200 books published this year on the same subject? How often did a publicist wonder if the authors’ credentials were worthy of major media interest?

If money were not a factor, the company would not have published the book and the publicist would not have promoted it. If it weren’t for greed and ego, the author would not have written it, either.

We live in a capitalistic society, where money is a factor. Far too often people will steal, lie, or do an injustice in the pursuit of money.  Our economy is established on pressures to produce, perform, and expand—or perish.  That’s no excuse to break the law or be corrupt, but it does speak to the society that we live and work in.

So, once you overlook promoting sub-par books, the next issue to tackle is, What do you do when you feel the book is something that clashes with your lifestyle, ideology, or senses?

Publicists, marketers and advertisers either check their souls at the office entrance and try to find a way to co-exist with the commercial world and their personal one – or they find another industry to work in. Industry professionals are under the gun to perform and to do so at high levels. It’s challenging enough to properly serve any client or author, but seeking to produce results while lacking enthusiasm for your client can be a real challenge to overcome. To deliver effective PR you must convince yourself, if not downright believe, that your author/client is terrific and worthy of the media attention that you seek out.

Maybe publicists and marketers need therapy.  We’re so used to listening, talking, and converting reality into the ideal and then selling that dream to others – clients and the media – that we lose track of ourselves.

Regardless of the book you’re promoting or the innovation behind working with the author, all publicists and marketers are bound by an unwritten code to use their contacts, resources, ideas, energy and creativity to perform at their highest level.  Publicists and marketers are only as good as their latest media placement or book sale.

Even if the author is a serial killer, publicists and marketers will do their best at what they do best – and check their beliefs at the door.


Interview With Publishing Consultant Stephanie Gunning

Stephanie Gunning has 27 years of experience in book publishing. She founded her own business
in 1996, before which she was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell. She had worked her way up through the editorial ranks at HarperCollinsPublishers. The Amherst College graduate can be found at www.StephanieGunning.com and www.GetaBookDealCoaching.com. Book Marketing Buzz Blog interviewed her recently, via email:

1.      What advice do you have for authors looking to get more publicity? Everything begins by identifying the right readers for your book, the target audience. You have to be seen and heard in media those potential book buyers read, view, and listen to (radio, TV, social networks, newspapers, magazines). We’re living in the era of engagement, meaning authors need to develop a relationship with the reader that involves more than a single experience. My advice is: Get super clear on your message, which is the value you are offering to people, and presumably something they want, and keep offering it to them in as many forums as you can. Build a Web site and drive people to it, so you can continue your engagement with them. Align yourself with people whose credentials appeal to the same community as your readers and leverage their reputation to enhance your credentials. Publicity is a progression of brief interactions where you are selling people one at a time. As individuals. Therefore, if you can reach groups of people at the same time you’ll make better use of your energy. Most authors I coach on PR are promoting their businesses and professional activities, of which the book is only one. “Star” authors are rare.

2.      What are three myths authors tend to operate under when it comes to book publicity? Myth 1: I can start my publicity efforts a few weeks before the book comes out. In reality, putting together a comprehensive book launch takes four to six months. Myth 2: I can do it myself and for free. In reality, there’s too much for one person alone to manage and too many skills that would have to be learned to be truly effective. Authors need to focus on their strengths and on delivering their message, and to create teams of support to do the rest. Even if authors do have requisite skills, they still need to spend money on materials and online systems. Myth 3: I should not work with my “competition.” In reality, books are rarely competitive in the sense that Coca-cola is competitive with Pepsi. The person you perceive as a “competitor” is an author who shares your same target reader, and therefore you could become great supporters for one another.

3.      What are five trends you see developing for book publishing in the coming few years? A digital technology revolution is underway. New distribution methods and devices are the leading edge in publishing. Video marketing of books is an important trend authors need to be in on. Using E-Readers for the delivery of content is another significant trend. Interactive social networks are developing in sophistication. Self-publishing is increasingly sophisticated. Traditional magazines and newspapers are switching from print editions to online hubs that respond in real time to world events, and include video and audio. Time and distance are being collapsed through the use of smart phones. Keep your eyes open for the innovative use of any recent technology.

4.      Which type of media do you feel is the most important for authors to pursue? Why? Radio and newspapers, both in traditional and online formats, should be pursued because you can reach them no matter where you are located as long as you have access to a phone and a computer. Having an online presence is an imperative, so I advocate that authors write blogs and do blog tours.

5.      Stephanie, what do you like most about working with authors? I love working with authors because I love the creative process. Developmental consulting is my passion. This is where we kick ideas around and figure out how best to structure a book to achieve a goal. I love helping creative thinkers invent pathways of expression and overcome obstacles. Publishing a book is a transformational experience on every level of a human being and a business.  It's incredibly rewarding to me to participate in active transformation and productivity.

6.      Who have been some of your most successful and/or interesting authors? My bestselling clients include Gregg Braden, Hale Dwoskin, Ruby Payne, and Arielle Ford, among others. I am fascinated by scientific discoveries in brain science, quantum physics, and energy healing, which factor into books like Soul Currency by Ernest Chu, which I co-wrote. Years ago, I worked as an actor and so I also have a special fondness for books on acting, which has become a specialty of mine. I have a new book coming out in fall 2011, Audition for Your Career, Not the Job, which I wrote for Tim Phillips, a celebrated film and TV audition coach in Los Angeles. That project has been great fun to work on. I love it because there’s nothing like it and I know it will have an enormous positive impact on the lives of the actors, screenwriters, and directors who read it.

7.      What advice do you have for authors looking to get published by the major houses? You need to produce a well-crafted book proposal that shows you can deliver a high-quality manuscript for a book that is appealing to a large audience of book buyers, and includes a realistic promotion plan. Many authors rush to contact publishers before they are ready and, in doing so, sabotage their opportunities and results. That being said, a few have great, timely ideas that they do not execute quickly enough—and miss the moment. I believe strongly in working with consultants and developmental editors, like myself, to get your ducks in a row and make a strong, concerted effort to realize your ideas and set a plan into motion before making a submission to a publisher. Everything begins with the clarity of your book proposal, which is really a business plan showing you are a good candidate for their investment of resources. A publisher is a business partner, and you want to have the right partner beside you. Your book is too important to you and your business just to “throw it up in the air” and hope it “lands well.” Do your level best not to get caught up in searching for emotional validation from publishers and instead take active steps toward success. Although writing is a creative art, book publishing is a business and follows the rules of enterprise.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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