Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time To Roast Book Publishing

Charlie Sheen, the very rich and very disgraced actor who had a monstrous but entertaining fallout with the No. 1 rated TV show, Two and a Half Men, was roasted like a wounded pig on Comedy Central last night.  He took the acidic jabs in good spirits and seemed at home in the toxic setting.  Maybe it’s time for book publishing to get roasted; but who would play the whipping boy?  The industry lacks a public figure, a representative.

Every industry has its leaders or authorities, its personalities and its bad boys.  Who is the face of book publishing?  There are a few known entities – New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and maybe a few mega-selling authors of the day.  But when it comes to specific names of individuals or personalities that are always out there selling books or talking up the industry I draw a blank.  Wall Street, Silicon Valley, professional sports, movies, TV, and other industries have recognizable spokespeople.  Publishing is faceless – it needs a pitch person.

The Oprah Question

Oprah has vanished to OWN, a network accessed by few, and watched by only a handful of people. With her disappearance is the question I would get on a daily basis from potential clients:  “What about Oprah?”

Every author wanted to hear a strategy to get on Oprah, as if she was the only show on TV.  Every author thought their book deserved to be on her show.  “My book is perfect for her audience,” many would say.  “She recently had an author on that was similar to my book – she’d love my book,” others would say.  “My neighbor’s gardener knows her dentist – we have an in,” some authors would tell me (or some six degrees of separation version).

The truth is Oprah did about 200 shows a year and many did not involve a book or author.  What were the odds that, out of a million new titles published in the last year that she’d plug your book?  None of that mattered to authors who acted like they were teen-age girls waiting for the high school quarterback to ask them to the prom.

So now Oprah is off the radar and in its place is a new question:  “What about social media?”

There’s always something that authors are chasing, namely fame, validation, and riches.  Those with the resources to seek out publicity and marketing rightfully want to shoot for something, some level of achievement or goal. The question they should ask is: What can you do for me and what do you recommend I try to do?  The rest will flow naturally.

It’s Nice To Be A Part Of A Bestseller

The PR firm for which I serve as chief marketing officer recently conducted a radio tour for Spiegel and Grau, a division of Random House.  My client asked us to generate radio interviews for Start Something That Matters, a book about altruism and business by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie.  In addition to our role, the author and publisher generated media interest with appearances on Ellen, Tavis Smiley, E! News, and ABC News Now.  The Wall Street Journal ran a wonderful review as well.  It’s nice to see a book like this make USA Today’s and Publishers Weekly’s bestseller lists. As a publicist your goal is to be a part of a bestselling book, to know that you worked on something that is being read by so many people. Maybe we helped make the world a little better as a result.

Interview With HCI Director Of Communications Kim Weiss
1.      As the director of communications for HCI for the past 17 years, what changes have you seen to the book publishing industry that give you reasons to be optimistic? That's a tough one as publishing is morphing so fast in so many ways! Technology has everyone's head spinning but at the same time leveling the playing field a bit for more people to get in the game.  I'm enjoying the quality of books hci has been publishing. They seem to be getting better and better and more fun for me to work on. Specifically, the tool i've been using and thrilled about lately is the netgalley system. It's a whole new way for me to reach reviewers, media, librarians and bloggers. It allows me to qualify things that are typically hard to do in the wonderful world of publicity!

2.      What challenges remain? There are challenges galore, mostly about how non-fiction/self-help will thrive with so much free information available on the net. I don't think fiction will wane but non-fiction's future is uncertain. E-books are also giving everyone a run for their money and everyone's still figuring it out. I always say: If anyone tells you they know for sure about the doings of publishing - run the other way. We're all in a very exploratory time.

3.      What do you love most about working with authors in trying to promote and market them? There's so much I love about my work. I get to work with fascinating people with fascinating ideas so there's no lack of stimulation in my work. I've used so many techniques over the years to get their messages in front of the public that I feel like have truly helped and still help many authors. A good example of an author I'm enjoying working with currently is Mark Nepo, the philsopher/poet who wrote the HCI title, "as far as the heart can see." it's a pleasure to work with such a talented person with such beautiful writing and to see how the media and market recognize those things and give him the exposure he deserves. It's being well reviewed which is always nice.

4.      You are also a book coach for authors outside of HCI. What do you do in that capacity? Coaching authors came naturally about three years ago when I realized after I was interviewed on a radio show, that I knew a lot about the business and had a lot to share. I work with authors at various stages of their publishing experience - sometimes when they're just working out their concept, other times when they're ready to be published or marketed. It's very individual to each author. Since writing is really a lonely process, sometimes writers just need some hand-holding and reassurance that they are on the right track - or not! Having worked at HCI for so long I see what works, what doesn't work and can share that with people who would otherwise have no idea what the publishing process is like.

5.      Can you explain how HCI’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series got so popular and remained so for a long time? That series, although many people like to claim responsibility for it's success, was a runaway train that could not fail. All the conditions were right and the stars were all aligned! It hit a nerve in the culture at a perfect time and word-of-mouth sent the series soaring into phenomenon-land. I was there from the start and enjoyed being a part of the train!!!

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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