Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Skills Needed For PR

To be a publicist requires a certain skill set.  It may seem obvious that you need to be a great communicator, which today means you need to be:

·         Excellent at writing e-mails.
·         Great on the phone.
·         Terrific at face-to-face conversations.
·         Strong in following up on outreach or requests.

But you need to have many other skills, including:

  • Being adept at writing press releases, pitch letters, and texts.
  • Managing your social media output:  blog, Linkedin/Facebook, Twitter, You Tube.
  • Researching things in a way that’s targeted but comprehensive.
  • Being organized, good at time management, a multi-tasker.
  • Being comfortable with a lot of loose ends and balls in the air.
  • Being okay with having to do a lot of follow-up and confirmation calls.
  • Having foresight and the ability to plan ahead with contingencies.
  • Juggling priorities.
  • Not letting many No’s get you down or in the way of finding those who say “Yes”.
  • Being attentive to detail and being conscious of how things appear or sound.
  • Loving to strategize.
  • Honoring deadlines.
  • Can handle a high volume of activities and multiple priorities.
  • Functioning in a fast-paced environment.
  • Showing initiative and exercising good judgment.
  • Getting ahead of problems or potential pitfalls.
  • Tolerating challenging personalities.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re attractive, a great dresser, and someone with a confident, firm, but soothing voice. You need a sense of pride and ego to do this job but you also need to know when to respect others, to be apologetic, and to show great sensitivity to others.

Perhaps one of the best things great publicists possess is a sense of humor.  You need to be able to laugh at yourself and to inject humor and levity in conversations.  Everyone loves to laugh, so if you can make them smile chances are you will too.

Interview With Best-Selling Author Maryann McFadden
Maryann, what inspired you to write The Book Lover (Three Rivers Press)? After speaking at so many book clubs and other events, both when self-published with The Richest Season, and after I got my deal with Hyperion, I knew I wanted to write about the book world. I already knew the writing side, but now I knew the marketing, publishing, and especially the bookselling side, after spending so much time in what I call “the trenches.” I was, in essence, not just a writer, but also did everything else from writing press releases to selling books out of the trunk of my car.

One of the reasons I was so successful when I was self-published was because independent booksellers became my champions. I learned so much as I traveled from one store to another, promoting my book. And then, my two books!

As I began speaking about this journey, I saw how fascinated people were by this inside look at the book world. I also realized that the average reader has no idea what kind of magical, often perilous, journey a book takes from the moment it begins in a writer’s mind and eventually makes its way onto a store’s shelf and then into readers’ hands.

While ideas were bouncing around in my head, an amazing thing happened. I was at the NAIBA convention in 2008, and just as I arrived I saw Harvey Finkel of Clinton Books in the lobby, he came over and said to me, “You have to meet this woman. She nominated your book as her pick of the year.” I was so excited. Apparently, she was one of the few people who got up and talked about their favorite read, and she created lots of great buzz for The Richest Season.

A little while later, Harvey introduced me to her. Her name is Betsy Rider, at the time she was 74 years old, and she runs Otto’s Bookstore in Williamsport, PA. She was a lovely woman, and when she opened by asking me if I’d come to her store and do a signing in a few weeks, of course, I said yes. And then she said I was welcome to stay over at her house if I wanted to.

I wasn’t planning to stay over, actually, that would have been weird. After all, I didn’t know this woman. But our signing ended at 9, and it was nearly a 3 hour ride through a very desolate, wooded part of Pennsylvania. So I stayed over, feeling very awkward as I walked into her house that night. We were both tired, had a quick cup of tea, then went to bed.

The next morning, over breakfast, we began to talk. We began with books and slowly ventured into EVERYTHING! We talked for three hours. About writing, bookselling, being a mother, marriage and our husbands, lost traditions, and on and on. We told each other intimate things about our lives, things we may have told no one else. It was an instant bonding, and I felt so comfortable with her. We also talked a lot about my novel, which she truly loved. I told her, as we sat there, that this was like a novel. And that I’d been thinking about writing about people who love books and the book business, since I knew so much about it now. And since most readers know very little.

And so The Book Lover began to come to life.

What’s it about? The Book Lover is really about two ordinary women who become extraordinary in following their dreams.
Ruth Hardaway has had one passion all her life: books. For the last thirty years she’s devoted her life to her store, The Book Lover, trying to bury her painful past. But now the store is in jeopardy, and the past is catching up with her.

Lucinda Barrett has lost everything in a life shattering betrayal. Desperate, she goes after one last dream—to be an author. Alone and broke, she embarks on a thousand mile journey, from bookstore to bookstore, eventually landing on Ruth’s doorstep. Ruth takes Lucy under her wing, championing her book and even offering her refuge at a nearby lake cabin. She wants one small favor in return, for Lucy to keep an eye on her son, Colin, who’s recovering from a war injury.
As the two women grow closer, Lucy strikes up an unlikely friendship with Colin. And she begins to think of Ruth as the mother she’s always wished for. For Ruth, Lucy is the one person she can confide her secrets. Or so she thinks.

As each woman begins to face her past, and the repercussions that still haunt her today, happiness finally seems within their grasp. But when a secret manuscript is uncovered, they suddenly find their friendship, and their dreams, about to fall apart.
Ultimately, THE BOOK LOVER is a story about people who love books, and the ways in which books influence their lives. It’s also about the different ways we love, and become intimate, and how sometimes pride or righteousness can unravel it all.

As a best-selling author what do you believe are the elements of a really good book? For me, without a doubt, the most important thing is character. I love creating and building characters. I want them to be real--that means complex, lovable, but with human flaws. I've read so many manuscripts from struggling authors asking for advice and the one thing I usually find is that while the plot might move along nicely, the character is just not affecting me. I need to CARE. I need to WANT this person to get what they want. I remember when I first read Olive Kitteridge, I thought, wow, this woman is annoying! And not very nice! But...after a while, you just loved her, because you learned about all of her disappointments in life, and her longings, whether she knew she had them or not. That was brilliant writing!

What advice do you have for struggling authors? To believe in what you do, but to be open to criticism. Yes, it’s a fine line there. If your book is not quite hitting the mark, you need to have an honest dialogue with yourself: what is it that’s missing? Sometimes you need to put it aside for a while, to give yourself some distance. But trust your stable of readers. And if you can, perhaps even consider hiring an editor to give you a professional take on it.

And if, in the end, you do all that and find yourself like I did, with a book you just believe is worthy, and no publisher, then…do it yourself! It’s so easy these days, from print on demand to e-books that cost virtually nothing to do. In the end, as writers, we want our work read!
Ask any bookseller and they’ll tell you that most self-published books are lacking. Use a professional editor, and proofreader, if you decide to go that route. Make it the best book possible. And when it’s done, put it away for a few months and then reread it and see if, with distance and time, you still think it’s the best it can be.

Don’t be afraid to cut! Sometimes the hardest thing is to cut material we love. Those gorgeous words! But, it can be liberating. Try it, you can always paste it back in. You want the story to be as efficient as it can be.

Where do you see the book industry heading? The publishing industry is already in the midst of incredible change. I think it's honestly changed more in the past 5 years than it has in centuries! Gone are the days when a Max Perkins will nurture a writer like Thomas Wolfe or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and coax a classic out of a manuscript that is full of promise, but in need of alot of work. Editors today are not just looking for a good read, but a track record if you've already published.  Publishing today is all business, and it’s often not how good a book is—but will it sell—that determines if it gets picked up. For that reason, a lot of really good reads are sitting in closets. Things are changing though, and now we’re seeing frustrated writers self-publishing and hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It’s amazing. Most of these are through e-books, which is the single biggest change and has become the "game changer." Established authors are choosing to keep their e-rights and publish themselves because they already have an audience. And the royalty on an e-book with a traditional publisher is miniscule.

That, combined with a struggling economy where hardcover sales are a challenge--especially for unknown author's who are debuting--has hit the industry hard. Agents and editors are out finding themselves out of a job, bookstores are closing, and it's all very sad. But the bottom line is this: there have never been some many avenues for a determined writer to get his or her work out there. And that's a good thing. Self-publishing has lost is losing its stigma and many booksellers are now referring to these books as "indie" books. So for an aspiring author, it might just be the best of times.

You started out as a self-published author and then Hyperion bought the rights to The Richest Season.  How do you account for your success? It may sound like a clich√©, but for me it’s true: Believe! I got rejected for so many years with my first novel. It was so disheartening, and I shelved it 3 times, but I kept having friends tell me not to give up. And there was that part of me that just didn’t want to, that really BELIEVED The Richest Season was a really good book.

I feel the same way now about The Book Lover. Despite being passed by a hand full of editors who were “uncomfortable” with the, perhaps, too honest portrayal of the publishing world, I believe in this book. And I think I’m on a journey I’m meant to be on, in my personal as well as my professional life. I often laughingly call it my “Lifetime Life” (as in a Lifetime movie) because the twists and turns, the irony, and the curve balls never cease.

In the past year and a half I’ve survived changing publishers, cancer, and divorce after 36 years of marriage. I’ve faced every big fear I’ve ever had, and it was a long and scary road for a while. And then I realized I couldn't compromise this book. That was a risk, one I was willing to take. Because while editors loved Ruth's story, they were squeamish about Lucy's--she's frustrated and self-publishes, and I tell just how she does it (which is how I did it!). I could have taken her out, changed the book, and probably had it taken. But I didn't. Financially, it was risky, yes, but now I wake up each morning with a sense of excitement because I feel hope—personally and professionally. THIS is the story I wanted to tell--that I believe readers want to know.

What’s even more amazing is that I’ve inspired other people! It’s incredible to hear someone say after one of my talks, or email after reading my story, how moved they are by my courage (I didn’t see it that way, I was just doing what I thought I needed to do!). And how now they are moving forward with their own dream.

As I’ve come full circle on the writing side of this journey, the best part is the support of friends who believe in The Book Lover so much, they’ve formed a publishing company to make sure it gets into readers’ hands. It’s a new venture, the kind that I think takes the best of both worlds, the platform of a “real” publisher, and the full participation of the author in all aspects of production, and births a book we can all be happy with. Publishing has entered a whole new world, and I’m part of it, as is Three Women Press.

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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