Monday, July 2, 2012

Write A Letter Today, Sell A Book Tomorrow

One overlooked strategy when it comes to promoting your book to the news media is the old “Letter-to-the-Editor” section of a newspaper or magazine. You should bombard your local newspapers with short letters, commenting on a topic that is relevant, timely, and connected to what your book is about. It is a good way to promote yourself for free.

Why should you do this?
1.      It has a chance to succeed, since many authors and book publicists fail to mine this golden opportunity.

2.      When your letter is printed it will also appear online, so when people Google you they will see that you have been quoted in several publications.

3.      It helps with your branding. The letter shows you are active in your community, have cogent opinions that others value enough to publish, and it gives people a chance to familiarize themselves with you.

4.      The letter-writing process can be cathartic – you get something off of your chest.

5.      You may actually help, inspire or inform others.

6.      By forcing yourself to write letters and send them out you are training your brain to develop a marketing mindset. You will start to generate ideas that will carry over into other PR outreach.

How should you do this?

1.      Gather the email and mail addresses of all the area local daily and weekly community publications that accept and print letters.

2.      Begin to note the editorial slant of a publication. Is it left or right-wing? Which topics do they often cover with editorials, features, news, etc.?

3.      Read other letters to the editor and get a handle on tone, length, etc. you will want to mirror what they seem to readily publish.

4.      Think about topics connected to your book that you can see turning into a short letter. For instance, is there something that is in the local news that can be bridged to your book? If your book is about travel, can you talk about tourism for your city or how people should look no further than downtown for a vacation. If your book is about nutrition, talk about school lunches or why a Bloomberg-type ban would or would not work in your city. If your book is on investing, talk about local company profitability or about why buying local real estate still is the best investment. You get the idea?

5.      Email your letters. Editors do not want to re-type your letter or try to interpret crappy handwriting. Further, the email is quicker and timely, as compared to typing or writing al letter and then mailing it.

6.      It is okay to be controversial, but don’t curse, be mean, or rude, or wish bad things upon others. Use descriptive words to support a single point – you have 100 or fewer words to make your statement. The best letters comment on something that just appeared in the paper – an article, column, editorial, or even another letter.

7.      Once you get published in a newspaper you should learn of their policy on how often you can get a letter placed. Sometimes there are writing periods imposed in between the publishing of letter s from the same source. If there is a waiting period, contact them once it ends and keep at it until they publish another one.

Good luck in your efforts -- they will pay off. Just ask my dad. He has had dozens of letters published by the local newspapers  -- including the New York Daily News -- over the years. And he doesn’t even have a book to promote – just a civic-minded voice.

What should you write about today? Just open up the newspaper and I suspect something will come to mind. Otherwise, write me a letter on my blog’s comment section.

Interview With Former Sun-Sentinel Book Critic Chauncey Mabe

1.      Chauncey, you were a book reviewer for many years with the Sun Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale. How has the book publishing industry changed -- and along with it -- the news media? I see publishing and the news media alike heading off a cliff. As "old" or "legacy" media, they are being forced into irrelevance by digital technologies such as the Internet and e-books. While I'm told you can't stop progress, these developments are distressing in the extreme. Internet news sources, which do their best to give you information you've already shown an interest in, can never duplicate the service provided by a newspaper, where trained professionals present information they think is important to you, whether you want it or not. I learn more in 10 minutes of paging through the newspaper than I do in an hour of searching online. As for publishing, legacy publishers will not be able to compete with the economies and the ruthless -- some might say "unethical" -- business practices of Amazon, which obviously wishes to create for itself a monopoly on bookselling, publishing, distribution. Its policies are designed to put bookstores and publishers out of business. Readers who love the price savings of Amazon are like fishermen who use dynamite instead of rod and reel. The initial returns are astounding... 

2.      Where do you see both industries heading? The cultural and political price we will pay for losing newspapers, magazines, and publishers is incalculable.

3.      What do you do these days? I am a freelancer and ghostwriter today, making my living off the prostrate corpse of publishing and print media. I work three times as hard for half the money. But I still get to do work I love.

4.      As a ghostwriter, what do you like to write about? Is it hard to not be known as the author? As a ghostwriter, my job is to make the "writer" look as good as possible. I feel no frustration in remaining anonymous. Most of the books I work on, no matter how invested I might become, are not topics I would take up on my own. I have written or co-written books o media and the law, a history of a historic Catholic parish, an account of the rise and fall of the Ponzi scheme Scott Rothstein. At present I am working on books about the role of personality disorders in white-collar crime, the life story of a leading anti-Castro Cuban exile, and the memoirs of an important local businessman. The last will likely be published privately, for family and friends.

5.      What advice do you have for today's writer? My advice for today's writer: Unless you have such a sense of mission that you have no control over your actions, find another profession. Become a programmer at a video game developer for example. That's where the future of narrative is. Personally, I consider this a catastrophic tragedy, but I may be wrong.

6.      As a former critic, what did you find to be the key elements to a great book? When I was a young reviewer, the novelist John Knowles, who spent his last years here in Fort Lauderdale, cautioned me to remember that each book must be judged for what it is, not what it is not. Thus, a mystery novel cannot be assessed by the same criteria as a literary novel. A book should fulfill the task the author sets out for it, with skill, craftsmanship, talent. Alas, the best way for a writer to do this is by setting no tasks at all, but by doing his or her best to get out of the way. Out of the way of what used to be called The Muse. Writing that is self-conscious, that is aware of itself, is seldom any good.

7.      What do you find to be the rewards and challenges for one trying to write, publish and promote a book? The only sane reason for writing lies in the writing itself. I hate to sound like a guest on Inside the Actor's Studio, but process is everything, the only thing that matters. If you don't enjoy composition, the act of creating character and narrative by building sentences, then do something else. Like buy a lottery ticket. Your chances of success are about the same. As for promotion -- the new media realities have placed most of the responsibility for promotion on the shoulders of the writer, which is an atrocious state of affairs. Writers now have to Tweet, Facebook, and otherwise interact with readers, when they should be, you know, writing.

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

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