Monday, December 17, 2012

10-Year-Olds Make The Best Book Publicists

In order to promote a book or an author to the news media, one must have an imagination that goes beyond the stretches of reality. If all that publicists did was tell the truth, they would not get very far.  I am not saying one should outright lie, but what is needed is some creativity. It helps if you can visualize what could be and should be and then wrap a pitch to the media around it.

Let’s take a hypothetical book about how to keep your marriage happy. Let’s say the author has 15 years of relevant experience and has some interesting things to say but the vast majority of the book is not extraordinary and is not much different from the work of 30 other consultants with books. A truthful pitch would say what?

People make the truth a game. To some, not revealing a fact or an opinion is not lying, even though withholding it is sure to influence others. Some may pitch the author, not based on what the book is about, but more about the topic itself Anything having  do with relationships is fair game, including celebrity relationships, dating, divorce, etc. Further, you can take a relationship angle to other topics – parenting, health, businesses, etc. Another way to pitch the author is based on her personal life of professional experiences, even if they do not directly tie into what is in the book.

Once you untie yourself from the book and just let ideas flow regarding what the author could conceivably talk about, as a publicist you will then find a way to bridge the gap between the book and what you want to pitch to the news media.

A good publicist does not color within the lines or even acknowledge lines exist. He or she knows no boundaries and doesn’t let things encumber their thinking process. They just let their imagination run wild and seek to make connections between things that seemingly have no connection at all.

The only time you pitch exactly what you have is when you have something bulletproof-amazing, like an A-list celebrity with a new movie, and even then, you probably need to spin things because of the type or amount of media coverage that you are seeking. Whatever you are promoting, you will need to make it better, different, and more interesting than it really is. And whatever you do, don’t just tell the truth. Create one.

Interview With Literary Agent Donald Maass

1.      Don, what inspired you to write your newest book, Writing 21st Century Fiction? In the last several years I noticed that commercial fiction (thrillers, say) were running on the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller's List for fewer and fewer weeks.  At the same time, certain literary novels were running on the NYT Trade Paperback list for one or two or more years.  Excuse me?  Commercial thrillers leap onto the list for a few weeks and then disappear?  Meanwhile, certain literary novels sell at blockbuster levels for years?

That interested me.  How can literary fiction sell so well?  What gives those books such high impact?  The answer, in brief, is that they present great stories beautifully told.  That's also true of genre novels that sell at "out of category" levels.  They often bring literary values and techniques to their stories.

There are techniques that commercial writers can learn from literary novelists, and vice versa.  Writing 21st Century Fiction explains what those things are and how to do them, regardless of the way you work or your intent.  If forecasts the death of genre in this century and emphasizes the importance of breaking out of whatever box you're in as a novelist.

2.      What do writers need to know about the evolving marketplace?  There have been a lot of changes in the last few years, but it's important to realize that e-books are not a revolution or a new paradigm.  They're simply another way of delivering fiction to readers.  They work best when they work together with widely distributed print and audio editions.  E-books alone sell to a consumer base a quarter the size of the overall readership for books.  They sell largely in three bookstores, which only feature 100 titles in each category.  E-books are great, don't get me wrong, but if that's all you've got out there you're still facing the difficult task of publishing your titles, which is different than merely making books.

3.      What advice do have for a struggling novelist? The learning curve is longer than you think.  Don't be in a hurry for validation.  The problem with 95% of the manuscripts we read at my agency is that they simply aren't ready.  The author has more to learn, both about craft and about the story he or she is telling.

4.       How does one write fiction that sells? That's a big question and my answer is several books long!  (See my latest, for instance.)  But briefly, I can tell you this: Two big things lacking in almost all manuscripts are 1) characters about whom we immediately care, 2) insufficient micro-tension to make it necessary to read everything on the page.  Many manuscripts are quickly skimmable.  There's a way to counteract that, with micro-tension. (See The Fire in Fiction for a detailed discussion.)

5.      You help place about 150 manuscripts for publication each year. What trends are you seeing in terms of what publishers are looking for?  Higher quality is demanded in all categories.  Publishers generally want not only a great story but a great read.  It's not as easy as it sounds to do both things.  Most writers are good at one but less so at the other.

6.      How does it feel to be an author and not just wear the hat of literary agent? I'm like any author: worried about my deadline, wondering whether my editor will like it, hoping my message gets across.  That said, I love to write.  I love being an agent too, but it's a different set of skills.  When writing my books I feel like I'm talking directly to each author about craft.  That's wonderful.

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. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2012 ©

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