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Gretchen Crary Headshot

What Authors Can Learn From Politicians

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As weird as this may sound coming from a book publicist, I've always looked to politics as the ultimate model for what I do.

Think about it. Politicians can't get elected without a dedicated audience. Authors can't sell books without a dedicated audience. Politicians must introduce themselves to their audience and do the hard work to keep their loyalty. Same with authors. Many of the tactics that politicians use to build their audience can be applied to selling books. Politicians know this: look how many of them have books for sale AT THE SAME TIME that they're running for office. It's an easy way to spread their message and pocket some extra cash along the way.

Authors can follow some of the same steps as politicians in building their audience. Here are some of tactics from Politics 101 that translate particularly well.

1) Determine your public persona.
What's your narrative? What is your argument? Politicians need to make an argument as to why they should be elected. They need to get their stump speech down. This takes trial and error and lots of practice. Politicians have handlers and strategists who work closely with them coaching them on messages that resonate with their target audience. Authors need to make use of family, friends, and their publishing team to get their message right.

I tell authors to come up with a list of questions and practice answering them with their spouse, friend, or mother. Practice in front of the mirror. In conversations about your book with those people, do other questions come up that you haven't thought of? Add them to your list and keep practicing! You should feel totally comfortable answering any and all questions. Then work on your look. You should have a great outfit (or two!) that suits you well, an attractive hairstyle, good make-up (men too!). Everyone needs to wear make up on TV even if they have a nice tan.

2) First impressions matter
The first impression is a great opportunity. YOU are the new, new thing. Don't blow it. Think about Jon Huntsman, the Republican presidential candidate who kicked off his campaign with some cool but cryptic ads of someone (him?) riding a motorcycle through the red rocks of...Utah? It was confusing and weird. And, guess what? I didn't work. It's fine to be interesting, but not at the expense of blowing your valuable first impression credit.

You need to tell everyone right off the bat WHY you should appeal to them. That's your value proposition, why people should buy your book. Tell people: "You'll enjoy this story!", "You'll be shocked by this story", "You'll learn more about humanity if you read this story." You must be enthusiastic, otherwise how can you expect anyone else to be?

3) Just show up
As Woody Allen said 99% of it is just showing up. Rick Santorum, the runner up in the Iowa caucus held 321 events in that state. I'm sure some of those events had no more than a dozen attendees. Those sparsely attended events must have seemed depressing at the time but he had his eyes on the prize. And it paid off. That's the hard work of building an audience of fans.

4) Be gracious
Your audience doesn't owe you their support. Never ever forget that. When you have an event that's sparsely attended think of that event as an opportunity to create deeper connections with your fans. You can create ambassadors for your work. Politicians routinely go door to door asking people for their vote. You can't go smaller than an audience of one. A good politician makes a personal connection and then takes it to the next level. "I hope you'll vote for me and if you like me, I hope you'll take this lawn sign and out it in front of your house." Then you don't only have a vote, you have someone who is advertising you in front of their home! It's a brilliant tactic that helps you extend your message.

5) Take names
A seasoned political commentator when talking about Newt Gingrich's Iowa campaign recently remarked how remarkably amateurish that campaign really was. At big events there were no campaign representatives taking names or email addresses. Effectively, Newt lost the opportunity to keep the conversation going with his most motivated fans. Authors also need to always think about how to "capture" their fans' information.

One author we worked with recently was actually a preacher who spoke regularly in front of new congregations. It wasn't easy for him to capture fans' information. In his sermon, he told the congregation that if they wanted to learn more about his sermon, they could text him at an easy to remember four digit number. The very least you can do is leave a clipboard and pencil for people to write down their emails.

6) Excite your base
Even though most American presidents are elected based on support from the moderate middle of the political spectrum, there's a good reason primary candidates pursue the hard core base of their political parties. If you can't excite the core group of people who should definitely be in your camp, you'll have a very hard time getting attention from anyone else.

Look at what a tough time Mitt Romney is having. His record and his demeanor plays to the middle and he doesn't excite his base. He may still be able to overcome this tepid enthusiasm from his base but, boy, it's an uphill climb. If you've written an insightful biography of a famous art forger, the best place to start to build buzz about your book is by sending it to prominent people in the arts and the art world. If they don't know about the book, and find value in the book, why should anyone else? If it's really good, they will become your ambassadors to the wider audience.

7) Have heart
When you let your audience into your life and share the source of your beliefs you forge an intimate relationship with them. Rick Santorum, no matter what you think of him, gave the political speech of his life when he came in second in Iowa. He told the story of his life growing up the grandson of a coal miner and in that story he encapsulated all the reasons why he felt compelled to run for office. His story was moving and filled with vivid imagery. And if there's one thing that we hope authors can do much, much better than politicians, it's tell a moving story.

So go out there authors and stump for yourselves!