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Laurence Hughes

Laurence Hughes

Posted: November 12, 2009 02:52 PM

Six Things Book Publicists Love to Hear

What's Your Reaction?

1. "This book is perfect for Oprah." A line that is still used occasionally by editors when presenting books to the sales department, often in reference to a book that is, in fact, imperfect for Oprah. It puts the publicity department at an early and significant disadvantage by setting up expectations that must be managed. (In a curious but very real phenomenon, when an editor says "This book is perfect for Oprah," sales reps hear "This author will be on Oprah!"). No editor should ever speak this sentiment aloud, even of books that are perfect for Oprah--Oprah turns down books that are perfect for Oprah every day of the week.

2. "If we had more national publicity for this book, we could get a bigger buy." This one is trotted out by the sales department five to six months before publication, when the national accounts are placing their orders. Meanwhile, all the publicist has to work with at that point is a fuzzy black-and-white photocopy of an interview with the author that ran in Boys' Life seven years ago.

3. "I'm hiring an outside publicist to supplement your efforts." A favorite of authors with means who have embraced the dubious premise that the more publicists you have, the more publicity you'll get. If an author is going to hire a publicity firm, it's best to hire them all the way--otherwise too much time is spent determining who has the best "in" at what media outlet, and publicists end up tripping over each other going after the same finite pool of contacts. In extreme cases, this scenario can degenerate into a needlessly competitive cage match between the in-house publicist who is answerable to the publisher and the outside publicist who must justify their fee--not always beneficial to the project, but big fun if you enjoy a Thunderdome-type work experience.

4. "Do you think we can get Oprah?" Generally asked by an author whose book is wildly inappropriate for Oprah and who has never actually seen Oprah, but who's heard that Oprah sells books.

5. "Why was [insert name of competing author] on [insert name of national TV show] and I wasn't?" A common query from the author whose book is one of several covering the same topic. Implied in the question is some lapse on the part of the publicist, so discretion and finesse are called for in crafting a response, especially if there really has been a lapse on the part of the publicist. Some acceptable replies might be: "That author has a history with that show," or "That author has credentials you don't have," or "That author plays mah-jongg with the host." Unacceptable replies (even if true) include: "They think your book is stupid," or "You look funny on TV," or "You drool." By far the best response is to say "Let me look into it," and hope it blows over.

6. "You need to get more publicity--we paid a lot of money for this book." Easily the least inspiring motivational speech ever formulated. Generally spoken--firmly--by a publisher or acquiring editor whose ass will be on the line if the book flops, usually when the book is in the process of flopping. The subtext is that the publicist's ass is also on the line, even though in many cases the book was acquired in a fit of unchecked editorial enthusiasm that steamrolled warnings from the publicity department about limited publicity potential. Unfortunately, the fact that the publisher overpaid for the book doesn't make it one bit more appealing to the media. Unless, of course, you make the money the story--that'll get you some attention. I guarantee it.

 

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