I’m ramping up into promotional mode for both of my forthcoming books. Sexy Feminism is out in March, so I’ve been e-mailing contacts at websites and making sure they get the galleys (the free preview versions of the book for press) and the info they need. This is tedious work, honestly, but I think it’ll pay off — this is an online kinda book (what with being based on a website and all) and I’m already seeing interest spark. I’m also putting together marketing plans for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, which comes out in May. I have a big meeting at my publisher tomorrow, and we’re already shooting some promotional videos.
I like to think I and many authors like me have an advantage when it comes time to pitch our wares to the media: Most of the time, we are the media. We know how the media work, because we know how we work. To that end, I’d like to offer some of what I know, from being on staff of newspapers and magazines for 15 years, and even a little from publicizing my own work:
1. Make friends — like, real friends — with media types. This is a long-range plan, but it’s the only way it really works. You have to go to places where media people hang out, and then befriend them legitimately — I hated the feeling that someone was being nice to me just because I worked at a big magazine, and trust me, I always knew when people were doing it. It’s a hard charade to keep up over a long period, so usually only legit relationships endure. But when you do actually know and have a mutually satisfying relationship with someone who can affect what goes into print, that’s a huge help.
2. Target people who really make sense. If you focus your efforts on a blog, website, or publication that should obviously be covering you, it’s much more worth your time than a scattershot approach at major outlets that are too busy to deal with you and too general-interest to make much difference anyway. When my book Why? Because We Still Like You, about the original Mickey Mouse Club, came out two years ago, I made sure the webmaster at originalmmc.com, the definitive and very reliable source online for fans of the show, knew about it every step of the way. (I actually asked to interview him for the book, but he declined; however, it gave me a reason to reach out to him and keep him posted on the effort.) I got a thorough, fair, and good review from the site that everyone who was a true fanatic saw.
3. Offer to write something yourself. Especially for smaller publications and websites, this makes all the difference. Many places can’t afford to pay a writer to write about you but will be happy to have your contribution. Voila, free publicity.
4. Be an expert in something, and make sure your web presence establishes said expertise. Be sure your credentials are clearly stated on your site, and if you’ve blogged, written, or spoken about the topic, samples are available as well. If reporters are trolling online for people to comment on something (and this is almost always the first form of research for any given story), you want them to find you. To that end, make sure they can find your contact info easily as well.
5. Blog about controversies related to your expertise. This just builds on the last one. If you’ve expressed a strong opinion concisely and clearly already, those discussing the topic are going to want you in their article or on their show. Several of my appearances on TV came from blog posts I wrote for Entertainment Weekly about the day’s pop culture kerfuffles — the Glee kids in a hyper-sexual GQ photo spread or Family Guy tackling cerebral palsy, for instance. Both landed me on CNN’s Showbiz Tonight.
6. Engage your Twitter audience. Thanks to the wonderful online community that surrounds @TheSexyFeminist, we’ve reached several more followers, including one who hosts a great, thoughtful radio show called Reality Check. We ended up doing an hour-long broadcast with him.
7. Send materials in advance. This is a “duh” sort of thing, I hope. But just in case: Make sure reporters can see your book, video, or whatever else you’re promoting well in advance of when it should run. Publications like to be timely, so they’re not necessarily going to be as interested three weeks after its release as they are just before it. They also like to plan in advance, and especially when it comes to books, they need time to read and digest.
8. Make yourself available. Reporters and TV hosts need you when they need you. If you miss the call or email when it comes, you may be out of luck.
9. Be super-helpful. If a reporter asks you for help on a story, be extra-helpful (not annoying, legitimately helpful) by providing whatever detailed information and documentation you can. I did a blog post on statistics that the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released about the effect of shows like Teen Mom on attitudes toward contraception, and director Amy Kramer gave me crazy-great info via email. I eventually went to her as an expert source when I did a bigger feature story on Teen Mom, and blogged about it on my own site, Sexy Feminist, as well. You can develop ongoing, mutually beneficial exchanges with reporters.
10. Give an exclusive. If you really, truly have a story that a certain kind of media outlet might consider a scoop, give it to one you trust first. Online outlets love an exclusive, even a tiny one, these days. They tend to get picked up everywhere and go viral. Even little tidbits about who’s being cast in a guest role on a TV series are considered major gets by entertainment sites, for instance. You’ll get rushed to the top of the home page this way.
11. Pitch an actually interesting, fresh angle. Reporters are always looking for stories, but the stories have to be good. They have to take them to their bosses, who have to think they’re good, and sometimes even have to take them to their bosses. A great example of this recently was when a longtime friend of mine (see tip #1), Ned Vizzini, pitched me his new book, The New Normals. I wrote about it when I guest blogged for USA Today‘s Pop Candy. Here’s how the planets had to align to make even this simple little thing happen: Ned asked to send me the book just because I’d enjoyed his previous work. Then he offered up a few possible angles, though he made it clear he had no expectations for coverage. If I did feel like writing on him, he said, maybe something about a YA author maturing or the fact that he’s now also writing for the TV show Last Resort. I put those ideas together with something I’d been noticing lately anyway — that several people I knew who were novelists were paying their bills by writing for TV. I also happened to be coming up on a planned guest-blog stint that allowed me to write about whatever I wanted. We set up an interview, and voila, this nice Q&A resulted. The key was that it actually illuminated something interesting for my readers, and didn’t come across as callously promoting my friend.
12. Be persistent. If some new piece of information or news makes your previous pitch all the more relevant, send a link to the person you pitched before with a short, friendly note mentioning why you think they might want to reconsider. I found this very effective in pitching editors stories I wanted to write; my piece about One Tree Hill, for instance, took five to ten update emails before I convinced them. And it’s still one of my favorite stories ever.