Five Things About PR A Writer Needs to Know

Doorbell
Category: Writing

The good, nay the great news, is that you haven’t visited this page because you have invented a new type of toilet brush, or because you want to know how to publicise an innovative pension plan – you’ve visited it because you have the holy grail of products to publicise – a book. Books, alongside celebrities, babies who weigh an inexplicable amount at birth, animals who have met with unfortunate ends and supernatural video footage, are, broadly speaking, a publicist's dream. So put down the brown paper bag and give yourself a high five! Ok, don’t do that, but do smile confidently and know that it’s all going to be ok. As long as you are prepared to think creatively, talk patiently and pose awkwardly, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to work with the media to bring your book to the audience it was written for (and beyond!)

Plan Ahead

Regardless of their size, most publishers will send out some of your books for critical review around 3-6 months ahead of publication. In terms of additional publicity, such as interviews, contributed articles, profile pieces and extracts, it is a good idea to contact your publisher at least 6 months before the book is due to come out and ask them if they have any plans, and if you can help. This may seem ridiculously early, but bear in mind that many monthly and quarterly publications start planning their issues at least 6 months in advance.

If your pitch to a journalist shows that you have read the publication, your chances of being accepted will increase tenfold.

Research

This is the fun bit! The very best thing you can do in the 6 months to a year ahead of publication is to read as many newspapers, blogs and magazines as you can, and listen to as many radio shows and podcasts as possible. This will help you to identify publicity opportunities for your book, and to come up with ideas for tailored and relevant pitches. If your pitch to a journalist illustrates that you have read the publication and understand its requirements for a particular feature, your chances of being accepted will increase tenfold.

Boundaries

Before you embark upon any publicity for the book, think carefully about where you want to draw the lines in your personal life. You should be prepared for the fact that you yourself might become the selling point for your book. If you are comfortable with this, you should explore your educational, family, career and lifestyle background to see if there are any ‘back stories’ which might interest the press – for example, your grandfather might have invented marmite. Being the selling point for your book is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have a good grip on what you are happy to discuss and what you aren’t. Be aware that the more information you provide about yourself, the broader the media markets you can pitch to.

If you aren’t comfortable with putting yourself out there, then you might want to focus on your story–on the characters, the world, etc. This approach might involve creating extra content for your readers – author Gillian Phillip has created a Twitter account for one of her major characters, for example.

Angles

It will be very helpful to your publisher (or publicist) if you can come up with some strong angles or ‘hooks’ for journalists. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is the book autobiographical or a true story?
  • Did you go to unusual lengths to research it?
  • Did something inspire the story?
  • Does it feature controversial subject matter?
  • Do you have/did you have an unusual day job?

Book reviews are by no means the only way to secure publicity for your book.

Free your mind

Be aware that book reviews are by no means the only way to secure publicity for your book - there are lots of opportunities in the media to promote your writing if your pitch is strong and relevant and if you are happy to exchange written content for the chance to publicise your book. Virginia Woolf went on a “Pretty Woman” style shopping expedition at French couture houses in London with British Vogue’s fashion editor in 1925. Think about features which might appeal to other sections of the press. e.g. pitch a feature to a fashion magazine or a Sunday supplement about styling people who work from home (like authors).

  • A straightforward interview (provide bullet points indicating interesting things you can talk about)
  • Contributed article e.g. How to find an agent, how to juggle working and writing
  • A piece inspired by the research that you did on your book
  • An extract from your book (The Scotsman run extracts in their weekly Write Stuff feature.)
  • A contributed writing feature - Top 10 creative writing tips
  • A general feature unrelated to books (My Life in the Press and Journal, My East Lothian in the East Lothian Courier) 

Helen Croney

Helen is PR Manager at Scottish Book Trust, where she has worked for the past 8 years. Previous to this she held positions in several PR firms of differing sizes, working with a huge variety of clients along the way – everything from trams to portable toilets. She holds a degree in English Language and Literature from St Andrews University and is obsessed with puns (as all good PRs are.)