PR for Writers, Past and Present

Faith HunterFaith Hunter
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Finally! How to get ready to push a book. Yep. I’m gonna dish.

Used to be when a writer had a book, they (yes the writer herself, or her significant other, posing as her PR company) contacted book stores all over and set up signings. The Hubs used to spend one solid month before a book came out setting up signings. And then, together, we spent three months on the road after a book came out. Back then, books spent three months on bookstore shelves before having the covers stripped and the naked books sent back. We’d do scheduled signings all over, and drop in signings in every city we drove past.

Our horrid schedule was thus: I would get off work at the lab at 7 am, Monday, grab some shut eye (3 hours or so), then pack. Or repack, depending on where we were in the post-book-release schedule. We would head out on Monday afternoon, the station wagon packed full (yeah, this was a looong time ago), the dogs in crates, a cooler between us, and take off on the road. We’d drive along interstates, and take Every Freaking Exit. The Hubby’s idea. The Hubs would then find a mall, a mall bookstore (see how long ago this was?) or a stand-alone store, and he would go in to see if they had my book(s) on the shelves. Most often they did because bookstores carried books back then. LOTS of books. Even the tiny mall stores were packed full of books! It was a reader’s paradise. And a writer’s panic attack. Yes. I suffered from panic attacks back then, undiagnosed. Anyway.

Then I’d pull on my “professional writer” pants (instead of the travel-wrinkled sweats), paste a big ol’ smile on my face, and go inside to make nice-nice with the clerks to see if they’d like me to sign stock and maybe take a chance on reading my work. So they’d push my books. Hand sell them. It was terrifying. And totally exhausting. It was not who I was back then. I was a hermit and shy and terrified. Could I do it today with no qualms? Yes. Back then, I was miserable doing it. Just miserable.

Then we’d drive to the next mall or the next town. Wash-rinse-repeat. Over and over again. For thre-freaking-months.

By Tuesday, on these trips, I would be over my weekend-work-shift enough to hand-write the next novel under contract with pen and paper between. I’d do this between book store stops. Alllll day long. We’d stop and eat and stretch and walk the dogs. And hit more bookstores. At dark, after 10 pm, we’d find a Red Roof Inn (because they welcomed pets), take a brisk walk around the parking lot, and hit the sack. By Thursday, we were making stops to do actual scheduled signings. Which were another kind of hell. Books wouldn’t be there and fans would. Or books would be there and fans wouldn’t. Not one. Or books would be there but the people in the book store would have no clue who I was or what I was there for. Hubs and a clerk and I would have to scour the back storeroom for books, set up our own table (yes we traveled with one), stack the books, and do a signing.

We would drive back into my town on Friday, unpack. I’d crash and burn and sleep, because I’d been “on” constantly. Then I’d get up Saturday at noon, and go into work at the lab at 2:30 pm for my first of two 17 hour shifts.

I was “on” all week. It was dreadful. And back then the Hubs did  not understand why it wasn’t easy for me. He did the driving. He found the bookstores. He did the upfront work. But I was in a constant state of sleep deprivation from shift work, and exhaustion from panic attacks, and trying to write in a car on the road. It was … dreadful.

Writer nowadays don’t have to do that. Nope. Because there are no mall bookstores. Few standalones. And the ones that do exist carry few books. They sell kitsch and music and games and stuff. So, now that I’ve shared the horror of the mid-list past, how do you hawk a book today?

Your publishing company may have a PR department. The big four (or is it five? Or three?) in New York all have one. But unless you are one of the very few writers who had a book go to auction for six figures, or have already reached above number 20 on the New York Times bestseller list, you have … you. What will they do? The PR department will contact reviewers and blogs and send out copies of books to be reviewed. They may put a release in the trade mags that your book is coming out. Their sales rep will chat up your book to the stores. The company’s own catalogues will have your books listed. Their websites will have info about your books. They’ll send B&N and Amazon info about your books for their websites. Ta-da! That’s it. And frankly, that is a huge amount more than most mid-size and small press pubs will do.

Small- and Mid-presses “might” have a catalogue. They “might” send it to bookstores. But don’t bet on it. They should list your book at all the online distributors.

So that puts the PR in your pocket. If you have money, you can hire a PR firm to  contact blogs for you. That is what I do, because I still work 17 hour shifts on weekends (for the benefits) (though I don’t work nights now, thank goodness) and I just do not have time to schedule stuff. Also, PR firms will have plans for many different budgets. My firm is brand new (like a month old and I am the first client) but they know everyone in the biz from previous work in/with other PR firms. I pay by the month all year for a PR blowout at release time. Most people pay for a plan, and pay all at once.

The PR firm tells me what kind of blogs the sites want, I write them. I send the PR firm (http://www.ltpromos.com/) several different bios with various word counts, several different pics (high and low resolution), and high and low resolution cover pics. I send them the blogs. They work with the bloggers to disseminate and distribute everything, with staggered release dates. Their purpose? To create a buzz. Yep. To create word-of-mouth in readers to get them excited about the upcoming release. In the next few months, I have four releases. Oy…

Kicking It (anthology I edited) 12-3-2013
Jane Yellowrock World Companion (with new novella) 12-17-2013
Cat O’Nine Tales (by Audible, with new short story) 12-17-2013 (Yes, they kindly scheduled the dates together. Audible is wonderful to work with.)
BLACK ARTS release 1-7-2014

If you have no money? Well, you’ll be contacting blogs on your own. Some may ignore you unless you offer to buy ad space. Some will leap on you like spiders on prey. You’ll need to schedule when your blog will appear and send them everything (cover pics, personal author pics, bio to their specifications, and blog) on the advance date they request. You MUST keep a calendar!

Ads: Some blogs will create an ad for you. Or you may have to create your own ads. I pay for my marketing manager to make mine. He’s reasonable and knows that if I make it big, he’ll get paid more, and the marketing manager position will make him bigger bucks. If you know someone with mad-graphics-skills, you can trade out favors or pay them a little or even tout their handiwork on your website. Yeah. You need a website. If you can build one, do so. If you can’t, go back to that friend with the mad-graphics-skills. Get them to build you a site. I have these sites:
http://faithhunter.net/ (author website)
http://www.yellowrocksecurities.com/ (my character’s business website) (Yep. She has a website. LOL)
http://www.gwenhunter.com (my former and still-selling pen name)

You need a fan page on Face Book. I have these:
https://www.facebook.com/official.faith.hunter (fan page)
https://www.facebook.com/BeastNotPrey (yeah, Beast talks to people)
https://www.facebook.com/janeyellowrock (Jane sometimes checks in)
https://www.facebook.com/faith.hunter?fref=ts (my more personal one)

Okay. Are you exhausted? I am. I think we’ll stop here. And thank MW for hosting me today— Wait. Yeah, this is my blog. LOL Next time I blog, I’ll post some author pics, some cover pics, and some bios for you see the different kinds. I’ll also post some blogs here in the next few weeks, so you can see the kind of stuff bloggers want. Take notes. This is important!

Later y’all!

Faith

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17 comments to PR for Writers, Past and Present

  • Vyton

    Faith, what a great post. You have incredible endurance. I’m a ways away from using this information, if ever; but it’s important to know that it’s not all dealing with the flight attendant in first class and wearing evening clothes to release parties. I’m looking forward to the future posts. Thank you.

  • Man, oh, man, am I having flashbacks now! I never did the work-week stuff that you’re talking about — my day job kept me strapped to my desk from Monday to Friday. But I did the weekend drivebys, and the structured self-made tours using vacation time, and, and, and… (And yes, it’s a totally different world today — mostly because no one actually sells print books. There are *lots* of advantages today, but I still miss the thrill of seeing print books stacked so high…)

  • Vyton, I’ll add a bit more about PR as we go along, but yeah, the days of evening clothes are long gone. Even today, when writers (top 200) fly to NYC to talk to editors and publishers and do dinner, it is more along the line of chic casual, no jeans. Sometimes a tie and jacket for guys. The only time I’ve worn a fromal is to the MWA Edgar awards, several times. Now *that* is an old-time fancy event!

  • Mindy, I hated* the days on the road. They got better when we bought the second home. (koff koff RV) Then I could live much more easily on the road. We still use it for research and driving to signings. But the early day? Misery, pure and simple. And yes. I miss bookstores. We have a local new and used store not *too* far from me, and I sign there often. It has stacks of books twelve feet high! It brings back memories!

  • Maybe as a companion to this I should do a post about setting up blog tours? Don’t want to step on your toes, but I would be happy to do that, since I’ve had two pretty successful blog tours the past two summers. Let me know.

    Nice post — I can’t imagine the old approach that you outline here. It would have killed me and/or ended my marriage. Nancy loves me, but not that much . . .

  • I’d like to know more about setting up blog tours. You gave me a bit of info on FB, but with my novella coming mid to late next year, it’s never too early to start thinking about it.

  • David, Rod’s company had gone belly-up in the housing downturn. He was free to be my assistant/driver/PR person. But it wasn’t good for the marriage simply because it was too emotionally exhausting for me. Please feel free to post on setting up blog tours. You’s was very successful!

  • Daniel, you are right. Never too early. In fact you should start it no less than six months out!

  • Both the old and new ways sound exhausting to me! In comparison, actually finishing the book doesn’t sound quite so difficult :)

  • SiSi, both are exhausting, in totally different ways. But yeah. That.

  • Great suffering cats, Faith! I’m surprised you’re not dead. Seriously, I think I would actually choose to write my dissertation over again, psycho committee members and all, rather than do what you did.

    Thank you for the advice. I’m going to start compiling a list of blogs to follow so I’ll know where to go when (when, dammit, not if!) I get a book contract. Anyone got suggestions for where to start.

  • Razziecat

    Faith, I got tired just reading that. I have a day job that I could not just walk away from, although I do have a generous amount of vacation. If I ever need to promote a book, I’m going to have to do most of it via social media, and use vacation days for the rest.

  • Sarah, David is going to post on how to create a blog tour, so you’ll get a lot of advice on that shortly!
    And as to the stress, I’ve had stress-related issues for years. I am only now learning how to de-stress and relax.

    Razzie, I used to put in 94 hour weeks. Yes it was insane, and my body suffered from it. I got a condition called Adrenal Insufficiency, with immune system, GI system, and nervous system changes — none of them good. You don’t have to travel now, or at least not like I did. So much can be done online that some writers never leave home!

  • This is really interesting stuff, even if technically I don’t have to know it yet. But on the positive side, even if I only eventually sell to a small press, I’ll be prepared. Thank you. I like not being blindsided very, very much. Looking forward to David’s post!

  • Laura, you need the blog info *especially* if you sign with a small press. They do less than a large press, sometimes way less, and that leaves the burden on you.

  • quillet

    Wow, Faith, that sounds so exhausting, I can’t even… I hope you’ve given yourself some rewards (maybe in chocolate form, or liquid form ;) ) for surviving that.

    There’s so much useful information in this, and I’m really looking forward to more from you and David. Come to think of it, all you guys at MW deserve lots of rewards (in your form of choice!) for sharing this stuff with us. It’s so helpful.

  • Quillet, we do sometimes wonder if anyone reads this stuff, so it’s nice to get comments back that it’s helpful!

    As to rewarding myself, I am much better at it now than I was years ago. For instance, today I had a massage. And I feel wonderful!