Wednesday, November 15, 2006

PR Pressure

As if writing a book isn't angst-ridden enough, I have now learned there is a new way to market your book -- trailers. Like movie trailers, only for books. On the internet, either at websites or YouTube.

Also, some folks feel that a place on MySpace is a good idea.

To be honest, my first reaction to these notions was "ARGH!!! Haven't I got enough to worry about? I have enough stress with the writing. Must I start worrying about a snappy trailer, too?"

The answer to this, really, is "no." I don't have to worry about this sort of thing. If I'm not comfortable with something, nobody is forcing it upon me.

But there is, in this business, a sort of PR peer pressure, even if much of it is self-imposed. You hear Annie Author has done this neat PR thing, and suddenly you think, "Oh! Should I do that?" And maybe Annie Author's book sells really well, so then you really feel like you ought to jump on that bandwagon. It isn't just about whether paranormals, etc. are hot or not, you see. There are all kinds of other things we writers can start wondering about when it comes to sales.

But the bottom line for me remains what it was when I wrote an article called "Not All PR is Good PR." Since I've discovered the back half of my book requires somewhat more work than I anticipated (ahem), I'm going to copy that article here. Please note that if anybody belongs to an RWA chapter and wants to use it in a chapter newsletter in its entirety, you may. For any other use, please email me at

Not All PR is Good PR by Margaret Moore

It’s a popular saying that “all PR is good PR.”

After my years in the published author trenches, I’ve come to the conclusion that this saying was probably coined by some PR person whose client was upset with their work. Don’t worry! All PR is good PR!

I don’t buy that.

I don’t think it’s “good” PR if I’m left feeling humiliated and very sorry I took part in an article, interview or event. Unfortunately, I can’t always foresee such disasters. Something sounds wonderful and I’m flattered to be asked, so I do my best to be witty and entertaining and promote the genre in a positive light, only to find out later that the interviewer or writer had his or her own agenda, and it certainly wasn’t to make me, or my genre, look good.

However, there are other times when something seems good on the surface, yet I get a “gut feeling” that my interests and those of writer or interviewer are very, very different. Maybe it’s the flippant way they talk about romance novels in general, or the sorts of things they want to know about my personal life or background. Maybe it’s the obvious focus of the piece – zeroing in on book covers is a sure sign for me that the people involved aren’t really interested in what I actually write. The PR value for me is likely going to be minimal at best, and the cringe factor may be high.

I’ve learned to trust those internal warning bells. Now I turn down some “opportunities.” Perhaps I lose a few sales, but measured against personal humiliation in a public forum? Not a tough decision. To be sure, my agent and editors may not be terribly tickled when I say no to something, but it’s not their names in the paper, or their faces on TV. It’s mine.

Giving workshops and speeches can be wonderful PR – if you enjoy it. I do. But if you’d rather eat dirt than get up and talk about writing, this sort of PR may not be “good” for you. Stressing over a future event can be death to creativity and a really nervous speaker can be difficult to listen to, even if his or her words of advice are excellent.

Book signings sound wonderful and exciting before you sell. After you’ve done a couple where you sit by yourself giving directions to the bathroom or other areas of a bookstore, not so much. Now I weigh the time a book signing will take from my writing, the location of the store, and whether or not I think I can make good contacts with bookstore employees who’ll be shelving my books (preferably face out once they’ve met me) before I agree to participate.

Writing articles like this is the sort of PR that I think all writers should consider. After all, writing is what we do. All we need is a topic and a venue, and we in RWA have plenty of both. Articles that appear in RWA newsletters can be shared among chapters. PR doesn’t get any easier or less expensive than that.

Print advertising is a tougher one to call. It can be expensive, but I doubt an ad would ever constitute “bad” PR, unless it was very badly done or in poor taste. It’s more a question of, “Is it cost effective?” I have NO idea. Nobody I know has any idea. I would say an ad’s effectiveness depends on (a) how much you pay and (b) what kind of result you expect. Will lots of print advertising get your book on a bestseller list? Not on its own. Will it increase traffic to your website? Much more likely, provided you include your URL in the ad. I advertise in Romance $ells because the price is reasonable compared to other venues, they tell you how many people receive it and they include the price of the layout in the cost.

What about a website? In this day and age, I believe a published author should have a website. It’s a wonderfully easy, effective way to provide your backlist and promote your upcoming books.

If you’re writing for young adults, you should really have a website. As I discovered, teens and younger kids have no hesitation looking you up on the web and emailing you. And they are one enthusiastic audience.

How fancy should your website be, and how much money should you spend? Like most PR exercises, this is very much up to the author and I don’t think there’s a definitive answer. I design and maintain my website myself because it’s less expensive, I enjoy it -- it’s a pleasant creative change from writing -- and I have the time to update it frequently. If I didn’t enjoy it or didn’t have the time, I would either pay someone to do it, or I’d have a simpler website.

I was told early on that when it came to websites, I should “update everything, update often” to ensure that people came back. The “update everything” would be way too much work, unless I wanted maintaining my website to be my day job. Updating often, however, is relatively quick and easy to do. There are plenty of things I can add, revise or delete on a weekly basis. My blog has a similar function – to remind people I’m “out there,” to keep their interest in my work between releases.

Does an author need a blog? I don’t think so, especially if you’re uncomfortable with that sort of intimacy with your audience (and any stranger who happens to come by) and don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on the computer.

What about bookmarks and/or flyers? This is another one that’s a little tough to call. I suspect (and have heard this from others) that they’re more likely to wind up in recycling bins than making a lasting impression. If I’m doing a major signing, though, I may decide it’s worth the time and money. When I do order paper products, however, I make them “generic” rather than specific to one title. Then they’re never out of date, and if I have leftovers, it’s no big deal. After all, unlike real leftovers, they won’t go bad.

There are other self-promotion tools out there. Newsletters, mailings, having contests and entering contests are a few that come to mind. Like many examples of self-promotion, their effectiveness is hard to measure, and they can be time-consuming and/or expensive. On the other hand, plenty of readers love them.

This is why PR remains, for me, one of the more mysterious and uncertain parts of the publishing business. Like writing, it’s not an exact science, and it’s very difficult to determine if one particular type of PR is more effective than another. Nevertheless, self-promotion is something most authors consider, and many do at least a little.

If a particular sort of PR works for you and doesn’t add a lot of stress to your life, then I’d consider that good PR. But if you find promoting yourself stressful, if it seems to be eating up a lot of your earnings and writing time, maybe you need to rethink its value. Perhaps it would be more worthwhile to put that time and effort into the book you’re working on. Because the one thing that’s definitely going to make a difference in your sales? Is writing a really good book.

1 comment:

Michelle Styles said...

Bernard Cornwell once told a friend that the best PR a writer can do is to write another book. Only through having books appearing regularly will you build a readership.
You need to have books come out at frequent intervals, but not so frequently that you compromise quality.
Or to put it another way, the last page of your book sells the first page of your next one. It is a bit like a snowball...and sometimes other PR activites help move the ball along but you need that bit of grit to keep it rolling.