Avoid foot-in-mouth disease: What not to say to a publicist

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Breanna
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Joined: January 15th, 2010, 10:19 am
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Avoid foot-in-mouth disease: What not to say to a publicist

Post by Breanna » January 15th, 2010, 11:15 am

I work for a literary publicity firm, and every day we speak with authors who are seeking promotional help for their books. Most of them are perfectly lovely, but of course there are always the few who say things that make you go, “Hmm.”

Sometimes all it takes is one statement to derail a potential partnership with a publicist. As an independent firm, we are interviewing authors as much as they are interviewing us, and while most in-house publicists at publishing houses don’t have the luxury of cutting a high-maintenance author loose, an early red flag can sour the relationship. For authors navigating the world of book publishing and promotion, here are a few statements to stay away from (all have actually been uttered by real-life authors during the course of our submission process):

“This book is for anyone who wants to live.”

So that’s…a lot of people. You might say that encompasses every person on the planet (save the heavily depressed types). If you’re asked who your target market is, it’s better to have a more specific answer, such as “mothers of young children” or “men ages 18-35.” This means you’ll need to do some research on your genre, and you’ll need to know your subject matter well enough to understand your audience.

Now. Why is this important? Because your book will be promoted to your primary audience first – that’s how you build momentum. The readers (and media outlets) who will be the most interested in your work are the ones who will be vocal advocates. They’ll get the word out to people who might not have picked up your book otherwise. A classic example? Harry Potter. These books were originally written for an audience of 9-12 year olds, but did that stop me from reading them? Heck no, but before I found Harry Potter, a 6th grader had to tell me about him first.

“Do you know what it feels like to change the world?”

I, uh…no? How does one even respond to this question? If you’re outlining your credentials, 1) try not to make it awkward for the other person listening to you, and 2) stick to the facts. You might be a superstar, but frankly, superstars don’t need to justify their status. Asking questions like this just makes you sound like the literary equivalent of an overreaching movie extra at best. It might be counterintuitive, but a healthy dose of humility – paired with a product that speaks for itself – will get you much further.

Finally, we come to:

“I’m very high maintenance.”

Alright. If I were on a date with someone and he said this to me, I’d be flagging down the waiter and yelling, “Check, please!” It’s not much different in the publishing world. When you decide to work with an agent, publisher, or publicist, you’re entering into a relationship. As with any relationship, you’ll want to put your best foot forward, so don’t drop bombs like this at the very beginning. Are you energetic and aggressive? That’s great – say something like, “I’m fully prepared to put a lot of energy into promoting my book.” Of course, you’ll actually have to do that, but this means you can use your strengths. Also, you must must must recognize that book publishing and promotion are team efforts. Being part of that team means there’s no room for divas.
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