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Getting publicity for books with “edgy” content

Getting publicity for books with "edgy" content can be very difficult

Publish-L author asked a question whether to include sex, violence, drugs and “edgy” content in a new Young Adult title. I offered up some thoughts from a publicity perspective.

Most of the prime media reviewers and many of the Internet and bloggers represent the socially conservative family oriented (hence G-rated) perspective. They actively embrace the clean and wholesome.

I have yet to see YA books that contain violence, sex, drugs and four letter words do particularly well with media. It seems that most of the adults simply nix the idea of sharing books that contain these elements with others. They cater to their audience preferences and opt for the safe and easy to promote so that they don’t suffer criticisms from those who find these elements distasteful.

Basically, while you may be able to persuade media people to take a look using news releases and phone calls that describe the books but don’t reveal or utilize these elements, once they get the book in their hands and see what it contains, you run a major risk of then being unable to get any positive reviews, and may in fact find yourself having to deal with the consequences of negative reviews.

Not that this should stop you, it’s just a factor I recommend you consider. My kids still rave about the Alana series, and witness the success of The Hunger Games. These books contain sex, violence, highly questionable behavior. Of course, quality content, style, and action packed edge of your seat writing may be playing so much more of a factor that reviewers will overlook any incidental elements they find to be distasteful within. And if the books are so good people will rave about them to each other in spite of their “edginess”, then you might not care about what media say, and in fact, it may not matter.

One of the other Publish-L participants noted that even the NY Times covers Young Adult books that contain sex, violence, and drugs.

This is true. It’s also not particularly relevant to the issue of promoting a new book from a lesser or unknown (or heaven forbid – self-published) author that contains these elements.

My point isn’t that you can’t get media to play with you once you climbed the mountain and achieved the level of a social phenomenon. You can. The fact that you’ve become a best-selling success makes the reporting of that news easy, safe, and trust worthy. The media are reporting facts. They are no longer taking a gamble on the book or the author. There is very little risk to them for publishing the news on this basis.

My point is that until you do so, getting media to play with you will be very difficult. After the fact reporting of success is much easier to acquire than coverage that helps you achieve success.

Persuading the media to give you media coverage before you’ve acquired a track record means you need to communicate and validate the quality, the value, and the importance of the writing and contribution without being able to demonstrate that tens of thousands of people agree with you and do in fact love what the author has created.

My point is that when you promote a book (or anything else for that matter) and seek to get media to share information about the book and the author, media look at that idea as a proposal for media coverage. You’ve got to answer to the three main questions that they use to make decisions correctly. These are:

1. How many people in my audience will be interested in this?
2. What’s in it for my audience?

The answer to both these questions has to be:

1. A LOT OF PEOPLE; and
2.. A LOT OF VALUE

Then you get to the third question the media asks.

3. What does it cost me to do my job?

The answer to this question has to be:

VERY LITTLE

This is because media editors will only invest staff time, energy, and publication resources into articles that help them sell more subscriptions or get more advertising, since that’s how they make their income and survive and thrive.

Good luck trying to persuade media to review a new just published book or interview an author of an unknown author of a book that’s filled with sex, violence, and drugs.

Can you imagine the how editors wince and cringe when little old ladies and god-fearing parents call up or write in and say they will no longer buy the publication because they are promoting such awful stuff?

Editors and producers will not give people coverage if doing so threatens their publishing income. Reporters and columnists won’t take the risks when they are so easily fired and replaced.

Yes, it’s sad that the world is like this, but this is the way it works and this is what really happens.

The point is that as writers and authors we get to make decisions about what to place into our works. We can think ahead and recognize what the people we will use to promote need to be successful and we can design, create and incorporate the elements that will enable them to utilize what we offer.

We can think ahead and do our best to write to sell. You just need to do so with your eyes open.

If you don’t think ahead and you create books that contain risky topics or course language, and you do so to express yourself or drive whatever points or agendas you may have, well, that’s your decision. It’s your publishing business and you take the risks. It’s your choice.

Just don’t be surprised when you then try to promote it and find out that it’s really hard to succeed.