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:
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.
One of the best tactics I recommend to people is that they create Google News Alerts on their favorite authors and study the media coverage they get. That’s how I discovered this one.
If you write thrillers (or even if you don’t) you cannot afford to miss this incredible interview with author Vince Flynn in the Feb 6 USA Today book section.
His advice to writers is great and from a PR perspective, I feel that his performance in the interview was excellent. It’s worth studying a master at work. He’s written 13 best sellers.
Here is one of the best examples about how to be educational, engaging and galvanizing I’ve seen by any author.
The interview is three minutes and forty-five seconds. I not only learned something, but was truly impressed with his knowledge, personality, depth of conviction and his enthusiasm for what he is doing.
He was asked three questions, and he spent one to two minutes more or less, answering each question.
I was tickled to see how he handled a question from the USA Today interviewer, that he apparently had never been asked before – “What is it about your stories that brings the reader in?”
For those of you who have worked with me, I challenge you with this very same question “what do you do that turns people on?” whenever we seek get media coverage whether it is for a review, a feature story, or an interview.
His answer and what he says about successful writing is worth studying carefully.
This is a great example for aspiring authors, not only about how to write a good book, but how to do an excellent media interview.
It worked, too. I went to Costco and bought the book Kill Shot.
An author came to me with a half written book and said what do you think?
I asked him what qualifications and experience he had to write this book? Why should people believe him?
He said, “I self published 3 books and read 25 marketing books and attended half a dozen seminars”.
I asked do you teach? Do you speak? Do you consult and practice? Do you work with clients and success stories you can tell?
No, no, no, no, and no.
I advised him that he may have difficulty getting people to buy his book when he finished it.
Knowledge is not powerful in and of itself. The application of knowledge is what is powerful.
There is a difference between being a student and being a teacher and being a practitioner.
People know it when they see it. Do what you are best at.
The article contains wonderfully personal insights from 11 top novelists into how and when they do their writing.
I just had to share this one hot off the press.
About a month ago I wrote a news release for client Susan Casey, author of the book Women Invent! The book was first published in 1997.
I decided to create a feature story and I worked with the author to develop quality detailed content with an offer of photos highlighting the accomplishments and achievements of famous women inventors from the past 100 plus years. We sent out the news release email html in early February to a custom list of science, education, and women’s media nationwide.
Lesson learned – the age of the book doesn’t matter. Galvanizing content and timeliness matters.
March is Women’s History Month.
Good to the last drop!
If anyone wants to see the news release pdf file please send me an email.
Paul J. Krupin – Direct Contact PR
Reach the Right Media in the Right Market with the Right Message
This is one of my most popular articles turned into a Powerpoint presentation and an ebook pdf file.
Free Powerpoint Presentation here:
Free ebook pdf file here:
Here is my November 21, 2008 response to a post to the online discussion group Small-Pub Civil at Yahoo groups:
>>Hello, everyone! One of my authors has written a 250+ page book about his open-heart surgery. The bulk of it is autobiographical, including childhood memories, interviews with
everyone from the surgeon down to the cleaning staff and an entire chapter of get-well emails from his friends (he has their permission, BTW). Since he produces and hosts a long-
running regional TV show with a reasonably-sized fan base and is promoting the hell out of the book, I am confident he will sell a few thousand copies. But he’s expecting big-time
national success, including being stocked in the chains and selling on QVC. He is seriously counting on coverage in the NYT.
>> When I try to point out that this is unlikely he accuses me of negativism. Am I just being negative?
I encounter this with authors all the time. It goes with the territory. It could be a truly remarkable memoir. It might contain experiences that can make people smile, cry and laugh as they read. But then again, he may not yet have gotten any meaningful feedback from people, or the feedback he has received may be designed to make him feel good and congratulate him on his effort and accomplishment with having written a book.
I wrote an article to try to get people to grasp the significance of their dream and what it means to them if they really want to see other people appreciate their writing, especially if they really intend to now use that writing to achieve fame and financial success.
I work with hundreds of authors and publishing companies each year and really and truly, very few of them have really created a book that it good enough to achieve fame, glory and financial success for the author. Most are labors of love. There’s a sizable financial investment and personal emotional investment that’s required to go from “author” to “best selling author” and few really have what it takes to make it through the gauntlet of the marketplace.
What I recommend people do is go slow. Show and tell one on one. It’s possible to learn how to sell. That’s the miracle of the microcosm. If you learn what you need to say to people in your little neck of the woods, chances are you can then say the same thing anywhere and everywhere you go and you’ll be equally successful selling your products wherever you go.
But you need to learn those magic words first.
You have to write to sell, and the job of writing isn’t done until the book sells. This is where most self-publishers go astray. They publish their book without verifying it was really ready for market.
You have to test your ideas and test your product and test your mar-com (marketing communications) on real live people. You need to identify your end users and the people who will buy the book for your users. Then you need to learn what to say to get these people to take the action you want.
Write to sell and test, test, test. Do this in small doses till you get the right buy signals. Reliably. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly and reliably.
Do 25 to 50 POD versions and test it with these important people.
You’ll know by their behavior and response whether you are really ready to publish the book.
If you can’t get people to even look at it, then you’re not done.
If they look at it and put it down, then you still have work to do.
If people look at it and grab it, you might be done. It depends what happens when they then pick it up and peruse it. If they put it down, then you’re not done.
You may have to redesign and re-write it till you know you are done. You have to work with your prospective audience to get real feedback, and you must listen to what people say and address the issues you receive.
This may take a lot of reiterations.
But one thing is for certain, there is a point that you will reach when you know that you are done. It’s a wonderful thing when you get to this point and know it.
Here’s what I’ve observed and experienced.
You know when you are done…
When people look at it, grab it, look at it again, look up to see where the cashier is, and then head to the cashier.
You show your book someone and they hold it close and won’t give it back freely.
You show them the book and they reach for their wallet.
They pick up one book, look at it, and grab four or five of them and head to the cashier.
One person picks up the book, grabs it and heads to find and show his or her friend the book, and they both grab one for themselves and buy it.
You know that you have something when kids pull it off the shelf and haul it over to their mothers and fathers with a look of desire and wanting and excitement in their eyes that says please????!!!!
I call this the hoarding syndrome. What you are witnessing I call a clutching response. It occurs when people touch something and decide that they want it.
This behavior in people clearly indicates to you that the book or object they are holding has such inherent value and importance that they are willing to pay for it. They know it and you know it instantly. They clutch the object of their desire in their hot sweaty hands and pull it in close to their body as if to possess it and protect it.
I know you’ve seen this and even experienced it yourself. You see it in stores and shopping centers all the time. I see it when my wife and teenage daughters shop. I know from their behavior when I’m toast. There is no arguing with them once they’ve experienced certain hormonal reactions to objects that they’ve been in close physical contact with. That’s they way we humans respond to certain material experiences.
Other people here have no doubt experienced this in a variety of ways. It would be very cool to hear from people about when they knew that they were done.
I work with a lot of authors and publishers, and I see success a lot less frequently that I wish I would see. I attribute this to people rushing through to publishing their books without making sure they have created a product that people will actually buy.
So this is my bottom line advice:
Write to sell. Don’t stop writing and re-writing till you know it sells, and sells easily and continuously.
Prove it with small test POD numbers. Use the technology that is available to all of us wisely. Then move it up through the publishing and promotion chain level by level.
In most cases, the author thinks the book should excite and grab people. But it doesn’t always happen that way.
So to me, they still have work to do. But they can’t speculate about what’s wrong, they need real data.
This is what I tell people to do – get the data. Figure out what you need to say and do to produce action that will satisfy your stated goals and objectives:
Go ask your candidate customers. Ask until you are blue in the face and get the hard difficult data and feedback you need to redesign and redo your project.
I had a recent publisher come to me with a book which presented his ideas on how to have a successful marriage by using a marriage contract.
Myself, I’m a former attorney and I would not pick up a book that had a marriage contract in it.
Do people want to run their marriage off of a contract? Like it’s a job or a construction project? Do they want to reduce communications and relationships to policies, procedures and stipulated provisions?
When we looked at our marriage vows, my wife said “strike the obey” and I said “and add in this here dispute resolution clause”.
And that’s what the minister did, and we still live by those words.
And that was the oral vows.
Put it in writing? Something doesn’t fit in the picture. Like ‘what’s love got to do with it?’
This is the type of process most people go through when they contemplate buying a book.
Do I want to get married to this person and his or her ideas? Even if I can get divorced from them later?
You are not done until people fall in love with your creation. You’ll know it only when it happens.
On one of the discussion groups I participate in we’ve been talking about writing and selling.
> So enlighten us. How would we have recognized THE DA VINCI CODE,
> which really is a preposterous book, as a bestseller when it first
> started circulating in MS?
I’m a real student and believer in the science and psychology of communications, whether they be written oral, and visual. Words trigger interest and even action. Some words are more powerful and effective than others.
Write a check for $1000. How many words on the check? And you know what happens so it’s a reliable repeat action. We’ve built an entire economic system based on a promise to pay for value received. It’s really quite remarkable what a few well written words can do.
Words can motivate.
Look at the Declaration of Independence. Look at what a few carefully constructed words can do. Can you guess how many draft versions it took for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to get it right?
You can learn how to write to produce action. You can test the words until they produce the response you seek.
Turns out that Dan Brown was one of my clients in the pre- Da Vinci Code days. I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements of the prequel, Angels and Demons. (Go and look if you have a copy!)
I and my family (two teenage girls mind you and a dietitian wife) loved that book because it’s a thought provoking book and a good action packed thriller. Preposterous? Fact or fiction, who cares? It’s a good book and it’s fun to read. That’s why it sells. It’s so enjoyable and provocative to read that stimulates discussion in the marketplace of ideas.
For any book an author writes that’s what will create and drive interest and sales. That’s the excellence in your writing that you need to instill and you’re not done until it happens.
But Dan was a poor starving writer of many books before he wrote the blockbuster. He and his wife Blythe worked very hard to achieve success. They worked and reworked those early writings till they had what it took to get the right publisher to take on their project.
I believe that you can design and even engineer results based on what you write. I see it in all the creative works produced by my clients day in day out. That’s what speechwriters do for politicians.
You have to pay attention to the people you are trying to motivate and please. You have to have a goal of triggering a certain action. You help the people you can help the most. You educate the people you can educate the most. You entertain the people you can entertain the most.
You do the very best you can. You don’t write and publish and then try to sell. This of course is what many authors do.
You write, test, test, test, and only when you know the action you get do you then seek to publish and sell.
You write and then revise, revise, revise and improve, improve and improve till you get the action you want when people look at what you’ve written.
You go the distance to where the snowball you’ve been pushing up the hill begins to move on it’s own.
You have to identify the pool of people you are aiming to please. If it’s cookbooks, it’s people who cook. If it’s science fiction, it’s people who read science fiction. If it’s top literary agents, then it’s top literary agents.
If you write a book and show it to 20 people in the right pool of people and ten of them truly rave about it, and it results in 60 people asking for it (since each convinced 3 other people they had to read it), then maybe it’s time to show it to ten agents.
But if you show it to 20 people, and you get a lukewarm response, then maybe you need to revise it and improve it till you get the raving response you need.
That’s how you recognize that you’re in the right position to publish and have a reasonable confidence of success.
Pretty good illustration of the principles in my article The Magic of Business. Look at what she did with her first writings. Look at the effect her books had on the people they wanted to reach.
The interview indicates that they knew what they had to do. They sought to please their readers in the book clubs and the booksellers. Then they saw the agents fighting over the book, and even the publishing companies in the bidding war over the rights to the book.
You can set this as your goal and believe that you can do this. You have to hone you craft and writing skills, and also focus on taking your writings to the right people once you find out that your writing has the effect needs to have on people in the market place.
The beauty of testing in it the microcosm of wherever you are is that you can get the feedback you need and then revise, revise, revise till it really sings.
Then you can test it and test it and test it again so you prove reliably that it does indeed produce the action you want people to take when they read it.
And in a nation of 330 million people, the potential is huge.
And if you translate it into Chinese, there’s another 300 million waiting for you across the Pacific.
You start local and aim global.
The beauty of the opportunity of being alive today is that you get to try.
Oh the mistakes people make when they write a news release.
The copywriting errors I see every day as a publicist and a copywriter are plentiful. It can be costly to those who send news releases that contain copywriting errors since all the copywriting efforts and the cost of conducting the publicity outreach produce absolutely nothing from a media coverage point of view. In fact, it can be harmful to the company and to the publicist. A badly written news release actually produces ill will and has a negative impact on the reputation of those involved in the effort. It can also be costly to the service that transmits the news release because many media upon receipt of the offensive time wasting communication will request removal from the whole service. This hurts their future business forever since they lose so many media.
Can you learn what not to do? Can you learn how to write a news release? Can you improve your copywriting skills?
Of course you can! It does take time to write a good news release, and you must study the existing news coverage, study the experts, and practice, and improve. It is not something you do well the first time or even the tenth time. Copywriting is a specialty and is not learned overnight.
First he presents the “worst news release” he ever received and does a quick and succinct word by word analysis of what’s wrong with it. Then he ends with a two minute re-write of Mary Had a Little Lamb, as done by the alleged copywriter of the news release. It’s hilarious.
For more advice on what not to do when you write a news release and how to fix it, you can read my article Why News Releases Fail.