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The marketing aspect of writing can be daunting to any writer—especially those new to the scene. To help guide you in that process, we’ll be doing an interview series, Industry Influencer Spotlight, in which we pose questions to experts in the publishing and/or marketing industry.
Gabrielle Gantz, senior publicist at Picador, was gracious enough to answer some of our questions for the very first article in our Industry Influencer Spotlight series. She has written for The Faster Times, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus. In her free time she writes about arts and culture at The Contextual Life and co-runs the literary event calendar Book Boroughing. She can be found on Twitter @contextual_life. If you’d like to know more about the publicity process, whether you self-publish or work with a publishing house, read the essay she wrote for The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America entitled, “Subject: Hello From Your Publicist.”
Gabrielle took a moment in her busy schedule to share her expertise with Writer’s Relief and all of our wonderful followers. Read what Gabrielle has to say!
1. What recent developments in publishing do you find most exciting or promising? Any that you feel are negative changes?
I love paperback originals and I feel reviewers, and publications in general, are taking them more seriously. For me, hardcover doesn’t signify quality, and conversely, paperback doesn’t mean a publisher doesn’t believe in a book. I think it’s a matter of who the book’s audience is and how you can best reach your readers on the first try. There have been a few books where I’ve run to the bookstore to buy a copy, only to find it’s a hardcover priced at $24.95. I’m of the demographic that buys hardcovers sparingly but won’t think twice about a $14 paperback.
Negative changes? Well, overall, I get the sense that our culture likes things for free—who doesn’t, right? We like to read newspaper and magazine articles for free online, we like our movies and television cheap, and yes, we like free and cheap ebooks. However—and this isn’t some self-preservation argument, being that I work in publishing and love what I do, although I would like to keep doing it as long as possible—like the reporter whose job it is to keep us informed about politics and the film crew who keeps a production going, authors need to be, or at least should be, compensated for the work readers eagerly consume. I don’t want to spark an argument over pricing, but in my unofficial capacity (I am not a spokesperson for the company I work for), I feel this is one of the fundamental issues facing the publishing industry today—how to get people to see the value in something that feels ephemeral (ebooks).
2. What is the first piece of marketing advice you would give a new author on the scene?
One of the best parts about my job as a publicist—I’ll add that marketing and publicity are closely linked—is that there’s no one way to answer this, or there’s no one piece of advice to give all authors. It’s very much a case-by-case basis depending on the author’s personality, his/her work schedule, the kind of books he/she writes, and where his/her audience is. I think the most basic advice an author can get is to have a website where people can find his/her contact information—whether it be for him/her personally or for the relevant people at his/her publishing house. You never want someone in the media to hear about you but not know how to get in touch to request a review copy or an interview. Similarly—and heads up, bloggers—as a publicist, nothing drives me crazier than coming across a great book blog but not being able to find an email address. In my mind, that person just lost the opportunity to receive free books. So, authors, step one: Make sure someone can find out how to get in touch.
3. When is self-publishing better than traditional publishing, really?
The first answer that comes to mind, which is not the only answer, is when an author is already established and has a strong following. Seth Godin comes to mind. He has some hardcore fans and a large online presence. However, and this is why I say it’s not the only time, we’ve seen some unknown writers make a big splash on the self-publishing circuit.
Self-publishing hopefuls should realize, if they don’t already, that getting a quality book out into the world and into the hands of readers is hard work and not something that should be taken lightly. First, there needs to be a burning desire to see one’s work in print (or as a finalized ebook). I grew up making ‘zines so I know how great it is not to have to rely on someone else’s approval to get your writing out there, but I wasn’t doing it to feed and clothe myself. If you want to make a living, you should study the numbers. I don’t have them readily available, but I do know that the majority of authors I’ve worked with over the years have day jobs—or it was their position as an expert in a field that led them to write a book. I’m not one for definitive answers, but people should figure out if they have the time and money to devote to a project like self-publishing. As someone who works in traditional publishing, I don’t have the answers to the important questions a writer should ask themselves before embarking on such a project, but there are plenty of resources out there that are just a Google search away.
To sum it up, I’d say that if the sheer feeling of accomplishment of creating a book is enough for you, and you can afford it, go for it but don’t go into it expecting fame and fortune. You might get it but you should be prepared if you don’t.
4. Do you have any tips for authors looking to promote their own books?
As a publicist, my view skews toward reviews and interviews as a way of promoting a book. With that in mind, I say knowing the media—what they cover and how they cover it—is a great first step. You can’t pitch everyone and you can’t pitch everyone the same way. If you want to be on NPR, listen to each of their shows. Keep track of the books they cover and on which programs. But telling debut and self-published authors to study NPR is a bit like telling them to eat cake, so start local. Does your local paper have a books section? Do they have individual reviewers for fiction and nonfiction? Do they have one reviewer for those categories or many? What about your local radio station? Do they interview authors? Do you have a local independent bookstore? Do they sell self-published books? Do they have local events? Writers groups? Get out into your community and get to know people. Support other local authors.
On a national level, social media. You don’t need to be on Facebook, Twitter, and now Tumblr all day. Find one that makes the most sense to you and study it. Follow people who are using these platforms successfully. Find websites with handy tips and learn. Contribute to websites. Get your name out there, and make sure your bio mentions your book and includes all the necessary links.
It’s really about engaging with the reading and writing community. Once you start, it will lead you to other places. But you need to start. Take it slow at first while you’re learning. Better to be cautious than do anything inappropriate.
5. You’ve got quite a following on Twitter (@contextual_life). Any tips for writers who want to gain fans and become a little more popular through Internet presence?
Why, thank you. I love Twitter. I have it open all the time, which might actually be unhealthy. I would say, be a resource. Post links to articles that are interesting and helpful to you. Give people a reason to follow you. Above all, be genuine. Be sincere. If it doesn’t feel true to you, people will be able to tell and it will fall flat. Also, I know that going negative has earned a number of people an incredible following—I’m not thinking about anyone in particular, honest—but it’s always better to keep it positive. As a publicist who works with the people behind the media, I steer clear of anything controversial. I have nothing to gain from creating a Twitter war and, at the end of the day, neither do you.
Keep your head up, keep writing, and stay true to yourself. That’s all any writer can do.