With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Interview with Publicist Peg Booth
Peg Booth has mastered giving her clients what they want and need. During the past twenty-six years she has worked in nearly every aspect of customer service, marketing, and public relations. Her specialties include superior service to the client, strong media contacts, strong Midwestern work ethic (Iowafarm girl raised by honest, hard-working parents), her persistence and tenacity. She matches her personal interests with her career by specializing in representing clients in the fields of health, relationships, business, real estate, cooking, finance, sales, humor, self-improvement, and human potential.
For three and one-half years she worked at The Ford Group with the esteemed Arielle Ford. In February 1998 she took her talents and formed Booth Media Group Inc., which is located in Carlsbad, California. She has worked with such clients as Mark Victor Hansen, Jack Canfield, Ken Blanchard, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, Dr. Michael Bradley, John Perkins, Jared Bernstein, Greg Palast, and Todd Wilbur. Find out more at
- You’ve been in the publicity and marketing business for 27 years. Can you tell us a little about the tremendous shifts that have occurred in your field?
Wow, that seems like a long time, doesn’t it? But really, with the tremendous changes in our industry, it remains fun and is a learning experience each day! The biggest shift in our opinion in this field is that the media is much more topic and news-driven than ever before. They want their interviews to tie in with something that is going on in the news or being talked about around the water cooler.
Recently, internet marketing and social media have begun to play a bigger and bigger role in marketing a book. However, I must say, that in my opinion, you can’t rely just on internet marketing alone if you want your book to be truly successful. We have the best results in our campaigns with a combination of approaches including: traditional PR, internet marketing, social media and exposure in the author’s community and audience through speaking engagements.
I’ve also noticed that it can be increasingly more difficult to get the larger national bookings than it used to be. A lot of national television shows are no longer interested in bringing on an author simply because they have written a new book, they want that author, his or her expertise, and work to comment on a topic that is going on right now in either the news or popular culture.
- What are some “old school” practices that are still useful today?
Some publicists may disagree with me here but I find myself repeating time and time again that making follow up phone calls is essential to being successful in public relations—still. Today, too many publicists rely only on follow up emails- or worse yet, don’t take the time or think they have the time to follow up at all! Public relations is all about relationships, and there is no replacement for picking up the phone and actually having a short conversation with a producer or writer. It is much easier to build rapport and overcome any objections they might have. Emails are easily ignored and deleted.
That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about making follow up calls and there are always exceptions to this. When you do make follow up calls, please remember to be patient, professionally persistent, and get to the point.
- What are some “new school” practices that you think will last? How important is online marketing for selling books?
Only time will tell how effective internet marketing and social media will be when it comes to marketing books in the long run. Right now blogging and consistently posting on Facebook and Twitter are effective ways of connecting with an audience in conjunction with traditional PR and marketing strategies, as well as pitching relevant bloggers.
Online book reviewers at Amazon.com and other sites have become an important piece too – a great review by a top online reviewer can really sell books and gain exposure.
I have no doubt that internet marketing will always play a significant role, but the different channels people are using on the internet are always changing and evolving. What works today may be drastically different or non-existent in five years. It is key to stay on top of what may come next.
- What are some of the common challenges writers face in publicizing their books in today’s publishing climate? How does it differ if the book is Indy published or traditionally published?
When you independently publish your book, there is generally less money and resources available for marketing your book because you have to do it on your own. Having your book traditionally published immediately gives some credibility to the book, which makes it easier to pitch to the media. There will also be more books available usually to the public because publishers have the proper distribution channels in place, and publishers also put out a catalog to bookstores allowing for advanced exposure for the books. However, as the quality of independently published books has risen, the credibility of indy books has also gone up, which is great news. We have found much less resistance to doing national interviews with indy books than previously.
- In what ways can a publicist build on an author’s marketing efforts?
Whatever the author is doing in his or her marketing efforts, a good publicist can help because of our cultivated media connections and contacts, which usually can help gain faster results. Pitching the media is a very time consuming process that most authors just don’t have time for. Good publicists will take the time to follow up with the media.
Publicists are experts in dealing with the media, and know the proper ways to approach, pitch and “hook” producers and editors and how to grab their attention. There is a preferred way to deal with many of the producers and writers, and if you aren’t well versed in it, the process can be quite daunting and then you may not get the positive results you are looking for. Some producers want to be called on their cell phones, some writers want to be called or emailed before Noon, when they go on deadline, some media insist upon a pitch that ties in with a national news story, etc… It is our job to know what the media wants and how they want to be pitched.
We can also build upon an author’s marketing efforts in a city where he or she is doing a speaking engagement, workshop, or consulting by pitching and booking media in that city to promote what the author is doing in that city. So it is vital to work closely with the author to know what he or she is doing around the country so we can pitch media in those areas to build upon their marketing efforts.
- You specialize in non-fiction books. Is this based on what you like to read? Are non-fiction projects generally easier to promote than fiction?
I do like to read non-fiction books and they are generally easier to promote. It is easier to create hooks for non-fiction books that the media would be interested in. For us, when we do pitch fiction books, we create non-fiction hooks for the media. Here is a great example for our fiction book, RED MEAT CURES CANCER, a hilarious satire on the fast food industry written by a health care attorney. About two months after the launch of RED MEAT, while we were scouring the daily news for a possible hook, we found a lawsuit was filed by a customer of a fast food chain, claiming the fast food made them fat. The author of RED MEAT is a health care attorney, he could address the legal issues of the lawsuit, and also tie in the story and his issue of personal responsibility to his lead character in his book—-it worked and we were able to gain much more exposure for RED MEAT with this “hook.”
- What are some criteria writers can use when evaluating publicity agencies?
We remind authors to keep in mind that a PR campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. It is going to take some time to get your campaign off the ground and gain exposure. Also it is a good idea if your personality matches well with the publicist you will be working with. More often than not you will be working with them on a daily basis. It is important to determine from the beginning that you are both on the same page when it comes to the goals and expectations you have in mind.
Look at their recent bookings and the type of placements they are acquiring for their current or past clients. Determine what type of relationship they have with national media producers and writers and how much time they will dedicate to your campaign each day/week. Also check their track record to see if any of their authors have made it to the best sellers list and how often.
It would also be a good idea to ask how your publicist develops his or her pitches and hooks. Ask them to give you examples of their best hooks and how successful they were.
- How do you respond to a writer who says they are too shy or introverted to promote themselves?
I would suggest three things to an author who isn’t excited about getting out there to promote their book or is introverted and shy.
First would be to get some good media training. When you have an idea of what you are doing and what you are trying to accomplish, you can be much more confident in your interviews and public appearances.
It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with a strong marketing team and publicist. It is their job to get your name out there for you; while you can work behind the scenes, your publicist and marketing team can be making calls and pitching the media and dealing more with the public.
Lastly, if you are very shy, then doing more internet marketing and working in social media will help you greatly. Instead of giving public speaking engagements or live television or national radio interviews, the shy author can tweet and post daily on facebook and pitch bloggers by email, getting their message out to the public from behind a computer screen, instead of up on stage.
But personally and to be very honest, I would tell an author who is very shy, that you took a lot of time to write a great book filled with great ideas: now it is time to work to get over your shyness to get your message out there to help people. We have some strategies we teach in our workshops to help authors who are shy.
- What are some of the more creative publicity campaigns you have done? How does a writer go about creating a “hook” to draw media attention?
Oh, gosh, we have had lots of fun with many of our campaigns. Since the media gets pitched usually hundreds of times each day, the important thing for us is to get them to notice the pitch/the package/the email or call. Here’s 3 quick campaigns we did get lots of attention for, especially at the national level:
For our hilarious low-fat cookbook, Looneyspoons, we hired a songwriter to write a pitch to the Beverly Hillbilly theme song, which immediately got the media’s attention. In most of the national TV packages we sent out, we also included samples of the rich chocolate fudge recipe, which the media loved!
For our Run Across America campaign, we and the author created a tour for the author to do–100 talks in 100 cites in 100 days running across America!
In our Party Across America packages we sent to the national media, we included party favors so they could start the “party” in their office early on Friday afternoons, etc…. We even received some photos by email of producers or writers wearing party hats, leis, weird sunglasses, etc. we had sent them. Clearly they were big hits and it created many responses, which is what we wanted!
And there are many great stories of creative launch parties authors have done including the largest chicken soup food line for the homeless to be served for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and many proceeds went to their charity for the homeless.
For a writer to write an effective media hook they must watch and read the news. Also list all the topics you talk about in your book. The author needs to understand how they can relate the topic(s) of their book or their expertise to something that is currently happening in the news. Important for national media, their hooks must tie in with a news story or a water cooler topic- anything people are talking about right now but also national holidays, anniversaries, etc. Brainstorm monthly with your publicist or your marketing team.
- For those authors who want to handle their marketing themselves, please fill us in on the one-on-one full day training you offer.
We offer very practical PR training—we call it “in the trenches PR.”
This involves what PR is really is about every day, not what you learn about in school regarding PR.
PR is not about writing fancy press releases but learning to develop your platform, finding out who your audience really is, realistically admitting what your time and budget constraints are (it takes more of each than you think!), targeting the best and most appropriate media for you and your book, learning how to create several great pitches for your book and topics in your book (we usually have 4-6 pitches for each campaign), learning how to create an effective press or media kit for the media, developing a plan of attack and timetable for your campaign, keeping in mind you need to start before you think you do, develop a campaign for at least one year or more, team members you will need to help you, who might be better at certain jobs than you, how you determine what types of media and campaign you want and will be most effective for your book, such as a full campaign, or just a radio and internet campaign, or just a print and national TV campaign, etc……and what those types of campaigns involve and much more.
Lastly, we look at the top 10 do’s and don’ts of PR and also the 3 most important characteristics of a good publicist (including being your own publicist) and a list of items you will need for your campaign.
- Do you have any tips on launching a media campaign for a first time author?
Please remember to have patience and be persistent. One call or email usually to a producer or editor is not going to get you the positive results you want. It can take up to 12 calls just to reach a producer. Know that results will take time, rarely are there instant results when it comes to PR. Be creative and collaborate with your publicist. No one knows your book better than you, so don’t be afraid to share your creative ideas with your PR team. Remain positive even when things seem slow. Know the audience you are trying to target and have realistic expectations. Think and start as far in advance of your publication date as possible—most authors start their campaigns too late. And get some effective media training before doing any interviews.
- Are you available for taking new clients at this time or offering any workshops in the near future?
Yes, of course! There’s nothing we like more than working with an author in our full day workshops to teach them about PR and effective strategies to gain exposure for their new book. We are always excited about new books and campaigns that are fun, challenging, creative, and will help to make a difference in peoples’ lives—-it keeps us energized, committed, and loving what we do each day!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope Publishing and Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.