For many people the ambition to write a book or publish a collection of stories or poems remains just that – an ambition. To actually finish a novel, memoir, or a series of stories or poems is a real achievement that any writer should feel proud to have completed, whether or not they find a publisher or path to market. However, if and when a writer’s work does find a publishing partner or is self-published and available, it is imperative to promote and publicise the title as carefully and widely as possible. Having gone to such lengths to complete the book, the writer and publisher need to ensure its potential audience is aware of the book, its author and how they can purchase it.
The objective of this information pamphlet is to offer writers an overview of the publicity/promotion process, the key factors and considerations at play, and also what role the writer can, and should, play in their book’s promotion. The focus will be on print, radio, TV and specialised media with some reference also to social media platforms.
Every book and author is different, so this document cannot comprehensively cover every case or every query. However, it does aim to provide a clear picture of the publicity landscape for all books in Ireland today, with special consideration for fiction, poetry and literary memoir.
The Publicity Pyramid
When it comes to publicity there is a hierarchy as to how coverage works. This applies not simply to books, but all stories or events that may be covered. In a way this can be seen as a kind of pyramid that is divided into 3 layers: at the top is news, next is feature coverage, and finally, in the case of books, reviews.
For anyone seeking publicity or coverage, to make the news is hugely desirable but extremely difficult. One is competing with numerous other events: catastrophes, major crimes, international conflict, world politics, sporting events and celebrity gossip. To be on the TV or radio news, or on the front page of a newspaper leads to invaluable coverage – you are literally unavoidable. Also news makes news – when a story is in the news other media outlets spot it and seek to cover it too.
However, for a book to make the news is extremely rare, and tends to happen around major award announcements such as the Booker Prize or Costa Award, or when a film or TV deal that is done based on a book, or when a major writer dies. Sometimes non-fiction titles reveal new or shocking revelations about events or people and this can result in news coverage, but for literary titles this is not the case.
TWO: Features and Interviews
PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE MORE THAN THINGS. Everybody watches, listens or reads the news in some shape or form. This places it at the top of the pyramid, in that it is hard to avoid and we consume it involuntarily. However, once the public have heard or read the news, they then choose the next item that appeals to them. So next in the hierarchy of publicity we find feature articles, print interviews and broadcast interviews.
Features and interviews offer the audience a chance to connect with the writer and the book they have written. Feature pages include pictures of the book and/or the writer, and it is proven that pictures prove more memorable.
Feature pages, in many cases, appear in a magazine or review supplement that tends to stay on the coffee table for the entire week.
Radio and TV interviews – national and local – offer 8 to 15 minutes of airtime to tell your and your title’s story. The public want to like the interviewee, and when they do it can lead to them seeking out your book.
It may seem surprising that review coverage should appear at the foot of the publicity pyramid. This is based not on their importance, but on their reach. To put it simply, book reviews reach a far smaller audience than feature or news items. Book reviews tend to be on inner pages and often only receive a modest amount of space. Broadcast coverage of books tends to be at weekends or evening time, when the mainstream audience is elsewhere. That said, the audience that does read reviews and listen to book programmes is clearly interested in literature, and more likely to seek out new work that they read or hear about.
Review coverage is still highly desirable and, while not as widely read, is extremely important for several reasons:
- It influences readers’ purchasing decisions
- It may assist in selling rights internationally
- It can be used to endorse future editions of the book
- It encourages and validates the author
- It can be circulated to booksellers and used in marketing
- It can be shared on social media
- It gives a title independent credibility.
It is important, well in advance of publication, that you and your publisher compile an accurate and extensive list of specific recipients who should receive your book.
The Irish Media Landscape in Terms of Books
One of the advantages of Ireland’s size is that reaching many media outlets is feasible – something that is far more challenging in markets such as the UK and the US. Irish newspapers, radio and television are supportive of Irish publications and feature them all the time. Typically non-fiction titles have a greater reach and present more opportunities, but there are many books pages and broadcast programmes focused on literary output.
Excluding tabloids, there are three daily newspapers, and four Sunday papers published nationally. There are three national English language radio stations and four English speaking national TV stations, as well as one Irish speaking radio and TV channel. So it is practically possible to contact all of the above relatively easily, and without huge expense. In Northern Ireland there are two papers covering the territory – The Irish News and the Belfast Telegraph as well as the Sunday Life at the weekend. BBC Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle, plus U105 are key radio outlets.
Regional radio and print outlets are extremely strong across the island and are very supportive of Irish writers, doubly so if there is a local connection to the author or the book’s content. With 15–20 local radio stations and 40–50 established regional newspapers, it is again feasible to reach all the relevant outlets easily and without huge commitment of time and resources.
Online media – such as The Journal.ie, Joe.ie, Her.ie to name a few – are more and more prevalent and increasing in their reach and relevance. They should not be overlooked and, given the digital nature of their platforms, can be reached quickly and economically.
Essentially, to mount an all-Ireland publicity campaign, while intensive and challenging, is feasible given the size of the media market, and the relatively manageable number of outlets – particularly when one focuses on those that are relevant and likely to collaborate.
While Writing – Publicity and PR in Mind but not In Front
If a book is exceptional in its content and writing, it makes it far easier to promote.
While it is not a guarantee of success, it is certain – particularly for fiction and poetry titles – that if the writing is not as strong as it should be, then the title will struggle.
It is both sensible and important during the writing process to consider aspects or angles
that may assist in promoting the book, if and when it is published. However, to shape your work in order to secure publicity or coverage is a dangerous and, most likely, a futile strategy. The key is to make your work as good as it possibly can be, and attract a publisher. That is the most important element of the entire process.
In this era of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, writers often pose two questions. First, should they develop a social media presence, and second, whether that may be a factor in securing publication? Certainly, if an author has an online presence, and is comfortable with different social media, this can prove useful when their book is published. However, the number of your Twitter followers or Facebook friends – unless they number hundreds of thousands – will not get you published.
The Publicity Process
Typically the process of publishing a book follows a well-established series of steps:
Step 1. Signing Contracts
Step 2. The Editorial Process
Step 3. Book Production and Printing
Step 4. Book Release and Promotion
Reasonably, you would think the publicity aspect comes into play at Step 4 around the books release, however, for both author and publisher, publicity is – and should be – a factor from the outset.
Step 1. Signing Contracts
When it comes to signing contracts an author and publisher should both be considering the ability of each party to promote a particular title. If the author is unable or unavailable to promote the book when it appears this is going to be a huge difficulty for the publisher. For example, if an author is intensely private or extremely shy, this will constrain certain opportunities that may arise. Also if an author has professional or personal commitments that limit their availability to do interviews, readings, and other media appearances around the book’s release, then this should be of concern both to the publisher and the author, who has done so much work in writing the new title.
Similarly, if a publisher cannot provide the resources to publicise the book to the relevant media, or if the publisher has no experience in dealing with the media, that is clearly of concern for the author and the book’s likely chance of success. For example, if a publisher cannot or is unwilling to go to the expense of sending out numerous review copies to the media, how will coverage be generated? If the publisher has no experience in dealing with the media, or lacks the manpower and time to follow up the approaches they have made, clearly this will limit the media penetration that the title achieves. So before signing contracts, both publisher and writer should consider the promotional aspects and expectations.
Having chosen to sign contracts, the author should pay close attention to any clauses that relate to their responsibilities in terms of promoting their book. Also, authors should enquire about out of pocket expenses relating to the book’s promotion. There should be a clear understanding between publisher and author as to who will bear which expenses. This may not be part of the contract but should be discussed and criteria agreed and recorded. For example, most contracts would have a clause committing the writer to help promote the book and being available to do so, including launch events and interviews which are generally unpaid work for the author. However, if asked to travel from Cork to Dublin to sit in studio for an interview, the publisher, or media outlet, might consider covering the cost of time and travel involved. Writers should discuss these eventualities with their publishers.
Once contracts have been signed, it is both customary and practical for the writer to meet the publisher’s team. Often this initial meeting relates to the editorial process, however, it is sensible (and far-sighted) that this initial visit should include an opportunity to meet with individuals charged with the book’s promotion and publicity – and for the writer to give them a sense of the book and any publicity angles there may be.
A writer’s relationship with the book’s editor is critical but equally critical is the relationship with the person(s) charged with promoting your book.
Step 2. The Editorial Process
Once contracts have been signed and a final draft has been submitted to the publisher or editor, the work of finalising the text is front and centre – with publicity matters correctly in the background. However, during the editorial process it is prudent for the editor and their team to brief the publicity team about the book’s content, its strengths and any angles that may seem potentially useful later on, when the book is released.
Another key aspect of the editorial process, which can often be overlooked by author and publicists alike, is that during this time the back blurb and initial cover treatments are generated. The blurb is a key tool for attracting readers and also may be used in full or in part as part of the press release. It is customary and practical that the writer should be involved in this text, which is a key tool for booksellers, the sales representatives of the publisher and the end user – the reader.
Similarly, the book’s jacket design usually occurs in tandem or near the end of the editorial process. The publisher commissions and oversees the jacket design, which is usually produced by a graphic designer. While an author should be consulted about jacket design, it is the publisher who has the final decision normally – and one should trust the designer and publisher as they have the experience in this area. However, the cover and book title clearly need to be as attractive as possible, so any useful input given by the author should, at least, be considered. In general, covers that are overly busy and titles that are excessively long tend not to work, simply because once your cover is reproduced in magazine or newspaper or online, it will be less than one inch tall.
Other useful additions to the promotion of the book, which can and should occur during the book’s editorial process, are endorsements obtained from other writers or commentators. These endorsements can be used on the book jacket, in sales material, and in publicity material given to the media. The writer and the publisher should seek such endorsements from their contacts that can add credibility and kudos to the book. It is standard that writers offer endorsements for free.
Step 3. Book Production and Printing
Many international and some Irish publishers produce early proofs of their books in advance of final printed copies. These press copies, sometime called ‘galleys’ or uncorrected proofs are hugely advantageous, particularly for fiction titles. With limited review pages available in print, and with the large global publishers working off long timelines, editors in newspapers commission reviews weeks, even months, in advance. So often when a book appears, it is not that an editor does not see its merit, it is simply that the slots available are already assigned. Also magazines often work six to eight weeks ahead of publication – so if your book is to appear in May, they need a hard copy ideally in March. Ideas for feature articles on themes, subjects, social or political issues or current affairs topics should be considered at this point. Pitches should be emailed to print media editors anywhere between four to eight weeks in advance of the publication date.
Even for non-literary titles, the ability to provide digitally printed hard copy samples to key media targets means you are putting your title into the mix in adequate time.
Step 4. The Book’s Release and Promotion (the key step)
So finally the day comes and your finished book comes back from the printers. It looks as good as possible and everyone is pleased. So time to get started? Not exactly!
Firstly, it can take one week or ten days for books to be fully distributed to bookshops, there is no point in having great coverage if the books are not in the shops.
Secondly, the media outlets have different timelines and requirements, which you must understand and facilitate. It is impossible to arrange instant coverage. No matter what media channel, it will take some time to organise. So practically, it makes sense for publicity to appear ten days or more after finished copies arrive.
For the publicity campaign timing is everything. When your book is published and when it is publicised is perhaps the most important decision. Autumn/Christmas is the period when more books are sold, but also the time that most big fiction and non-fiction titles from the major publishers appear. The spring and early summer typically are quieter periods and can offer more media space, particularly for fiction titles. As mentioned previously, having either proof or final copies in good time is essential to facilitate timely media coverage. Magazines and some television outlets have long lead-times, so this needs to be considered and outlets contacted in good time to facilitate their requirements.
The writer should meet with the person responsible for promoting their book six to eight weeks in advance of publication to discuss the publicity plan. The more information the writer can provide about themselves and their book at this stage, the better. Any media contacts or previous media experience should be shared, as this may be useful in making approaches about the new book. The author should reasonably expect to see a list of the individuals who will be sent a hard copy of the new title.
However, it is important that the writer understand, it is the publisher who will run the campaign, distribute the media copies and contact the outlets. This is both customary and professional – it looks far better if a third party declares the merit and appeal of your book, than for you to do it yourself.
For the publicity campaign, it is important that a suitable press kit be prepared. The publisher or publicity person co-ordinates this press kit, but the author should also have access to all its parts. The Press Kit should include strong and relevant material to give to media outlets.
- Press release – this should be agreed with the author and ideally just one page
- Hi-res book cover image as a jpeg file (1mb or greater)
- Author headshot as a jpeg file (1mb or greater). These do not need to be taken professionally. Author should wear simple plain shirt or top. 3 to 4 images should suffice
- Illustrations and photos from the book or related to the book if these are relevant. You must have permissions and credits for these images and provide captions and credits to the
In addition it is useful to record an author interview – a written version and/or audio version. A video interview with the author is also an extra element that can be used on YouTube and other social media. It also allows broadcast outlets to get a sense of the author as a performer. These ‘in-house’ interviews offer good preparation for the author – and also mean the author and publisher control the content.
Many media outlets will use exactly what you give them, if you give it to them in the way they require. It is important when sending large documents or files to be careful about their size – file-sharing platforms like Dropbox, WeTransfer or You Send It can be useful. If you wish to ensure text you provide is not altered send documents as PDF files.
What You Say – be Concise, Coherent, Consistent and Concerted
It is better to be brief, do not try to tell the whole story of the book. Your press release
and communications with the media should be concise. Remember to be extensive about the author biography.
The advantage of the press release and other material supplied to the media is that the writer and publisher are determining the message and key talking points. It is important to steer media towards the book’s strengths, unique aspects and author’s personal story. Communication should always include pertinent details: recommended retail price, publication date, outlets, publisher website, and the author’s website, Twitter, or Facebook page.
While there should be one core press release, variations for regional or international markets should be created that are more likely to appeal in those media areas.
What you are saying needs to be coherent. Your new book is ‘a coming of age novel’ or it is ‘a psychological thriller’, best not to say it is both. Make sure what you are saying is consistent and makes sense – even if you are saying something that may not be exactly true of the book.
Make sure the material and information about the book is consistent. Stick to the core message in all outlets. It is sensible to tweak the content for different outlets and for different regions, but the fundamental information should remain the same.
Try to make publicity to appear in a concerted push. In as much as is possible, seek to arrange for publicity to appear in a burst of activity, across print and broadcast media.
The more people hear or see your book in a short period, the more likely they are to remember it when they come to a bookshop or visit an online retailer.
Choreography and Hierarchy
The media world, perhaps more than any other sector, is focused on securing content first, and ideally as exclusively as possible. When approaching publicity, it is best to begin with the biggest and most popular outlets first. This means that one should be aware of which broadcast shows, or which print outlets, are pre-eminent. Far better to be on the show with the largest audience, or in the newspaper with the greatest number of readers, than to lose that opportunity because you went to a minor outlet first.
For example, if you chose to do an interview with Sean Moncrieff on Newstalk, then you would not be considered by Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1 which has a far bigger audience. But if you do Sean O’Rourke, you may still be considered for Moncrieff and also for other shows on Newstalk and Today FM.
It is critical that the sequence and timing of outlets approached is carefully choreographed. It may be better to approach some editor and producers initially, and later commence a second series of contacts when the larger media opportunities have been secured. Do not forget regional outlets which are numerous and vital.
The publisher or publicist needs to control when and who is approached – and may have to stall publicity requests while awaiting responses from more significant outlets.
It is critical that the author does not initiate or respond to media requests as this may
cut across communications that publisher or publicist has commenced. When in doubt it is advisable to thank any journalist or broadcaster for their interest, and then direct them to the person handling the promotion of your book. Sometimes you should choose or may be directed to say that you are unavailable – while other leads are being pursued.
Authors should keep their publishers informed of their availability around the time of the book’s release, and respond promptly to enquiries about their availability to do an interview or programme.
Make sure your publisher provides clear information in terms of addresses, contact names, the time and date for any interview and directions to the venue. It is always good to bring a copy of your book with you, and to leave extra time so as to be punctual and relaxed when doing the interview.
Try in advance to get a sense of the show where you will appear, or the newspaper or magazine that is speaking to you. What kind of audience are you talking to?
Your publisher should seek to get hard copies of any coverage that appears and MP3 or MP4’s of any broadcast interviews that you do. These can be shared on social media platforms and also on the author’s own Facebook, Twitter etc.
Your publisher may ask you to write articles – often speculatively – which they can offer to print media. This can often secure feature coverage, so it is worth agreeing to such requests if time permits. You can also suggest this to your publisher.
Typically, in terms of the author’s role, the publicity process is active for four to six weeks, but with relatively few face-to-face meetings with journalists or broadcasters required. Some opportunities may occur months after the book’s release, but usually the arc of the author activity is relatively short.
It is useful to meet your publisher three to six months after the book’s publication to discuss the level of coverage that was achieved. It is worth analysing with them what succeeded and what did not.
It is important to keep any review quotes, both in print and mentions ‘on air’ for future editions of the books and to include them in any revised press release. Quotes from media can also assist in selling rights to overseas publishers.
While the main publicity opportunity is around the book’s publication, it is important the publisher and author seek out new opportunities or connections that allow the book to be put forward again. For literary titles the numerous book award competitions and literary festivals provide ways of getting new coverage and readers. Make sure to enquire from your publisher if your book is eligible for any awards, and that they are suggesting you as a contributor to relevant festivals.
An active author is the best publicist; in the months after the book is released it is important to do what you can to maintain you and your book’s profile. Such activities could include attending literary events, giving readings at libraries, offering to facilitate workshops, contributing to online or literary magazines.
Self-publishing and e-Books
If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to do all of the above work yourself or hire a publicist to do this work for you. It is invariably more difficult to get news, features and reviews for you book into national and regional news outlets as a self-published author. As mentioned above, it looks far better if a third party declares the merit and appeal of your book, than for you to do it yourself. Editors, radio and TV producers, knowing that a traditional publisher has invested their time and money into producing a book, will take this as a mark of quality. They will also be conscious that a traditionally published book will have wider availability in bookshops and therefore of more interest to the general public. For these and other reasons, the media is likely to give greater consideration to reviewing or featuring traditionally published books.
It’s also well worth noting that for self-published books and e-books “hard won press coverage seems to have no effect on sales” as Catherine Ryan Howard notes in her Guidance Sheet on Self-Publishing
However, it’s not impossible to get traditional media coverage and attention for a published title. Authors will often rely on social or new media to promote the book to gain word-of-mouth momentum. Books with exceptional, topical, and or newsworthy stories may also be of interest to local or national media depending on the story, though this is more likely with non-fiction titles. Authors considering whether or not to self-publish should read Words Ireland Guidance Sheet
The Irish media offers much support to Irish writers and writing. The media needs content, and Irish publishing is a strong and proven source of such content. The relatively small size of the media market makes it possible for publishers and publicists to reach all or nearly all the relevant outlets.
TV, radio and print media all feature books regularly. Non-fiction titles tend to have greater media penetration and have more outlets available; however, literary titles have designated shows and book pages. Feature coverage and broadcast interviews offer scope to broaden the base of coverage.
An organised publisher who factors publicity into the publishing process from the outset, combined with a focused and engaged author, can achieve good results on a national and regional level.
Understanding the media’s requirements, timelines and the hierarchy of different outlets – and having your material ready for them in a timely and correct manner offers you a real chance of achieving coverage and getting your title noticed by wholesalers, booksellers and readers.
You can listen to a podcast on Book Publicity with Peter O’Connell here
With over a decade of experience devising and delivering successful media and promotion campaigns in Ireland, Peter O’Connell is well known to all national, regional and local media. Peter deals regularly with major shows such as The Late Late Show, The Pat Kenny Show, The Last Word and Ireland AM, as well as significant print media titles. He has promoted fiction and non-fiction books across a huge array of genres – including books by the late Garret FitzGerald; ex-Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore; as well as titles by Mike McCormack, Lara Marlowe, Sara Baume, Colin Barrett and Mary Costello, to name a few.