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Before The Title, Past
A Nonfiction Column
By Jeff Shelby

 Lissa Warren Is Your Friend

     So the dream has finally come true.

      You’ve sold your book.

     But now the hard part starts.

     Marketing and publicity and getting your book in the hands of readers.

     Besides panic, what should you do?

     The first thing on your list should be to go buy Lissa Warren’s The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity. Currently the Senior Director of Publicity at De Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, Warren has compiled her years of experience and insight into author promotion and book publicity into a very informative and very accessible book for every author who has a book to sell. She covers all aspects of the publicity process from start to finish, whether you are looking to supplement your publisher’s efforts on your behalf or if you are out their on your own. Warren also provides samples of galley letters, press releases, author bios and tour schedules to show you exactly what your materials should look like.

      Ms. Warren was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her book and the publicity side of publishing.


Jeff Shelby: How did you get into the publicity field?

Lissa Warren: I started as an unpaid intern at David R. Godine, Publisher here in Boston fresh out of college. I hung around long enough—and worked hard enough—that they started feeling guilty and put me on the payroll as an editorial and publicity assistant. When the Publicity Director left the company a couple of years later, David gave me a chance to prove that I could do the job. And the rest is history, as they say. I eventually moved to Houghton Mifflin’s publicity department, and then transitioned to the Perseus Books Group, where I’ve been for the past five years. As an English major in college, I always thought I’d end up an editor. But now I see that editors spend most of their time fixing someone else’s writing. As a publicist, I get to do my own. I have just as much contact with authors, and I’m still surrounded by books and those who love them.


Jeff: How difficult was it for you to put your knowledge and years of experience into a book?

Lissa: Surprisingly easy, I have to say. It was really one big brain dump. I just started typing, and four months later, bam, I had a book. I was careful to stick to my outline. It was important to me that the material be organized so that, if someone wanted info on something specific—like what to do if your book isn’t getting media attention, or how to hire freelance support—it wouldn’t be hard to find. My biggest challenge was working full-time while I wrote the book. Most of my evenings and weekends were spoken for for awhile.


Jeff: What’s the biggest challenge a publicist faces when promoting a new author?

Lissa: I see a new author as a big opportunity, not a curse. True, you have to start from scratch. There are no past successes to play up in the press material, no previous tours to look back on for ideas. But there’s no poor sales track to overcome either. There’s no media burnout, and usually not as many unrealistic expectations or demands from the author himself. I guess I’d say the biggest challenge is educating the author, which is part of the reason I wrote this book. It takes authors awhile to learn how they can be helpful—to learn that I’d rather they just give me the name of their media contact and let me do my thing, rather than picking up the phone themselves and trying to get the coverage.


Jeff: Can you detail the differences in publicizing fiction versus nonfiction?

Lissa: Fiction is much harder. There’s just so much of it—and so much of it is bad. And whereas non-fiction provides you with the opportunity for op-eds and interviews tied to current events, for fiction all you can get are reviews and maybe some profile pieces. To make matters worse, book review sections are shrinking left and right. Competition is fierce, and even when you get a review, it’s often short or merely descriptive.


Jeff: What’s the most common mistake made by authors when it comes to publicity?

Lissa: Do I have to pick just one? Don’t get me wrong—I’ve worked with a lot of savvy authors. But I’ve also worked with ones who have hired freelancers without consulting me, overslept for live radio interviews, and showed up stoned for their bookstore events! In general, I’d say don’t make the mistake of thinking this will be easy. You need to help your publicist by offering to provide a full-page bio for the press kit, and a Q&A. You need to give her quotes from reviews of your previous books. You need to supply her with an author photo, and videotape if you’ve done some TV in the past. You need to be willing to do any and every interview she books—even if it’s “Good Morning Topeka” at five or six a.m. You need to be a “Triple A” author—available, agreeable, accessible. She should be able to reach you day or night in case of breaking news. So get on email. Buy a cell. Return her phone calls promptly. Let her know when something happens in the world that you can speak to. Let her know of any travel you’ll be doing so that she can try to arrange some media for you while you’re there. Make the most of every opportunity. And by all means talk to your editor if she’s not doing the same.


Jeff: If an author can only afford to do one thing towards publicity for his or her book, what should it be?

Lissa: Send your publicist a box of chocolates. Seriously. He or she is in a unique position to make or break your book. Show your appreciation. So few authors do. It will really resonate. They’ll work harder for you.

The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity at Amazon

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