Monday, December 14, 2009

Seven Steps to Book Promotion

© Maryglenn McCombs 2009 all rights reserved

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one from Groucho Marx:
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
Granted, the quote combines two of my favorite things—books and dogs—but it’s a great quote. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin my post and this gives me a great chance to invite you to see my beautiful Old English Sheepdog, Garcia, who is prominently featured on my web site

Now speaking of dark… (and yes; I realize that this is an horrific segue way, but I am a PR person and not a writer, so please cut me some slack here!) what I’ve found in over 16 years of working in the book publishing industry, is that lots of times authors are in the dark about how to promote their books.
In a perfect world, all authors world be able to afford to have someone—a publicist—do that work for them, but it’s not a perfect world.
So, if you’re an author and you’re in the dark about how to promote your book the do-it-yourself route, what do you do to get your book reviewed?
Here are seven tips:
Tip #1 Understand that timing is everything.

So much of the PR work on a book is done before a book ever even hits the shelves – virtual shelves or brick-and-mortar shelves – so proper planning is crucial.

Reviews, much like books, don’t happen overnight. Well in advance of your book’s release, start thinking about the types of media outlets you would like to contact for reviews or coverage of your book, such as magazines, newspapers, online outlets, radio, television, blogs, etc. The next step is to come up with a plan.

Magazines, especially those lovely glossy monthly magazines that populate newsstands everywhere, tend to have the longest lead times. For instance, many of those magazines operate on a five-to-six month (or longer) lead time. What this means is that by May, many magazines are looking for Winter holiday ideas, and some are even thinking early Spring of the next year. Consider this when contacting a magazine for an article review or story. Therefore, if you have a book coming out in April, and you start contacting magazines in March, you are probably way too late to get coverage that will line up with your book’s release date.

Trade journals, or those magazines that cater to the book/library trade, also tend to be very long lead, meaning that galleys or advance review copies (ARCs) should be sent to them 4-5 months before the book’s publication date. One thing that is great about trade journals is that most of them, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc., actually post their submission guidelines on their respective web sites and explain what it is they want to receive, and when they want to receive it. How easy is that?

Newspapers/news services tend to be shorter lead, but the larger the outlet, the more lead time you should allow.

Online outlets – blogs, web sites, etc. – are, in general, fairly short-lead. I recommend contacting online outlets about 4-6 weeks in advance of a book’s publication date.

Planning ahead is crucial for PR, especially if you want to do a thorough, comprehensive campaign. Understanding this important component can increase your chances of success in getting coverage of your book. So put together a plan for who you plan to contact, and then put together a timeline for when to contact them.

TIP #2 Read before you write, or call, or send…

Read before you write! Know the person you are pitching, what they do (and don’t) write about, if there is a particular type of book they do or don’t want to read, etc. Read their column, their blog, their site, etc. Don’t be afraid to comment on a story or review of theirs that you particularly enjoyed. And if there’s one with which you didn’t agree, or thought that the reviewer totally missed the point when he/she panned that fabulous book you just read that kept-you-up-at-night/changed-your-life, etc., well, that might not be the best introduction. Scholars differ! However, if you genuinely like the way someone covers books and realistically think there is a chance that he/she might enjoy reading your book, don’t be scared to send an email, or drop them a note, or, if the address is made public and they welcome review copies, send a book.

TIP #3 Know how to follow directions.

Sometimes, reviewers (such as those trade media journals referenced previously) actually tell you how they want to be contacted, and in some cases of people who are willing to consider unsolicited books for review, what they want from you.

Follow their guidelines precisely. What better way to make a great first impression than providing the reviewer or review outlet with exactly what they want, exactly how they want it? Make a great first impression by following their directions, which signals that you have not only taken the time to familiarize yourself with their guidelines, but that you also realize that their guidelines are important and that you both acknowledge and respect that enough to follow to guidelines.

TIP #4 Meet your two new best friends: “please” and “thank you.”

A little bit of polite can go a very long way! Say please and thank you (i.e., would you please consider my book for your magazine/blog/newspaper? And thank you for your time/your consideration.)

No demands here, people! Be polite when you are asking someone to review a book. I know I would be pretty quick to hit the “delete” button if someone send me a demand as opposed to a request.

Be able to take a “no”—or no response—graciously. It’s not personal. I promise. And even, or maybe especially, if a reviewer writes you back and says “thanks, but no thanks,” or “I’m overwhelmed with books right now and not taking on any new books,” please don’t hesitate to thank them again. (Can you all—aka y’all—tell I am Southern yet?) When someone takes the time to respond to me, even if it’s not the response I was hoping for, I can’t resist the urge to thank them for their time. I really do appreciate it. And yes, I understand that most people are drowning in email and that just adds one more email to their bulging inbox, but really: what’s wrong with saying “I appreciate your time,” or “I completely understand,” or “Thank you for the response,” or “have a great day or week or weekend” or something along those lines? Beats the heck out of having someone think their response ruined my day and I retreated to a corner of my office to sulk. Right?

TIP #5 Be accommodating!

Does a reviewer need an interview within the hour? Do everything in your power to accommodate the request.

Does he or she need to have the book by tomorrow? Overnight it if finances permit.

Does he or she need a digital file of cover art, or an author photo? Send it promptly.

Be helpful, be accommodating, and follow through.

TIP #6 Fill requests promptly.

When a reviewer asks for a copy of the book, send it promptly. This is another way to make a great first impression.

If you’ve been asked to guest post on a blog, or take part in an interview, whatever you do, do it, and meet the deadline. There is nothing worse than having a blogger or reviewer plan around a contribution that never comes in, or comes in too late to be of any use. It’s rude, it’s annoying, and it will probably guarantee that the blogger or reviewer will not want to work with you again.

And if you do guest blog, please remember that your work isn’t over once you submit the post. Check the blog regularly for any reader comments on your contribution and respond. This is a great opportunity to interact with people who are reading your article or contribution or interview. Take advantage of that opportunity!

TIP # 7 Don’t forget about the reviewer after you get a review.

Once a reviewer does review your book, or features a guest post from you on his or her blog, follow up to say “thank you.” And yes – even if it is a less-than-stellar review, a note of thanks is still appropriate. Let people know you appreciate what they’ve done for you, and the time they’ve spent on your behalf. They’ll remember you for that, which may help open the door when you contact them about your next book.

If there are certain outlets where you’re expecting or hoping for a review, read them regularly. Reviewers don’t always send reviews when they are complete, so do your part by keeping up with the places that may review your book.

With that, I’ll leave you with three final pieces of advice:
  • Do not be afraid to take chances when it comes to promoting your book. Sometimes you don’t know till you ask!
  • Do not get discouraged if the process of getting reviews takes time.
  • Most importantly, enjoy the process. As an author, you’re in an exciting and enviable position. I wish you all the best!

About the author:
Maryglenn McCombs, a 1993 graduate of Vanderbilt University, has been actively working in the book publishing industry for over 10 years. During that time she has been involved with literally hundreds of books.

Because of her extensive experience in the industry, Maryglenn has served as a guest lecturer for publishing workshops, conferences and events, including serving as a panelist for the Southern Festival of Books. She is a member of the Publishers Association of the South (PAS) and Publishers Marketing Association (PMA).

Her interests include volunteering with the Nashville Humane Association, reading, traveling and cooking. As a former book publisher, Maryglenn has recently traded making books for “making book” as she has begun playing bridge on a regular basis.

A native of South Central Kentucky, Maryglenn currently lives in Nashville with her husband, Tim and their Old English Sheepdog, Garcia.


C. N. Nevets said...

Great stuff! I've tweeted a link to this article. Thanks for posting the advice!

Kim Smith said...

Welcome to MB4, Maryglenn. You have excellent points here in this post and I will keep this list handy. Good to have you here!

Kim Smith said...

Welcome to MB4, Maryglenn. You have excellent points here in this post and I will keep this list handy. Good to have you here!

s.w. vaughn said...

Oh, thank you for this! Especially the part about being polite. I've worked in advertising (specifically, plugging authors to talk shows) for several years, and I can't BEGIN to tell you how many prima donnas, self-important and just plain rude clients I've worked with.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that the rude people were the ones who saw the poorest results for their advertising dollars, because they refused to actually work WITH anyone along the way, and it showed in the final product.

And that Groucho Marx quote is one of my favorites, too! :)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Excellent! Thank you. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Author & Adventurer Loreen Niewenhuis said...

Excellent advice. All writers should realize that their work is far from done once they've signed a publishing contract.

Two good publishing advice blogs are at

and a great resource (which I designed) at

Keep writing!

Marta Stephens said...

Oh, absolutely Maryglenn! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise on Murder By 4.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Maryglenn, I'm sorry I'm so late to the party (we had a serious family issue, but it's resolved now, thank God!) So, I'm playing catch up now! Loved your article. It's chock full of common sense (not so common to some!) and great advice. Thanks for joining us, and come back soon. ;o)

Maryglenn said...

You all are so awesome! Thank you so much for your kind comments.
I am so embarrassed not to have said thank you earlier -- especially given the urgings in my article! -- but computer issues intervened.
Hope you all have a fantastic holiday and a very happy 2010!
Maryglenn (and Garcia, of course)

Marta Stephens said...

Hey Maryglenn!! :) Computers...I personally have a love/hate relationship with them. Glad to know you're okay though!