Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Effective Book Publicist

Part I of My Candid Interview with Freelance Publicist Mayra Calvani


Dora Machado

Are you thinking about employing a book publicist to promote your new release? Are you considering buying a book promotion package? Are you struggling to decide between multiple types of book promotion services?

If you are one of the thousands of authors trying to decide where to put your promotion dollars, you'll want to get into Mayra Calvani's head. She knows what it takes to market a novel. As an author, she understands the challenges. As a publicist, she's done the heavy lifting.

In the first part of her candid interview today, Mayra defines the qualities and capabilities of an effective book publicist, the hallmarks of a solid publicity package, and the easiest and hardest aspects of her job. She also tells us what an author can do to make her job easier and why reviews are important.

Mayra Calvani, pictured here with Ramses

Welcome, Mayra. It's a pleasure to have you with us today. I understand that you are a gifted novelist, but I also know from my own experience working with you, that you are a very talented and effective book publicist. Tell us your story: Which came first and how did you go from one to the other?

Thank you, Dora! It's a pleasure being a guest on MB4.

I don't know about “gifted novelist” or “talented book publicist”—but thank you very much for your kind words!

I've been a writer for most of my life, and I'm a full-time author. But, as you know, authors often need another stream of income and, until I get that six-figure advance, I'm enjoying doing a little freelance book publicity on the side.

I just want to make clear from the start that I'm not a publicist in the traditional sense of the word. I haven't set up a business nor a website to advertise my services. I only do this on a freelance basis and my clients are referred to me by word of mouth 90% of the time. I'm happy with only a couple of clients a month—or, at times, none at all. That's fine by me. I wouldn't want publicity to get in the way of my writing.

Putting on your book publicist hat, what kind of services does someone like you provide, and why should authors consider including services like yours in their marketing plan?

I offer several promotional packages to build visibility. I write for over 15 sites and blogs, and I make the posts there. The packages may be interview only, or profile only, or a combination of interviews, guest posts, profiles, reviews, and blog talk radio. I secure reviews and serve as an intermediary between authors and bloggers. I'm quite flexible and work one-on-one with authors and I'm open to a la carte services.

However, I don't do virtual book tours, per se. That is, I don't coordinate the posts according to dates. I simply make sure the posts are up within a specific frame of time (1 or 2 weeks or longer, depending on the author's preference), and I send the links to the author as they go live. Once the promo is over, I compile all the links and send them to the author in a Word document.

An author may have written a masterpiece, but if he doesn't put himself out there, no one will find out about it. There's just too much competition. I recently read in Bertram's Blog ( that, according to Bowker's, the company that issues ISBNs, approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011. This is a shocking, staggering number. How can readers learn about an author's book unless there's a big publisher with a big marketing campaign behind him? One way is by taking advantage of what the Internet has to offer: interviews, guest blogging, blog talk radio, reviews, virtual book tours, etc.

That is a staggering number of books published each year! With that, I've also noticed that there are a lot of outfits offering book publicity packages. It gets really confusing for authors, especially newbies, who may be trying to promote a first novel. In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a book publicist effective and what are the hallmarks of an excellent publicity package?

An effective publicist should have a solid pool of bloggers and reviewers to work with. She should also have access to high-traffic sites and popular blogs. She should also be clear about her services and not be misleading, thus creating false expectations. In my case, I make it clear to my clients that my services are limited to online sites and blogs. I don't do TV or national radio, nor do I coordinate author appearances in bookstores or libraries. I don't set up Skype interviews either.

Visibility doesn't always equate to sales, and this is something not many newbies understand. Other factors, such as an eye-catching cover, an intriguing blurb, and the book's genre, have a vital effect on book sales. Great writing doesn't always come into the picture. Based on my experience working with authors, good storytelling has a heavier impact on sales than good writing. But still, it's a mystery. Many books have all these qualities, yet they don't sell well. If I knew the secrets of making a bestseller, I would be rich.

A good publicity campaign should include variety in the form of press releases, online interviews, guest posts, profiles, reviews, street team, blog talk radio—and, of course, national radio and TV appearances, if possible. All these can be compiled and added to the author's media page on their website. Of course, publicists handling national radio and TV will be more costly. As well as those services that include booking in-person visits/signings at schools, bookstores, and libraries. 

Do you promote all kinds of books or do you specialize in a particular genre? Are there some books that are harder to promote than others? Is there any credence, for example, to the idea that nonfiction books are easier to promote than novels?

I don't work with erotica, war stories, graphic horror, or religious books. YA novels, romance, suspense, paranormal, fantasy and mystery are easier to promote. YA fiction is the easiest to promote, by far. I do some horror, but that's always a tough genre to market, even if it's soft and not too graphic. I also find espionage novels hard to promote. My pool of bloggers and reviewers are 99% women, and they usually stay away from this genre. From the feedback I've received, they seem to have trouble keeping up with all the different characters and POVs in an espionage novel.

Nonfiction isn't necessarily easier to promote. It depends on the subject and the pool of bloggers that the publicist works with. Not many bloggers or reviewers are going to be interested in promoting a book about income tax, for example, but many may be open to a book on organization and productivity.

Mayra's Favorite Tea Room in Brussels, where she lives.

What is the hardest aspect of your job as a book publicist?

One of the hardest aspects is trying to find bloggers and reviewers for genres that aren't too popular, such as horror, espionage, memoirs (unless they have female appeal like Eat, Pray, Love). It's disheartening to send out a review request to 100 bloggers and only receive two or three responses.
Dealing with bloggers and reviewers who are unresponsive or don't keep their word can also be quite frustrating.

What is the most satisfying part of the job?

Meeting new authors and finding out about their stories, interacting with them and helping them promote their books.

How does an author make your job easy?

Proofreading their guest posts and interviews before sending them to me for posting. Following instructions about the size of covers and author photos. Too many times they send files that are either too large or too small. Answering interview questions in an informative, thoughtful manner. Readers and online blogs and publications don't like cookie-cutter interview answers, and some sites like Blogcritics, for example, won't publish an interview if the answers are one-liners. I'm not sure why some authors do this, as they really make themselves look bad. They make the interviewer look bad as well.

Are reviews important to a book promo effort? If so, why?

They certainly are, especially nowadays when Amazon reviews seem to have such a heavy hand on how a book is perceived by the public. Yet, reviews aren't the only criteria and, again, great reviews don't always equate to sales.As it stands right now, the more reviews, the better. However, I'm not referring to 2-3 line endorsements obviously given gratuitously by the author's family members and friends. I don't think this carries any weight on smart readers. I'm talking about thoughtful reviews that don't sugarcoat the book.

But you also ask why…

My response is because people want to read what other people are reading. It's human nature.

Thanks Mayra. You've given us lots to think about. I look forward to continuing this very helpful discussion in part two of our interview, coming up next Wednesday.


About Mayra Calvani:

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer's Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. When she's not writing, reading, editing or reviewing, she enjoys walking her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family.


About Dora Machado:

Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her husband and three very opinionated cats.

When she is not writing fantasy, Dora writes features and interviews for Murder By Four, an award-winning blog for readers and writers, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.



Kim Smith said...

Hey Mayra! I am so glad you joined us on Mb4 today. I have followed you around the Internet for years, and never reallllllllllllly thought about what you do and how much time it takes.

As I am about to embark on a new novel promo time (2014 new year new book!) I am going to email you for details. I need a good publicist!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Mayra! We go back a long way, don't we? It's great to see your insight here, and I am so grateful Dora has these fresh and new ideas about interviewing industry experts like you! Happy writing, reading, and promoting! - Aaron

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi there,

Thank you so much for having me on your wonderful blog!! We can never get too much exposure, right?

Hi Kim, I have also known your name for years! :-) The internet is a strange place sometimes. I look forward to your email.

Hey, Aaron...I think we go back to Voice in the Dark, indeed a long time ago! :-)