Guest blogger Eleanor Lang brings us Part 2 of her four-part series on publicity, begun last week. Eleanor is a publicity and marketing professional who has worked with interstitial writers for years. Check back each week for the next installment!
Publicity 101: The Next Step
Last week, I defined publicity and talked about some basics for creating and sending information and developing contacts. Every piece of information you send out, whether a physical copy or electronic from, might as well be thrown into an abyss without follow-up. In the best of all possible worlds, your follow-up should result in a decisive “yes” or “no,” and while sometimes the reality is no reply, this brings me to a key point: keep notes, with the date you send out information, the dates you’ve followed up and any results.
It’s a cold, cruel world. You know that your novel, critical essays, art, film, play or performance is the best thing on the creative scene in maybe forever. It might even be true; those of you concerned about interstitial arts are probably coloring outside the lines more than most. That’s terrific, except that the listings person, producer, journalist or editor who has received your information doesn’t know that. They’re not going to, either.
I once attended a presentation given by an editor at a major magazine on packing books for review submission. This editor explained that he received hundreds of books a week, and a mailing envelope that got packing debris all over his office, or a staple that caused injury were enough to toss the offending item into the discard pile. Anyone receiving your information is similarly inundated. People receive more material than they can use and are looking for ways to narrow down submissions, but there are some basic methods to make it easier on everybody.
When to follow-up, either by phone or electronically:
Call or e-mail within a week to ten days after sending your initial material. Earlier, they probably haven’t looked at it. Later, they’ll forget. If you’ve left a message or send an e-mail to follow up and haven’t received an answer, Call or e-mail again in 2-3 days. In both cases, if you’re leaving a message of any kind, keep it brief and let the person know that you wanted to make sure they received your information and are checking their interest.
How to pitch information when you’ve connected with a person:
- When you follow up and have the opportunity to talk to an actual person, speak quickly but clearly. Adjectives like “brisk” or even “clipped” come to mind. People are pressed for time, and probably don’t want to talk to you at all, so don’t waste their time.
- We’ve talked about the elevator pitch. When you talk to someone, assume that you have no more than 30 seconds and can make no more than three points before they tune out. People who write 30-second commercials or news spots get paid a lot of money. It’s not easy. Prepare what you’re going to say and practice. It helps to have “talking points” and/or the material you’re referring to in front of you, when possible.
- If someone asks you to elaborate, be prepared to do so, but remember to stay on point.
- Stay positive. Don’t tell them how much your competitor sucks, but do tell them what’s good, interesting and unique about your art.
- If you’re talking to someone who says they haven’t received your information, don’t argue. Just offer to resend and ask them if there is a particular format or address they prefer.
- If you’re talking to someone who seems rushed or like they’re not paying attention, offer to contact them later at their convenience. Make sure you remember to call them at that time.
- If someone asks a question you can’t answer, don’t hesitate to say, “I’ll get back to you,” but bee sure to get back to the person quickly. This is particularly important when doing Damage Control
- Finally, much of the above is a judgment call. It’s feel and intuition, and takes practice. Instincts are good, and usually to be trusted.
The Interview: If you’ve achieved a goal of getting one off of the listings/review page, there are a few things to remember.
- The elevator pitch is always a good rule of thumb. You won’t get a chance to make more than three points. Even if you do, an audience won’t remember more than that, so think about your message and stay on point. You want to talk about why your art offers something unique.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you. Seriously. I’ve seen inadvertent offhand statements end up as enormous pull quotes in high circulation publications. You don’t want that, so watch yourself.
- Everything stated before applies.
- If you are being interviewed in a visual media and you are a woman, wear lipstick. This may seem silly, but people look at your mouth when they listen to you. Defined lips make it easier to follow.
Everyone has done something they don’t want to talk about. Everyone has said something that doesn’t portray them in the most flattering light. Some people have done really bad things. I once worked with a writer who shot a man, and a well-known sculptor once killed a dog. If you’re just trying to get your event listed, whatever darkness is in your past may never come up, but if you’ve achieved any sort of prominence or have a work of a controversial nature, it might. At the moment, I can think of a New York Times bestseller who is constantly being hammered for some fairly minor issues.
NEVER LIE. NEVEREVERNEVER. Seriously. People joke about how publicity is all lies, but it isn’t true. You can only do it once and then your credibility is gone. If you get caught with your pants down, come clean, right away, and get back to point as soon as possible. If you are caught in an awkward situation and don’t know how to handle it, offer to get back to the writer/producer in a defined amount of time, and do so, with your reply. Be prepared. Think about anything that might reflect badly on you and be ready with an answer, if you’re asked. And finally, if that awkward pull quote makes its way to a major publication, don’t pretend you didn’t say whatever, or that it’s the journalist’s fault. Apologize for any offense and for being unclear in the first instance. Clarify your point, and stop right there. Drama should be performed by trained professionals, preferably onstage, and has no place in the world of publicity.
Next week I’ll talk about promotions, special events, blogs and social media.
Eleanor Lang is a publicity and marketing professional and much of her experience has been working with writers. She spent many years in (primarily) science fiction publishing, working for Tor, Ace, and Del Rey Books, where, in addition to public relations duties, she founded the Impact line of seminal reprints. She has also worked with technology, games and comic book companies. Lang has worked with several start-ups, including the now defunct Manifesto Games, and in that capacity has worked on business and marketing plans, written web copy and been a liaison with investors. She lives in Brooklyn and is now a freelance writer and PR/media consultant.
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