Publicity: The Final Frontier
You know what publicity is. You know about the basic tools and how to use them. So what else is there? Not much, really, besides a recap and a few more concepts.
If you are fortunate enough to have a publisher, producer or other benefactor, you don’t have to go it alone; try to work with them. Ask how you can help. Ask if they’ll share media contacts or if they’ll support you if you set up activities on your own. Don’t call your contact multiple times a day or require them to come up with detailed plans for you or you’ll piss your contact off; they have their own internally dictated priorities, but will be happy if you’re willing to pitch in and share the effort.
Every call plan you make, every call you take has to have a reason. There are tons of cool, attention-getting things you can do, but you must have a reason for everything. A release should be about something specific and actionable: a book for review, a dance performance for a listing or something specific and timely you can talk about in an interview.
Know your goals. Do you want that event listing or review or do you want to get the reputation as the go-to expert in your field? Maybe you have a new fashion line or some other consumer product. Whatever it is, you need to be clear in your own mind before you communicate with a member of the media.
Be realistic. Seriously. Know what you can and can’t influence. I’ve had authors berate me because I didn’t get their midlist space adventure on the New York Times bestseller list. I’ve also had writers become upset because I didn’t get them on Oprah or the Today Show. It’s great to aim high, but important to think about the art you make and if things like it get New York Times stories or invitations from David Letterman. Ever.
Like space, publicity seems infinite. You can keep going and going and going, like the Eveready Bunny. You can stop after one release, so the question is how much is enough? As with everything else, there’s a balance, in this case between being annoying and invasive, and being unforgettable, in a good way. Fortunately, there are a few useful things to keep in mind that can guide you.
The Rule of Six (sometimes referred to as the Rule of Seven) simply means that a target (your audience) needs to be exposed to your message a number of times (six or seven) before it sinks in. It’s a bit like learning arithmetic in second grade, when you have to fill out a little workbook with all the ways to come up with a specific number; the number of reviews, ads and listings are variable, but the end number is not. The primary thing to remember is that your message becomes sticky after a person has encountered it a half-dozen times or more. The second things to remember is that these iterations are cumulative: the first message doesn’t have 1/6 of the total impact, but each time the message is encountered, it carries more impact. When you send out those releases or press materials or whatever you’ve decided to do, keep track of your positive responses and remember that you want at least six.
Seemingly at odds is The Law of Diminishing Returns. If it sounds like it should refer to economics, not publicity, there’s a reason for that: it is an economic concept. It can also be explained fairly easily, and it’s something that we all take into account every day. Can you tell the difference between a $5 bottle of Ripple and a $10 bottle of table wine? Of course you can. A $20 bottle of wine and one that costs $40? Probably, but it’s less dramatic. How about a bottle of wine that costs $80 and one that costs $160? Even if you can taste the difference, it may not taste twice as good to you. You want your message to achieve saturation, but you can get to a point where you’re spinning your wheels and you won’t get additional benefits. Unfortunately, there are so many variables that I can’t give you an easy rule about when to stop, but it goes back to knowing your goals, and knowing your media. If, for example, you’ve hit all reasonable review media for your book, and have yes or no answers for each, well, you can start submitting information to less relevant sites, but it’s unlikely that it will do much more for you.
Be mindful of the signal to noise ratio. You want to be known for your art, not for being a personality or wearing great shoes, and you want whatever message you send out to be interesting and command attention. You don’t want people do tune you out like that previously mentioned bad flash ad. Stay on point. Be aware of diminishing returns. You’ll be fine.
You may wonder if you should hire a pro. Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t answer that for you, but you can. You have a primary job, in relation to this site and this blog post, and that’s to create art, whether it’s poetry, prose, drama, painting of something else. You may also have a day job and a family. If you are unable to make art, do your job, or take care of your family because you’re so busy with DIY publicity, then yes: you need to hire someone. Publicity is cumulative, and while you can hire someone to write releases or a plan, and you can hire someone to get limited media for an event, a full-fledged campaign takes time; most professionals will insist on a three-month contract, at least, because that’s how long it takes. So as with every other aspect of publicity, be clear, both about your own goals and about how realistic they are.
Here’s the thing: Publicity is not that hard. It’s not rocket science. It’s not neurosurgery. You’re not closing the debt. If you mess up, no one will die. Science will not be set back 200 years. World economies will not crumble. The worst thing that happens is that you don’t get enough attention, which isn’t great, but at least it’s not lethal: when you’re publicizing your own art, it really is all about you.
Publicity is complicated, with lots and lots of moving parts. It also requires good communication and people skills. You get good at it by doing it and learning judgment. If you’re the sort of person who is very linear and wants to finish something completely before moving on to the next thing, it will drive you insane. If, on the other hand, you’re a parent, an emergency medical worker, a journalist, or always the calm in a storm, you’ll be fine and possibly enjoy the process. But even if you make mistakes, that’s OK; the only thing that will come back to bite you is being mean or condescending; today’s intern is tomorrow’s editor, and people can have long memories.
So, work on that 30-second pitch. Remember that you only get to make a few points. Make information (book title/performance date/venue, etc) easy to find, and be pleasant and friendly. You’ll be fine, and at the end of the day, reward yourself with a cheerful cocktail; you’ve earned it.
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.