the reality of using local news media from promotion and free publicity

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 10/2006

Local News Media Isn’t As Easy As You May Have Been Led to Believe

In October 2006 I was interviewed by the hosts of Biloxi's Clear Channel radio, a popular local talk radio station. One of the hosts had invited me to the show after picking up my book at Gulfport’s Main Street Festival a week earlier. I didn’t even realize at the time who I was selling the book to. I was very flattered to be invited to the show. The hosts made me comfortable and the five-minute interview went very well. That has been the only media event for my book, my publishing house, and for me.

Let me remind you all once again that writing and printing your book is only half the job. The easy half—well, it’s the easy half if your plan is to sell the book to readers.

I assume, if you’re reading this article, that you are a book reader in addition to being an author/potential author. Writers like to read—that means you are probably familiar with bookstores. If you walk into the store, looking for something to read—even in a particular genre—you are confronted with hundreds of books from which to choose. Figure the odds of your picking up my book as it sits there on the shelf with hundreds of others, especially if you’ve never heard my name nor the title of my book. Sure, I might get real lucky and my “intriguing” title on the spine perks your interest, and you pull it out. That front cover compels you to flip it over and read the back copy. Then maybe you’ll open that book up and flip through it. At this point, I may have made a sale.

But figure the odds you’ll even get far enough along the shelves to see my spine before you’ve found something else you like.

Now, if you walk into the store with Charlsie Russell and The Devil’s Bastard’s names on your lips, my chances of a sale have more than doubled, but for that to happen, you’ve got to have heard of me or my book.

The radio interview helped me. The local Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, coffee shop and gift stores, which carry my book, help me immensely. The coffee shop (PJ’s on Pass Road in Gulfport) and the local gift stores (Sandpiper Gifts in Washington Square on Pass Road and Washington Street, Gulfport and All Wrapped up in D’Iberville) are particularly nice places to have my book, because with the exception of cookbooks, The Devil’s Bastard has no competition and sticks out for shoppers to see. Do not rule out local gift stores—especially if you are self-published. You fall right in to what they like to provide their customers. Book fairs and book signings are nice, too—folks are quite often drawn to the writer sitting in their midst. That’s what makes local bookstores so nice—even the big chains, given their community service reps and managers and booksellers are a local as you are—can be very supportive.

And these are the markets you pursue, with or without the support of the local media. It would be nice to have a review in the local paper—or any of the state papers actually. I know I look forward to the book write-ups in the “Your Life” section of the Coast’s Sunday Sun Herald. So far, I have been unable to work up any interest at any state paper despite calls, letters, and even the dissemination of my news release via a Mississippi press release service, which sends press materials to the appropriate editors at every paper in the state of Mississippi. To the best of my knowledge, not one paper picked up my story. At the Mississippi Author’s Festival I gave a copy of my book to an editor of the Simpson County News and later forwarded a copy of the press kit. Now, my people are from Simpson County. My grandfather followed the cutting of the longleaf west out of Georgia and across Alabama. My husband and I still own that same granddaddy’s farm right outside Braxton on the Rankin County line. None of that sparked the interest of the Simpson County News apparently.

My point is not to complain about the newspaper publicity, or lack thereof; they have their agendas and reasons. I simply don’t know what those are. My point is that you not assume you’re going to draw the interest of your local media. All that guidance about free publicity with reviews and “tie-ins” spouted in the self-publishing bibles is not as easy to come by as those books would have one believe. I do intend to start the cycle over again when I release Wolf Dawson, hopefully in April, but I’m going to narrow my focus to newspapers in the cities and towns where the bookstores/gift shops are carrying my books, and I’ll probably handle the press kits myself. Regarding those newspapers I contacted personally, I did send a copy of my book. The press release service did not provide books. I’m proud of my book and I do believe that in a few cases, at least, the potential feature writer would have been more interested in my book had he or she had it in hand.

And yes, I did consider purchasing advertisements in the local papers, but the costs proved prohibitive for me. Might not be for you. I would love to be able to buy a half-page ad in the appropriate section of the Sunday edition of my local paper. I’ve got to sell a few more books first.

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