By Rachel L’Heureux
“Trade Secrets” is an ongoing blog where we ask professionals from the traditional publishing world to explain how they approach their jobs, in order to help self-publishers understand the intricacies of the publishing process and glean some tips.
Today, we speak with Scott Manning, professional publicist and founder of Scott Manning & Associates.
Manning has been in publishing, specifically in publicity, for 35 years. He began at Harper & Row, the precursor to HarperCollins, and then went on to be the Vice President, Director of Publicity at William Morrow & Company, also now a part of HarperCollins. In 1995, he began his own publicity company.
Much of his early success as an independent company came from his work with Grove Atlantic and the bestselling author P.J. O’Rourke. He has since conducted publicity campaigns for many notable authors, including Mark Bowden, George Crile, Gary Kinder, , and Josh Lieb, as well as various publishing houses, including Amazon Publishing, Bloomsbury USA, Houghton Mifflin, Abrams, and Penguin Books for Young Readers. He has also worked with iUniverse, Barnes & Noble.com, and PublishingOnline.com. In addition, Manning has offered consulting services for several other international clients. Throughout his career, Manning has conducted countless successful publicity campaigns and is an absolute expert in the realm of public relations. We are privileged and excited to speak with him on the topic.
Q: What are the basics of publicity? What is the process? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
A: Generally, I tell my clients that I prefer to start working on a book five months before publication. There are many media outlets that not only require working that far ahead—mainly magazines and venues that have authors as speakers—but sometimes it just takes a long time to work with some media outlets and convince them that this is a book and an author that they should pay attention to. So, really from start to finish we’re looking at five months.
No two projects are the same, and that’s one of the things I love about books. You have to approach each one essentially as a new product. There are certain things that any publicist will do for every book: sending out bound galleys [these are early, unfinished copies of the book, also known as “advanced reader’s copies”], following up with review copies, and knowing the right media outlets to send the books to. But, every book offers new opportunities, and what is right for some media outlets is not right for others. The worst thing I can do is pitch people and send books to media contacts who would not be interested in this topic.
I spend a lot of time not only working on my individual projects but also understanding what is going on in the media, who is doing what, what are the new outlets, what is going on in social media, what are people talking about. That takes up almost as much of my time as working on the individual books.
What are the options when strategizing how to run a successful publicity campaign?
You want to first consider outlets that work on a long-lead basis, such as magazines. Is your book something of interest to men’s magazines, women’s magazines, or general interest magazines like Vanity Fair or The Atlantic? Would it make sense to send this author out to make appearances? Those are really the first things.
Generally, [you consider]: Is this a topic that is going to be of interest to the media? Is it going to make sense for television, radio? Is it a good talk radio topic?
It is also important to work with the author as far as their social media presence is concerned. One of the big mistakes that authors can make these days is to think, “I have a new book coming out, so that means I need to get active in social media.” You have to be active and establish those platforms long before the book comes out because, as anyone who is on those platforms knows, if you just immediately start promoting yourself, you are going to drive people away. You need to spend a lot of time establishing yourself as a member of the right communities so that when your book comes out, you almost have permission to start talking about the things that are going on around your book.
Do you only work with nonfiction books?
No, but I am just very selective about the fiction I handle. I would say at least 90% of my business is nonfiction, the simple reason being that when somebody hires me, I want to be sure that I can deliver and get the kind of coverage that paying my fees warrants. I find that unless you handle a lot of fiction, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the few media outlets that cover fiction to pay attention. It’s better to have a strong list of (fiction) authors to get the full attention of book review editors. And unless you have that full list, it is very difficult to talk to them about one single title.
As we all know, unfortunately, review space is dwindling and it is extremely competitive to get books reviewed. I would say it is key for self-published authors to know that many of the major book review outlets will not review self-published books. It is incumbent upon all of us, but it is especially important for self-published authors to know that their publicity campaign should be built around media coverage other than traditional reviews. [Self-serving note from BlueInk Review: We were founded as a solution to this very problem; our goal is to allow self-published authors access to honest, credible reviews. Infomercial over.]
Do you think fiction is harder to publicize?
I wouldn’t say harder, because I have handled a good amount of fiction and really enjoyed it. It is just very different from handling nonfiction and, as it turns out, I have established a clientele that is mainly nonfiction. But, there are plenty of good publicists out there who thrive on handling fiction, and there are a lot of really good in-house publicists who are great with fiction, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they’ve got a lot to offer. If you’re a publicist at one of the houses that has a very strong fiction list, then alongside a lot of your up-and-coming authors, you have a lot of brand-name literary fiction writers to offer as well. That will cause media contacts on the other side to listen. They know that it is coming from a particular house that has a reputation for publishing quality books in that area, ergo they are going to want to talk to you.
What should be included in a traditional press kit?
When it comes to nonfiction books it is especially important to always remember: Why do I care about this book? And, why do I care about it now? You have to put yourself in the mindset of the people that you are pitching, because if they get the idea that you are wasting their time, they’re going to move on to their next email or their next book or whatever else is vying for their attention. The main thing is to answer that question very quickly and very succinctly right up front. This material belongs in a pitch letter, which is a to-the-point, one page document. If you’re trying to get an interview, include the kind of topics that could be addressed.
In the next important document, the press release, I think it is always good to provide a full walk through the book. What are the high points of the book if they do decide to interview the author? We have to face the reality that a lot of these people don’t necessarily have time to fully read the books.
Beyond the pitch letter and press release, you might include a list of your coming appearances with dates, times and addresses. If there is substantial advance praise for the book, blurbs or excerpts from reviews could be listed on a separate sheet or on the press release. If the author has been featured in re-printable articles that relate to the book, these might be included, as well. Here, though, it’s important to edit and not go overboard.
Could you tell us about a specific project that you are proud of or one that was particularly successful?
The one book I have handled that most people probably know without me really having to explain is Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. It is a great illustration because this was an author that relatively few people had heard of until he wrote that book. There were many other factors in making that book a bestseller, but publicity definitely had a lot to do with it.
There are several reasons that it was successful. First of all, you have to have a good book, and this was a great book. Anyone who read it knew that this was an incredible example of combat reporting from an author who made you feel like you were there in the moment, even though he wasn’t. He wrote the book based on interviews with people from both sides involved in the conflict in Mogadishu. And it also points out what I was saying earlier: the reputation of the people who were publishing it and bringing it to the public. This was a publisher who, when he said “you really should pay attention to this,” people listened because of his track record, because of what he had done before. , Unlike 17 other publishers, Morgan Entrekin at Grove Atlantic saw fit to publish this book and got firmly behind it. That made people sit up and listen. By the time I got involved with Black Hawk Down, there was already a buzz going on about this book within media and publishing.
We really pulled out all the stops, dragging Mark all over the country to visit military installations because one thing we discovered early on was that people in the military really embraced this book because they felt it told the truth. Here was a writer who, although he had not served in the military himself, really understood what they were up against and gave the true story of what happened in Mogadishu. So, we built on that core audience.
Then, by the time the book took off, I was also able to say things like the film rights had been sold for a million dollars, so obviously people take notice of that, and it got reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.
In the middle of it all, one of the things that I feel really kept the book going was the fact thatPresident Clinton ordered the air campaign in Kosovo. You could say, “Well what does that have to do with Somalia?” but at that point it had everything to do with it.The campaign that went awry in Somalia caused President Clinton to never want to send ground troops anywhere again, and that is why he didn’t send ground troops into Kosovo, because they didn’t want a repeat.
And so here you had a book about something that had taken place years before, yet it had everything to do with what was going on in the news at the time. I’ve handled many books since then that I have been able to apply that model to and say, “Ok, what is it about this book that is current? How does this book tell us about something that is happening today, what journalists are writing about today and how can I give them something that is going to help them?”
I am doing a book right now on trains, and the author has an incredible wealth of knowledge and material about the history of trains in this country. You would be amazed how many times trains are in the news. The campaign that I am building around this book right now is to contact journalists who are writing stories about train derailments, shipping fossil fuels via trains, and mergers of huge freight companies. I’m getting to those reporters and telling them, “You know, I’ve got a writer who can provide you with great background for those stories.” Hopefully, what will happen is that he will be quoted in those stories much in the same way Mark Bowden was quoted about the use of Special Forces and the air campaign over Kosovo.
When is the optimal time to push for publicity?
In the case of Black Hawk Down, we went on for a long time because if you have a book on the bestseller list, then of course you want to do whatever you can to keep it going. For a lot of books, however, you’re looking more at a publicity window right around the publication month and maybe a month or two after. That is when you’re going to have peak interest from media. After that point, there are so many other books coming out– and movies and music and video and stuff on the Internet– that are also vying for the same reporters’ attention. The focus in most cases really has to be right around the publication month so that you can create this groundswell of interest in the book and essentially launch it. Then, if there are still opportunities for coverage, of course you keep on working on those, but generally for most books you’re going to see it right around the publication.
During the whole five months before publication, though, I am getting materials out to people and following up with them and then continuing the follow up right through the publication month and then maybe a month or two after.
Are there a certain number of book copies that should be set aside purely for publicity purposes?
I would say you want to set aside at least 150 to 200, but that can vary greatly. If you’re talking about a book that has a particular niche or regional appeal as opposed to national appeal, then you want to do your homework and make sure that there is a reason you’re sending each copy of your book out, not just (thinking) that I am going to send it to all of the book review editors in the country. It doesn’t make sense. The important thing is to be sure there is a reason you are sending out each copy.
How important do you think book reviews are within publicity?
Reviews for certain books are very important, but (they are difficult to get) just because of the sheer number of books that are published and the downward trend in outlets that are running book reviews, and even the ones that do have decreased the number of reviews they’re running.
Reviews are still very important for literary fiction, serious non-fiction and academic titles.
What personal qualities make for a successful publicist? How should a person approach possible publicity opportunities, as an author and as a publicist?
It is funny. I have seen all kinds of personality types be successful publicists. You would think that you would need to be outgoing, persistent, aggressive, and, sure, in a lot of cases that works. (On the other hand), I had a publicist working for me once that we all referred to as the stealth publicist. She was so quiet and unassuming and nice, and we never heard her on the phone — the rest of us were all really loud on the phone, there was a lot of activity. You would almost think that nothing was going to happen with her books, but then all of the sudden she would walk in and give you a list of everything that she had set up, and it just blew me away.
She had a totally different style, and I think there are a couple of other traits that are possibly even more important than being aggressive: that you’re smart about it and that you establish trust with people. One of the greatest feelings being a publicist is when you get an important media contact’s attention because they trust you, because they know that what they’ve gotten from you in the past is quality and has worked for them, so they are going to take the time to look at what you send them.
For an author, especially in social media, being aggressive can be an issue. There’s aggressive and then there’s aggressive. In order to be successful in social media, authors really have to take ownership of this themselves. You have to strike the balance between getting your personal message out there and being interested in what other people are doing, helping other authors and really providing information to the community that you are trying to be a part of.
I heard one author make a comment at a seminar. On the one hand, it was such a simple idea, but it really has stuck with me for years; she said “I found social media to be as helpful to me when I was writing my book as I did when I was ready to promote it.”
What she was saying was that social media was a tremendous tool for her to get information (for her subject), and by doing that, she was establishing herself within a community of people who were interested in the topic she was writing about, and she was part of this whole give-and-take of information. You know — “Look what I found; this might be helpful to you” and asking questions and having people respond, so that by the time her book came out, she could say “I am appearing at such and such a book store and I hope you will come out and see me” because she had spent all of this time building a reputation for herself that wasn’t built solely on promoting herself.
Have you ever worked with a self-published author?
I have! As a matter of fact, one of my biggest successes was with a self-published book, and this was early on before self-publishing really took off. It was a brother-sister combination: She was a cancer survivor and he was a health care advocate working for agencies for people with AIDS, to ensure they got the best health care, making the point that everyone needs an advocate and how do you wade through this crazy healthcare system of ours? I just thought, “I don’t care who is publishing this, this is a great story. It is a woman who has actually experienced this herself and a guy who is a professional at telling you how to deal with the health care system.”
I not only got them on the Today Show, but I got them a five-part series on the Today Show, and that all had to do with the trust that I mentioned earlier. The producer at the time trusted when I said “Look, this brother and sister are really good and this is a great topic;” they decided they wanted to do a five-part series on how to get the best health care, so five mornings in a row they had my authors on the show.
Do you think self-published authors suffer an inherent disadvantage in the realm of publicity or is it a platform of equal opportunity?
You need to be smart about it and you need to have something that is going to be helpful to a journalist.
Getting to the large media outlets, you do need help getting through the noise there. That’s not to say that it is impossible, that you couldn’t get yourself on the Today Show without a publicist. It does happen, but you’re at much more of an advantage when you have someone who knows the people and has built a reputation. That is what we spend our careers doing: building a reputation so that our emails will get answered and our packages will get opened, so that we know that even if they don’t have time to get back to us, they are still paying attention because they saw our name on it. That’s what a publicist brings to the table. But what it all comes down to in the end is, what do you have? Do you have a good story and are you promoting that story to the right places?
I’ve worked with a number of self-published authors, and what I want to see is how is the book packaged. Does it look like a self-published book or does it look like a book that could stand next to a book from a publishing house on a shelf? Self-publishing is getting much more sophisticated. How is it edited? Before I take on a project, I don’t care who it is, I read as much of the book as I can. If it’s poorly edited or poorly written, I am not interested. Authors who come to me these days, they are not at a disadvantage when their book is self-published. I apply the same rigorous standards to what I will represent and what I won’t to a self-published book as I do to any book from a publishing house.
What are those rigorous standards? What things do you consider when deciding which books you will or will not represent?
The most important standard is the quality of the content and the way it is delivered. I want to be sure an author is going to get their money’s worth out of me. There are never any guarantees in publicity. There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of getting the kind of coverage that you think you’re going to get, but I have been doing it long enough to be able to look at a book and say, “I really think that this is something the media is going to go for.” In the end, the author is going to walk away feeling like working with me was money well spent.
What is the most successful, useful, or productive media venue?
It is hard to say. Generally, any of the shows on National Public Radio have a literate book-buying audience. If I had to choose one venue, I would say NPR.
Any last tips for self-published authors?
Don’t think that writing the book and getting it printed is the finish line. You’ve got to put almost as much time into getting the word out about the book as you did writing it. Even if you have a publicist, you need to work with them and be willing to devote a lot of time. Be smart about it. Don’t waste time on options that don’t make sense for your book.
BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com. If you are interested in receiving more blogs like this, sign up for our monthly newsletter!
Rachel L’Heureux is a graduate of the University of Denver, as well as the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She is BlueInk’s 2014 fall intern.