With our Ask WNDB column, we get industry insiders to answer your burning questions. This month we discuss the ins and outs of book publicity with Aleah Gornbein, publicist at Scholastic.
What is your best piece of advice to a debut author about to have their book published in six months, in one month, in one week? How does this advice change when an author has had several other titles already published?
My advice for debut authors who are six months out from publication is to figure out what your goals are for this book. Think about what media and event opportunities you are comfortable doing. You should also create a website if you don’t have one already and work on building your social media platform. One month from publication is for preparing talking points for interviews and events. It’s also a good idea to make sure you and your publisher have everything in order for launch day. When a debut author is one week to publication, it’s important to stay calm, but also embrace the excitement! You should continuously remind people that your book is coming out shortly so they can preorder or purchase on the day of release.
Some of this changes when an author has published before. They might already have a social media platform and website and know what they’re comfortable with in terms of publicity opportunities. But the author can always reevaluate for what makes sense for the book that is coming out, and of course you should always remind people about your newest book’s publication day.
Besides writing an amazing book, what is the one thing an author can do to help grow their readership?
Authors can grow their readership by engaging with their communities, both online and off! Be it the audience they’re addressing with their book or their author cohort. Support other authors and titles in your category by posting about new books online or hang out with local writer friends. Go to events in your area and chat with attendees (this works virtually as well). Participate in bookish conversations online and work with your publishing team to amplify their efforts to market and publicize your book.
In a similar vein, besides working on their next manuscript, what can an author realistically do to support their book?
The main thing that an author can realistically do to support their book is to share any media hits (reviews, interviews, guest posts, etc ) the book gets on your social media platforms online and with your personal support system. It’s also important to be willing to participate in any publicity opportunities your publicist earns for the book. I know not every author is comfortable with everything (such as certain types of events) and one size does not fit all, but the more that can be done the better. Additionally, share your connections with your publishing team so they can leverage them to promote your book, such as connections to local schools where you can talk about your work directly to kids!
With social media a constantly shifting landscape, what do you see as the most effective method for authors to communicate with their readers and build more of an audience?
I think that authors can continue to use tried and true platforms (even if things look scary on Twitter right now), and the most important thing is to be consistent no matter which platform you choose to be active on. You don’t necessarily need to jump ship and rush to start an account on the “next big platform.” It could be a good idea to start an email newsletter, which allows for direct communication with your readers that is not hosted on a social media platform. My general advice for social media (as a publicist, not a digital marketing person) is to pick a platform you’re comfortable with and good at. If you’re a debut author, try things out to see what you like and what works for you and your book. I would also recommend building a platform on social media that’s not only about the book you have coming out. Make it personal! Of course, you should post about your books, but followers like to see a whole person, not just the product they’re selling. Check out other authors’ social media accounts and see what specifically makes their platforms successful. Consistency is definitely key so pick a platform that you don’t hate! Also, social media responsibilities will vary house by house but make sure to connect with your marketing/digital/social media team to chat about best practices.
What can an author expect from a publisher’s publicity / marketing teams? How best can an author support their efforts?
Expectations can be a hard thing to navigate! There are core publicity tentpoles like submitting the book for trade reviews and pitching relevant media for coverage opportunities, but depending on what’s in your publicity plan and the publisher’s budget, titles can receive more marketing/publicity or less so the first step would be to ask for a final plan so you can see what the team is prepared to do adjust your expectations accordingly.
The most important thing in a publicist-author relationship is to establish a clear line of responsibilities and communicate, communicate, communicate. We want to help you and amplify your efforts in the best way possible! If you’re starting to think about publicity actions you want to take and you haven’t seen an official marketing/publicity plan from your publisher yet, check in with your team. Usually, we’ll send the official plan a few months ahead of publication. If you have ideas or connections to local media and bookstores, please share that with us as soon as possible so we can build this into our plan! We don’t ever want to duplicate efforts so it’s important to let us know if you plan to take matters in your own hands, so to speak.
For example, if you are reaching out to bloggers you know about covering your book, tell us! If you are pitching yourself to a festival, tell us! If you’re organizing your own book launch (in case your publisher isn’t), tell us! That’s not to say these things are supposed to fall on your shoulders, but the team should know what your efforts look like. Once potential appearances are scheduled, please spread the word and you can always amplify any coverage the book gets on social media. The only big no-no is to pitch big media opportunities yourselves.
What do you wish authors knew about in-house publicity and marketing?
Again, one size does not fit all. Each book is its own entity in terms of publicity and plans will vary title by title. Each publisher has their own way of doing things too, so even if you have published before that doesn’t mean your experience will be exactly the same. Of course, you can ask questions and if we don’t know the answer, we can forward to the right person but at least know the basic functions of the different departments at a publishing house, for example: a publicist usually doesn’t handle social media and marketing usually doesn’t handle bookstore events.
What can authors ask of their agents in terms of publicity and marketing?
I’m not sure why authors would ask their agents about publicity and marketing, but I think you can ask them for a basic rundown of what types of activities each department handles and when they can expect a final plan. I would say most publicists would rather answer questions over email rather than a call, but if the plan is extensive or if the book is high priority, you can ask to schedule a call to chat through the plan.
Anything you would like to add?
I know I said communicate, communicate, communicate a few questions ago, but there is no need to over-communicate—your publishing team’s inboxes are the wild west so please don’t email us every day with something new. I would also like to add that even though publicizing your book is our job, it would be so nice for authors to thank their publicist. It doesn’t have to be a gift, a simple email will do, but acknowledgement for all the work we do would be really appreciated. We’re so excited to work on your book and help get your message out to readers!
Aleah Gornbein is a graduate of Yeshiva University, with a BA in Media Studies with a concentration in Public Relations, and Pace University, with a Masters in Publishing. She is currently a publicist at Scholastic and has held roles in marketing and publicity at Holiday House, Peachtree, and Pixel+Ink, as well as Macmillan International Higher Education. Aleah contributes to the Sydney Taylor Shmooze and the We Need Diverse Books blog and loves volunteering at local book festivals. As someone who has yet to read a story with all of her intersectional identities represented, her goal is to help put diverse books into the hands of kids and teens. Aleah lives in New York City and you can find her on Instagram at @jewishyabooks and Twitter at @bookworm613.