Literary Publicity: An Interview with Julie Schoerke, Part 2

Part 2 of my ongoing interview with the fabulous Julie Schoerke, the founder of JKS Communications, sharing her thoughts on the ins and outs of book promotion and literary publicity. For the Bloodspell campaign, Julie and her team secured television (CBSLMC-TV) and radio coverage (B96 FM99.5 WYCD), traditional print coverage (The Journal NewsWestchester Magazine), broad online coverage (SeventeenPortland Book Review, and numerous blogs) as well as scheduled tons of in-person appearances at bookstores, conventions (BEART Booklovers), and educational institutions (Poudre High SchoolCSULIC YMCA) during my 10-city national book tour.


AH: I’m a debut teen fantasy author with a small press, and found that having an outside book publicist really got my title out there. What kind of authors use your services, or better yet, should use your services?

JS: You are an example of the perfect client: you’re smart, savvy and everybody who meets you loves you. Most authors who are looking for a book publicist and are going to be successful are those who are friendly, nice, out-going, or at least not painfully shy.

Amalie, you were brilliant in thinking through who and what your contacts were and using them to the full extent and sharing them with our team. You truly were willing to be a part of a team for this book – and it made a big difference! You were on a number of television and radio programs. We got terrific feedback on you from producers. Having a YA fantasy novel does not seem like a naturally newsworthy story – but we have producers around the country that trust when we say “you’re gonna love her – and your audience is going to want her to keep talking” – and you came through every time!

Authors who want to have a presence on-line, entre to bookstores and media should use a book publicity firm. But realize that it’s not done in a vacuum. Our most successful clients are those who are willing to do whatever it takes to talk up their book. We can create opportunities, but the author is a vital part of promotion.

AH: Thank you for your kind words, Julie! I loved that JKS allowed me to have a say in what I wanted as part of my campaign, although I did have a healthy respect for your expertise on what was best for my strategic publicity campaign. I’m a firm believer in letting the experts do what they do best, and not micromanaging. Do you take your author’s ideas on board? How much involvement do you expect from your authors to maximize the partnership?

JS: Again, Amalie, you have been a dream! I work with clients up front from the proposal stage through the signed agreement in building an action plan that fits their goals, life-style, how much they can travel, how comfortable they are with doing book club appearances or writing guest columns, etc. The author goes in knowing that the action plan they signed off on becomes the road map for the campaign. If something is working especially well, we’ll add more of that. If something isn’t working well, we’ll be flexible to try something else. But, in general, the author and I have spent enough time talking about goals and comfort levels, that a campaign has been designed specifically for that author.

No two of our campaigns are exactly a like, because no two of our authors are. However, there are firms that have a la carte menus for authors to pick and choose which pieces of a campaign they want to try and then it’s pieced together that way. That’s not our style, but it’s a style that works for lots of firms and lots of authors.

The cost of a publicity campaign comes down to the amount of time that experts need to spend to attain the goals in the action plan. If an author can allow the publicists to do their jobs, that have already been agreed to, then the author will get much more for his/her money because that time can be spent being productive rather than spent on the phone with the author discussing details.

By far our most successful campaigns are done with those authors who are interested, involved but do not try to micromanage. That’s why you hire a publicity firm – so that you don’t have to worry about the details. Our firm has something called Publicity Updates, a continually updated document that shows the client where the campaign is on all fronts at any given time. Our documents are sent once a month to a client and the client can always request to see them in-between.

Clients who micromanage publicity consistently have a less successful campaign. Your job is to be at the top of your game publicly – nice, likeable and charming when scheduled for events and media. Leave the details and stuff you don’t want to mess with to us. This is your time to shine!

AH: In terms of the campaign itself, how do you determine the balance between online and traditional media? Is this influenced by the type of book? For example, I’m Young Adult Fantasy and a large majority of young readers are online so a considerable portion of my campaign was blog focused.

JS: Since 2008 more than ½ of the book reviewers for newspapers and magazines have lost their jobs. More than 70% of adults get their recommendations for books from on-line sources as opposed to traditional media. For kids, as you note, the percentage is even higher. You want your positive reviews to live longer than a day or a month. When you get on-line reviews, those reviews are there for good, in most cases. On-line reviewers have gotten significantly more sophisticated in the past two years in cross-promoting the titles they review so that their review is easily seen on their blog, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.

We believe in a balanced campaign that includes various components including on-line reviews and interviews and traditional media. When we represent a book that is non-fiction and specifically written for a targeted demographic, such as those dealing with cancer or other diet, then there is very targeted traditional media that has a high interest in covering that topic by an author with credibility (publicists help articulate what your unique credibility is).

Amalie, you had fabulous traditional media. Seventeen chose to feature your book. You had terrific connections; an excellently written novel with a compelling storyline; limitless energy and graciousness to everyone you met. It all came together for some fantastic media coverage.

A publicist can pitch a book to the media, creating the hook. But in the end, it truly comes down to the book itself. It’s sometimes a mystery to those who are very influential in the literary world why one book takes off and another flounders. I was in a book club for years with about 10 women who influenced which books got published and on the shelves in bookstores. One entire book club meeting was devoted to the capriciousness of what makes a best-seller. I believe that the more things you try and the more opportunities that there are for readers to learn about your book, the better shot you have of getting a good launch.

A book publicity firm launches the book. Gets the book out to be discussed by the people who care. But, it’s word of mouth that makes a book “take off.” That’s when a publicity campaign has been truly successful, if people are talking about that book. Not whether you’ve been on a particular show, but if readers are talking about your book. It takes a strong publicity action plan and a story that ignites the passion of readers.

AH: How far in advance of publication do you recommend starting PR efforts, and when is the best time to start working with a book publicist?

JS: Please start interviewing publicity firms as soon as you’ve signed a deal with a publishing house. Publicity firms are going to want to know what your pub date is and when galleys or ARCs will be available. In our case, we ask for a copy of the manuscript as soon as it’s had the major edit. The reason is because I read it to see if I think we’re a good fit for the project and we can be enthusiastic about your book.

Most likely, you’ll start talking with the firm you choose about six months out from the pub date to keep them up to date on new developments. You will begin working with them four or five months before the pub date and a little while before the ARCs or galleys become available.

It’s really important for long-lead publications that someone, your in-house publicist or your outside publicist, is on top of communicating with them no less than four months before publication.

A majority of the work is done before the book is launched. In your case, Amalie, the appetite for your book was almost insatiable before the ARCs even arrived. We were getting many requests from reviewers months before your launch date. And you were still a media darling months after Bloodspell was released. You had several printings of the book within months of the release date and lots of activity, so your campaign remained very active for months after the book releases.

First-time authors may not know that there is a six to eight week “life-span” for a title on bookshelves at bookstores. By that point the book needs to be “paying the rent” for the highly sought after “real estate” on that bookshelf or it gets returned to the publisher and on-line sales are the only option. So, do everything humanly possible to get your book attention in that first six-week period.

Never feel like you’re starting too early in securing a publicity firm.

Click here for PART 3 of this interview.

Click here for PART 1 of this interview.

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