Thursday, March 7, 2013

How To Be Your Own Publicist

By Barbara Claypole White

Press coverage is the frosting on your book launch and probably the only promotional activity you’ll engage in that’s free. Yes, FREE.

Author loops have endless chatter about hiring publicists, but really, you can do it yourself. Good press coverage depends on two things: research and crafting a story. And who better to do either than a writer?

As a former publicist, I created a marketing plan—okay, a glorified to-do list—with big dreams of national press coverage. But like most debut authors, I had limited time and resources. So, I focused on what I could handle—contacting the local press. And it paid off big time.

Local media is a huge resource for the following:
- news coverage of author events and book releases
- features /  interviews  with authors
- author event listings 
- book reviews 
- event photos—if it’s a slow news day

Step one: communicate with your publisher 
My publisher seemed happy for me to contact the local press, but I kept them in the loop. This was how I discovered that one of the lovely guys in the P.R. department could coach me through a radio interview. You’d think I’d know how to talk to the press, right? Wrong. I knew how to promote other people’s work, not my own. My debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, is a personal story on many levels. When I talk about it, I get sentimental and sidetracked. Not good.

Step two: do your homework
Research your local media the same way you researched agents. Decide who you want to approach and why. For example, I contacted the editor of Triangle Gardener, a free magazine with a long shelf life and a good circulation. She told me politely that the magazine didn’t cover fiction, but I had perfected my pitch. I mentioned how my novel had an interesting twist on the theme of the healing power of gardening. Because I’d done my homework, I also knew that a blurb about the book—with a picture of my pretty cover—would be a good fit on their “News for the Garden” page. As you can see above, it was.

Step three: figure out lead times
Common sense here, but obviously a local weekly with event listings has a shorter lead time that a glossy magazine that comes out once every two months.  Know thy lead times.

Step four: lists are important
Create lists of news journalists, feature writers, community calendar editors, book reviewers, photo editors, and local organizations with newsletters. You can contact all of them for slightly different things. For example, someone compiling a listing of local events will want only the most basic information: time, date, place, event. If you’re interested in news coverage or a feature, you will need to…

Step five: find your hooks
Figure out what makes your novel different or newsworthy. For example, I worked several different angles for The Unfinished Garden:
  1. Local settings. My heroine owns a wholesale plant nursery in Orange County, North Carolina, where I live. For my inaugural signing, I chose to read from an important scene set at a local hot spot, the Maple View Farm Country Store. The county press loved this angle, as did a preserve-our-countryside group that publicized the event in their newsletter.
  2. Local girl makes good. My heroine, who’s English, rushes back home to her childhood village after her widowed mother has a nasty accident involving a springer spaniel and a hedgehog. At one point, she visits the historic market town of Olney, near the village where I grew up. This was the angle I worked for the local press in England. In addition, I donated ten signed copies to the Olney Oxfam Bookshop, a charity store that’s mentioned in the novel—another angle that attracted the local press. (The shop also promoted TUG heavily on their Facebook page.)
  3. Gardening as therapy. We have serious gardeners in my area. No brainer.
  4. OCD is an unusual hook for fiction. OCD frames my world as a mother and as a writer of fiction and non-fiction. The hero of TUG is the first obsessive-compulsive romantic hero in mainstream fiction, and he's a believable obsessive-compulsive. Since myths, stigma, and stereotypes surround OCD, this makes him unusual. I used this angle to set up an event at the local library during OCD Awareness Week and to snag two radio interviews. Oh, and the success of Silver Linings Playbook has presented new opportunities. (The fun never ends with P.R.)
Step six: first contact
Press releases are useful, but I’m not a fan. Back in the day, when I had big dude clients, the best stories I placed were tailor-made for the media I approached. I know it’s time consuming, but I wrote individualized emails (consider step two). If you opt for a press release, research layout and keep content factual and concise. You have one goal: sell your story.

Step seven: follow up
Journalists are just as busy as we are. Don’t assume no answer means lack of interest. The most impressive coverage I received came from my local paper. I had emailed the editor several times, and she hadn’t answered. One day, on a whim, I phoned. She was so apologetic, said she’d meant to answer me but had been swamped. As we chatted, we discovered she lived down the road. After she stopped by one night on the way home from work, we spent several hours together. She did an in-depth interview, took photos of my garden, and left with a signed copy of TUG. Several weeks later, she posted a glowing review online, wrote a full-page article about me and the novel, and wrote a second article about OCD. I call that the motherload.

Step eight: preparing for interviews
Create five or six key points and aim to control the interview by inserting one key point into every answer you give. Here are my key points:

  • The Unfinished Garden is a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt 
  • It’s published by MIRA, the imprint of Harlequin that handles mainstream or literary commercial fiction 
  • Readers can find me on Facebook 
  • Readers can check out my website,, for listings of my events
  • TUG is available as a trade paperback and an e-book from Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, the Harlequin website, and iTunes, and signed copies can be ordered through Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill (my local indie)
  • OCD is a highly individualized anxiety disorder that creates irrational fear in the absence of true threat. In its most severe form, it’s a crippling allergy to life. (Personal aside: Real OCD is a living, breathing nightmare. To fight back, as my beloved hero does, takes extraordinary courage. This is a point I wanted to make in every interview)

Step nine: send thank yous
Remember—you’re going to need these people for novel two!

Step ten: don’t stress
Any press coverage you orchestrate will help spread the world. If you only manage to contact one local media outlet, that’s still huge. Be proud, be very proud. And then return to what you do best: writing.


Barbara Claypole White is the author of The Unfinished Garden, a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt (Harlequin MIRA, 2012)
“White…conveys the condition of OCD, and how it creates havoc in one’s life and the lives of loved ones, with style and grace, never underplaying the seriousness of the disorder.” Romantic Times 4* review
“Barbara Claypole White gives us a moving story about the challenges of OCD and grief combined with the power of the human spirit to find love in the most unlikely of places.” Eye on Romance
“A fabulous debut novel, The Unfinished Garden easily earns Romance Junkies’ highest rating of five blue ribbons and a recommended status for its unpredictable originality! So good!” Romance Junkies


  1. You know this is a great post because now I have a headache. ;-)

  2. Oops. Sorry. :) Really, it's not as scary as it sounds. LIke anything, the daunting part is the beginning. Once you've started…

  3. Great post Barbara! I am awful at these sorts of things. I love that you made a step by step list. Much more manageable!

  4. This is AWESOME, Barbara!! Wonderfully helpful!

  5. Ditto what Amy said. Great post, Barbara. My head is spinning!

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