Spencer-Fleming For Hire

by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Publicity?  Marketing?  Let me tell you.  When my first novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, had the good fortune to win some awards, I did not have a clue, and I’m still trying to master the basics of what you do and when you do it. Some writers--like JA Konrath, Jacqueline Winspear, Pari Noskin Taichert or Betty Webb—have the ability or background to manage their own publicity and make it look effortless. But what about the rest of us?

When and where can an independent publicist help? 

My own experience has been that there are two levels of publicists.  One assumes that you are already “A list” and maintains you there.  These are folks in LA, NYC or Chicago that ask for, and command,  at least 5 figures up front. They can deliver large media markets--if you already have a brand name.  After my first two books, I hired one of these folks, with an eye toward getting some major magazine exposure.  The company was a very professional Manhattan outfit, and I learned a lot.  But it was an expensive lesson—I swapped a big chunk of my advance and netted exactly bupkus.  The company worked hard on my behalf—I just wasn’t well-known enough to interest anybody at Conde Nast. I had gotten way ahead of my career trajectory.

The second breed of publicist helps you build your career from the ground (or in my case the subbasement) up.  Three of the best-known publicists in the crime world do exactly this sort of work. Sandra Reimer (www.reimer-reason.ca ) is the owner of Reimer Reason Communications, located in Ontario, Canada. She assists authors as a publicist and also helps charities and businesses market themselves. Sandra Balzo (http://www.sandrabalzo.com/ ) is both a writer and a public relations professional, specializing in book publicity.  Balzo's first mystery, UNCOMMON GROUNDS, was nominated for both an Anthony and a Macavity, and her short story work has been nominated for multiple Anthony Awards and has won both the Robert L. Fish Award, the Macavity Award and the Derringer Award. She can be reached at  Sandy@SandraBalzo.com. Patti Nunn’s (www.breakthroughpromotions.com )   BreakThrough Promotions is staffed by writers committed to writers. Patti believed from the outset that most writers couldn’t afford to pay a publicist three figures per hour. So she came up with a variety of affordable representation plans, where authors pay for the publicity they get. She can be reached at PJNunnAssoc@aol.com.  (Full disclosure: Patti Nunn has been a key player on my team since my second book came out.)

What 5 tips can a new writer best follow to position themselves for marketing/publicity?

Sandra  Reimer:

  1. You are not selling books--you are selling an experience to readers. What experience might readers have when they read your book? What is unique about your book and why would someone want to read it?
  2. What type of readers would be interested in this experience? Find out as much as you can about your potential readers and meet them where they live, play, work, read, watch, and listen.
  3. Marketing is exchanging something of value for something you need. What do you want out of the exchange with readers? Do you want to have a best-selling book? Do you need to make money from your book sales and related activities? Do you want readers to call or email you and say how much your book meant to them? It is easier to be successful if you determine your goals.
  4. How much time and money do you have to put into marketing your books? Set a time and money budget for promotion. You need to communicate your message over and over again to your target market to be effective.
  5. Know when to get professional help. If you are not a graphic designer or a promotional writer, have someone develop a personal promo page, postcard, bookmark, and other promotional items for you.

Sandra Balzo:


    I'm going to sound like a broken record... (hmm, that really dates me, let's say a broken CD), but everything else I have to say springs from this one tip.  So what's a hook, you ask?  

    The kind of hook I'm talking about is not the one that pulls a reader into your book. Instead, think of it as the lead that would pull that same reader into a NEWSPAPER article about your book. 

    As an author as well as a publicist, I can't tell you how many times I've been asked "What's your book about??" THAT is the first thing you need to be able to answer--in a sentence or two at most.  But even more important is a second question: "Why should anyone (BESIDE your mother) care?

    Think about it: If you hadn't written this book, what would YOU find interesting about it? What sets it apart? Why would you tell your friends to read it?  Is the setting fascinating? Is the author (that's you) fascinating? Does the book teach us something new and interesting?Your hook is the answer to that question.

    Nearly 2,000 mysteries--just MYSTERIES--are published a year. Why should a newspaper devote space to yours?

    I do a half-day workshop and, as part of that workshop, I ask people to write their "dream article." The one that they would LOVE to have some reporter write about them.

    Strangely enough, while we all WANT that article, we have no idea what it would say (except that we're brilliant, of course).  Well, think about it. Write the article. And then be prepared to provide all the facts necessary to your publicist and/or a reporter. Background, statistics, photos--everything.

    Yes, we're back to our hook again. Remember that unusual setting? Might it interest a travel editor?  Or a reporter in that area? Or might AAA Magazine find your protagonist--who travels the country in an Airstream--compelling? 

    Or let's say, just for the sake of argument, that your book is about coffee. Like mine. (Uncommon Grounds---one of the owners of a suburban coffee house is found dead in a pool of skim milk the morning the store opens...)  I just had a wonderful review in the FOOD section of the Denver Post a full year after the book came out. Why? Because I sent the food editors of the major dailies copies of the book. This particular editor, bless her heart, read it and loved it.

    Your hook--be it location,  profession, hobby, or whatever--may appeal to a whole new audience that doesn't necessarily walk into a bookstore. So where do you find them? A coffee shop? A gardening store? A needlework store? Trade magazines? A blog?  You can go there. Just make SURE you get your facts right if you intend to market to a community of experts.  In fact, a great way to get their support is to ask them for their help in vetting your book.

    YES, you will be using your hook--even while you're still writing. You will use it to catch an agent's imagination. Your agent will interest a publisher with it. Your editor will feed it to the sales team--the people who have to decide whether to spend the few minutes they have with a bookseller talking about your book or someone else's.  Arm them.

Patti Nunn

  1. Sign on for the duration. Book promotion is an ongoing, evolving process that shouldn’t start or end with the launch party. There are plenty of effective marketing activities that can be done long before and long after the book is released.
  2. Approach your promotional activities like a business. Do your research, lay out a business plan and calendar, and don’t be afraid to revise as needed. Be specific in your goals. It’s hard to hit a target you can’t see.
  3. Get a professional head shot taken and learn to dress and present yourself as bestselling author. If you minimize your talent and success, others will too. Learn to act like what you want to become.
  4. Consider any advice from all sides. What works great for one may be a disaster for another. The same techniques won’t work the same way for every author/title. Find out what works for you and staff your weaknesses.
  5. Examine your bio and experience, as well as the book you’re promoting, to identify several different “hooks” that will help with promotion. Book reviews are entirely about the book, but few other elements of promotion are. Media personnel in particular are known for saying “we don’t do fiction,” but if you have a good media hook, you can get a lot more attention for yourself and for your book.

I asked this crew a second question as well; What  5 tips put a new writer in the best light for you as a potential publicist?

Stay tuned to this space for the next exciting edition of Spencer-Fleming For Hire for their answers. Yep, this is a two-parter, folks! OK, so it’s not exactly Who Shot J.R.?…but it’s a  lot more relevant to your career!

Julia Spencer-Fleming