Greetings, dear readers! I am thrilled to be joining the columnist roster here at IndieReader in 2013, so without further ado, let me introduce a very special holiday edition of my “Ask a Publicist” column that should appeal to people (people who need people) within and without the publishing community.
1. Partridge? Maybe not.
Pears from Harry and David? Definitely. Send some fruit to your hardworking publicity team. Let’s be honest: editorial tends to get all the glory so why not send a token of gratitude to the people who make your op-eds and interviews possible? Don’t have a publicist? No problem. Anyone you work with closely on a daily basis deserves at the very least a handwritten note of appreciation this time of year. The recipient will be appreciative of the gesture and it costs you nothing.
2. Be a turtle dove.
No need to squawk extra loud around the holidays. We’ve all got our heads down so we can get the heck out of dodge, just like you. Coo softly, wish us much merriment, and then fly on off to St. Barts or Toledo, OH. Wherever you’re winging, remember that the little people have families and traditions to get to as well.
3. What’s with all the birds?
I’m not into French or Cornish Hens but good things come in three’s like Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany – that is January 6, which is about when I’m ready to plug in again after the holidays. Seriously. If you’ve left me 15 voicemails, I will get them and respond with a simple email, usually saying “I will get back to you within the week.” I’m sure there are many people who are just too polite to be forthcoming with this same info (I’m not one of them.)
4. Four calling birds.
Speaking of calling, please follow the “how many times would I want my mother calling me each day” rule. Generally, this is once. Once is good. Once is very nice. Four is way too much, unless you’re on tour and stranded in Milwaukee because of a snowstorm and then it’s fine. No one appreciates harassment: not the clerk at your neighborhood indie bookseller, not a magazine editor you’re hoping to woo, and certainly not producers. In fact, don’t call them at all. Let them call you. You can thank me later.
5. Five golden rings
Yes, I am hung up on phone etiquette. If you talk to any media professional, he or she will regale you with all manner of horror stories and pet peeves involving calling culture. Another great rule to keep in mind: if your call has gone to voicemail once and you wait five minutes and call back again and it is ringing and ringing, just hang up. Do not leave another message, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.
6. Laying the ground rules for the next six weeks.
(OK, this is a stretch but oy with the fowl already.) We’re all insanely busy from Thanksgiving through January 1. This is not a revelation but a fact. Plan ahead and lay the ground rules, no matter what your profession, for what you will and won’t do during The Season. The holidays are essentially a six-week period of hypertension and if you don’t set expectations, things can get pretty sticky. Do yourself a favor and own up to any vacations and mean it when you say you “won’t be checking email” – just please don’t leave some obnoxious out of office message about your fabulous Tahitian getaway. The only thing we care about is that you’re unavailable so enjoy those Mai Tais but keep it to yourself.
7. Swimming in it.
Your boss, your publicist, your uncle, pretty much anyone with a soul will understand that the first week back from a holiday hiatus is a nightmare. If you’re honest and tell people that you’re putting your head down to catch up on email, it’s okay to close the door and shut yourself off from social contact for a while. We’ve all felt overwhelmed at some point in our careers (and some of us on a daily basis) but as long as you know what you need to do to get it done, no one is going to judge you too harshly. Just get it done and sooner rather than later. And please don’t go around blabbing about how stressed you are, especially if you’re newly bronzed in the middle of winter.
8. Milk it, but don’t overdo it.
This applies both professionally and socially to authors and the rest of us. A flurry of well-timed publicity is a wondrous thing and you should feel good about yourself. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor so a post or two on the old facebook page linking to the good press is a swell idea. Restraint here is key. There is nothing worse than a feed full of Sally Field-like gushing every time some lit blogger links to the piece in HuffPo. The same can be said for you, oh Hijacker Parents, when little Johnny wins the Perfect Attendance Award or Susie Q earns a 2400 on the SAT. Should you be proud of your kids? (Does Santa have a beard and jump down chimneys?) But really, do all 352 of your friends need to hear about your nonpareils of offspring? For a real belly laugh, head over to my new favorite blog, STFU Parents.
9. Embrace the Dance.
This one is for all the authors, Indie and otherwise: pretend you’re at a ball hosted by Lord and Lady Media and you’re vying for a good long slow dance (that would be a profile or NYROB review) along with thousands of other attendees. You’re going to have to dance to some fast jams, refill your punch glass, and maybe even take a breather in the bleachers for a while until the right song comes on. It is all part of the process. Rather than get upset that your dance card isn’t totally filled, keep your eye on the prize and enjoy the scenery.
I cannot tell you how many times I’d get a backlist author calling me, demanding to speak with “Shelly” who was literally 18 months gone from the position I was then occupying. Publicists tend to travel from house to house, or imprint to imprint, leaping at the next opportunity that will offer any hope of advancement. It’s not personal. It’s the nature of the industry. This happens in so many other professional contexts that it’s worth mentioning. Yes, change is hard but please try to be understanding and welcome the new voice on the other end of the phone even if you’re freaking out inside.
11. Pipe Up.
As an author, you are your book’s best advocate, quite frankly because you wrote the thing and know it inside and out. Yes, chances are your publicist has read it and found a few hooks to latch onto in pitches but please don’t think your job ended with the final proof. Publicity is a collaborative effort, made easier by a grounded but enthusiastic author with good ideas for reaching niche markets. A word of caution: don’t go in there, guns blazing, with nothing but an opinion to back it up. A little research is always smart.
12. Beat your own drum.
Social media is both a blessing and a curse for those who have found themselves relying upon it in a professional context. This is news to approximately no one. Never before have we been able to reach so many influential people so easily and casually and never before have workloads and demands on time been so massive. Educating ourselves about the changing scope of the media, in addition to all of our other duties, is a full-time job. Luckily, humans have evolved into a perilously narcissistic, self-promoting race of perpetual multi-taskers! In all seriousness, a degree of self-promotion is a necessity no matter what you’re peddling. The successful social media user is a self-starter with a variety of well-researched contacts across a range of target groups who can creatively communicate his or her brand. As I tell my authors, get those tom-toms going and rally your friends and family to help promote your book but don’t bombard people with the same “BUY THE ARSENIST’S DAUGHTER ON AMAZON” every single day. Variety is the spice of life and sometime you need a bongo instead of a timpani.
Sarah E. Caldwell is a writer and former book publicist who lives in Central Jersey with her husband and their Wheaten, Oscar Wilde.