Sandra Poirier Smith is the president of Smith Publicity, Inc., an international book marketing company dedicated to helping authors create awareness about their books and expertise through media coverage. Smith Publicity has promoted thousands of authors/publishers since 1997—from New York Times best sellers to first time, self-published books.
Sandra regularly writes and speaks at book industry events on the topic of book marketing and promotion, in addition to being a regular judge for the annual IndieReader Discovery Awards (IRDAs).
IndieReader spoke with Sandra about book promotion, her dream project and ways indie authors can navigate the high publicity seas.
Loren Kleinman (LK): What attracted you to book marketing? And why public relations? Do the two co-exist? Why or why not?
Sandra Poirier Smith (SPS): Before Smith Publicity, I worked for years in corporate marketing and marketing communications. On a personal level, I love books. So I was excited to have the chance to work in the publishing industry and with individual authors to help create awareness of their books. Every day is different! In many ways, it’s much different than corporate marketing. Primarily, it is far more personal and specialized skill set. We are promoting an author’s background, expertise, personality, etc. just as much as the “product” or the book. As we say, no one wants to interview a book. The role of book marketing includes the overall goal of creating awareness for a title. This includes initiatives including paid advertising and what we do, publicity. With publicity, our role is to make an author and book part of the news, having the book or author features in an article, feature story, interview, book review, etc.—which is often more credible than a paid ad. If an author is going to engage in both a paid advertising strategy and publicity media outreach, these efforts should be timed, ideally, to work together to build exposure for a book for a specific audience.
LK: How has Smith Publicity established itself as a top PR resource for authors?
SPS: In 1997, Dan Smith started Smith Publicity after first freelancing with Radio TV Interview Report, a publication writing ads to offer experts and authors to producers as potential guests. He saw a need, especially with the boon of self-publishing, to give authors a path to spark awareness for their work. Over the years, we’ve learned, and continue to learn, the best ways to introduce authors to producers, editors, bloggers, etc. We follow news stories, trends, awareness months, editorial calendars, etc. and listen to our authors to see what is important to them, and then plan strategic media outreach. Communication with both authors and our long term media contacts to understand their needs are keys to making Smith Publicity a top PR resource for authors.
LK: What are some mistakes that new authors make when it comes to promoting and marketing their books?
SPS: Two of the biggest mistakes new authors make when promoting their books is not understanding the time it takes to build an author brand and underestimating the volume of competing new titles available each week (thousands). In general, authors are passionate about writing or are experts on their topic, but often don’t understand the ever evolving business side of publishing a book.
LK: How can authors use social media to engage possible readers? What, do you think, are the best platforms? And which platforms should authors not dedicate an exorbitant amount of time on?
SPS: Social media is a great way for authors to engage readers, media, bloggers, and other authors. The key is for authors to establish authentic relationships, discuss topics and ideas, share expertise rather than simply promote their books. Twitter and Facebook are top platforms of choice for this engagement. Right now, experts are saying Google+, while important, is in a phase of changing and to wait out these updates before investing an exorbitant amount of time there. Every author should be on Goodreads, a great platform for book discoverability. We also see successful authors using blogs as the hub and place to point people to during social media interactions.
LK: How has the PR landscape changed in regards to book promotion?
SPS: In the past 15 years, traditional publishers have decreased staff and therefore authors are often tasked with more responsibility for their own book promotion initiatives. Also, the rise of self-publishing has given book buyers more titles and choices than ever before. This increased competition means additional authors are vying for the same media attention, making it more challenging for both traditional and indie published authors to get that interview or article. News outlets offering book reviews have decreased, again decreasing chances for authors to secure book reviews. On the positive side, book bloggers—especially those focusing on a specific fiction genre—offer authors excellent paths to the end reader. Staff reductions have also plagued media outlets and therefore they are looking to outside sources for content. This is creating opportunities for authors to write byline articles (a non-“salesy” article written by an author, typically 700 to 1,000 words, about a specific topic related to their book or expertise) for magazine, newspaper, and online outlets.
LK: What’s been the most exciting collaboration you’ve worked on since at Smith?
SPS: Too many to count! Launching Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary and Voltron’s 30th anniversary tribute books were exciting. Another highly successful project was Places I Remember: My Time with the Beatles by Henry Grossman, introduction by Sir Paul McCartney. It was a sellout. While these were tremendous accomplishments, sometimes the most satisfying and exciting projects are when we are working with a first time author or new publisher and are able to truly shape and impact their brand. One example is Lauri Burns, author of Punished for Purpose and founder of The Teen Project. We were able to secure coverage on outlets including People Magazine, Steve Harvey, NBC, CBS, FOX, among others, which opened doors for her and her foundation. Another example is Cozy Classics, a then new publisher of charming children’s board books. Their coverage included The New York Times, People Magazine, Parents Magazine, FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, etc., which they credit for “helping us take the world of children’s lit by storm.”
LK: Promoting a book on your own can be incredibly expensive. What are some inexpensive ways authors can promote their books and still have a chance at building a readership?
SPS: Some tips for author promoting books on their own include submitting book to book review outlets including Publisher’s Weekly creating an author website and blog and updating the blog “regularly,” engaging in social media platforms even 18 months before the launch of a book, finding the platforms where your target audience is and focusing engagement there, establishing a solid presence on Goodreads, taking advantage of their giveaways to create awareness and reviewing other authors in their genre to become a voice that community, contacting local media, offering a review copy of the book, and giving a nice backstory or event information to try to make the book as newsworthy as possible, visiting local libraries and bookstores to offer books in the local author section, and reaching out to book bloggers in their genre with personalized message showing the blogger they truly researched the blogger’s work and offering their book for potential review/contents.
LK: What sorts of titles are the best fits with Smith Publicity? Which subjects/genres seem to promote with ease?
SPS: Non-fiction books and fiction titles with newsworthy themes, written by credentialed authors, professionally edited and designed, with a recent or upcoming publication date, and an author with realistic expectations who is willing to work hard are our favorites to promote. Business books, cookbooks, self-help, health, pop culture, personal finance, children’s books with a message, and fiction titles with news related themes tend to be the most popular with the media.
LK: Are all books that go through Smith agented? Do they have to be bestseller?
SPS: No. We vet each book carefully. The publisher, agent and bestseller status are part of that review, but the most important elements we review are the author’s credentials, the overall quality of the book, and its target market to see if we think we are good fit to help.
LK: What are some of your favorite genres right now? Do you have an affinity to literary, YA, NA, romance, etc.? Indie?
SPS: Cookbooks and health book are exploding right now. Business leadership and ways help business owners be more efficient and grow their business are always popular. Young Adult, with deeper themes we can draw from, has been steadily popular with the media. Indie vs. traditionally published book matters less than having a quality, relevant book written by a credentialed author.
LK: How do you motivate authors to keep moving forward throughout the PR process?
SPS: Communication! Authors are expert writers or experts on their topics and much of what we do—beyond publicity!—is educate authors on the steps and the time it takes to build an author brand. We provide weekly updates to our clients to help them understand our initiatives, results, progress and plans.
LK: Can you talk about how you give back to the literary community?
SPS: We offer tons of educational information, trend and how to articles on our website and monthly newsletter. Unfortunately, there are many so called experts out there preying on authors’ hopes and dreams. We’ve heard many tragically heartbreaking stories over the years. We don’t take on many authors. In fact in 2014, we took on only 8% of authors who came to us. What we do offer is honesty. There are no guarantees a book will be covered and if so covered favorably. With our articles, we hope to share tips, actionable items, mistakes to avoid with the goal of helping authors promote their books on their own or working alongside a publicist.
LK: If you could work with any current author on a PR/marketing campaign, who would it be and why?
SPS: On a personal and professional level, for non-fiction Guy Kawasaki and Malcolm Gladwell because of their innovative and thought provoking work, and for fiction Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, as I have been a fan of her writing for over a decade.
LK: What would you say to authors who are struggling in terms of book promotion? Can you give them any advice?
SPS: Keep moving forward! Make an achievable plan—blogging, reaching out to targeted book bloggers, social media initiatives, updating your author page on Amazon, collecting names for a newsletter/building a fan base, reviewing other books, and keep writing (the next book!) and networking within their writer/genre community.
LK: What are some ways you stay current on particular trends in book promotion and publishing?
SPS: To stay current in publishing, I read GalleyCat and MediaBistro blogs. For book promotion, we talk to our media contacts to see the trends, content and information meaningful to their readers and audiences and talk with our authors to see, when possible, which media outlets seem to have the most impact on raising their profile.
LK: Do you love what you do? Why should an author work with you?
SPS: We love what we do and I think it shows! What is hard is that we have no control over if a producer or editor will cover a book, but when it happens, it’s magic! When we work with an author, he or she will have a dedicated, experienced publicist backed by team of experts. We have excellent media contacts and experience in promoting thousands of titles. While we are one of the largest book promotion companies, we are still small in terms of size (20 of us) and make collaborating and communicating exactly what we are doing a priority.