Promoting your writing: That first, lasting impression

dog with sunglasses
Photo courtesy of Gabriella Fabbri

Book publicists dazzle me with their tenacity, their social skills, the auras they create, and—not least of all—their incomes. They are the human equivalent of a search engine; they know how to get results.

I never hear book publicists grumbling about the media revolution we’re all experiencing, which is amazing, considering they are directly affected by the downsizing, relocation, and transformation of the media outlets where they made all of their important contacts long ago. Publicists collected hundreds of contacts’ names and phone numbers over the years. Then, rather suddenly a while back, they had to move the information from their Rolodexes into databases at about the same time that names became URLs and phone numbers became email addresses. But why bother? Many old acquaintances that once were “go to” sources had retired or begun entirely new careers.

Did book publicists complain loudly to the world when they had to devise new ways of reaching out to book reviewers and book bloggers? Did publicists blame their potential clients because they had to reevaluate the way they marketed PR firms’ services to authors using new media? Did they balk when they had to learn how to blog? Maybe you heard some of them grousing. I didn’t.

Most publicists took new media in stride, or they entered the profession because they were already comfortable with social media. Of course, there’s always the bizarre exception. Three years ago, I came across a book publicity firm in the Midwest, where I live. Assuming the publicist would be thrilled to connect with someone interested in her company, I contacted her first by email and then arranged a phone call. She wasn’t available to take my call at the prearranged time, of course, and then when we finally connected, she thought I was trying to get a job as a freelancer. I explained that I was simply interested in B2B networking, but she seemed irritated and skeptical. Rather than give up, I asked about the services her company offered. She gave me a terse overview. By that time, I was embarrassed and frustrated. Certainly, reciting her standard business pitch should have been something she was eager to do.

The last straw was my question about how she, as a publicist, used social media and websites to promote her clients’ books. Her answer was astounding. She said, “I don’t have time for all that. We send out the usual postcards and press releases.”

Needless to say, the conversation did not expand my professional network.

Here’s the real irony, though. As I was sorting through my list of publicists today, moving bookmarks from my hard drive into the cloud, I came across the Midwestern publicist I had attempted to get to know. She’s now blogging and using Twitter, and she’s no longer located in the Midwest. Sometime during the past three years, she started using social media. She transformed her firm, and it survived. While she deserves my admiration for succeeding, I don’t think I’ll ever want to do business with her. I still recall the disdain she expressed when I asked her about new media three years ago.

You’re probably asking what one highly unusual publicist’s faux pas has to do with promoting your own writing. Well, here’s the point I’m trying to make, and none too subtly. Outlined on my website are the qualities I’m looking for in writers seeking representation. Nevertheless, because not all of the writers who send me queries have seen my website, I’m occasionally contacted by authors who tell me they don’t have time to maintain a Web presence. Some say they’re confident they’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn about new media after I find publishers for their manuscripts. There are those who lead lives so complex and so fulfilling that they possess neither the capacity nor the need for new connections that might help them promote their writing. A few, it must be said, probably should have opted to stay aboard the mother ship, because their online commentaries raise unmistakable red flags—brands of the undesirable sort. (I know what you’re saying. Some of my blogposts are questionable too.)

I’ll concede that first impressions are not always accurate, but writers become successful authors by making good first impressions many times over. In private conversations, on the phone, during interviews, via email, at public appearances—and, most memorably, on the first pages of their books—the best writers evoke our desire to know more.

Making valuable connections with readers, agents, publicists, bloggers, reporters, producers, editors, and fans can’t be accomplished when the first impression a person makes is “I don’t have time for all that.”

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