Books

The Publicity Missteps Of The First-Time Author, And How To Avoid Them

The cover of the book What Would Rob Do?

NPR producer Rob Sachs talks about the mistakes he's trying to avoid as he awaits the release of his first book. hide caption

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Note: Rob Sachs, in addition to being a podcaster (as he will explain), is an NPR producer and the director of Tell Me More. He's contributed to Monkey See periodically (you may remember this nifty chat with Rick Springfield), and we thought it would be fun to hear from him as he braves the experience of being a first-time author. Rob's book, What Would Rob Do?: An Irreverent Guide To Surviving Life's Daily Indignities, comes out next week.

So next week just may be one of the biggest of my life.

After two years of proposing, writing, editing, and re-editing, my book, What Would Rob Do?: An Irreverant Guide to Surviving Life's Daily Indignities finally hits the market. The book is an adaptation of my NPR podcast where I match my own life experiences with expert advice to figure out ways to persevere through challenges from getting a zit to being underdressed for a party.

To be sure, just having the opportunity to write a book has been tremendously gratifying, but as the day gets closer, a fear is creeping over me.

What if nobody buys this thing?

While this feeling of nausea has been increasingly difficult to stomach and does not make great fodder for sound sleep, it fortunately makes excellent fodder for a podcast. What about? About how not to screw up the publicity for your book.

Determined to stick to the model that's worked for me before, I asked an expert — two experts, actually — for some tips. This time, I turned to Ken Siman, who has spent his career in the book industry as an author, editor, publisher, and publicist. He gave me some great advice — as did my NPR colleague Jacki Lyden, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Daughter Of The Queen Of Sheba.

Here's what I've learned so far.

Lessons in publicity, and Rob talks to NPR's Jacki Lyden, after the jump.

Be nice to your publicists.

These are the people doing their best to make other people care about you and your book. It's important to be patient with them and have reasonable expectations of their results. I also heard from Eric Nuzum, who says it might not be a bad idea to butter up your publicists with some baked goods.

As for what not to do when dealing with your publicist? Ken told me the story of one self-help guru who "threatened to place curses on our publishing house and the people who work there, that was kind of tough. So I would try to steer clear of that." He adds that if I am going to send cookies, it might be best to buy them from a local store, since sometimes home-baked goods can backfire.

Keep your head up when pitching colleagues.

Working at NPR, I'm usually the one getting pitched author interviews all day long. It's obviously a little awkward having to turn around and pitch the very same people I work with. Ken tells me not to worry — it's the nature of working in media. Not that it can't be a strange feeling: Jacki says that despite having known Weekend Edition host Scott Simon for years, having him interview her about her book "was really nerve-racking." Still, Ken says pitching colleagues is very common among journalists, and he assures me that I shouldn't feel weird about the process.

Avoid fraud.

Ken told me that at one point, he would try to book himself interviews by putting on a Southern accent and using the pseudonym "Blake Smith." He says that these days, caller IDs might get you busted, and that would make you look pretty desperate. It's best to let your real publicist make the phone calls.

And on the topic of being phony — never write your own online reviews.

It's lame. However, Jacki says it's a good idea to have friends and family write reviews.

For book signings, be entertaining and engaging, but don't be cheesy.

Ken tells me he had one author who was promoting a book about Socrates and actually dressed up as Socrates. "He tried to gather people on the steps of the library, but that was tough." He mentioned passing out refreshments at events, but somehow I think that, too, could backfire.

Be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Both Ken and Jacki said this straight up: there are going to be tough moments ahead. There will be some less-than-gratifying interviews and undoubtedly a book signing that will draw a small crowd — or none at all. Jacki told me one story about an underpublicized signing in Austin that was attended only by the employees of the bookstore. Yeesh.

I'm not sure if all this advice has helped me feel better, though I do feel more prepared. I'll report back on how things go after my first book signing. In the meantime, now's your chance to give me some advice of your own. What do you appreciate the most when you hear an author being interviewed? What's the best part about attending a book signing? What annoys you the most?

In the meantime, to hear the podcast including my chat with Jacki Lyden, you can listen right here:

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