Most First-Time Authors Face a Cruel Reality — Writing Their Book Was the Easy Part

by Karen Jonson

Promoting a Book is Where the Hard Work Really Starts for Self-Published Authors, says Publicity Expert

Editor’s Note: This article is Part 1 in a two-part series about book publicity. Part 1 provides the perspective of a publicist. Part 2 will provide how-to information on doing publicity yourself.

Finishing their first book is a reason for first-time self-published authors to celebrate.

But the party often ends abruptly as soon as they discover the cold hard truth about the next step: Books do not sell themselves.

Simply hitting the publish button on Amazon or Kalahari or another site is only the beginning of the next phase of the process of publishing books: Promoting your books.

“So many authors I work with realize with dismay that writing their books was the easy part,” says Caroline Konstant, a book publicist in South Africa.

Caroline Konstant is a book publicist in South Africa, where she represents several self-published authors. She shared her insight on publicity with the Indie Book Marketing Community readers.

Caroline Konstant is a book publicist in South Africa, where she represents several self-published authors. She shared insight on publicity with Indie Book Marketing Community.

Caroline has been helping independent authors across South Africa promote their books in the media for years. “I do publicity for self-published authors and for publishers who don’t have in-house publicity services. I’m based in Cape Town, but send press releases to media across South Africa.”

While authors can technically do their own publicity to save money, she believes that publicity is one area where self-published authors should invest. “A publicist with excellent media contacts and relationships is a necessary investment for authors,” she says.

Caroline shared her thoughts on book publicity in an interview for readers of the Indie Book Marketing Community.

1. What are the benefits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

The main benefit is that authors have a chance to publish books that traditional publishers might reject.

Their rejection is often not based on the quality of the book, but on economics. Publishers have to look at their bottom line and expect a minimum return on their investments; otherwise they are not likely to take a risk on a new author.

Another big area is subject matter: Every publisher has categories of books they publish. Many books sent to them don’t match their areas of expertise.

The economics of the traditional industry can mean that unknown authors, niche-market books, and off-topic subjects stand a good chance of being rejected.

But today, if an author has the passion, drive, time, and money, they can consider self-publishing their books — and get them out into the marketplace.

Either way, the book needs media publicity; otherwise, it’s not likely to sell.

2. How can self-published books avoid the “vanity” label?

This term is almost outdated and irrelevant as more and more good books are being self-published.

However, self-published books still don’t have the prestige of a publisher’s book based on four issues:
• They are poorly proofread
• Editing is nonexistent
• The font and/or paper are inappropriate (if printed)
• Their cover designs are amateurish

Proofreading by a professional is particularly important. There is absolutely nothing a publicist can do with a book that has punctuation and spelling errors, no matter how well written it is.

3. What are the benefits of book publicity?

The singular aim of publicity is to let the book-buying public know that your book exists. If people don’t know about the book, even if it’s in a bookshop, sales of more than a couple of copies are unlikely.

Each mention in the media in articles or reviews is worth thousands of pounds or dollars in advertising space. Find out how much a small ad would cost to place in your favorite magazine – you’ll be astounded!

Obviously, the more book reviews, the greater the likelihood of sales.

4. Can self-published authors do their own publicity?

I’m sure they could if they had the time and inclination to spend months marketing their books, and more importantly, were able to get their hands on a comprehensive media list.

During my career, I’ve built up a list of almost 600 names of media in radio, television, magazines, and newspapers throughout South Africa.

The two most important advantages that publicists have, and authors and the general public do not, are:

  • A comprehensive list of media
  • Solid relationships with media built over years

No amount of training will give them the first, and I’m willing to bet most authors would far rather be writing their next book than contacting and badgering media.

5. Do self-published authors face a stigma when pursuing publicity?

Not a stigma, but as the media don’t have time, getting their attention without a publicist is difficult – unless the book has particular relevance to the publication or location.

I get excellent support from the local media (newspapers, magazines, television, and especially radio) based on my existing relationships when I promote self-published authors.

6. What benefits do authors gain by hiring a publicist?

Media are busy meeting deadlines and don’t have time to spend on promoting authors who may or, more likely, may not have a decent book.

A good publicist only promotes well-written, well-edited, and proofread books. Media know this and are more likely to request books for review through a publicist they trust.

Also, the publicist knows exactly what to send the media, such as, the right size photos, correct file sizes, specifications, and where interviews take place, etc. The media really appreciate this.

7. What about the costs, which are prohibitive for many authors?

In my view, unless you can work the social media angle to get followers and get your books noticed, it’s a waste of money to print a book or even publish an ebook without publicity.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a publicist, and also don’t want to spend the time looking up media names and addresses, writing press releases, and following up with the media, I suggest authors consider traditional publishing. The royalty may be lower, but it’s a far cheaper and easier option with fewer headaches than self-publishing and self-promotion. You stand to make less money in the long run, but that’s the risk you take.

8. What are your typical publicity fees?

I know most publicists in Cape Town charge around R6,000 a month ($650 in U.S. dollars*) for a minimum of three months of publicity.

I charge about R4,500 ($487 U.S. dollars*), which is extremely reasonable, for the following services:

  • I write a press release, which is short and to-the-point as media are harassed by deadlines and lose interest quickly.
  • I email the electronic press release to about 200 specially selected people (different books require different media) in the South African in print (newspapers: daily, weekly, monthly; community and trade newspapers; magazines: glossy and trade); radio (community, regional, and national); and television (community and national).
  • Thereafter – on request only – I send books for review; giveaway copies, extracts, jpg of the book cover, author photographs, and liaise with media and author on dates and times of author interviews.

For a further R1,800 ($95 U.S. dollars*), I organize a book launch at a bookshop for approx 50 people. However, unless the author belongs to a group or club or has a database of people who are specifically interested in the subject matter, I try to dissuade new authors from doing this as media do not cover these events, and the bookshop customers are there for the snacks and wine.

So book launches are often a disappointment for authors, bookshops, and publicists. Unless, of course, the author just wants to feel special for a night and treat their friends and family — then it’s worth it!

8. If authors could only do one thing themselves, what book publicity action would you advise them to take?

In general, there is no one thing that will make a difference. You need to get as many reviews in as many places as possible and that takes a lot of hard work, especially if you have little or no contacts in the industry and no prior experience.

Your only hope then is that your book magically goes viral.

9. What do you tell authors about the results they can expect with the services of a professional publicist?

I tell them there are no guarantees. And don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight!

* It should be noted that the cost of a publicist is far more reasonable in South Africa than in the U.S., where average fees are $2,000 to $5,000 a month.

Look for Part Two, which will cover how to do publicity yourself, if you choose that route.

So what are your thoughts on book publicity? Have you made plans yet? Will you hire an agent or do it yourself?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

A.K. Pollock April 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Thank you for sharing this. I can’t wait to read part two. Anna

Reply

Karen Jonson April 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Hi Anna,

You’re welcome! Caroline really shared a valuable perspective on book publicity.

Karen

Reply

Bernard May 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Hi Caroline,
I have further queries I like your professional advise. Can I email you or can you contact me regarding your professional services and charges?
Regards,
Bernard.

Reply

Bernard May 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Hi Anna,
Thank you for the delightful insight.
Thanks!
Bernard.

Reply

Ann May 3, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Hi Karen,
Great advice –I looke forward to part 2.
Thanks,
Ann

Reply

Tom Cooney Jr. June 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

Dear Caroline,

Being a recently published author, I fully agree that writing the book was a fully internalized activity—not so, promoting it. In my case, writing it was very therapeutic too. My wife passed away last year after battling cancer for 9 years. The story chronicles those years but includes our very personal relationship during that time.

I realize your geographical area of focus is in Africa and it may be impractical for me to consider (at this time) linking with you. I so enjoyed your article, however, I will use it as a standard if I hire a publicist here in the USA. eventually, after I’ve exhausted the social media world, I believe I will be using a publicist.

The link I included above is one of three. You can also Google: Tom Cooney Jr., for additional information on the book—and, me. Thanks, Caroline.

Reply

Tom Cooney Jr. June 4, 2013 at 8:55 am

Thanks Karen for the article. Caroline has some very good rules for conducting her business. I thought her advice was what a newly published author needs to consider.

Reply

Jenny Methven June 9, 2013 at 6:59 am

Hi Karen,
I have loads of questions especially about publishing in South Africa.
Regards Jenny

Reply

Karen Jonson November 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hi Jenny,

What are your questions?

Best,
Karen

Reply

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