Friday 27 March 2015

Do It Yourself Publicity by Harold Underdown (excerpt from his book) #ChaBooCha

Do It Yourself Publicity

Nudge, Don't Push

There's a fine line between contributing constructively to the marketing and publicity of your book and harassing the publisher with your ideas. If you do have ideas, approach the publisher in a professional manner. The publicist for your book will want to know of any ideas you have regarding the publicity for your book, and many publicists ask authors to prepare a list of their publicity ideas. 
(Marketing departments may also send a detailed questionnaire. If you get one, fill it out thoroughly. Your publisher needs that information.)

After you offer your ideas, let go! Publicists, like your editors, live a harried and hectic workday. Your publicist does not want to hear your voice three times a day. Instead, politely extend your list of publicity ideas and wait to hear from the publicist. A follow-up call about two weeks after submitting your ideas, however, is okay.

I remember a story from an author at a conference who thought that planetariums might be really great places to publicize her children's book about stars and constellations. The author went down to her local library and researched all the planetariums and natural history museums in the nation--about 2,000 in all. She took the list to her publisher, who put together a pamphlet about her book (and a few others) and sent out a mailing to the entire list. The mailing was a big success for the publisher and the sales of the book.

This author simply provided the publishing house with the tools necessary to act on an idea. Although the author put in hours of work--researching all the addresses and locations of planetariums and natural history museums--the work paid off.

Now let's pretend that the author suggested sending a pamphlet to planetariums but didn't do anything more. Would the publicist have had time to sit down and research the mailing list? No--he had his hands full getting information about this season's 50 books out to the standard media sources. By going that extra mile for the publicist, the author helped that publicity idea come to fruition.

Class Rules 
Publicists know that the best resource in a book's publicity campaign is the author or illustrator. Oftentimes, the author taps into a creative tie to the book that yields a huge response from the public. It behooves you and the publicist to work in unison. So get to know your publicist and give him your ideas--just don't bother the publicist with a million phone calls to share trivial ideas.
 Or let's say the author had told the publicist the great idea, did not create the list, and then called the publicist every day to see if a pamphlet had been designed and sent out. How would you react if someone did this to you? More than likely, the publicist would have erased the messages on voicemail as soon as she recognized the author's voice. Don't let this happen to you! Nudge, don't push, and be ready to roll up your sleeves and help.

Lend a Helping Pen

Want to know a great way to move along a productive publicity campaign? Offer to write the press materials for the publicist. A publicist doesn't have unlimited time to devote to your book and may only be able to send it to a standard review list. If you want a wider campaign, offer to help. If you create the materials for the press kit, the time the publicist didn't have to spend on the kit can instead be used on your campaign.

A press kit is a folder of materials about your book sent to the media--newspapers, radio and television stations, journalists, magazines--to alert them to your book's release. The best press kits link the book to a newsworthy item or a hook. A clip is a copy of an article you've written or has been written about you or your book.
 Follow these steps when approaching your publicist or marketing manager about your ideas. Make an initial phone call and politely say, "Hi, I'm __________, the author of _____________________. I'd like to help you in any way I can and actually have some publicity ideas. Where might I send them?" If you feel comfortable offering to write the press materials, do it. Put together a packet of clips, your ideas, and any press materials you've written and mail them to the publicist. Keep in mind that you can use the materials if the publicist doesn't. Wait a few weeks before calling. Give the publicist a chance to look over the materials. Don't bug the publicist. I said that before, didn't I? Let me say it again: don't bug the publicist. If it appears that your ideas won't be implemented, start using them yourself.

Here are several possible items to include in your press kit:

A press release or new book release announces the publication of your book, briefly describes it, and contains contact information. If something about the book connects to some current event or hot issue, the release can touch on the newsworthy aspect of your book.

Author and illustrator biographies, typically one page, detail your life and publishing career. Who better to write this than you?

The press kit may contain clippings from previous articles written about your book or you in a magazine such as Booklist or Publishers Weekly--especially if your book received an outstanding review.

Can You Keep a Secret? 
If you prepare elements for a press kit, save everything on your computer and send the files to the publicist. That way, your publicist will be able to quickly make corrections or edit the documents.
 Written like an article, a mini-feature actually contains much of the same information as the press release, just in a different format. Because it's actually an article, publications may publish it directly.
If your book can spawn a demonstration that might prove of interest to a talk show, say what you could do with suggested show or event ideas. If your book shows kids how to care for pets, for example, outline what you could do in a short segment on a show.

If a journalist becomes intrigued by your book, the more work you can have ready for the journalist, the better chance the writer will do the story. Suggested interview questions can be a great help to get you interviewed.

"I Did It My Way"

Frank Sinatra crooned it in his tune "My Way." Once you learn where your publicist's efforts end, you then need to decide how much of "your way" needs to be implemented. Essentially, how much time and energy do you want to devote to publicizing and fueling sales of your book? If you want to self-publicize, take a look at what you need to do.

In the end, you might decide to let the marketing department handle everything. They know their business, and even if they don't do everything you wish they would, they'll do what in their professional judgement is likely to pay off. So self-publicize by all means, but don't feel that what you do will make or break your book.

Playground Stories 
Don't spend too much time on your campaign. Bruce Balan offers this comment: "I spent many years becoming quite well-versed in self-promotion. I've been interviewed by scores of magazines, radio programs, and newspapers. I've created brochures, flyers, and review sheets. I've sent mailings to bookstores. I've spent money to hire a publicist. I've thrown publication parties. I've traveled to, and spoken at, conferences, trade shows, schools, and seminars. And I've come to a few conclusions:
- If your publisher is not supportive of your book, it probably doesn't matter what you do. 
- Even if your publisher is supportive of your book, there are no guarantees of success. 
- The authors I most admire are those who write well. Not those who promote well.
You Gotta Have an Angle

To publicize a book, even a children's book, you need an angle. You need to make your book stand out in a crowd of hundreds of titles--both in the stores and for the media. Remember, the media offers information to readers and viewers. In the case of television, the reporters also need to show something. Conversations with authors are just okay, but it's better if you can "do" something. For a news program to generate a story, they need a news angle--or at least a human interest angle. So your first step in publicizing your title is conceptualizing a hook or an angle.

What's a hook? Let's look at some examples. Say you've written a how-to garden and plant book for kids. A huge storm sweeps through your town, destroying gardens and felling trees. Your angle could be the rebuilding of gardens, teaching kids how to help in the recovery process. Nonfiction can be easier than fiction, but say your picture book details the story of a little boy moving from the neighborhood he's lived in from birth to a new neighborhood and new school, a classic theme, and yet you can find a hook. Find out the statistics on children changing schools and the psychological impact. Offer tips in your press packet for acclimating to a new school. Hook adults into buying the book to help their children; the media will want to offer this "good" information to parents.

Be creative! How can you hook people and get them interested in your book?

Roll the Presses

So you've got a press kit and a press release. What are you going to do with them? Your first stop on the self-publicizing train is your local media. Because you live someplace and wrote a book, you're news. Whether you live in a town or out in the country, try the local papers, radio stations, and TV stations. If you live in a big city, don't expect the major newspapers to be interested (although it certainly doesn't hurt to try The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the San Francisco Chronicle). Go for the neighborhood papers, the free monthlies for parents, the local cable TV show, and so on. Where do you get your local news? Go there! Fire off those releases you've written to the local media.

Can You Keep a Secret? 
Susan Raab, children's books marketing consultant, has a fantastic archive of her "To Market" column at Elsewhere on her site, you'll find information on her book An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion (which illustrators will find useful, too).
 After you've sent your releases and kits to the local media, concentrate on bigger media outlets--but in many cases only if you can accommodate an interview or plan on traveling in the area. Let's look a little more closely at your publicity options.

Any newspaper outside your area will want one of two things--a news link or an appearance in their town. Contact the feature editor if the angle you have involves a trend or a news item. Contact the children's book review editor if you plan on a signing or an appearance some place.

Radio programs can call you and conduct live or taped interviews over the phone. Find a media directory in your local library or online and go through the listing of shows by content. If your children's book focuses on sports fitness for children, pitch yourself as an interview on the morning sports show. Producers of talk radio continually scramble to fill their airtime with interesting and informational interviews. Don't limit yourself to approaching only the book shows. Generally, these shows deal with weighty adult books anyway.

Class Rules 
Author tours are expensive, and children's publishers don't pay for them. Unless you have money to burn, don't put yourself on a six-city tour across the nation. Certainly, if business takes you to Boston for a week and time permits, contact the media about appearances. Otherwise, save the travel for a vacation some place fun!
 For television, look locally and anywhere you might be traveling. Television programs need to show their viewers something--why not you? You'll still need an informational or newsworthy hook for the appearance. I've given examples of hooks tied to specific book subjects, but you can make yourself the hook. For example, until he got to be known as an illustrator, David Wisniewski got more attention from having gone to clown school than from having created a beautiful book.

Self-publicizing can be a full-time job, or you might decide to skip it completely. Consider your options. Whatever you decide to do, connect your efforts to any bookstore events you do--a way to get attention for your book on its own, but also a way to support your publicity efforts.  Keep your publisher informed too.


This is copyrighted material, displayed on the Chapter Book Challenge website for promotional and publicity use; may be downloaded, printed, or saved by individuals for personal use but may not be distributed or sold. This material belongs to Harold Underdown. More information can be found at


About the Author

Harold Underdown is an independent editor and publishing consultant; he does critiques, helps to develop manuscripts, and provides other editorial and consulting services for individuals and publishers.

As an in-house editor, he worked at Macmillan, Orchard, and Charlesbridge, and has experience in trade and educational publishing.

Harold enjoys teaching, and in that role wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Book Publishing, now in its third edition. He founded and runs "The Purple Crayon," a respected web site with information about the children's publishing world at

He also speaks and gives workshops through the Highlights Foundation, SCBWI's national and regional conferences, and Kid’s Book Revisions (offering online and on-site tutorials, webinars, and workshops in partnership with Eileen Robinson):


Today's prize is a copy of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Book Publishing" by Harold Underdown. If you are already signed-up for the challenge, all you have to do to enter into the drawing to win this book is to leave a comment on this blog post. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 31st at noon and will be announced later that day.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful information.

  2. Harold, great info. Thank you. Love this. I learned a lot. You gotta have an angle = fantastic.

  3. Love this! I did it my way!!!! This was a very informative post and I appreciate you sharing it with us!

  4. excellent information! glad its here to go back and read again!

  5. Great information I can work with. Thanks!

  6. Great information, thanks for sharing!

  7. Lots of great information, thanks for sharing Harold. Just need to go off and think of my unique angle now ;-)

  8. Lots of good ideas here. They're making me look forward to finishing my book! :)

  9. Very useful post! Thank you.

  10. Wow, this is excellent! It's hard to find publicity and marketing tips from a traditional publishing perspective.

  11. Great tips :) Thank you for sharing them. I'm looking forward to trying a few of them out

  12. Thanks for the info. It can be challenging to come up with an effective hook.

  13. Great info/tips! Now all I need is the book. ;-)