As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down and we start to resume our usual activities, now may be the ideal time to review your current book publicity capabilities and look for new opportunities to keep both your book and role as an author and thought leader front and center.
Authors as Thought Leaders
Aa thought leader essentially possesses expertise in one or more areas. For example, a poet heavily influenced by the works of Rita Dove or Nikki Giovanni can and should position themself as someone who can speak about Dove or Giovanni’s works, style, use of language, metaphor, etc. Likewise, a published nonfiction writer might be an expert in all the topics they’ve written about in books, magazine articles, or peer-reviewed journals.
It seems obvious, but many of us often sell ourselves short when it comes to what we think we know or can speak to—I’m only a novelist, we think to ourselves, who would want to hear from me? But you also can talk about the writing process, how to develop characters, or craft dialogue. Perhaps you possess unique insights about the setting of one or more of your books or the era about which you write, etc.
The point is that even after your book launches and you’ve gotten through the first round of media interviews and book signings, positioning yourself as a thought leader on individual aspects of your work, the writing process, or other life experiences that you may be able to tie back to your writing provides additional opportunities to secure media coverage and continue promoting yourself.
Tools That Can Help
Below are some free or low-cost services and tools that you may find useful in identifying new publicity opportunities or in helping you promote your books. Please note that the Authors Guild has not endorsed any of these products or services.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out)
HARO has long been used by many PR professionals to secure coverage for clients, but few outside the industry are aware of it. HARO connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise. Via twice a day emails, you will get lists of reporters who are actively working on stories and seeking qualified experts to comment. A “source” (e.g. a thought leader) can also sign up on the HARO site, where reporters look through listed sources and reach out directly. HARO used to be an independent service but was purchased by Cision, the most costly media contacts database, tracking, and distribution service currently available. Luckily, the HARO service remains free. To sign up: https://www.helpareporter.com/
Online Book Clubs
The success of MasterClass, which allows adults to learn about new topics from highly regarded university professors, combined with the rise in Zoom interactions due to COVID-19 has resulted in the new trend of online book clubs hosted by well-known authors. Below are three of the most compelling of the sties.
- BookClub.com (New! Still in beta-testing) invites authors to freely engage with their readers by interacting with personal book groups, leading virtual discussions, and sharing exclusive interviews. BookClub focuses on literary and mainstream adult fiction, general nonfiction, and business books, as these works provide more opportunities for lifelong learning and allow readers to delve deeply into texts with the guidance of subject experts—generally well-known authors and thought leaders paid to lead the online workshops.
- Literati recently introduced adult book clubs led by big names including Austin Kleon, Susan Orlean, Malala, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, and Jesmyn Ward, among others. Genre writers stand a better chance to have their work featured here. Readers can enjoy a monthlong trial for .99¢ ($8.95/month thereafter).
- Fable Reading Clubs are virtual book clubs where anyone can host engaging conversations while reading books together. This new app launched last year snagged LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow fame—his first book club ever. Among others leading the charge: Stephanie Burt, Jason Boog, Elif Batuman, and Adam Grant. An account costs $9.99 monthly or $69.99 per year.
StoryGraph: A Better Alternative to GoodReads
Amazon’s GoodReads has been around so long that many of its capabilities and features have become outdated. Yet, if you like the opportunity readers community sites offer to post and promote your books, check out Storygraph, which launched in January 2021. According to users, StoryGraph’s best feature is how it recommends authors and books based on a reader’s mood and interests. You also can easily import all your data and bookshelves from GoodReads so Storygraph can begin making recommendations quickly. It is free to sign up and use for both authors and readers. You can learn more about the service here:
Low-Cost Press Release Distribution Services
An author’s press release can announce a book signing, book reading, new book release, book tour, awards, celebrity endorsements, a new blog, or other newsworthy events. The best way to ensure your press release reaches the right reporter is to send it to each journalist individually. This not only requires much time but also assumes you have done the necessary research to identify the right media contacts and secure their email addresses or social media handles. That’s why most people opt to send a press release out via a wire distribution service instead. Unfortunately, PR Newswire and BusinessWire, the two largest wire release services, can cost anywhere between $500-1500 per press release. However, more than two dozen other wire services operate in the United States, and nearly all of them cost less (or even are free).
Below are five that you may wish to consider if footing the bill, though it’s wise to review each site carefully to understand what’s included with various pricing options:
- EIN Presswire is a web-based press release distribution service created for users to access a global media network, as well as press release tracking, media monitoring, RSS feed services, and SEO functions. Pricing begins at just $49.99 for a single release, but you must pay $249 if you wish to attach/include book art (cover).
- 24-7 Press Release Newswire features plans starting as low as $49 for a single press release including one image, but you should select the $139 Media Pro option to ensure that releases go to both online and print outlets.
- PR.com is extremely easy to use and offers three pricing plans per release ($60, $100, or $300 respectively), but you get what you pay for. Review each plan carefully to determine which pricing package will reach the right news outlets, such as those covering books and the publishing industry.
- 1888pressrelease.com offers free press release submissions along with sample press releases and press release writing tips, but you’ll only get copy of your press release on the provider's website for free. For no-frills, minimal distribution, better to start with the $15 press release, but you can also step up to the $150 release, which includes the creation of a free video for you upon request.
- PRLog also distributes press releases for free, though it gives you a little bit more than 1888pressrelease.com does. Your best bet is to go with the company's $99 release, which includes distribution to 250 industry news sites so you can be sure you are hitting the publishing/book industry outlets. Releases cannot run more than 500 words.
Media Contacts Database
If you are an indie author or simply want more control over your publicity, including reaching out to reporters directly, you may want to consider purchasing an all-in-one system that allows you to identify reporters, bloggers, and editors and enables you to send and track press releases and other content you may wish to share. Prezley offers a low-cost version for just $50 a month that will help you quickly connect with reporters and influencers. It also will provide you with the correct contact information and author guidelines if you wish to submit an op-ed or essay on a book-related topic to a publication in your capacity as a thought leader. Be aware, however, that not all publications pay for such content.
Sandi Sonnenfeld is a PR and communications consultant with The Authors Guild and has more than 20 years of experience in the public relations sector. She’s also a published fiction and creative nonfiction writer and currently is working on a historical novel.