Great PR vs. Book Sales

Getting the word out about your book—especially when it’s your debut and you’re essentially building up a readership base—is incredibly demanding and important gymnastics. If you’re lucky, your publisher has an in-house PR agent eager to help you get going. If you’re self-published or just bullish, you hire an external guru to help spread extra sprinkles on your publicity game. Me? I’ve been working with my very supportive in-house team at Norton.

And  I made it into Poets & Writers’ PR incubator for debut writers.

First thing, put this opportunity on your radar: Get The Word Out. Led by literary PR superguru, Lauren Cerand. Lauren has consulted on publicity for clients like Scribd, Lauren Groff and Stephen King. No big deal. 🙃 One of the first things I asked Lauren is the distinction between strong PR and making good bank on your books. What do I mean? Let me give an example.

I was recently gushing to an industry insider about a book I burned through in a weekend—un/put/downable—and how impressive its PR game has been! Said industry expert mentioned they’d also seen the amazing PR: a feature in The New York Times, a review on NPR, shortlisted for important awards (hello NBAs) and more than a few literary billboards, ie. hot new kid placement in tony bookstores/festivals/lists.

This book was HOT AF! Everyone was raving about it. Ahhhmazing PR 🔥🔥

And the substance was there. Like I said. Gulped that shit down in a few sittings. And that’s unusual for a slow reader like me. And yet. Industry Insider said the book’s sales were meh. Huh? How on earth do those two things compute.

Why does loud, proud PR not equal dollars in the bank selling boxes of books?

Short answer? I have no fcn clue. And neither does your publicist. If they did, trust me the publishing industry would be pumping your bloodstream with fresh vials of that direct line goo with every word you sat down to write.

Most interesting answer? What Lauren said. Instead of focusing exclusively on the handful of big, shiny PR signifiers (that splashy NYT feature, that NPR interview, that Barack Obama summer reading list shout-out)—ask yourself:

What do you want in the long term and how can your book’s PR help you get there?

I loved this orientation to a pretty puzzling process. Because this reframe helps you clearly understand the goals for PR are highly individualized. Sure, a NYT feature is nice, but not necessarily your goal if not aligned with your long term vision of how you’d like your book to open career doors. I also love this reframe because it honors the business of books (making sales, mula, bank) without making book sales the measure of your work’s success.

And so, I’ve been thinking a fc-ton about my dream for INNARDS and how that vision will serve my long term career as a writer.

Once you have a manuscript you’re ready to sell, this is really a question you should ask yourself. Sounds so simple. And yet, can you answer it simply?

What do you want for your book? And how will that vision feed your writing career?

Big L,