If there ever was a giant sucking sound in publishing/marketing related costs, PR and publicity gets the most votes. Mega thousands of dollars can be kissed off within a few months—sometimes with minimal or nil results.
Most, and certainly authors, would assume that if a PR program/plan was created, moneys committed to it, and then implementation that there would be success—meaning books would be sold. Lots of them. And of course, what gets committed to will go off without a hitch.
Not so with PR … it’s a maybe/maybe not world.
In PR and publicity, authors and publishers quickly learn that there are no guarantees. You may be scheduled to do a segment on a coveted program and get bumped at the last minute because of late breaking news (i.e., Donald Trump employs illegals!). Yes, your info is more important … but producers have quirks of what “they” think is newsworthy (meaning viewers will watch/listen/read—and unfortunately, often “junk” rises to the top. Kim Kardashian, or whatever deep doo-doo the celebrity of the week is in, makes you expendable.) You are “out.”
Or some crises or tragedy hits. Anyone who had planned a book media blitz when 9/11 hit did an instant vaporizing act. The same with the disappearance of the Malaysian Flight 370; a massive tornado strike that evaporates an entire town like the one that hit Joslin, Missouri; or the outrageousness of the 2016 GOP debates. You, or the person you hire to rep you, can pound the media circuit and pitch … and get zero results. You can’t compete with it. Or, can you?
What happens when the “unexpected” happens during an author tour?
This doesn’t mean that you can’t “hook” your book with an event if it’s appropriate. Years ago, I was doing promotion for my book, The Confidence Factor. Scheduled to be on The Morning Exchange, the top-rated morning TV show in Cleveland, Ohio during a weekday author/book tour. It would be my third time on the show and I was looking forward to it.
That was, until news of a local tragedy hit me as I picked up the local paper with my morning tea and prepped to head for the studio. A familiar happening the spreads across America during May and June had rolled out the night before: the annual high school graduation. It was the perfect storm: graduation night, teens drinking and driving. And an accident. Three of the “star” students died including the president of the class and the star football player.
The city was waking up to this awful news; family and friends were reeling and I was scheduled to be bright and perky within 90 minutes.
Caramba! … I’m supposed to be upbeat and inspirational … it’s totally the wrong time and wrong fit for upbeat and perky. But I’m on a schedule—my publisher wants me on this show. I knew what a promotional book tour cost—this one stop was in the $3,000 range of a eight city tour.
Arriving at the station at the requested time, I listened to the segments that preceded me. My turn came to take the spot on the couch with the two hosts. As a mic was being hooked up on my jacket, I turned to one of the hosts off-camera and said, “I know that I’m here to talk about my latest book, but I have another one that would be more appropriate with what has happened. It’s called When God Says NO and opens upon the death of my 19-year-old son from an accident that ten other kids were involved in. Would it be OK if I lead with this instead of the book we are supposed to talk about?”
He was all eyes and a tad teary; all he could do was nod his head “yes” and read the teleprompter as the camera light flashed on. I’m introduced with the mention of the book I was slated to talk about and the book cover is flashed on screen. Welcoming me, I just took over saying what I said above, “With the show’s permission, I would like to divert from my new book and talk from my heart. You see, I too lost my high school son from an accident.” I restated what had happened with Frank and how it affected family, friends and the community.
When Frank died, 10 of his friends were with him—they heard him slip and fall off a bridge that none of them should have been climbing on; doing kid stuff that kids do. The panic that his friends felt as they scrambled to find him; the zombie-like actions that we observed and experienced as we worked with the kids; the news that took over our community on that fateful Labor Day weekend that was even aired over a thousand miles away on a radio show that a friend heard, and the calls that followed.
- how I was devastated when Frank died;
- how his younger sister who was with him needed huge support;
- how I was bombarded with the media;
- how his beloved dog lost all her hair;
- how I couldn’t even remember to pay my utility bills and pay my mortgage;
- how even my marriage almost fell apart.
I shared how I did all I could for myself and my family to keep from drowning and that we were a mess, barely breathing during that horrendous time.
What happens when young people with huge futures ahead and suddenly, everything is yanked away? I knew exactly the level of pain that was going on. I could feel it in that room—Yes, I spoke from my heart—I knew exactly what was circling around the families and city of Cleveland, Ohio on that horrendous morning. And I understood the shock that families and friends were experiencing and what would be cascading toward many of them as time progressed. I had been there and oh-so-done-that.
As I shared, my two hosts listened, asking few questions; the crew was frozen as they watched and hung on to what I said—what I didn’t know was what was going on at the switchboard. Massive phone calls were pouring in. The station was overwhelmed. Viewers wanted to hear more—they needed to hear more. The producers were telling the hosts that they were bumping the next two segments and segue to keep me there via their ear pieces. We went for three segments, two beyond what I had been scheduled for.
Leaving with thank yous and hugs all around, the head producer approached me and asked if I would be willing to come back in a few weeks and do another show around the theme of overcoming adversity—they would arrange all the transportation and accommodations. Of course, I would and did.
Upon my return, it was a huge welcome back, and yes, I was able to mention the book I was originally scheduled for: The Confidence Factor … one of the factors was dealing with adversity and failure. A full hour was dedicated to the topic and three other locals joined in—one psychologist, and the other two adults who had experienced sudden tragedy.
As authors, we are out in the public. Speaking, doing media and being interviewed. All are part of the author package. I happened to be in a place that wouldn’t be of first choice for anyone … but I was there.
Flexibility is critical, as is sensitivity to situations that we have no control over. My new book was the wrong fit, at least that week for the residents of Cleveland, Ohio. My heart and outreach were. Of the one thousand plus appearances on radio and TV shows, those two shows are etched in my memory.
What to do with the Dreaded Unexpected
My message to all of you is to plan, plan, plan and put into play the publicity and promotion strategy for your book. But, be responsive to what is happening in any environment that you are slated to be in. And adapt. Be accommodating and gracious if you get bumped—it happens more times than most realize.
- Familiarize yourself by reading online and in print when possible what the breaking news is in the community you are doing media in (download the USA Today app to your phone—it carries national breaking news).
- If you are doing radio, ask the producer who contacts you on the phone not only the demographics of the listening audience but if there is breaking news that is dominating the airwaves.
- If it’s TV—whether you are in-studio or doing a remote camera shot—ask the same.
- If it’s print, ask the reporter what’s the local buzz.
Then, ask yourself:
Can I tie in my expertise, insight or experiences to ease the pain; offer solutions; even share like experiences?