When you are launching a novel, particularly your first (but really, any novel), getting publicity for that book can feel like a blend of luck, magic and random intervention. The truth is, though, that book publicity, like so many aspects of publishing, is a job, and it takes a lot of hard work to make that magic happen.
One person who knows a lot about this is bestselling children’s author Ashleigh Barton (pictured), who worked in publishing for six years. Ashleigh ran marketing and publicity campaigns for internationally renowned authors and illustrators before beginning to write books of her own.
Now the author of four picture books, including What Do You Call Your Grandma? (shortlisted for the 2022 CBCA Book of the Year), and one brand-new middle grade novel, Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe, Ashleigh graciously agreed to share some of her brilliant publicity insights with us.
Can you explain the difference between publicity and marketing?
“Back in my book promoting days, I was in charge of both publicity and marketing and the way I always saw it was publicity is anything you rely on someone else for (that is, you need to convince someone external to do for you), whereas marketing are the things you lock in yourself (and usually have to pay for).
“So, for example, an interview with a magazine is publicity because you’re relying on that media outlet to firstly want to interview you and then go through with it and run the interview, and this is largely on their terms. An advertisement in that magazine is marketing because someone has booked the ad and had it created, and it is pretty much a sure thing once that invoice is paid.
“Broadly speaking, other things that fell under my ‘publicist hat’ included securing review coverage, pitching authors for festivals and organising events. Things that fell under my ‘marketing hat’ included generating point of sale (promotional items offered to bookstores like posters, shelf-talkers, dumpbin headers and so on), social media promotion, print and digital advertising, partnerships/collaborations, giveaways and also anything through the publisher’s owned channels like website articles and newsletters.
“It was an extremely busy but very fun job!”
What’s the best thing that authors can do BEFORE the book comes out to give it a great launch?
“Connecting with as many people in the book community as possible is super important. You can do this by attending events and networking in person, or by interacting with the community online (it’s pretty easy with social media these days). Preferably both, if possible.
“In my experience, fellow authors are really supportive. Connecting with booksellers – especially at your local bookstore – is important too.
“Getting books in the hands of key people who will help promote you can also drum up some excitement and early interest and help spread the word in time for pub day.
“And, of course, it’s good to try and build up some excitement through your own social media. You don’t need to be on every platform and, in fact, it’s better to just pick the platform or platforms you’re most comfortable with and run with those. You’ll sound more authentic if you’re not forcing it.
“Pre-orders can make a big difference (for example, if a bookstore is getting a lot of pre-orders for a book, they’ll order in more and be more aware of your book come pub day), so don’t forget to encourage these.
“If you can set up your own website, I’d recommend that as well. It doesn’t need to be fancy – just something to showcase your books and bio and help people find you through search engines. Sites like Wix and Squarespace make it pretty easy to DIY and there are some pretty great companies out there offering website building services specifically for authors.”
How can traditionally published fiction authors best help their publicist?
“The first thing your publicist will want to know is if you have any contacts in the media (or on social media) that could help secure some coverage, or if there is anything unique or interesting about you or your book that might be newsworthy.
“Beyond that, I think the best thing an author can do is say yes. Do anything your publicist asks you to do, if you can.
“It’s not easy getting media coverage for books – especially fiction books and especially children’s books – so your publicist will have worked hard to secure opportunities for you. Please take them! The more exposure your book can get, the better.
“Agreeing to events and bookstore visits, tours and festivals is also important. Getting in front of readers and booksellers can have a huge impact on how well your book sells, and your publicist will have worked hard to set these up for you, too. Book promo can be exhausting but it’s crucial and, honestly, it’s really exciting to have people so interested in your book.”
If an author is taking on their own publicity, where do you recommend they begin?
“This will come down to what kind of book you’re publishing, but the first thing I’d recommend doing is researching the different outlets and people who talk (or might talk) about books like yours.
“Look for publications, websites, podcasts, personalities, social media accounts, etcetera, and start reaching out to see if anyone is interested in a review copy.
“Prepare a media release to send out with any review copies – this can be pretty simple with your book’s blurb, cover and publication details as well as your bio, author photo and contact details.
“Follow up on any review copies sent out to see if anyone is interested in reviewing your book or chatting to you about it. Reach out to websites suggesting guest posts, see if any podcasts are keen to host you and offer yourself to local bookstores, libraries and schools for events or talks.
“Finding online communities like Facebook groups for authors can also help you with promotional opportunities, so join these if you can. Look for groups that relate to your particular field of work or location.”
What do you think is the key to ongoing publicity for a book?
“Keeping yourself out there will definitely help. Keep connecting with people, keep networking, keep attending book-related (or relevant) events. Keep saying yes to opportunities, and seek out your own where you can.
“And, of course, if anything has happened to generate new interest – such as reaching significant sales numbers or making an award’s longlist or shortlist – this will mean more opportunities for ongoing publicity.”
How do you think your publicist background has helped with promotion of your own books?
“The biggest thing my background in book publicity has helped me with is expectations. Both in terms of what kind of publicity to expect and also in terms of what happens at launches, bookstore visits, school talks and festivals.
“It’s really helped me to know how these things ordinarily go – I am definitely a lot more comfortable walking into them than I would be flying blind!”
Find out more about Ashleigh Barton and her books at www.ashleighbarton.com
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is co-founder of the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group and co-host of the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.