Meet Publicist Nancy Berland

- by BlogMistress

Nancy Berland-cropped2 --72dpiVoted “Best of the Best Publicist” by RWA’s Published Author Network, Nancy Berland is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism. She has served as a newspaper feature writer, restaurant reviewer, national trade association public relations director, corporate public relations consultant, speech and magazine feature writer and romance author.

Nancy and her talented staff at Nancy Berland Public Relations represent romance, women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense and non-fiction bestsellers—and newcomers—such as Marie Bostwick, Nancy Bush, Terri DuLong, Louisa Edwards, Sabrina Jeffries, Nicole Jordan, Debbie Macomber, Linda Lael Miller, Carla Neggers, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Wendy Corsi Staub on an ongoing basis. She and her staff of seven also represent many other talented authors on a contract basis, and they work with publishers, too.

It’s All About Balance . . .

by Nancy Berland

A literary agent emailed me a couple of weeks ago with a question prompted by inquiries from what she described as “some younger authors.” Why, she asked, would an author need to hire a publicist or invest in more traditional promotions when she could utilize Twitter and Facebook and make herself a bestseller through these costless social networking tools?

Wellllll, I thought, as I framed my response, for one thing, have you ever heard of hanging chads? Back during the Presidential election of 2000, it appeared that the outcome of the election would be determined by the Florida vote, but thousands of ballots that votes had been cast were disqualified because of a “paper technicality.” That is, the gizmo that was supposed to have punched holes in the ballots to indicate the voter’s choices apparently didn’t function quite right, and the little pieces of paper—they called them “chads”—were hanging from the cards as if by a thread. The ruling: The hanging chads rendered the ballots uncountable, and an uproar ensued, with every local, state and national news outlet focusing on this development exclusively.

As a result, any authors of any stature who were unfortunate enough to be on tour in the aftermath of the election, found their interviews cancelled. All the time, effort and budgets that had been channeled into author tours, with the main goal of securing media to drive book sales, were wasted.

And therein lies one of the main reasons an author should never depend on any one form of promotion to achieve her goals. In the blink of an eye (or the hang of a chad!), an author can be left with a big fat zero on her promo balance sheet.

With social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, there are additional risks in that the whim of the public can change in a heartbeat. Just last week, every major news medium in the country ran stories about hackers compromising Twitter’s integrity. How many Twitter fans do you think that turned off? And then Twitter shut down for a period of time. If, as an author, you were depending on the lightning speed of Twitter to promote a signing, real or virtual, you could have wound up all by your lonesome.

And if Twitter were the be-all, do-all everyone is seeking to gain the public’s undying devotion, do you think GM would be where they are today?

Don’t get me wrong. Twitter and Facebook, with their viral capabilities, offer amazing promotional opportunities to establish your brand and a sense of community with your readers and should be figured into any promotion budget these days. But an author just can’t bank on social networking’s dependability. To avoid the “goose egg” possibility, any promotional plan should incorporate a balance of PR “tools” to reach an author’s targeted audiences: readers, booksellers, librarians, trade media, news media, and your own publishing company. Besides social media, consider advertising, Internet and bookseller promotions, personal appearances, media work and so on.

Moreover, the more successful an author gets in her career, the more is demanded of her time. Stephenie Meyer recently announced that she was shutting down her “bloated” MySpace page. She simply did not have time to keep up with the demands her site had been making on her time.

My take on it is this. As an author, you have three resources: talent, time and money. No one else can write your books for you. The number one thing you can do to advance your career is devote your time and talent to writing more books.

But someone needs to promote those books. You can’t take for granted that your publishing company will invest the resources necessary to make your books successful.

And you can’t bank on one promotional tool to do the job for you.

Make a plan. Apportion your resources, and don’t put all your favorite songs on one iPod.

What’s your strategy? What has worked for you?

14 comments

  1. Great post, Nancy. Intrigued, it left me with more questions that potential customers might have. What is the minimum time before a book’s release that one should hire a publicist if one is going to? Is it worthy even if an author isn’t touring, or more beneficial for tours? And what sort of budget should an author be looking at? How does an author decide how much to spend? Does she base it on where she is on the list and her potential to break out? For instance, a midlist author with a lower print run isn’t going to hit any bestseller lists, because there won’t be enough books printed, whereas someone higher up the list, (perhaps not completely A list, but above the midlist pack) might have the potential to benefit. I can see the temptation for the latter, not the former.

  2. Hello,

    Your comment about the writer needing to write really resonates. I would assume that your strength would be with the contacts you’ve developed in your career, and the knowledge base of what works in promotion.

    Do you find that the type of novel determines the type of promotion needed?

    Thanks

    Susanne

  3. I’ve been to a lot of writers conferences, including published author conferences, and pretty much all of them have said that if you’re new it doesn’t pay to hire a publicist. What are your thoughts on the subject?

  4. Hi, Nancy:
    So agree with your points. (And not just because I’m a client.) Before I was an author, I was a public relations professional, but I knew better to try to do my own PR in a field where I had no contacts and no particular expertise. There’s so much that authors cannot delegate, it pays to bring in experts when we can.

  5. Blythe,

    Love that you agree with my points. I do want to point out, though, that if an author doesn’t have much of a budget for promotions, she should work with two or three author friends who write in the same subgenre and co-op promote. Alas, it takes time, but not as much money . . .

  6. Jordan,

    I don’t know who’s saying that if you’re new, it’s not a smart time to promote, because that’s one of the most important times to promote, whether you hire a professional or do it yourself.

    Everyone–readers, booksellers, reviewers–love to read a debut author’s novel! This is your time to distinguish yourself from other authors and what they write. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . .

  7. Hi Susanne,

    Thanks for your great question:

    Do you find that the type of novel determines the type of promotion needed?

    The type of novel can affect the type of promotion needed. For example, if you’re writing a graphic novel, what you do will be different from promotions for an historical romance. Again, it comes down to knowing what works for what demographics. But–back to basics–first define your audiences, and then figure out how to reach each of them.

  8. Hi Robin,

    Glad the blog raised some questions, and very good questions! In the interest of readability, I’ll answer reach of your questions separately.

    1. I’d rather not think about the minimum time before a book is out to hire a publicist; I’d rather focus on the optimum time to begin the process. Ideally, you, as an author, and your publicist of choice, would hit the ground running with a plan before the publisher has the initial pub meeting for your book. That time will vary depending on the format for your book and your position on the publisher’s list. It wouldn’t be a stretch to begin the process of looking for a publicist a year before publication. For a mass market paperback, it’s smart to have a plan in place seven or eight months before a book goes on sale. When you approach promotions from a minimum-time-before-publication strategy, it’s much like running downhill: difficult to get your feet solidly under you and hard to incorporate new opportunities that arise after you put your plan together.

  9. Robin’s Question #2: Is it beneficial to hire a publicist even if an author isn’t touring, or more beneficial for tours?

    The answer is: Yes and yes. Touring is just one tool in the PR counselor’s “tool box,” but putting on a productive tour does involve knowing how to approach the stores (chains are different than indies); what media are receptive to authors in what markets, etc.

    As for when an author isn’t touring, you still need to let readers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers, etc. know about your book.

    A wise agent once said, “There’s one thing you can guarantee if you don’t promote your books, and that is that you will have absolutely no impact on the sales of your books.”

  10. Robin’s Question #3 – What sort of a budget should an author be looking at?

    Answer: A budget you can afford! When someone comes to us, after a brief chat about the book, our first question is, what is your budget? Budget dictates how you go about promoting. But do not second mortage the house.

  11. Robin’s Question #4: See answer to Question #3

    Robin’s Question #5: Does an author base her promo budget on where she is on the list and her potential to break out?

    Answer: You have to have goals before you put your plan together. When you’re a midlist author with a print run that will not put you on the lists, your goal is to achieve the highest percentage sell through possible. Publishers (and they key accounts) look much more closely at sell through than they do at bestseller list credits. (For authors new to the biz: sell through is the percentage of books sold to books printed.) Publishers expect a much higher sell through for hardcovers than mass market paperbacks, BTW.

    If your print run puts you in the running for bestseller list placement, your goals are twofold: sell through AND list placement. In the latter, you’re at the mercy of who’s also out when your book is out.

  12. P.S. in answer to Robin’s Question #5:

    I know one author who promoted so smartly that she blew her modest print run out of the water, and her publisher HAD to go back to print because of reorder demand. You think she got her publishers’s attention? Oh, yeah . . .

    Which brings up a topic related to bestseller lists, and that is velocity. If your print run is big enough to make the lists, you’ll need to design your promo plan to send readers out to buy your book within the first or second weeks. You want to compress as many sales as possible into that early period. Otherwise, you might have an impressive sell through, but you lose your chance on the lists.

  13. Great discussion — thanks to Nancy!

    Pat McL

  14. I was looking up information on Nicole Jordan and found this article about Nancy Berland. It’s very informative on how a public relations person promotes books. She is very successful because she handles most women’s fiction, romance best selling authors.

    I’m making a video about it on my idea girl consulting youtube channel. :)