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Getting ‘Difficult Books’ into Media

Martha Halford-Fumagalli

For the publishers asking how they can promote their relatively unknown authors into a celeb-greedy media, we introduce you to Martha Halford-Fumagalli – an experienced non-fiction publicist based in the UK. She suggests that knowing how the media works, and thinking creatively when pitching is half the battle.

In an increasingly commercial and competitive media-sphere, getting media coverage for ‘difficult books’ – e.g. books not written by well-known authors, and not published by the major publishers –  may sound like ‘mission impossible’. However, even though it’s not easy, you can plan ahead to maximise your chances.

Publicising a book is about communicating a clear (and succinct) message, and persuading your target media to cover it. In order to persuade, you must know your target and what they want. So, be familiar with the magazines (or any other media) you plan to contact; know their different sections, their style, what they cover. The more your communication will be targeted the greater the chances of success.

As you devise your PR strategy you must be aware of magazines’ lead-times (when they start planning their next issue). Often monthlies start planning an issue at least 2 good months in advance, so you need to plan your campaign well ahead of the book’s launch date. Lifestyle magazines have a lead-time of up to 5 months.

When contacting the media concision is key; put yourself in the journalists’ shoes – always a good tactic when you want to get someone on your side. Journalists receive several hundreds, if not several thousands, of emails daily. When you email them go straight to the point, bearing in mind that what might seem obvious to you about your book, is unlikely to be obvious to them. Be clear but not plain, express yourself in a personal, engaging style – stand out from the crowd without appearing contrived.

In the same way, the press release should be short (preferably no more than two pages) and well-structured. I would suggest featuring the book’s cover at the top of the release and, if relevant, the author’s picture next to his/ her short bio at the end of the release. The visual element will immediately grab readers’ attention.

Your contact details must be listed prominently on all the pages of the release. Journalists are extremely busy, and if they aren’t able to get hold of you they’ll simply contact the next publisher. The media might not be friendly, but you must make yourself media-friendly.

When deciding which audiences to target, be creative! Think about the different themes/ angles emerging from the book you are publicising. Make sure that they’re relevant to a wide audience (ask yourself why they should be so; sometimes we tend to think that our personal enthusiasm will be shared by others when it isn’t necessarily a given). If some topics can be linked to current affairs or if you have a truly striking yarn to tell, then it’s likely that the media will want to hear from you. Always remember that hundreds of other publishers, and professionals from other fields, are contacting with their story the same journalist that you are trying to reach.

Broaden your media net. Your ‘media list’ must be targeted but wide at the same time. Targeted because you should only contact people interested in your book and avoid the ‘scatter-gun’ approach, but broad because you should reach out to some less obvious media who might have an interest in a specific topic in your book. The more you stray from the media’s beaten track, the greater your chances to get some coverage.

The author is usually available to write features and the media are grateful for the content that you provide. They will choose which topic they want from you and you will need to follow their style. Obviously, you cannot impose your own personal approach. We often hear that ‘we are in control’, but when you deal with the media all day long you do realise that this is not true.

Another bad habit that we must give up when doing PR is to expect things to happen at the push of a button. Publicity campaigns often go on for several months (remember the lead-times from above?) and it’s very rare for the media to get back to you after the first email you send them. It usually takes a few of them to get noticed.

Moreover, you have to follow up by phone or your email is likely to drown in the sea of messages in the journalist’s inbox. However, if after several emails and calls you still don’t have an answer, you should take this for a no. Unfortunately, the media often don’t bother replying if they aren’t interested. It’s a tough world out there.

In addition to the national media, absorbed by ‘big’ and ‘sensational’ stories, don’t forget your author’s local newspapers, websites, or broadcast. Depending on where they live, their local bookshop or library might want to organise a book launch or an event.

Importantly, the author might belong to some professional or special interest organisation (an alumni association, or a cultural body). Make the most of these affiliations since these societies are likely to publish a ‘member e-newsletter’.

Do support the social networking activity of your authors by advising them on the best channels to use and giving them some suggestions about how best to craft their digital communication. This is an art which needs to be learned. Help them grow their digital following and support their activity via your own social networks. Collaboration in the virtual sphere is key to the success of the communication.

All the PR rules about sending a clear, targeted, well-timed message, and about avoiding being too insistent apply to social networks too since they are just a different – and potentially very effective – way of communicating.

Like with other media, it takes time to build a good profile on any of these social networks. The Internet moves at the speed of light, but building human relationships and useful professional networks takes as much time in the fast-flowing digital arena than in the real, tangible world.


Martha Halford-Fumagalli is a UK-based PR specialising in getting coverage for difficult books. She started her career 20 years ago promoting business and management books and getting them regularly into the national media and beyond. She now runs her own communication consultancy publicising a broad selection of non-fiction.

Originally posted by the Australian Publishers Association.

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