Self-Publishing and Self-Publicity

How to Develop a Public Relations Strategy

If you’re self-publishing or looking to get more buzz going about your traditionally-published book, you’ve probably stumbled into the world of book marketing. Social media, author events, and advertising on Facebook or Google may all be no-brainers.

But public relations—PR—for book publishing is different. PR is all about building awareness and a positive image for your book or brand. Publicity, an element of PR, focuses on getting positive media coverage and it often involves a third party. The goal is to get that media coverage because the third party thinks there is value to your message, and not because you paid them to say something nice.

For example, what’s more meaningful: the author saying, “This book is great!” or a respected blogger saying, “This book is great!”? The opinions of third parties—whether they are normal people, industry pros, or celebrities—are more meaningful to potential consumers. That’s where PR comes in.


Step 1: Start Early.

Your PR and marketing plans should be developed long before your book is published. If you wait to start promoting your book until after it’s gone on sale, you’ll be too late. Once you’ve finished a solid draft of your manuscript, start thinking about PR. You’ll want to launch your campaign roughly four months (if not more) before the release of your book.


Step 2: Set Reasonable Goals.

I’ll be the one to break the bad news—your book probably will not be covered by Oprah, Ellen, or The Today Show. While it’s important not to limit yourself, it’s equally important to set goals that are attainable. For a self-published author, here are five simple goals that are well within your reach:

  • An article about your and your book published in a local newspaper or magazine
  • Three reviews / blurbs from bloggers and/or authors in your genre
  • Host a giveaway on Goodreads with at least 50 participants
  • 10 positive Amazon reviews within the first month of your book being on sale
  • Write a guest blog for a review or industry site


Step 3: Identify Your Demographic.

Who is reading your book? This is a very important question for any PR plan. I recommend building a few personas—detailed profiles of at least two or three types of readers you hope to reach. Are you writing for academics? History buffs? Romance readers? Will you be targeting moms? Millennials? Baby boomers? Also remember to think about your demos within the literary world—librarians, booksellers, reviewers, etc. The more detail you can develop about your target audience, the more successful you will be reaching them. (For more information about developing personas, click here.)


Step 4: Choose Your Message.

Some books will have an obvious message, like anything that falls into the self-help or how-to categories. But if you are writing a novel or poetry, decide on the purpose of your writing as part of your PR strategy. Are you trying to convey a point about today’s society through fiction? Are you telling an #ownvoices story? Are you hoping to provide an inspirational role model in one of your characters? Are you expressing a new take on a classic topic?

You’ll also want to choose your personal message. What makes you interesting as an author? Are you an expert or a neophyte? Did you experience some of the same things your characters do? Do you have a phoenix from the ashes story? Did something monumental inspire your work? These messages will help you when its time to develop the pitch for your work.


Step 5: Nail Your Pitch.

When it comes to PR, your pitch isn’t a simple, “Hey, I wrote this book!” The truth is, just about anyone can write a book. You need to develop an angle that will be interesting to the bloggers, reporters, or journalists you hope will want to talk to you. And don’t forget—your pitch needs to be targeted toward the person or outlet you want to cover you. Make sure the story is up their alley and worth their while.

Here are some examples of interesting angles that could lead to a full story:

  • You’re an expert in your field writing something groundbreaking. E.g. You’re a businessperson who has a set of unusual strategies for increasing productivity.
  • You’ve written a memoir that touches on a topical concept in a brand-new way. E.g. You grew up in a minority or marginalized community and your experiences will provide new insight to insiders and outsiders alike.
  • Your novel has elements based on your own life. E.g. The main character in your story faces a war and you are a veteran.

(To learn more about crafting a pitch, click here.)


Step 6: Avoid Spamming.

Sending your book to every reviewer and author on the planet is a big no-no. Be selective and smart when seeking endorsements or reviews rather than shooting the moon and hoping Margaret Atwood will give you two thumbs up. Same goes for pitching stories to media—look for reporters and bloggers who write about your topic and who have audiences interested in learning about what you have to say.


Step 7: Reach Readers Directly.

It’s great to get third-party endorsements from reviewers, authors, and the media. But that won’t happen for every book. There are other very powerful tools—such as Goodreads and Amazon reviews—that can help move the needle on your PR plan. Goodreads giveaways (or social media giveaways) can be a great way to get books into readers’ hands, and you can generally expect a review in return. Once your book goes on sale, ask your readers via social media (or in person, if you know some of them) to leave reviews on retailer sites if they enjoyed the book. Grassroots buzz can be make or break for self-published authors.


Step 8: Consult with the Pros.

Marketing your book alone can be difficult, so it never hurts to hear what marketing and public relations professionals have to say. Talk with folks in those industries, other authors who have a few books under their belts, or even consider hiring a marketing or PR firm to help promote your book. For many authors, this piece of the puzzle is outside their wheelhouse, which makes it all the more important not to skip on developing a strong promotional strategy.

Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at www.editorsays.com.