Getting Publicity & Making the Most of Book Expo America (BEA)

Here’s some good advice regarding media at book conventions. (It’s also good advice for dealing with agents and editors at conferences.) It was posted on May 26th, 2009, by Paul Krupin.

I won’t be at BEA this year, opting to stay home, work with clients (oh yeah, and go fishing for walleye on the Columbia River).

Many of you may want to hear my personal observations about working with the press at BEA.

If you haven’t already sent out news releases (20 to 30 days in advance), honestly, don’t bother.

Now, if you get an award — either a Ben Franklin or IPPY — you call me immediately but don’t worry, you can relax and enjoy yourself, get home and work on your press release announcement next week after the BEA.

Personally, and with all due respect to others might disagree with my opinion here, I’d forget the BEA press room.

One look and you’ll see. It is sort of like a cavern filled with media kits. Files and files of them, alphabetically presented. Filled for journalists to come by and take. It’s only open to journalists, but if you do happen to get in, it will be a shocker and an education to see how the kits are created. Most of them are pretty poorly designed and constructed, and make the same errors and omissions that journalists see all the time.

Oh, once in a while you’ll see a journalist come in and peruse the files, maybe even grab a media kit or two, but not many. The press file room is one of the loneliest places to be at BEA.

In all my years of doing this show, I have never seen or heard a media success story that was based on materials placed in the BEA press room.

If you look at what happens at the end of the show, 99 percent of the stuff is thrown away. Total waste.

Now what is cool is the press meeting room, assuming they have one. Over the years this spot has turned into a haven for the media to escape and be amongst their brethren. There’s free food for journalists. It’s a nice place to be if you can get in, and you can meet lots of cool people there. But you have to have a press badge to get in. There are armed guards at the entrance (no just kidding). But really, normal people (floor walkers and exhibitors) are not usually allowed or invited and doing business (god forbid) within these hallowed halls is not really condoned, except by invitation of a media person. But if you do get in, relax and meet a few good people.

And again, I’ve yet to see anything happen there that was really book publicity related. Journalists hang out, but good luck getting them to give you the time of day and getting a story. Better idea would be to make friends, listen, learn, commiserate, ask questions and think about what you hear.

My advice on the other hand is to look for media by their badges, stop and politely introduce yourself, talk to them, get a business card, give them a business card, and then write to them later, follow up individually. Ask questions and be friendly, but don’t expect anything. They can’t take your book since it’s too heavy to carry. Send them the book and materials later.

This is also wise even if you are an exhibitor.

Now understand, that these folks usually have their own agenda, their own goals, and objectives, their own job to do while they are there. They usually simply don’t and won’t respond at all to publicity seekers or people who see their badge and make a publicity pitch on the floor. In fact, if you pay attention to them you will see that they are tired, they are harried and feel accosted by people.

So be nice, offer them candy and a coffee, or a place to sit and relax. Be friendly and nice and be a human being.

There is one golden opportunity you can keep your eyes open for.

If you do catch a media person at a book doing an interview and taking notes, you can jump in and ask a controversial question or throw out a controversial comment. This is how to garner some quick attention and a quote. But that sound bite had better be good, timely and relevant. You’ve got to be fast on your feet to pull this one off. You can take lessons from Expertising Expert Fern Reiss on this one and turn this opportunity into gold.

But this is rare. Generally speaking, publicity opportunities are few and far between at the BEA.

BEA is all about learning and making contacts. Meet people, study the industry, find out about new technologies and other people’s publications and the companies, study the successful. Get business cards.

My advice is to forget collecting the free books or at least keep it to a tolerable minimum. Stick to books you’ll really want to read or study, or take home and give away to friends or loved ones for fun or to help someone.

Get in line a few times and get some nice celebrity autographed books. It’s fun shaking hands with some of these people.

Don’t break your back — you can always collect a box or two day by day and ship home from the floor, day by day, or from your hotel room.

Instead, collect catalogs, exchange cards, make requests and have people mail them to you. These are worth a lot later as well if you do business with people and want to learn about their companies by studying what they publish later at home

Even if you are an exhibitor, chances are slim that you’ll sell a lot of books or close major deals. It can happen, but mostly you are there to meet people and learn everything you can.

Before you go, if you can, get a hold of Dan Poynter’s tip sheet on how to get the most out of the BEA.

Here are my own suggestions. Make a list of every booth you want to go to.

On day one even before the doors open, and before you walk in, sit down and take at least half an hour to study the show guide, especially the map and learn where everything is located. Identify your “must see” locations with a color high lighter.

Then lay out your trip plans for the time you will be there.

Wear comfortable walking shoes.

Bring two very strong carry bags to collect stuff.

Be the student. Be open minded. Pay attention and think about what you see. Meet people. Learn everything you can. Take notes on cards or in a notebook. Ideas will come to you about what you will like to do with people. Record these ideas. Capture them and specifically identify the action you want to take — what specifically you will want to do (these actions will definitely occur to you as you walk around).

The contact and this action plan is perhaps the most valuable thing you can walk away from your time at BEA.

Follow up when you get home.

That’s how to mine the incredible resources and people that you’ll meet and see at BEA.

Have fun everybody! I’ll miss you. See you next year.

Paul J. Krupin
Direct Contact PR

A Sermon Just for Me by Marcia Lee Laycock

Marcia writes from Central Alberta Canada where she and her husband are involved in planting a new church. Her devotionals have been widely published and in 2006 she was awarded the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone.

Last Sunday, as I settled in my chair I prayed a quick prayer. “Talk to me, Lord.”
My husband tends to be a spontaneous person and I’ve gotten used to him doing unexpected things. Sometimes. But last Sunday he surprised me by announcing that I was going to give my testimony that morning, in 3 minutes or less. He hadn’t warned me about this, probably because he didn’t know he was going to do it until that very moment. As I walked up to the front I was thinking, Good thing I’m good at public speaking. The testimony part is a breeze, but in 3 minutes? No doubt he gave me a time limit because he knows my tendency to go on and on. He did have a sermon to preach that morning. So I did what he asked and all went well. As I expected it would.
Then my husband got up to preach. The sermon was on Mark 12:41-44 – a short passage of scripture that seemed straightforward as he read it out loud. The widow gave all she had. She was extremely generous. She put the religious leaders to shame. But my husband, bless him, took a different tack when he said, this little bit of scripture is really about pride and humility. Huh?
I felt God tapping me on the shoulder. I was feeling quite self-satisfied, having just given my testimony clearly, with just the right emphasis. In fact I was thinking, ‘I really am good at that.’ The more my favourite preacher spoke the more I felt like crawling under my chair. I knew that what had just happened was no coincidence.
God was talking to me but I wasn’t particularly happy to hear it.
Then my favourite preacher started talking about generosity. Okay, that’s better. I sat up a bit. Then he said, “the core of generosity is humility.” Oh. And he gave Haddon Robinson’s definition – “humility is confidence properly placed.” Oh dear.
When Proverbs 29:23 appeared in big bold letters on the screen I had to grin just a little. “Pride brings you low.” Right. I really should remember that.
I was encouraged, when my husband acknowledged that he, and everyone else in the room, all struggle with pride. It’s a big part of the human condition. The trick is to catch ourselves at it, repent of it, and put ourselves back in the place where we all need to be, at the feet of Jesus. Confidence properly placed. Right.
I definitely have to remember that.

Author Erica Abeel ~ Interviewed

Erica Abeel is the author of four books, including the acclaimed novel /Women Like Us, The LastRomance, I’ll Call You Tomorrow and Other Lies Between Men and Women, /and /Only When I Laugh, /a memoir. A former dancer, Abeel was until recently a professor of French literature at City University of New York. She currently writes film reviews, features and blogs for online film magazines.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

An impetus for “Conscience Point” was the love triangle at the center of “Brideshead Revisited” — Charles/Sebastian/Julia — which has long both intrigued and mystified me. So to work out what it was all about, I reimagined a similar trio in a novel of my own, set mainly in a region I know well: Long Island’s Gold Coast, aka as the Hamptons. I also wanted to explore the struggles of accomplished baby boomers to keep from getting cashiered out in rapidly shifting times. And, finally, “Conscience Point” reflects nostalgia for that never-recaptured intensity of first love.

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book?

Well, for my first book, “Only When I Laugh,” it was simple, partly because there were lots more publishers. Now, given the tepid response of many mainstream publishers to fiction, I had to discover a new home and “kindred spirit.” And once I connected with Unbridled Books, I immediately sensed I’d found them.

Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

It’s a real privilege to work with good editors. Greg Michalson at Unbridled is a terrific, insightful editor, who brought the novel up in subtle but decisive ways, and helped me make my heroine more sympathetic. Our phone and email confabs were definitely a high point in the path to publication.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

A big impediment to writing a new novel is the need to promote the one that’s already out there — virtually a fulltime job in itself. You want to give the published novel your best shot. There are always self doubts until a novel-in-progress takes root in your subconscious and off-moments of your waking life. Now with my latest book I’m trying to A) polish and twist individual scenes; B) suss out the novel’s larger meaning; and C) avoid writing scenes that sound too play-like. I try to set aside the prime time morning hours to inch the new book forward. It’s about a group of college friends from the 50’s who fail to fulfill their promise.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I’d known earlier about the wonderful folks at Unbridled Books.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I don’t really have a source — I have to work with some core feeling — anger, disappointment, longing — otherwise the long slog necessary for a novel becomes impossible. That said, one source and inspiration for “Conscience Point” was the career and ambition of a well-known concert pianist friend. Something she once said to me found its way into the novel: “I won’t move over till I fall over.” I love that kind of fightin,’ gutsy heroine.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

Well, in my novel in progress I wanted to know how a closeted gay man might betray his true orientation. I’m still researching that, so stay tuned …

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

It gets harder and somehow you have to be up to the task.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

A wonderful editor/writer who has since died, who “plumped the pillows,” as she put it, of my “Hers” columns for the New York Times. She had an inspiring attitude, refused ever to be intimidated or so impressed she couldn’t get the work done. She loved helping fellow scribblers. How I miss her! And her spirit and drive — like that of my pianist friend — infuses “Conscience Point.”

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

I think I come into my own in the most satirical passages of my novels, including “Only When I Laugh,” “Women Like Us,” and “Conscience Point.” I feel at home with that sharp-edged tone — which is also in my journalism — but I fear it may put off some independent booksellers who prefer something gentler. At readings, when I get to the party scenes among New York’s highfliers, I myself have to laugh.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

The disappearing press and the shrinking print review outlets.

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

I’d like to create and lay claim to a “world” the way Updike did with upper crust suburbans.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

Reading reviews of “Conscience Point” that “get it” and feeling that by writing I’ve earned my keep on the planet.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

I’m privileged to have lived through acquaintances (and a romance) with the Beat writers. I’ve also been the roomate of Yoko Ono in New York. This juicy history is feeding into my novel-in-progress.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you’d like.

Oh, gee, just get in front of my computer and resist reading email. It’s awfully unhealthy to sit there like a maniac all day though, don’t you think? Essential to the long form is keeping in shape. I end the work day by running to the gym or doing Pilates.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it? What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

If you’re not writing autobiographical fiction, the hardest task is finding the structure. And it’s only through writing the whole damn thing that you discover both the shape and the book’s deeper themes. However, I outline compulsively, over and over, to keep myself on course.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I have to write in the morning, after which my brain gets fogged. So my main ritual is to stave off all the distractions as best I can and just get to it, the earlier the better. Coffee is imperative. But now email and the web world is a major threat to the single-mindedness needed by a fiction writer.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Keeping the plot driving forward. Best method for doing that is constant rewriting with an eye to forward propulsion. As a movie reviewer, I learn a lot about narrative drive from studying films.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

Well, I loved that “Women Like Us” was a Book of the Month Club selection. And I’m generally delighted with the reception of “Conscience Point” and the way it excites readers. It’s got a page-turner quality that readers really appreciate and that I studiously engineered. And I love that they’re into the spooky Gothic quality of the novel, which I had such fun creating.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

I would just say be proactive and fanatical on behalf of your own work.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

I’m far from having an answer, but the greatest challenge for a writer is to clear the clutter of both the internet and life’s incessant demands, and somehow carve out time for the work. It also helps to have good teeth because dentists tend to destroy one’s schedule.

Author Interview ~ River Jordan

River Jordan is a southerner with a global perspective. She began her writing career as a playwright and spent over ten years with the Loblolly Theatre group, where her original works were produced, including Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, and Virga.
Ms. Jordan’s first novel, The Gin Girl (Livingston Press, 2003), has garnered such high praise as “This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.”
Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” It was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as ” a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.”
Her third novel, Saints In Limbo has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as “a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book,” and “a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet’s multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency.”
In addition, The Deep, Down, & Dirty South – a southern girl recollects, a collection of short essays, has become a popular must have for everyone who loves River Jordan’s words.
Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks around the country on “The Passion of Story”, and produces and hosts River Jordan Radio on WRFN, Nashville.
When not traveling the back roads of America, River lives with her husband Owen Hicks, and their Great Pyrennees lap dog, Titan in Nashville, Tennessee. She thinks about where stories come from – places and people and moods of the heart while rocking on her front porch. And long after the sun sets over the ridge, she waits for the moon to rise, watches the stars come out, and stares off into the blue-night sky believing with all her might.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Saints In Limbo is the most recent novel. It’s very southern with a mysterious twist. I love it and am very excited about the release. It is currently featured on the Random House website as one of the Editor’s Choice selections for the month. I’m very surprised and pleased for this distinction.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

There was a moment but it was more of an image in my mind. An older woman sitting on the front porch of an old country house and whirlwind twirling, picking up dirt on the road in front of her house. I knew there was something special there and it continued to form and take shape.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

The main character is Velma True. I think she is a compilation of all the older, wonderful women in my life. My Memaw and my aunts. She is also just fully Velma True. She’s an old southern, apron wearing, biscuit maker. And I sure hope some of them are here as long as the earth should turn.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I most enjoyed the story the characters were telling. The story surprised me all along the way. The least part is always the final line edits and proofing but that is really more about the final publishing process – not the writing. When I fall into a story I’m basically living in it until it’s finished and I surface and all of that I love.

What made you start writing?

It seemed as natural to me as breathing. Maybe, more so. Even as a young girl I kept a diary. In sixth grade I started writing poems and stories.

What does your writing space look like?

Anywhere I can be alone. And preferable have a window to glance out of on occasion while I’m listening or thinking. I used to always make certain that we had a bedroom or space that was designated as my office. But I didn’t get any more words written. I find that kind of space really helpful for taking care of bills and business. Writing – maybe a cave or a hilltop. It’s the solitude that helps me most.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

Two things – I love to go for drives. The Natchez Trace is really beautiful and peaceful. But that is more like a work exercise for me because I drive and listen to the story and where it’s going next. Total deadline stress relief? Movies. Going to the movies, sitting in the dark, eating popcorn and just being carried away to another place. It’s losing myself in another story that takes me out of the one I’m writing for just a little while.

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

Not cleaning the closet, out from under the bed, the fridge, the backyard, my car – in other words – sitting down to write because as much fun as it is, it’s also work, work, work. So the most difficult thing is parking myself at the computer and knowing I’m going into that story place and won’t be back for hours. That’s why retreat spaces with one room and nothing of my personal life in them are great for this writer.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Completely. I’m so lost in that place and those characters that if someone calls on the phone I sound a thousand miles away when I answer the phone. It’s better for me just not to answer.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

That life is the most precious gift we have. In that I mean the relationships and people we’ve been blessed to take this journey with and that every moment has it’s own special magic if we will let it. Sometimes we lose our life in all those moments that are given over to frustration and worry and unhappiness. I think simple pleasures are the best and that family and friends are some of those greatest simple pleasures. Most of us take that for granted everyday.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

Sometimes stories bubble up in me that I carry around for a very long time. So I may be carrying several stories around for years. When I first get a since of place or person, I let that go through a development stage inside of me before I try to put it on the page. Or else I end up writing chapters that will be tossed because it’s not quite the true story. When I hear the right voice and the place is solid in my mind, I begin. The blank page everyday is new to me and the characters are always saying or doing things that are a surprise. I’d describe my process as very organic and not very methodical.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

Okay. Let me see. A few of my favorites. That’s really tough because hundreds come pouring to mind. I’ll tell you a few not written by me or people I know or have met.

To Kill A Mockingbird – which everyone says but it is. The voice was so perfect, the story to simple and profound. I love everything about it.

West With the Night – it is just beautifully written. It’s an old book and not everyone knows it. What a jewel though. I will read it forever.

Ella Minnow Pea – it is one of the most little, creative works I’ve ever discovered.

Peace Like A River – I’ve read it twice and will read it again. The narration and the story just captivate me.

Gilead – how painfully, beautiful. What a great story.

On The Road With An Archangel – a beautifully written little tale, captivating and sweet. Maybe because an angel tells the story.

The Book of the Dun Cow – just flat out brilliant in the fable, its meaning and the execution.

Childhood books – Tom Sawyer, Nancy Drew, and Lord of the Rings.

The Spanish writers and a hundred books by author friends.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

That getting your first novel published will not change your life overnight. That you can do write a great story and still not get your story out to as many people as you like.

I think what I have learned from that is that the real story is real life. What’s unfolding around us is the greatest thing. My ideas of success have changed as I’ve gotten older and matured just a little.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

Marketing is a little off and on for me. I feel a little guilty when I’m working on marketing because I feel I should be working on my next writing project. I think my marketing is best put by the fact that I love to attend readers and writers conferences and speak to people about Passion of Story. That’s not work for me because it is such a true love.

I love to do radio interviews as well because I love radio and talking about story. Those are the kind of things that just feel like fun instead of marketing work. I do mail out postcards occasionally and give away bookmarks at events and to bookstores when I’m there. But that would be my major marketing. Oh, and maintaining my website and other sites like facebook/my space, etc. Those are little busier. And I try to remember to do those after I’ve written my words and not when I should be working on my new novel.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

The new novel in progress is about the people in a small, southern, coastal town and what happens in due time. I’m really enjoying hanging out with them and listening to what they have to tell me. It’s all southern moss in the trees and salty, gulf in the air. And the main character is just talking up a storm so I guess I should go write it all down!

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Believe. Always.