Understanding the Publicity Puzzle with Elena Meredith

PR-by-the-Book-publicity-logoBook publicity is one of the most vital pieces of launching a book and building its visibility in the marketplace. Outreach typically begins 6 to 8 months before the book’s pub date, but PR should be a part of every author’s plan well before the book is written.

As the level of PR, outreach varies from publisher to publisher, and self-published authors are on their own during this process. The following discussion focuses on what you can do to generate publicity for your soon-to-be-published book.

(Thanks to Elena and PR by the Book for the presentation!)

What is Book PR?

Finding a way to relate your story to the public. (The “story behind the story.”) The media is not looking for books – they’re looking for stories. As a publicist, your job is to dig up that story.

The elements we look for:

  • Why you wrote the book – the motivation behind it
  • Where you wrote the book – any unique locations
  • Your niche audience – to determine media market
  • Your background and expertise
  • Hometown & places you’ve lived
  • Hobbies, sports, past & upcoming travels
  • Tangential angles: nonfiction elements to fiction

What Does Book PR Look Like to Elena?

As a publicist, Elena focuses primarily on non-fiction books, as she has a background in Children’s Education publishing.  To give you an idea of her current workload, she is currently working on a Ghostbusters book, a Walking Dead popup book, a science series for kids, a romantic suspense novel, and a memoir.

Each campaign is unique. Usually a campaign runs 3–6 months, starting 6 months prior to the publishing date.

It’s hard to measure the ROI of book PR — she emphasizes that PR is a longterm approach of building your brand. Think of it as more as a marathon than a sprint.

Book PR is the fun part of launching your book. Getting to do book signings, connecting with readers, doing interviews, throwing launch parties—try to think of it as a fun thing, instead of a chore.

You can think of publicists as matchmakers—they will put authors together with media who are interested in telling their story.

In the current landscape, the trick is standing out, creating more opportunities for selling your book.

What Can PR Help You Achieve?

  • Establish expertise in your field
  • Build name & brand recognition
  • Build your social media following
  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Improve SEO for your name and book title
  • Build your business and speaking opportunities
  • Help you land your next book

Understanding the Media Landscape

Think beyond book reviews; you’re promoting a story, not a product.


Case Study: Even in Darkness

Story angles:

  • Even in Darkness: An Unexpected Holocaust Narrative
  • Barbara Stark-Nemon’s 15 yeas of research to investigate her family history and the background for this book—her travels, interviews with family members, and translation of dozens of letters.
  • When to Keep Secrets and When to Tell Truths: The nuances of writing about your family and their history
  • Crossing Religious and Cultural Boundaries: How a Catholic priest and a Jewish hausfrau formed a bond in twentieth century Germany, and how different times may call for different boundaries
  • A Century of Challenges: The Holocaust’s impact on 2nd and 3rd generation survivors
  • The Magic of Words: Grandparents creating a family legacy through storytelling
  • When the Past Meets the Present: Barbara’s experience in helping families research and tell their stories

Barbara’s Press wish list:

  • NPR: Diane Rehm show
  • Los Angeles Time
  • New York Times
  • Jewish Book Council
  • Publishers Weekly

Readjusted, Achievable Press wish list

Notice how the following list differs from the above. This list is more targeted, but also less ambitious.

  • WUOM: Michigan Public Radio
  • Ann Arbor News
  • Huffington Post
  • Jewish Book Council!
  • Foreword Reviews (A great supporter of indie presses!)
  • Library Journal

Think about expectations for publicity, and know that there are so many places to promote your book—open yourself to other options. (Refer back to the graph above to see a division of media to aim for in book publicity. Notice how most of the publicity is online options, not traditional media).



  • Wrote press pack
  • Created Expert’s Page
  • Mailed 40 galleys


  • Pitched Jewish media
  • Pitches books / fiction media


  • Set up blog tour for April
  • Pitched online media & dailies for Holocaust Remembrance Day
  • Pitched local media for events


  • Book’s pub date
  • Continued pitching around events
  • Follow up with all bloggers

A General Publicity Timeline

(Bold = what authors can easily do on their own)

You can never pitch too early; you can always pitch too late.

1+ year:

  • Create website
  • Start blogging
  • Create Facebook page.
  • Build up Twitter following
  • Take professional author headshots
  • Learn your media market
  • Write contributed articles (e.g. learn to write in the “5 ways to…” formula)
  • Start planning events
  • Reach out to other authors for blurbs

6 months

  • Write press materials
  • Prep a Q&A to be used for bloggers or as talking points for radio interviews
  • Pitch long-lead magazines
  • Plan events
  • Select available excerpts

4–5 months

  • Galley mailing
  • Pitch wish list
  • Write contributed articles
  • Create collateral material (bookmarks, etc.)

3 months

  • Pitch local media
  • Pitch blog tour for pub month
  • Pitch national TV & radio
  • Pitch contributed articles

1–2 months

  • Final book mailing
  • Pitch local & regional radio
  • Pitch online media
  • Pitch tour city media
  • Follow up with all media
  • Ask network for book reviews

Other Advice

  • Know your audience, know your target media, and be realistic about it.
  • Learn to write non-fiction for media that relates back to your expertise. This will give you more opportunities for press. For instance, you can write a timely Op-Ed instead of relying on a journalist to cover you or an editor to keep your quote.
  • Nothing happens overnight — think about it as a long game, and set realistic expectations.
  • The more you can build up your audience over time, the more likely you are to have your publicity campaign be a success.

Tools to Utilize for PR

Google Alerts

  • Start monitoring keywords for your topic and seeing who is writing about what. Keep a running list of media outlets and journalist names.
  • Watch for any breaking news as it relates to your book or area of expertise and offer commentary
  • Monitor your name and book title for press clippings


  • Plug-in for Gmail from HubSpot. Can see when emails are opened, links are clicked, helps you to know when to follow up.


  • Create a folder of images/assets for your book and send links instead of attachments.


  • Simple graphic design tool for creating social media images

Moo.com & Modern Postcard

  • For author business cards, bookmarks, and postcards

Sidebar: Terms


  • A version of your book including as much of the manuscript as possible. Created 4 months prior to when book is out to start sending to people.


  • Advance Review Copy (ARC) of your book, usually more true to the print size and final version (but the state of the ARC depends on the publisher’s/author’s timetable).

These terms are often used interchangeably, but both represent books sent out in advance of publication.


Would you want to have the galley/ARC as closed to published version as possible? Yes! Anyone working too close to a publish date makes it difficult for media possibilities.

Do you tend to send out electronic copies of ARCs? Elena says they’ve tried to shift ARCs to electronic copies. In her experience, about 75% of people still want a hard copy.

If you’re pitching 4-5 months out, when are the people you’re pitching expecting to see the book? If you’re pitching reviewers, at least a month in advance. If you’re pitching non-reviewing media, for instance a related article, they may not need to see the book at all.

Are you able to track sales to publicity hits? You can see a correlation in your sales (especially if you’re self-publishing), but it’s difficult to correlate because media hits can’t be measured according to book sales. Again, think long term and think brand building and set realistic expectations.

What’s a big success as related to book PR? Selling out of the first print run. Landing publicity spots in big media outlets. 60–100 media hits within a campaign is a good target metric for success for a publicist.

Would you suggest delaying publication in order to do a publicity campaign? Yes, that could be effective, timing is important when it comes to publicity. Think strategically about what you’re doing, make a decisions, and evaluate results holistically.

How can authors help? Identify your target audience, know where your target market reads and looks for books. Come up with a list of media outlets to pitch.

People who repackage their book and re-promote it, do they have a positive experience with that? Typically, yes. They have a new chance to look at the book, possibly change the cover, description or title, act on feedback that was given since publication. (WARNING: if you change the title on Amazon, you might lose all your reviews and get assigned a new ASIN, etc.)

How does a publicity company bill clients? Most bill in retainers. Often a publicist is handling multiple clients at once. They’ll do a proposal for the whole campaign, and identify a dollar amount per month. A good bar for a professional PR firm in terms of price is $2k-$5k a month. There are firms out there that might charge less, but that’s a good bar. Some charge hourly, others monthly, others bill based on results—similar to other agency model businesses.

What’s the best way to target readers of specific novels that may be similar to yours? Identify, first, which books might be like your own. Start by looking through all the reviews and media coverage that book got, which reporters covered it, etc. Look at books that have come out in the last two years for current data.

Extra! Additional Resources from Elena

For researching blogs/book review sites by genre:

Also, Wikipedia is a great, easy tool for researching traditional media – I use it when I’m looking up tour city media or just want to make sure I’m hitting, for example, all of the women’s magazines. Just search “TV stations in Houston” or “Parenting magazines” or “Fantasy fiction magazines” to help compile a list – then you can find contact info on each outlet’s website or via Twitter. Examples:

Websites where I frequently have authors contribute non-fiction articles:


Publishing industry newsletters (I read these daily):

A daily email with queries looking for expert & non-expert commentary on stories:

About Elena

PR-by-the-Book-33-200x300Elena Meredith is a literary publicist at PR by the Book in Austin. She has handled dozens of campaigns for authors and publishers, including best-selling titles for Patagonia Books, Insight Editions, and Free Spirit Publishing. She has worked in a variety of genres: fiction, surfing, alpinism, music, photography, education, relationships, parenting, and more, though her sweet spot is books with an environmental focus. A couple of highlights of her career: having a science/education author launch his children’s books into space, working with a Biospherian on his book about poop-recycling gardens, and getting invited by an author to his book launch in the Greek isles (which is happening in Summer 2016, but only if you all buy his book! The Poet’s Secret by Kenneth Zak). She lives in Austin with her husband and their dog, Fox.

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