Friday, July 18, 2008

RNA Conference notes part three: Saturday afternoon

While I wait for the third instalment of Dr. Horrible (new addiction! Yes it is!), here are the rest of my conference notes for Saturday's workshops.

Saturday afternoon

Midas PR: secrets of a successful PR campaign

Steven Williams, MD of Midas PR who run the RNA’s publicity campaigns, gave an informative talk on the elements of a PR campaign. He said that PR is all about face-to-face contact, and the best way to do this is to contact national newspapers and TV shows. Phone is better than email, as you want to build a rapport. However, as an example only about 3% of books sent to the Daily Mail are actually reviewed for the paper, and your chances of getting a slot on something like Woman’s Hour are even smaller.

Steven advised us to familiarise ourselves with the media by reading the papers and blogs that review and promote books, to make sure we’re targeting the right ones. He recommended Ready Steady Blog, Book Slut, Grumpy Old Bookman and Rake’s Progress, as well as the women’s website iVillage. You’re more likely to reach younger readers online, and older readers via traditional media. Build a website: this is becoming essential. You don’t necessarily need a blog—a neglected one can reflect badly, but if you think you can stick to it then it’s a good idea.

Write a PR plan. This should factor in lead times—big magazines plan their features 4-6 months ahead, national papers 4-6 weeks. Look at your audience and how to reach them, ie find the right magazine or website for your target readership. Use an angle: for instance have you begun a new career in midlife? Has your writing helped you overcome an illness or tragedy? Do you have an unusual background? Don’t forget that national newspapers have widely-read websites: for instance the Guardian’s paper sales are around 350,000, while its website gets about 16 million hits per day.

You press release should not be too long, no more than a page. Include a relevant biography—leave out the details that have nothing to do with your book or the angle you’re chasing. Always include a photo of yourself, as professional as possible.

Try targeting the trade press, in this instance writing magazines, with feature ideas, and don’t neglect your local papers or radio, as you have a built-in angle. Try to build a relationship with someone at the paper/radio station—think of that face-to-face contact. People are more likely to remember you that way and think of you for their own articles. Literary festivals ar eon the rise and a great way to make your face known.

Use the themes in your book if you don’t have a personal angle. For instance Freya North, who won the RNA main award this year with Pillow Talk. She ran interviews with sleepwalkers, as it affects her main character.

Unfortunately if you’re fielding the press campaign yourself it’s very expensive: Steven warned that a 2-3 day hard campaign would cost about £5000. This could rise to £20,000 for a bigger campaign.

Emma Rose: The life and times of a Random House novel.

Emma Rose edits the Arrow line of books at Random House. She invented a fictional author and her book, to talk us through the submission and publishing process: Betty Seller, whose first book (sorry but I’ve forgotten the fictional title!) has been submitted to Random House.

The editor takes lunch with an agent, who pitches Betty’s book. Emma likes the agent, and trusts her to pitch books that match the style and taste of the things she’d looking for. She accepts the submission and reads it quickly. Emma uses an e-reader, so she can read the book in the office and on the train, or wherever she likes. She likes the book, and takes it to her senior editor.

Emma has to sell the book to everyone else in the office: not just her senior editor, but also the maeketing, sales and editorial teams have to be on board. The book is pitched at an acquisitions meeting, where a profit-and-loss sheet is drawn up to work out the maximum offer Random House can afford to make on Betty’s book. They need to work out where it will fit into the schedule, making sure it won’t clash with other books of a similar nature.

The ultimate decision on whether to accept the book lies with the editorial department, but the marketing dept. also has a say.

The editorial team will make a presentation to Betty and her agent on how they intend to sell the book. If Betty’s agent has pitched the book to more than one publisher, they may need to try harder, and an auction might decide who actually takes on the book.

Emma’s offer is successful and Betty signs the deal. A year in advance, the author is consulted on the ‘jacket brief’. Work on the cover begins early as it is such an important selling tool. The team must decide where the book will be positioned in the market, and if the cover should feature photos, illustrations, or mainly text. The editor needs to tell the designer why she loves the book, and what the market is.

The editorial team has lunch with the agent and author so that the author can meet the team. Emma’s notes on Betty’s book allow her to return the second draft within a month, and a few weeks later the line edits have been completed. Emma did note that this is a very fast turnaround, but we’re looking at a perfect example.

Emma creates a title information sheet, which includes details on Betty, her biography, her agent, the cover and blurb of the book, as well as the sales points of the book. The publisher will usually write the blurb, although occasionally the author might do it. It’s considered a major selling point.

Sales to big chains have to begin 6-8 months in advance. If the book is to be published in May, then the jacket brief takes place the preceding May. In July the blurb is written. September is when the marketing meeting takes place, and a month later marketing material is produced at the sales launch meeting. In November, a proof cover is created.

Proofs are less common now than they used to be. They’re advance copies sent to booksellers, with some of the sales points on the cover (a friend of mine used to work in a bookshop and bring these home—it was how I discovered Sarah Mason—I remember a large photo of the author on the front cover, and sales points on the back, telling potential booksellers where the book stood in the market, expected print run/sales figures, and how great the book was was). After the final edit the book is sent to a freelance copy editor to check for any mistakes. The editorial team chooses the typeface and the proof is created a few weeks later.

In terms of marketing, sell-out and sell-through are about point-of-sale marketing, getting consumers (ie readers) to buy the product. Company marketing to customers (ie booksellers), known as sell-in, uses less paper materials and more interactive gimmicks, such as the whips sent to company buyers advertising a new bonkbuster. Samples of the book are often sent out, and various toys, and sometimes even cakes! Occasionally the publisher will take the buyer to dinner, but that’s less common now. A lot of customers don’t allow freebies. The publisher looks at marketing Betty’s career, rather than individual books. They work several books ahead. The aim is always to get books on shelves.

The marketing department might be working several books ahead. Their aim is always to get books on shelves, but ultimately they’re not marketing one book, they’re marketing Betty Seller’s entire career.

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