Wednesday, January 27, 2016

#9B: Authors, Don't Forget Hometown Newspapers!

This is #9B in the Book Deal Survival Guide because there are a couple of questions from the New Author Questionnaire that are especially important. And, um, I forgot to mention them last time. (The questionnaire is updated - if you didn't read it, check it out!) 

This questionnaire helps publishers identify your platform - your 'hook' for lack of a better word - which assists them in promoting your book more effectively.

It's not just U.S. publishers who do this either. UK author Kevin Ansbro, whose terrific novel KINNARA is racking up rave reviews since being released by an independent publisher last year, mentioned they sent him a questionnaire to help with publicity too.

So this is industry standard - traditional, indie or otherwise.  

Even if you're self-publishing, as I am this time, these questions will help jog your memory about interesting tidbits about you and the book - which will definitely boost your self-promotion efforts.

In addition to dozens of other questions Simon & Schuster asked me, they also wanted to know the names of my hometown newspapers and any contacts I had there. 

I didn't know anyone personally, but I was able to mention the two main papers: The Sudbury Star and Northern Life.

Thanks to designer, Dennis Cox! 
The S&S publicity department handled getting a press kit to these papers and I was interviewed by both when my book came out. In fact, I made the front page of the Star. My mom was so proud -- even though I thought my nose looked big in the photograph. ;) 

If you come from a smaller town, try not to lose touch with the people at the newspapers you grew up with - and that your family and friends might still read. 

Because small town newspapers are more likely to toot your horn than big dailies. 

So even months before your book comes out, get up the nerve to reach out. Focus on an editor or journalist who might be interested in you. 

Use your imagination about what you can do for them.

Rather than what they can do for you. Write a book review.  Interview an old friend or colleague who may have a great story. Write an editorial about something that concerns you about your hometown. For instance, last year there was a teachers' strike that affected my old school district.

It wasn't the first one to hit the city. In 1980, when I was sixteen, the high school teachers in my hometown went on strike for about four months! It's still one of the longest teachers' strikes on record. (Yep, sixteen years old and I didn't have to go to school every day. Or even get a job because we had a huge unemployment rate at the time. Even part-time jobs were hard to come by.) So for months, I didn't have to do anything except tap away on my novel during the day and party with my friends at night.

As much fun as that seems, it really 'changed' me. 

Sure, I got to party a lot. Sure, I even almost finished that book. But after months of a lack of direction, I started to get depressed. I think the strike affected all of us because it seemed our education - the very raison d'etre for any student - didn't feel as important as the teachers' salaries, work hours, or whatever other grievances they had. When school resumed ...

I went from being a generally good student to an attitude case. 

Last year, I was very concerned that the strike would drag out and affect a whole new batch of students in the same way. So I wrote an editorial questioning the teachers' stand that the strike was for 'the benefit of the students' - because it sure doesn't feel that way to the average kid. 

It was a great piece ... But I never sent it.

Too shy? Insecure? Lazy? Whatever. But I really wish I had because it would've raised my profile in my hometown and that could really help my platform when my next book comes out.  

So don't do as I do. Do as I wish I had done! Check out your old papers' websites and brush up on the local news. Put on your thinking cap and see if you can't come up with a few good articles that would build your profile in your hometown.  

btw my publisher also wanted to know the names of the papers in my current city - Toronto - and any contacts I might have there.

I didn't know this, but apparently it's much harder to get attention by big city dailies if you're a first-time novelist (non-fiction books are much easier to promote). My Canadian publicist didn't even bother sending my books or press kits to the big Toronto papers. When I found out, I was flabbergasted. She said "Big dailies don't care about first-time novelists. There's no use."

And she has a point, right? James Patterson and J.K. Rowling don't have trouble attracting attention in big papers. But unless a first-timer has soared up the charts or scored a huge film deal or is the wife/husband/kid of someone famous, when's the last time you saw a substantial interview with an unknown author in a big daily? Not often. "So?" I said to my publicist. 

"Send the press kit to the Toronto papers anyway!"

I was pretty miffed. And pretty desperate. This was three months after my book came out. It was obvious I didn't have a bestseller on my hands and I figured anything was worth a try.  
And you know what? The lovely and talented Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun did a two-page, full colour (positive!) review of Devil May Care.  There was even a long excerpt. It was the easily the best publicity I got. And this was six months after my book hit the shelves! Even my editor wrote to congratulate me. So don't ignore anyone when it comes to getting attention for your books: whether the papers are big, small or indifferent.

Thanks for following along! 

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  1. Yeah, small town papers can be a huge help when it comes to book promos. I've worked on both large and small papers, and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle with larger papers; smaller weeklies are usually much more welcoming. P.S. Send your piece in next time. Editors are hungry for new voices. It makes them very, very happy. Cheers and happy writing.

    1. Thanks, Cinthia! Maybe I'll get the nerve up this time. ;) Hope writing's going well with you too!! :)