In this 5 On interview, book publicist Patrick Walsh discusses effective social media promotion, what it takes to make the same old book-marketing advice work for you, questions to ask yourself when trying to decide whether your story should be a book or a screenplay, and more.
Publishing Push founder Patrick Walsh has a BA (Hons) degree in law from the University of Surrey. He began his career in the film industry by producing a feature film that was taken to the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. After that early success, he traveled to the vibrant city of Toronto and spent time with Trend Hunter, then returned to London, where he founded Publishing Push. Since its formation at the start of 2012, Publishing Push has worked with clients across the UK, Europe, Asia, and the USA.
5 on Writing
KRISTEN TSETSI: What area of law did you study, and did it in any way contribute to your passion for marketing and innovation?
PATRICK WALSH: I studied for my LLB (Bachelor of Laws), and the first two years consisted of mandatory modules in a variety of areas. In my final year I chose to focus on commercial law, company law, intellectual property law, and media law.
At a young age I realized that you can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t sell it. The true light-bulb moment was witnessing the effect technology can have on supercharging your marketing efforts.
After completing university I traveled to Toronto, Canada. I arrived to -20°C temperatures. The reason for plunging myself into these arctic conditions was to spend time at Trend Hunters, a young but rapidly growing digital magazine that focused on the latest trends in a variety of industries. They were incredibly passionate about delivering excellent content. Everything had to be well written. Such an editorial touch was lacking at that time from many digital publications.
But the main reason I made the journey was to learn more about PR and marketing. They had grown their digital magazine to billions of views using online advertising, social media, and PR.
Before founding Publishing Push, you were an associate producer on the movie Breaking Down. What inspired you to make the switch to book publicity?
Breaking Down was an amazing experience. Any movie production is based very heavily around the script, and this was my introduction to professional writing.
To give this some context in terms of my journey, the film project was underway before I traveled to Toronto, but that was really where the attraction to marketing began.
We devised an incredibly creative campaign for the release of the film. This was around the same time Paranormal Activity was taking the world by storm, a film made on a micro budget with a great marketing strategy that had made an astronomical return on investment. To coincide with this, Chat Roulette—a service allowing video chatters to be randomly paired with other video chatters—had gained a lot of notoriety. Our film had been shot in found-footage style, and the plan was to submit the feed to Chat Roulette, thus generating a viral buzz as people stumbled upon what may be a genuine webcam broadcast or, of course as it was, a movie trailer.
Despite the film never being sold for international distribution, we received some great feedback on the marketing plan from major studios. They said the marketing campaign was the reason they considered the film so closely.
So how did I transition from movies to books? Well, as mentioned above, I traveled to Toronto to improve my marketing and PR skills. After that I worked as a marketing consultant for a variety of companies. A client at the time introduced me to Toby Mundy, who was the CEO of Atlantic Books. We were asked by Atlantic to run a campaign for one of their bestselling authors, Robert Fabbri, to augment his presence and increase sales. Results had to be produced rapidly. We had six months.
We went out and found social media profiles with large followings that would appeal to his target audience. “The Romans” Facebook page catered to his demographic and had a very large following. After talking with them and introducing them to Robert’s books, we discussed content. They agreed the books would be of interest to their fans and happily shared a post about his latest book at the time, which was Rome’s Fallen Eagle. Essentially, we took a traditional PR approach but applied it to social media.
In addition, we wanted to grow Robert’s own following. Twitter in particular was a big focus and critical to Atlantic at the time. It was an important way for Robert to communicate with his fans. His feed hadn’t been sticking, so we tested a variety of content. The most popular was a live Q&A. We announced a time when Robert would be online, and he answered questions from fans. This was incredibly popular and boosted followers. A lesson learned that may surprise readers is that sharing content urging people to buy his book was well received. It surprised us, as well. Tweets recommending that followers make a purchase were shared profusely, which was a surprise to the whole team. That’s why you must always collect data and test.
We ended up increasing Robert’s weekly sales by 500 percent. Needless to say, his publisher was thrilled and Publishing Push was born.
What book released within the last five years do you wish you’d had the opportunity to promote?
This is a difficult question, as we have had the opportunity to work with a whole host of talented authors. We have been trusted with the launch of some very important sequels. Robert has taught us a great deal through how he approaches writing—his dedication to his craft is inspiring and is evidenced by the success of his books. Michael Grais is also an extremely accomplished writer, and it was an honor to be a part of his latest project.
I would have liked to have had the opportunity to work with John Harding on The Girl Who Couldn’t Read. (He is traditionally published, but we are often approached by authors who have traditional deals as well as those who are independent.) There are a couple of reasons I would have liked to work with him.
The first is that I enjoy his writing. We spoke with John prior to the release of The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, and he kindly sent me a copy of his earlier novel, Florence and Giles. Chilling literary thrillers are something that, when done well, are sublime to read. Especially if you like something that is a little creepy. Given the success of Florence and Giles, I knew there would be a captive audience for John’s new book.
The second reason is that I feel we could really have contributed to helping John build a larger platform for future releases. Given the success of his earlier writing, I know we could have amplified the success of The Girl Who Couldn’t Read.
In the end the collaboration didn’t go through, of course, but here is what we would have done:
Build more of a hub for John on his own website to pull his community there. Social media is also being underutilized by his team. There is a great opportunity there. Essentially, many of the methods used to promote Robert Fabbri would have worked well with Harding. His team did do a great job of obtaining reviews on blogs, however. There are a number of excellent results.
Do you read more fiction or nonfiction for pleasure, and what did you read most recently?
I read a lot of nonfiction for pleasure, currently. This is because my focus is on improving my business knowledge and growing Publishing Push. As I have a business to apply the lessons to, I can immediately implement the tips I am reading. Biographies are also incredibly interesting, and having played tennis competitively, I am always reading players’ books.
Say an unrepresented writer has a story idea that would work equally well as a novel or a screenplay. Based on your experience marketing both, what format would you advise as the better choice?
My experience in the film industry is brief in comparison to my experience with publishing. Additionally, we weren’t looking to have the screenplay optioned. One of the producers wrote the script, and we raised financing to have it made. We were selling it to investors and other production companies to secure a co-production deal.
But to compare these two options, we have to assume that the author is looking to secure a traditional publishing deal. That sets the scene which should give my answer context.
In selling a screenplay you have to focus on the following items:
- Is this a hot genre currently? Are films in this genre making money currently? At the time we were pitching our script, found-footage films were huge, so we ticked that box. The same applies to those promoting a book. If the genre is currently popular, you will have an easier time.
- Who are the stars? Who do you plan on casting for the roles? What is the likelihood you can secure them for the parts? These questions have to be answered, because it is about pulling in the actresses’ or actors’ existing fan base. This is an issue that doesn’t exist for a novel.
- Where will you be producing the film? Many countries have co-production deals which allow for tax reductions and other benefits. Again, not an issue with a novel.
- The team involved. Who is directing the movie? Who is coordinating the stunts? Who is your director of photography? The list goes on.
The easier route is to write an excellent novel. Build a presence online. Secure a publishing deal. Sell a large number of books and have a production company produce the film for you. Easier said than done, but it certainly is the lesser of two evils to get your story in front of people.
5 on Publishing
Most articles or blogs on book marketing say essentially the same thing: contribute a guest post to popular blogs or relevant magazines; use social media; get book bloggers to review your book; host giveaways or reduced-price promotions; build an email list and send regular (but not too many) updates; be persistent, but polite. Etc.
The result is a rush of authors trying to compete with the professionally pithy on Twitter, book bloggers being bombarded by review requests, an overwhelming selection of free Amazon ebooks that may end up on a Kindle but won’t necessarily be read, and people scrambling for the “unsubscribe” link after they receive their fifth, “What’s New With My Book? I’m Glad You Asked!” email.
All of this leads to the inevitable moment when the author thinks, “I just need an idea that stands out. That’s it—one idea. Like Tucker Max’s ‘hate me’ campaign, or Seth Godin’s milk carton book-delivery system. So simple! But if it’s so simple, why can’t I think of something like that?”
What do authors need to know about what I’ll call the Unicorn Campaign, and what should they know about how to use the currently accepted model in order for it to work for them while they wait for that scathingly brilliant idea to hit?
You’re absolutely right. Same old advice repeated over and over. There is a better way! After nearly 300 book marketing campaigns, we can certainly shed some light on what works. I will pick up on the key points from your question which need to be addressed.
Reviewers are bombarded by review requests. Especially those with a good social media following and a healthy email list. I have seen some of the approaches authors make to book bloggers. Here are a few key points:
- Avoid too much detail. Of course you are passionate about your project, but you need to be concise. The bloggers, as we have already established, are bombarded with requests. They do this in their free time, after getting home from their busy job and settling the kids down for the evening. They want to understand quickly why your content is relevant to them and their audience. Focus on the book blogger. This leads me to my second point.
- Do your research. You can be concise by studying their blog and understanding what they care about. What they enjoy. What they have read and enjoyed in the past. Limit your approach to no more than five lines and make it personal to them.
- Provide links. Make it easy for them to view more information, if they wish. Reel them in with the concise pitch and then provide more value.
- Grow your relationship with the bloggers. If you can develop a strong relationship, the approach will be much easier. Ideally start building a relationship in advance of asking for reviews. Intelligently comment on recent posts and share their content.
“Use social media” is advice everyone wheels out, but how you use social media is going to change constantly. We have always advocated using it like traditional PR. Building your own following is time consuming. Cut it short by having your content featured by social media accounts that are already established and relevant.
Email list growth is the most important thing you can do as an author. In fact, it is the most important thing you can do as any online business selling something. There are a couple of points to make, here.
- Initially, how do you attract new subscribers? You write appropriate content. Here is an example. The content you write needs to be completely focused on your audience. This is about who is going to buy your book. What interests them? What would they like to learn about? That isn’t enough, though. You need to promote your content. Promote it on forums, Facebook groups, Reddit, etc.
- Stop people from scrambling for the unsubscribe link by providing relevant and personal content. Introduce them to you. People still buy from people they like. Be vulnerable and honest. James Altucher is an incredible example of that. Introduce them to your unique story and, again, valuable content. Your goal should be to create an email list of extreme value. If you don’t send out an email for a few months and people contact you to make sure they are still subscribed, you have succeeded.
Unicorn campaigns are a product of the basics done well. Seth Godin and Tucker Max have been building followings for years. Seth comes from a tech background, and Tucker is also part of that scene. They do the basics well, and the rest falls into place. A stroke of brilliance here and there just amplifies the results.
Another common piece of advice is to start promoting a book three years before its release by creating an online (or other) presence.
People seem to think about hiring publicists close to a book’s release, but would it make sense to hire one to promote the writer as a figure long before the book’s first draft is even finished, especially in the age of reality TV, in which people become famous simply because they’re successfully exposed to the public? (No pun intended.)
If you have started a blog or built a following online prior to the release, you do have a huge advantage—both in achieving initial sales if you self-publish or in securing a traditional publisher if you choose that route. This is why you see many celebrities (and that term is used loosely) secure book deals. They have an existing audience.
In terms of when you should hire a publicist, I would still say this is crucial as you approach your publication date. You want to hire them ideally three months prior to ensure the best result. Publicists will help you secure targeted PR with influential bloggers, journalists, and broadcast media.
Your time is best spent growing your audience organically in the run-up to release. Hiring a publicist too far in advance would be an unnecessary expense. A good example is Mark Woods’s Planet Parent, published by White Ladder Press. Mark Woods and White Ladder Press have an established audience that has grown over the years. They hired us three months before the release to secure print media coverage in the Guardian, the Sun, Daily Mirror, Express, and on BBC Radio. This ensured the maximum impact was generated on launch.
Seth Godin writes in his advice for authors that authors are “way better off spending the time and money … going after the little micromarkets” they already have access to than hiring a publicist. He reasons that with 58 percent of the public never reading another book after high school, the overwhelming number of new books releasing every year, and the slim chance a publicist can get an author on an influential TV or radio program, it isn’t worth the expense. What’s your response to that?
Seth Godin spends an inordinate amount of time on publicity and book marketing. He does talks, interviews, social media, guest posts, and writes for many online sites. He may not have hired a publicist, but he is his own publicist, and he is very good at it.
You have to publicize anything you want people to know about. You can do this yourself, but a publicist is going to shortcut the time it takes.
There is a newsworthy element to every author and to every book that is released. You have to dig deeper and find out what that is. This is where a publicist can help you with your book marketing campaign. Publicists are very good at finding the story and pitching it in the correct manner. We will often write articles in advance for various publications and then pitch them the finished piece, essentially showing them the story and how it will align with their audience.
What does it take for an unknown author to have a successful book launch—and what is “successful”?
What we would view as a successful launch for a new self-published author is as follows:
- A return on the investment they have made. This means the cover, editing, proofreading, marketing and all other associated costs have been covered by the book sales.
- Profit. Even a small profit should be celebrated. Of course there are some self-published books that go on to do very well.
- If book sales and reviews allow the author to sign a deal with a reputable agent.
- If the author has an agent already, it allows their agent to use the data and social proof to secure a traditional publishing contract.
- The successful launch allows you to build a fanbase and tribe that will buy your next book.
So how can you launch successfully?
To promote your new book I would recommend the following:
- Influencers. Find influential online blogs and communities. Give them advance copies of your book in return for a review. Give them as much value as you possibly can. Write articles for them that their audience will find valuable. Social proof is key to launching a book from an unknown author.
- Your own online presence. Start building a tribe through a blog. Make sure your content lines up with people who will buy your book.
- Treat social media more like traditional PR as we have discussed throughout this interview.
- Start to source local media coverage. Local media are always very helpful to local authors.
What opportunity for publicity or attention do many authors undervalue or underutilize?
Local press coverage. This is always one of our first targets when working with a new author. Local media want to support local authors. There is often a lack of interesting stories for local media to cover. If you can weave the article to include local references they will usually be receptive to your story.
Many people locally will also of course know who you are and take even more of an interest in your story than will those who have no connection to you. Local press coverage, our data show, always helps to shift more print copies.
Perhaps the reach of local media is underestimated, but it shouldn’t be. Larger national outlets will look to see if the story has been featured by smaller outlets. If it has, this can then open larger doors.
Thank you, Patrick.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the post-Roe v. Wade novel The Age of the Child, called a novel “for right now” and “scathing social commentary.” She’s a former adjunct English professor, former reporter/columnist/feature writer for a daily newspaper, former writing instructor, and a former editor of the literary journal American Fiction (New Rivers Press). She lives in Connecticut.