Friday, February 25, 2011

The Three Rules of Publicity

By Andy Straka

Here are a few tokens of advice to new authors regarding publicity—for what they're worth.

There are three rules for publicizing your book. Unfortunately (with apologies to W. Somerset Maughan) no one knows what they are.

What do I mean by this? I mean that there are many reasons why a particular book may catch fire in the public’s imagination. There are many more reasons why it may not. Most of these reasons have little or nothing to do with the caliber of the book and little or nothing to do with publicity—at least publicity as we tend to think about it in the traditional business sense.

I have begun to wonder why so many of us—publishers included—have become so convinced that promotion leading to traditional publicity is the only reliable path to making a book successful. Has the track record of such efforts born this theory out? For many books and authors, the answer is obviously yes. But for many others the results are disappointing, or at best, mixed.

I’m not talking about building a big mailing list, working with a publicist, facebooking, twittering, blogging, etc. or traveling to lots of bookstores and conventions and the like—all of which have been eloquently discussed here of late and all of which may be beneficial if you can muster up the time and the budget to undertake them.

I’m talking instead about building long-term relationships (more on this in a moment) and attempting to look at your book—and maybe even yourself—with new eyes. I’m talking about discovering and developing your own particular brand.

Look at the example of our esteemed blog goddess Kathy Patrick. Here is a writer who is building herself, her store, book club, and her own book into a national presence. She has cultivated her own unique style that sets her apart as a colorful personality that many people want to hear from and get to know better.

But there is only one Kathy Patrick. What works for her won’t necessarily work for the rest of us. (I’ve tried donning one of those fancy hats while out hawking, but it just doesn’t work.) Maybe we each need to spend more time digging deeper into our own books and personalities to discover what it is about them that makes them truly unique and worthy of the public’s attention.

For the majority of us the effort of developing our own brand is still a work in progress. The type of book you write today may not be the same type of book you write tomorrow. It certainly won’t be the same book—at least one would hope not. Having spent more than a decade in sales and marketing prior to becoming a writer, I used to think I was pretty good at publicizing my books. But now I know better. My piddling marketing efforts are nothing but a drop in the bucket compared to the power of genuine imagination and brand building.

There is another sometimes overlooked way to truly publicize your book and yourself as an author. Some might even argue it is the most important ingredient in successful publicity. Unfortunately, it often only comes over time. That ingredient is the cultivation and development of quality personal relationships.

Relationships are the secret to many author's success. Relationships with everyone from readers to librarians to bookstore employees and to your UPS man. From your local newspaper columnist to editors and heads of publishing marketing departments. Some of us are naturally better at building and maintaining relationships than others. But we can all benefit from keeping this goal in mind.

A word of warning in this regard. Sometimes too much self-promotion can hurt relationships. No one wants to be around a constant self-promoter. Your relationship with someone is far more important than the particular book you may be pitching at the moment.

I implied at the beginning there were no rules, right? I do, however, want to close with a few hard-earned tips.

1) Keep writing
2) In your efforts at self-promotion, never, ever begin to think too much of yourself.
3) Always be gracious, kind, and courteous. Always be thankful for what you have.
4) Never fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Wherever you are on the totem poll of publishing success, there will always be plenty of people above and below you.
5) Above all, try your best to cultivate friendships and other positive relationships. Genuine promotion of you by others is always far more powerful than self-promotion—you never know what blessings may rebound.
6) Try your best to keep up with technology and social networking without cutting into your writing time.
7) Remember tip #1.

That’s it. That’s about all I know so far. I hope these ideas are of some help to you on your own journey to success.

A transplanted Southerner, Andy Straka is a native of upstate New York and a graduate of Williams College where, as co-captain of the basketball team, he "double-majored" in English and the crossover dribble.

A licensed falconer and co-founder of the popular Crime Wave at the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, he is the author of five novels. Four belong to the Frank Pavlicek mystery series featuring a former NYPD detective turned Virginia private investigator and falconer: A Witness Above (Anthony, Agatha, and Shamus Award finalist), A Killing Sky (Anthony Award Finalist), Cold Quarry (Shamus Award Winner,), and the most recent Kitty Hitter. A standalone novel, Record Of Wrongs, was also hailed by Mystery Scene magazine as "a first-rate thriller."

Andy lives with his family in Virginia. Current projects include a soon-to-be released Young Adult version of A Witness Above incorporating a falconry primer for teens published by Cedar Creek Press and a recently completed sixth novel. Andy is also at work on his Masters Degree in Creative Writing.

Discover more about Andy and his writing at


Karen Harrington said...

What a wonderful angle on modern book promotion. As I've often thought, not every type of promotion fits every author. You have to find your own style, as you've eloquently pointed out. Great post, Andy!

Andy said...

Thanks very much. The task (publicity) seems so enormous for many of us midlisters that I'm afraid we forget sometimes what brought us to the party in the first place--our imagination.

Man Martin said...

Great post1

River Jordan said...


Great post. You're right. Relationship it is. And Kathy Patrick is amazing at building those relationships as well for both readers and writers.

And you have some thoughts here I've never read before.



Unknown said...

Andy, You hit on some great points and great advice that I am taking to heart. Thank you. Great post and now planning on sharing it big time!

Renea Winchester said...

You've hit it out of the park with this post. It always comes back to the relationships and how well you cultivate and maintain them. Excellent, excellent post.

JLC said...

Great post, but you already know that. My problem is being pretty well rooted to the spot and with no budget for promotion. Never mind, my UPS man only delivers my book orders from Amazon and B&N--but it does prove he can read.

I'm sold on your books now, not just because I love mystery reading, but I'm also fascinated by falconry. T. H. White hooked me, how did you get interested and learn it?

Andy said...

Falconry only interested me at first as a fictional hook for my series main character. But after spending a lot of time in the field interviewing falconers, I really grew to love it. I made the leap to go for my license after my second book was released. Now when I get writer's block or feel the need to get out and get some exercise, I throw on my jacket and vest. It's peaceful and exhilarating at the same time. The bird catches his share of game, but just as often there is the simple revelry of the flight and chase. It's a privilege to work with such a magnificent bird. I don't take it lightly.