I first met Sandra in 1998, when she was Tom Peters' publicist. She worked on my first book, which became a New York Times best seller, largely due to her herculean efforts. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with her about what it takes to be a successful book publicist, given all the changes to the media landscape and the publishing industry.
Tim: What was your first project?
Sandra: My very first project was in 1982 with a very well known crime writer, Thomas H. Cook. My then boss at Houghton Mifflin put a very grim looking galley, no jacket on my desk. The book was called, “The Orchids,” it was about a Nazi doctor and she said, “Here, you’ll be working on this,” and that was my training. He’s probably the most elegant fiction writer I’ve ever worked with and still friendly with him.
Tim: Tell me about a project you had to use unconventional tactics on to succeed.
Sandra: The thing that comes to mind is actually a project I did at Houghton Mifflin, which was the best-selling American Heritage Dictionary, third edition. When I was assigned that project, I felt I was being taken to literary Siberia, but it turned out to be the most interesting project. I really did some crazy things for that including: the creation of a rap song, using some of the new words. I created an 800 number, using Tony Randall to read the words and the definitions. That was great fun!
Tim: How has the playing field changed for book publicists in the last five years?
Sandra: Everything has changed with the advent of the Internet and recently, social media. I think word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool, but the way in which one stimulates it and conveys it is what's changed. Unless it’s a very famous person I think that the book tour is a waste of money. Social media programs have replaced that.
Tim: What about book reviews? When you and I teamed up in 2002 for Love Is the Killer App, my book tour’s main objective was getting local newspapers to review the book.
Sandra: In the past, in every city, the newspaper had the budget or readership for a book review editor. That’s just not the case today, as they aren’t valued as much by editors in the new world of revenue focus. Making it worse, many newspapers have dissolved or are making a transition online. That’s why you have to create new means to get that exposure.
Tim: You are known as a mentor to up and coming publicists. What’s your timeless advice you give them?
Sandra: A great publicist knows what's going on in the world, stays in touch with the news, knows what’s on television, knows the newspapers, knows the media and has good contacts and can navigate social media and knows how to use it and how not to use it. The news really opens up a very significant door for a book that can be pegged by a publicist t it. Knowing what’s going on in the world and then being able to use it and match it with what you’re doing can make a huge difference.
Tim: What advice would you give to someone that’s currently working as a book publicist at a publisher that is just getting ready to go freelance?
Sandra: Organize and then use the contacts that you’ve made, not just media contacts, but also colleagues and the people that you’ve worked with in the industry. This can be a wonderful multiplier of opportunities for you as you build your own business. That was the case for my leap into freelance work. I had so many contacts that all my initial referrals that got me started came from people that I knew. It sure wasn’t from advertising or marketing.
Tim: Great, one last question. What advice would you give someone with media relations experience outside of publishing, who is interested in working on a book project?
Sandra: The publishing industry is a quirky industry and there are things that don’t make any sense to someone coming from another world. Find a means to get some exposure to it, subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly, walk the floor at the Book Expo, reach out to experienced book publicists. Do your research to understand how the publishing industry works and why and how it’s different from other industries. Things that work for promoting a sneaker or a building or a company may not necessarily be the things that work promoting a book and an author.
Visit Sandra's website to connect with her or learn more.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays