Friday, March 09, 2018

How To Be Your Own P.R. Machine

Melinda Palacio

Photo by Anthony Posey

Sometimes writers wonder if their pages will make their way into a bound book for sale. If you're working at it every day, chances are your moment in the sun will come. When it does, be prepared. It's better to err on an optimistic side and start early than to be scrambling days, months, or heaven forbid, years after your book is old news. Here are ten tips to help you give your book a fighting chance in today's market.

1. Start a tour travel fund. Buy one less fancy food item at the grocery store and skip the extra pair of shoes that would match that one odd-colored dress in your closet. Whatever it is you occasionally splurge on, save it. Even if you sign books in town where friends and family live, you still need to get there and you will  incur more travel costs than you might think. Also not all venues will offer you honorariums and cover your travel expenses. You could choose to only settle for venues that will fund your book tour, but chances are there's one town where you aunt lives that has a great audience who always buys books and the events coordinator will make a good case for you doing the event without additional compensation to you.

2. Prepare a professional biography. Your bio should be in the same folder as your photo. Most likely, places will ask for your bio and photo. Keep a folder handy in your computer and in your email ready to go for moments when you are away from your desk, but have access to your phone or tablet. Prepare 3 versions of your professional biography, a short-short (50-words or less), a medium 150 word-bio, and a full page, listing important places you've been published in, books, and awards. The longer bio can also include details about your day job, home location, and hobbies. Keep information about your cute pets and children to a minimum.

3. Have a good photo ready. The minute you feel happy with your hair, your outfit, your acne-free face, take a photo. A selfie will do in a pinch, but professional hi-res photo will be even better. While on your book tour, newspapers and the local venue hosting you will want a photograph of your  head (head shot) to promote your event.

4. Prepare a one-liner or tag line for your book. Bookstores need help selling your book. For my upcoming book, Bird Forgiveness, I came up with : ecopoetry about diversity, love, and how migration transforms the expectations of what Latinx poetry should look like. Be creative, but true to your book.

5. Prepare excerpts of your work for your presentations and book signings. Reading your own work well will help sell books. Practice your poems or a short chapter or scene from your book. Memorize most of it. Engage the audience. Look up and don't stare at your pages the entire time. La Bloga's Michael Sedano is an excellent reading and performance coach.

6. You Tube-it. An extension of your reading preparation and a handy tool to show potential venues is your You Tube performance. Prepare your scene, poem, or book trailer and put it up on You Tube. Tell your friends. You can connect these videos to your website and social media pages.

7. The videos bring me to my next suggestion: a website, get one, make one, fake one. If the idea of making and maintaining a website causes night sweats and teeth grinding, it might be a good idea to hire someone to produce an easy to update website. A website is a static place where you can park information, articles, reviews, and tell people where they might see you on your book tour.

8. Reviews. Start thinking of places or people who might review your book. This must be done before the book comes out. If you wait too long, your new book will be old news and reviewers would have moved on to the next shiny new book. It's great if Terrance Hayes from the New York Times introduces one of your poems; the reviewers might come to you. But if he doesn't see your work, you and your publisher will have your work cut out for you.

9. Teamwork. Bookstores can selective about who will make it worth their while to keep the shop and staff beyond closing time. If you want to present your book in a town you've never been to, team up with local author. Chances are the local author will have a good relationship with their independent bookstore or with their city's colleges and universities. This is a great way for someone who is starting and for a more experienced author to help each other out. Thanks to Catherine Ryan Hyde, we have this beautiful expression, Pay It Forward.

10. Last, as Juan Felipe Herrera would say, gather your tortillas. Make sure your contacts are all in one database. If you're anything like me, you have cards and pieces of paper, and scattered thank you notes, but you have neglected to transcribe those emails and contacts into one single database.. I've noticed that more organized people ask folks to enter their contact information into a phone or tablet. In hindsight, I wish I would have done that. For now, if you haven't heard from me, but I've promised to let you know about my latest literary endeavors, it's because I've lost your card and have yet to enter it into my computer.

The more prepared you are, the easier all this PR or public relations or getting the word out about your book will be. Keep the faith. Your day will come and when it does, your book deserves a more organized you. Do as I say and not as I do is  the old yarn. After the last three books, Folsom Lockdown, Ocotillo Dreams and How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, I should have learned. 


Margaret said...

Thanks for always sharing your knowledge. Looking forward to this book.

Unknown said...

Wonderful tips, Melinda!!!

Sojourner The Poet said...

Great Nilotic piece, Melinda. You are a master in this area. I’m amazed at what I have seen you accomplish doing all the things that you outline here. Now we know your keys to success - along with your excellent writings. You could easily offer workshops using this as the course outline or turn it into a handy guide that could be purchased. I’m going to print it out and post it in my work space.Thank you. <3.

Sojourner The Poet said...

Oops! Meant to write”Great blog piece.” Cheers.