Interview: Paula Margulies, Book Publicist

Paual Margulies

Paula Margulies, owner of Paula Margulies Communications

Several months ago I took part in a writers’ panel and was asked about my greatest challenge. I didn’t hesitate. “Knowing when to create and knowing when to market.”

Experts like San Diego-based Paula Margulies, owner of Paula Margulies Communications know how crucial it is for authors to reach their audience… and she helps them do just that.    

Lori: It used to be that traditional publishers did all or most of the work when it came to marketing a book. What is the reality today?

Paula: Here’s the reality: whether they’ve decided to self-publish, or have signed contracts with traditional publishers, most authors will have to spend some time marketing their books. For many authors, this can be a stumbling block; they understand and enjoy the process of creating a book, but when it comes time to market it, an entirely different set of skills comes into play. For those authors who have no experience at all with marketing a product, there can be a steep learning curve. And many authors are unprepared for the amount of money and time involved in successfully promoting a book.

 

What are the most effective ways for authors to get the word out about their book AND sell?

There are a number of different ways an author can market a book. Having a good sense of the book’s audience (who are the typical readers, and where can they be found?) is the first step. Once an author has identified his reading audience, he should try to ascertain where his readers go for information about books, and then make sure that his book is mentioned in those places.

Generally, most authors will use a number of marketing methods to reach their individual audiences – they can place paid advertisements, hire a publicist to garner media features, appear at speaking engagements, professional meetings, book fairs, and other venues, do book signings (although bookstores are disappearing, there are some indies and chain stores still out there), write articles for journals, newspapers (print and online), and magazines, hold blog tours, give online interviews, gather book reviews and post them on their web and social media sites, reach out to readers on social networking sites, enter contests, etc. The list is endless and much of it will be dictated by the author’s platform and the book’s genre and audience.

Also important is the continuity that authors offer readers. Because of the extraordinary number of books released each year, readers are overwhelmed with information about what’s available to them. When readers find authors they like, they tend to stick with them and want to see more. Authors who have done the hard work of creating a fan base will need to hold on to it, and the best way to do that is to keep writing the books that their readers are eager to buy.

 … the correct marketing techniques will depend on each individual author’s platform and the book’s genre and audience.

How effective is social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.) when it comes to a book’s sale?

Social networking is crucial to marketing books, but it’s also just one piece in the marketing mix. Many authors spend a lot of time trying to promote themselves on social networking sites, often because it’s inexpensive and something they can do themselves. But if they neglect the other aspects of marketing (advertising, publicity, appearances, etc.), they may be missing opportunities that can give them more reach with their individual audiences. It’s important for authors to make sure their marketing plans are complete and balanced – spending too much time and/or energy on only one marketing channel will give them some audience reach, but they’ll want to explore as many avenues for reaching readers as they can if they want to achieve good sales numbers. (Note: There may be some authors who are successful marketing their books solely via social media; again, the correct marketing techniques will depend on each individual author’s platform and the book’s genre and audience).

 

How do you help authors as a book publicist?

I offer authors a chance to get their names and stories out in the media. I create media kits, write press releases and place them on the newswires, book speaking and signing events, pitch feature interviews to print, online, radio, and television editors and producers, provide information and assistance with gathering reviews and entering contests, and handle media relations.

But a publicist can be much more than a megaphone for an author’s work. In addition to creating press kits and pitching the media, I play a number of other important roles for my authors, including acting as an information resource, a sounding board for ideas, a cheerleader when the going gets stressful, a devil’s advocate when sorting through different promotional options, a reference for writing jobs, artist residencies, and contests, a reality check, and a source of inspiration and ideas. I’ve written more about this topic on my blog in a post called More Than Just Marketing.

How much I do for a client depends on what an author is looking for when s/he hires me. Some want only media exposure, while others want help booking speaking tours; some prefer not to make appearances and want help promoting themselves via blog tours or social media, while others are looking for help with reviews and contests, or need assistance with creating press releases, advertisements, or media kits. Each client is different, and his or her particular needs, platform, and budget dictate how I can help.

 ..in order to have a successful memoir, authors have to be sure that their personal stories are compelling to readers. This means that the book should have a traditional storyline structure, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Are there certain genres of books that are easier to promote right now than others? What about creative nonfiction/memoir?

Yes, certain genres have large audiences and tend to be easier to promote, especially mystery, romance, and science fiction/fantasy. For example, many booksellers have mystery and romance book groups who meet regularly at their stores and are interested in signings with authors. These genres also have a number of professional groups, some nationwide, who hold meetings and conferences in states across the country. Some genres, like science fiction and fantasy, have huge followings and hold large conventions where fans gather (think Comic Con). Many genres have online groups and bloggers who discuss the books their readers like (historical fiction, romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, political nonfiction, LGBT fiction, and Christian fiction, for example).

Creative nonfiction and memoir are popular categories with authors; I’m approached every year by a huge number of memoir writers, who would like to generate publicity for their books. But in order to have a successful memoir, authors have to be sure that their personal stories are compelling to readers. This means that the book should have a traditional storyline structure, with a beginning, middle, and end. It also should have unusual characters or individuals who face high-stake circumstances that force them to change in some significant way. And, generally, in order to break out, memoirs have to be unique in some way – either the author is a celebrity, whose life story holds some interest for its audience, or the story is so different and compelling that it stands out from the readers’ own personal experiences. I’ve written in more detail about this in a post called What Makes a Good Memoir.

 

 The biggest challenge for self-published books is the sheer number of them out there.

 

What challenges do self-published books bring when it comes to marketing? How about ebooks?

The biggest challenge for self-published books is the sheer number of them out there. Because there are so many books released each year (something like 3,000,000 of them in 2011; I haven’t seen data yet for 2012), the number of authors trying to get their readers’ attention has grown, and standing out in a crowd that large can be daunting.

Also challenging for ebook authors is the lack of printed copies of the book to send to reviewers (many still require them) or to sell in-person at fairs or after speaking and signing appearances.

And even though ebook numbers have increased by an exponential rate each year, there is still a significant number of readers (70 percent or so right now, although I believe that number will continue to shrink), who still prefer to read physical books, rather than ebooks. So, authors who choose to only sell in ebook format might be missing out on a significant portion of their reading audience if the majority of those readers still tend to buy printed books.

 

You are an author as well as a book publicist. Does that give you more of an understanding of what an author goes through to garner sales?

Yes, being an author myself definitely helps to understand both the writing process and what’s required to market a book. I had an agent for my first novel, Coyote Heart, which ended up being published by a small press. This happened a few years ago, just before the self-publishing market took off; if I had to do it over again, I would probably choose to self-publish. I like the idea of authors being able to control their marketing and sales efforts; perhaps this is why I’ve chosen to focus primarily on authors in my publicity business.

 

Is there a success story or two that you can share with us concerning authors you’ve promoted?

I have so many clients who have been successful with their books, that it would be hard to pick just one or two! Some of my clients choose to do national tours, and have had great success selling their books at signings and appearances across the country (like Amy Snyder, for example, with her nonfiction account about the Race Across America, Hell on Two Wheels); some with successful ebooks have had their publishers offer to create print versions (like HarperCollins/Authonomy author, Mary Vensel White, whose ebook, The Qualities of Wood will be coming out in print in April); many, like Kim Petersen, author of Charting the Unknown, have won awards, while others have created a successful series with a strong following of readers (U.S. Olympic sailor, Carol Newman Cronin, for example, with her nautical YA series, Oliver’s Surprise and Cape Cod Surprise, and Caroline Taylor, author of the P.J. Smythe mystery What Are Friends For?, whose publisher, Gale-Cengage, is issuing book two in the series, Jewelry from a Grave, this April).

 

 Having a professionally designed cover is crucial to a book’s success.

 

So…can you tell a book by its cover? How important is that cover in promotion?

Having a professionally designed cover is crucial to a book’s success. The book’s cover is a part of its packaging and must not only represent the contents of the book itself, but must resonate with potential readers enough to motivate them to look at it and buy. I’ve seen many covers created by authors who have no experience with graphic design, and they inevitably experience poor sales. Self-published authors should be sure to have their book covers designed by an experienced professional; this is as important as making sure that the book’s contents have been edited by a professional editor before the book is released.

 

There’s no doubt you love writing and authors. But what are your favorite things to do when you’re apart from the written word?

I do love both writing and working with my clients. I also teach part-time at two of our local community colleges here in San Diego. I hold single-subject and community college teaching credentials, and even though I didn’t go into teaching as a full-time profession, I’ve always taught a course or two each semester (I guess you could say it’s a hobby of mine!). I enjoy the mental exercise of preparing for classes and exchanging ideas with students, and I especially enjoy teaching adults – it’s challenging and hugely rewarding at the same time.

When I’m not doing client work or teaching, I write, read, practice meditation and yoga, try to get my orchids to bloom, and take care of our animals (we currently have two rabbits and a parakeet – all rescues, and all with us for a number of years). My husband and I are now empty-nesters, and both of our kids go to out-of-state colleges – our son attends the University of Oregon, and our daughter plays softball at Ball State University in Indiana. Even though they’re far away, there’s still a lot that we do with them (including traveling around the country to watch our daughter’s games), so they continue to keep us pretty busy.

Lori M. Myers, Senior Interviews Editor

Lori M. Myers is an award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays, and plays. Her work has been seen in more than 45 national and regional magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Her plays have been produced on seven regional stages, two have been published, and one was a Broadway World Award nominee. Lori has a masters in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teaches at Dominican College in New York.

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  • Interesting interview! Lori, I’m curious about your comment about choosing to self-publish instead of going with a small press. Would some small presses restrict your marketing efforts?

  • lmyers316

    Thanks so much for your comment, Linda. I think that self-publishing has become another option for writers along with a traditional big publisher or small press. Small presses are wonderful and, from what I know, would not restrict the marketing efforts of a writer. They want to see writers succeed and many do what they can in the marketing arena to get an author’s book out there in the world. Paula Margulies confirms that an author can expect to do some amount of marketing no matter who publishes the book.