- Guest Publicist -
Today, I welcome you to an interview conducted with a publicist from the USA.
Welcome, Lynda ...
1. WHY DID YOU BECOME A PUBLICIST?
During my ‘former life’ as a flight attendant for a major airline, I had the great pleasure of meeting Connie May Fowler, author of River of Hidden Dreams, on a flight from SFO-BOS. We talked about literature, writing, travel and everything in between. She had events in Boston the following day. Without hesitation, I offered to take her around since I had a 48 hour layover and an intimate knowledge of Boston. Ms. Fowler is a Southerner, born in North Carolina where I live now and where I was based during my airline career. She shared that her publisher didn’t know anything about the South or where to send authors in that market. I saw a specific void that needed to be filled in the publishing world - that of a liaison between author and publisher. It was a gift for me, meeting Connie May Fowler. I pitched my idea to the major publishing houses in New York. They loved it and they hired me to set up book tours in the South (USA). I began driving all over the South with authors on my days off! When I resigned from flying following the 9/11 attacks, I kicked it into high gear, expanded my services and the cities I covered. For over 15 years now I have assisted some of the most famous authors on the planet with their marketing, publicity, writing and editing.
2. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Every day is different and holds sublime wonder when working closely with authors. I grow and learn from them, they advance and learn from me. It is a magical alchemy.
3. WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Because I own ‘boutique’ PR agency, I can’t take on every author who wants to work with me. That’s tough because every writer deserves the best chance at success they can get. But by staying small, I remain agile with marketing efforts. Every book has unique aspects to it. My goal is to focus and creatively customize each project so it means saying ‘no’ and that never gets easier.
4. HOW MANY AUTHORS DO YOU ‘MANAGE’?
I manage expectations – not authors! Typically, I have no more than 4 authors at one time. (*see above!)
5. NO DOUBT, SOME AUTHORS ARE EASIER THAN OTHERS TO WORK WITH, SO DESCRIBE WHAT YOU EXPECT OF AN AUTHOR AS YOUR CLIENT.
Fabulous question! I tell any potential client that after they finish their book, the easy part is over! Often, an author will expect me to do all the work. That will never happen, in reality. Getting a book into the world is a Sisyphean effort. It is a collaborative effort between author and publicist. Before I begin working with an author, I have a conversation with them to determine if the fit is right for us both. I want to know their expectations and secondly, their commitment to doing the hard work that it takes. The absolute BEST authors to work with are the ones who have realistic expectations and trust their intuition and my creative ideas.
6. IS THERE ONE MAIN POINT, OR MANY POINTS THAT CONVINCE YOU TO TAKE ON AN AUTHOR?
There are several, but my top 2 are:
1. Having a sense of humour,
2. Being open to ’outside the book’ ideas
7. WHAT ARE THEY? * see above* plus:
Being able to -
-Know your genre specific competition
-Do whatever it takes to advance your work
-Have good contacts and resources of your own
-Take criticism constructively without judgement
-Keep it real. No, Oprah and the New York Times best-seller list won’t happen in a day.
-Trust your crazy ideas. And mine.
8. WHAT’S THE WORST MOMENT YOU’VE HAD AS A PUBLICIST?
I could write a book on this topic alone. There are just oodles of times where an author was not ‘engaged’ with an audience or book signing event. They thought it was not important enough. One best - selling author walked out before the signing event was even over. There was still a long line, out the door and around the block! I had to apologize to the staff on their behalf and needless to say, they weren’t invited back. Times like these reveal the author’s true character.
9. WHAT WAS THE BEST MOMENT?
This one is easy. Hands down– Ken Burger, award-winning author of Baptized in Sweet Tea, A Sporting Life, and many other books, was being treated for end- stage cancer. Many months before, I secured an NPR interview for him. The day of the interview, even though he felt sick, he drove to the NPR studio in Columbia, SC and gave the performance of his life. It was just poignant listening to it afterward. His voice was strong. He was upbeat. He was a true pro. Link to that interview:
10. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR AUTHORS SEEKING A PUBLICIST?
Be sure you hire someone with compatible creative sensibilities. You will work closely with your publicist for a long time so be comfortable with where they might take you professionally and creatively. Do some research and interview several. The right ‘fit’ is important.
11. WOULD YOU RECOMMEND YOUR CAREER TO OTHERS?
Absolutely. It is extremely rewarding and creative. It is wonderful for an entrepreneur who wants to go out on their own, like I did, but for those who want a more structured environment, there are so many opportunities with large and small publishing houses.
12. WHAT SKILLS HAVE YOU LEARNED AS A PUBLICIST – SKILLS YOU NEVER HAD BEFORE?
When I started out, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were still tinkering with the internet! I have learned how to go from ‘old school’ style to the instant 24/7 always on world of engagement. It has raised my game for sure. It has made me think differently about the many ways to create awareness for my authors and help them rise above the noise.
13. DESCRIBE AN IDEAL AUTHOR FROM A PUBLICIST’S POINT OF VIEW.
For me, personally, my ideal author is one like Kathryn Brown Ramsperger. She contacted me BEFORE her novel was published. Wow. I wish I could clone her. She gets it. She was open to ideas, coaching, did research and worked her impressive contact lists to garner testimonials. I worked with her to create a website specific to her forthcoming book. By doing this ahead of publication, she showed a potential publisher, that she is serious and committed to the process. It allowed me to be more creative and set her up for success. She is ever close to being published but in the meantime, she sends short stories in for critiques and publication, writes a weekly blog and works at it every single day. That, my friend, is what an ideal author looks like.
14. WHAT DID YOU DO IN A PAST LIFE?
I was a flight attendant for a major airline. It was the perfect preparation for being a publicist. Many of the same skills apply! For example – I know how to anticipate problems, how to plan for and make you feel comfortable during any event, how to handle any emergency, know the decision makers, how stop a baby from crying during a presentation, and can perform CPR (creative publicity resuscitation) for back lists.
15. IF YOU HAD YOUR TIME OVER, WOULD YOU BE A PUBLICIST?
Yes, except I’d do it sooner.
16. WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST?
I am inspired by possibility. I am surrounded everyday with positive people who believe in themselves and a crazy dream – to be a writer. It is inspiring to know that in our ‘always on’ world, one must still wait on the writer. There is great value in that.
17. ARE YOU A PUBLISHED AUTHOR?
I am currently editing a final draft for a Children’s book, written by my late husband. I will self- publish it. I have also begun a DIY non-fiction book for authors which will include invaluable insights, interviews and tips from well-known authors and resources for writers. Stay tuned for more.....!
18. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Well, it would include Kevin Costner and/or Daniel Craig.
19. DESCRIBE AN AUTHOR WHO STANDS OUT FROM THE REST – ONE WITH THE X-FACTOR?
Ken Burger had the most soulful yet (seemingly) effortless style in person and on the page. Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides) also had it. Both writers were Southern to the core. It must be a Southern thing. There was an essence about both men - they exuded confidence yet they were gracious and grateful. They were ever mindful that their talent was a special gift – one they shared willingly. I consider it an honour to have worked with them.
20. HOW DO YOU SEE THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE?
The publishing industry is changing rapidly and it will continue to change. This has been positive for writers. The power has shifted to the author – and away from the publisher. There are many more platforms now to publish one’s work; however, it makes it more difficult to get that work noticed. Thus, the need for a great publicist who is able to navigate the ever changing publishing landscape.
Self-publishing no longer has the negative image it once did. Can anyone say HUGH HOWIE? He is every writer’s hero. As the author of ‘Wool’ he broke through the self-publishing barrier. He crushed the idea that traditional publishing was the only way to real success. After he became a contender with ‘Wool’ the tables were turned. New York publishing houses came to him wanting a piece of his success! This is encouraging for writers. YOU now have the control, options, future in your hands. It will be fascinating to see where it all goes. One thing I do know for sure....there will always be REAL books. Yup. I said it. I believe that reading is a tactile as well as an intellectual experience.
WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I hope to visit Australia again. In the near future I hope to get some sleep! Publicists are a lot like koala bears. Mostly nocturnal, but with bigger brains.
21. ANY REGRETS?
Yes, I wish I’d begun this publicity path sooner.
22. SHOULD ALL AUTHORS HAVE A PUBLICIST? WHY?
A book is a very unique ‘product. You have a tangible object with intangible ideas inside. So, you simply must grab the potential reader with the ‘idea’ of it – with a great title and a killer cover and build lots of buzz around it. A publicist, as an objective marketing pro, is able to jump-start a book, giving it life before a single person reads it. IT IS A LOT OF WORK! Not many authors are good at it, nor do they have the interest in marketing their work. And they are not objective.
ARTICLE BY LYNDA:
ON BEING A REGIONAL AUTHOR
Clancy's comment: Thank you, Lynda, for a great interview. Oh, by the way, Koalas are not bears, though they do look like one. See photograph below ...