When The Writer Doesn't Agree With the Message the Publisher & Publicist Are Creating

By Sherri Rosen
Remember when you were young and friends would play Telephone? After careful deliberation you would whisper a well-crafted sentence into a friend’s ear, watch her giggle as she whispers it into her friend’s ear, and so on. Finally, when your sentence has gone around the ring the last person in line announces what they’ve heard—“I date Stephen even though he’s messy and smells!”—that is exactly not what you whispered. To everyone’s great amusement, you then share your original sentence—“I hate spaghetti and meatballs!”
In publishing and publicity, the game of Telephone can re-emerge in ways that are less than amusing. What the author intended to say, the publisher restated with the tiniest twist. What the publisher than told the publicist was refashioned with yet another tiny twist, and by the time the public hears about your book the original punch and message of your masterpiece is lost.
As an author, you might have more insight and intuition into your book’s target market than you think. Don’t be too modest. Trust your gut. Follow your instincts.
When it comes to your public platform, clear, concise communication can be key to success. Publicity is an art of precision. Good verbs, nouns, and limited adjectives can do more than save you time and money. They can save your book. Use them when communicating with the powers that be.
If you are an author, it is important to be honest with both your publicist and publisher about your vision for your platform. Who are you trying to reach? Why do you want to reach them? What is the best way to reach them effectively?
Don’t be afraid to hurt feelings. They’re the pros, after all. Step up and politely voice your concerns. Share where you think your publicist could best invest. Voice ways you think marketing can be improved. Express ideas for new approaches and methods. You are, after all, a writer. You just might be the best thing for your book.
Sherri Rosen Publicity began in New York City in the summer of 1999. Since then, we have designed and implemented publicity for many wonderful clients. They include authors, healers, educators, dancers, spiritual groups, artists and environmental spokespeople. You can also follow Sherri on Twitter.


My Funny Valentine

My novel Julia's Child comes out two weeks before Valentine's Day. (Attention male readership, that's in February.) When I was in grade school, it was with great joy that I carried 24 cute little envelopes to school one February day a year, and distributed them to the far corners of the classroom.

If you could see my desk right now, you'd assume Valentine's Day was just around the corner. There are dozens of pretty envelopes everywhere, and a toppling stack of Julia's Child postcards.

With four months to go, you might think I'm crazy. But some of these pretty letters are headed to bloggers, with a letter enclosed, asking if they'd be willing to review the book or host a stop on my blog tour.

And some of these are headed to area bookstores. I live in northern New England, in a region thick with independent bookstores. Many will receive a polite letter which basically says: Dear store, I live nearby and this is my book. It even has a Vermont plot line. I'm available for book group meetings, should I be so lucky to have a book club choose my humble work. And you look really nice in that outfit.

The subtext is: please order me! I would love to think that my publisher's salesperson has the time to mention to nearby bookstores that the author of the new book on page 20 of the winter catalog is local. But why take the chance? For $0.60 (including postage) I can make the point more personally.

But the lion's share of these cards will eventually end up in the mailboxes of people I know. My smart and funny critique partner Rosemary DiBattista once told me that the best book publicity advice she'd heard so far was to make "a giant Christmas card list" and tell everyone you know when the book comes out. And doesn't that make sense? It matters little if your high school friends on Facebook have a vague notion that someday your book will be published. The people most likely to support your efforts deserve a good old fashioned postal prompting. "I did it! It's finally here!"

Every day I address a couple of envelopes. The ones for friends and family get placed into a shoe box. The ones for bloggers and bookstores go into the mail. When February comes, I'll have done all I can.

You can get 500 postcards for about $40.00. Or, if you explain to your publisher's marketing person what you intend to do with them, a box of cards just might end up on your doorstep.

So come on, now. Send us a valentine.


Author Sandra Beasley's "Smile For the Camera"

The Photo

I bought Sandra Beasley's wonderful memoir Don't Kill the Birthday Girl just after it was published. On the back jacket flap there's a perfectly nice author photo—good quality, not too serious, not too silly. (And she's not doing the chin-in-hand "thinker" pose.) No one would quibble with that. Or would they? —Sarah P.

By Sandra Beasley

When my editor called to ask if I was game to have part of my memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, excerpted in a major magazine, I let out a yelp of joy and jumped into the air.

This startled my parents. We were on the third floor of a concrete parking lot in Charleston, South Carolina. For them, Charleston was a weekend getaway. For me, the night’s poetry reading was the first stop of what was going to be a travel juggernaut: five towns in two weeks.  

“So, I take that as a yes?” my editor asked on the other end of the line.

Yes, yes, yes. My memoir’s cover would be splashed on the pages of a magazine whose circulation is counted in the hundreds of thousands. I could add their title to my list of pub credits. Best of all, I’d already done the work.

They wanted a thousand words within the week about how food allergies complicate one’s love life, focusing on a past relationship I’d described in the memoir. My editor at the magazine helped me splice together two parts of the book into a coherent piece that had arc and oomph. Then they asked for the photo.

“I thought they gave it to you,” I said. My publicity team at Crown had my author headshot, one of a series I’d taken at the National Cathedral with a professional who took pity on a poor poet. All rights cleared, high resolution, it is The Photo.

I sent other images from the shoot, ones that hadn’t been in print elsewhere. They replied they wanted something more candid. Hmmm.

They asked about using a snapshot of me with the boyfriend from the excerpt. Poor taste, I wrote back, given we weren’t together anymore. He’d let me write about him; no way was I volunteering his face to be seen in waiting rooms across America.

We were off on the wrong foot. I sent a photo taken at Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, my hair whipping around my face. Too casual, they said. I sent a photo from the launch reading for my last poetry collection. Once they cropped my grandmother out, they said, there wouldn’t be enough left. I spent hours combing through Facebook albums, only to realize you can’t get a 5” x 7” photograph at 300 dpi off Facebook.

We were past deadline. This didn’t need to be complicated, they said, reminding me that Crown had promised I could provide art. Surely I had something on my camera that was relevant to the essay—a recent picture that showed me cooking, some scene with food and friends. A dinner party? A brunch? A friend’s baby shower?

I was mortified. Mortified I was coming off like an unhelpful author. Mortified they might cancel the excerpt. Mortified that scrolling through 365 days worth of images, I didn’t have one that showed me with “food and friends.”

“I don’t get to host dinner parties. I don’t go to baby showers,” I sobbed to my friend, a fellow writer. “I go to bookstores. I go to classrooms. I’ve been on tour for a year!”

"Something more candid..."
It was 2 AM and my nerve had broken. I was in Brooklyn, on the final leg of a jaunt that had taken me as far west as Mississippi, then back again. I was tired of crashing on couches. I needed a bath. I’d come to hate the red and black clothes that I always wear on the road.

“You know what?” my friend said. “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to go to bed, we’re going to get up tomorrow morning, and we’re going to take some photos.”

The next morning we tried to stay relaxed despite looming commitments—she was taking a bus out of town, and I was due at a campus in Long Island. I stayed in my pajamas. I resisted putting on eyeliner. I sidled up to the stove, stirring the pot of oatmeal, and smiled for a test shot with my camera.

She took the first picture. Then, as we watched in helpless wonder, the lens retracted like a turtle withdrawing into its shell. The battery had spontaneously died.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

Rifling through kitchen drawers turned up AA batteries long corroded. She disappeared into her bedroom to search for more. My shoulders slumped. There wasn’t time to run to the corner store, then re-stage the scene. I barged in after my friend to tell her that there was no point, that we should sit down and enjoy breakfast—

“Wait wait don’t come in here!” she said.

The definition of true friendship: someone who will try to take the batteries out of her vibrator to help you get your photograph.

The editors didn’t use the photo, of course.

Nor did they use any of the photos a friend took of me an hour later, in a coffee shop where the only other patrons were in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (which made it a little awkward to get out a camera). My coffee had come in to-go cardboard. I went back and ordered tea for the sake of a more photogenic cup and saucer. I used a shawl to cover up my red dress’s epic color clash with the maroon crushed-velvet walls.

They also didn’t use the photos taken by the poet-professor whose class I’d visited, snapped at the Greek diner where we ate lunch. Battling fluorescent lighting and mirrored walls, we jumped to a better table—resulting in the visual non sequitur of an untouched place setting under my salad. We kept catching waiters in the background.

Nor did they use the bright, composed, mega-pixel photos my sister took with her fancy camera when we met for breakfast on P Street, hours after my return to DC.

Nope. The magazine went with the graphic of skull and crossbones on a plate.

I am left with this roster of photographs that I recognize as me at my most worn out: a bit puffy faced, a bit raccoon-eyed, and absurdly posed with a spoon, a hovering fork, a bite of bagel. All to promote a memoir dedicated to my uneasy relationship…with eating. Luckily, each photo holds a memory of being helped, that kindness, how hard we laughed at the absurdity of the task before us.

Turns out you can steal moments for “food and friends,” even on an endless book tour.


Sandra Beasley is the author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life (Crown, 2011), as well as two poetry collections: I Was the Jukebox (W. W. Norton, 2010), winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling (New Issues, 2008), winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. She lives in Washington, DC. You can find more info at and follow her on Twitter at @SandraBeasley.


Author Sarah Aronson's Unique Book Party

By Sarah Pinneo

Remember when book parties were lavish affairs? I once attended a book launch party on the selling floor of Cartier on Fifth Avenue. In order to grab for the glam hors d'oeuvres passing by, a girl could set her champagne flute down upon a glass-topped case containing several million dollars worth of jewelry.

When dinosaurs roamed the earth.

These days, book parties are author-funded. And tonight I went to a highly evolved 21st Century launch party for Sarah Aronson's excellent middle grade novel BEYOND LUCKY.  Not only did Aronson theme her party on her sporty book, she went the extra mile.  Proceeds from a silent auction and raffle will benefit the non-profit organization Grassroots Soccer Intl., which works to prevent the spread of AIDS in African youth through the power of soccer.

The main character of Aronson's novel, Ari Fish, wants to be the starting goalie of his soccer team. Yet he faces a moral dilemma, and he's studying for his bar mitzvah. "He wants to do the right thing," says Aronson. "And so do I."

Heroism is a big theme in the book.  So instead of throwing a book launch party only in glory to herself, Aronson made it something bigger--something inspirational.  And it isn't any harder to plan a benefit party than an ordinary one.  In fact, it may be easier.  Locations and vendors may be more flexible on price when the party is for a good cause.  Aronson used to collect donations for her cause.  The Norwich Bookstore set up a table in the corner and sold books to guests.

It wasn't Fifth Avenue, but there were Zabars black-and-white cookies for all the guests.  Beat that, Cartier.


Author Keith Cronin on Hearing: "You Should Do a Book Trailer"

I love this post from Keith, because it demonstrates both the variety of pressures new authors face, but also the harnessing of some very personal strengths found underneath his own roof. Making a book trailer is not for everyone, but here's how one author turned his publicity effort into a creative work of love.  And then saw results.
Sarah P.

By Keith Cronin

As the date of my book launch approached, I kept hearing this advice:

"You should do a book trailer."

Great, now authors are supposed to be movie directors, too? Wonderful. We'll just add that to our constantly growing to-do list, along with blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, chirping, and various other animal noises. Oh, and we'll do this even though there still isn't quantifiable data proving that all this stuff actually helps sell books.

Still, I'd been planning to take a shot at creating a homegrown book trailer. After all, my life partner Luna Jade is a multimedia artist with solid video editing chops, so at least I could probably get this done on the cheap. And I like to think I'm a pretty creative guy, with a good eye. How hard could making a two-minute video be?

Answer: pretty freaking hard.

When I tried to storyboard it, I kept hitting a brick wall. Everything I came up with made my book seem like either a medical thriller or some movie-of-the-week tearjerker. This is not surprising, since my book is about two young stroke victims, and is set mostly in a hospital. But my book is actually pretty funny. So how do I capture that aspect, while showing images of hospital corridors and physical therapy sessions? Finally I gave up, consoling myself that nobody had proven that book trailers actually work.

"You should do a book trailer."

This time it was Luna talking to me, while we were eating dinner. I explained that I had tried, but kept getting nowhere. And that given the number of truly awful book trailers out there (which could be the topic of a whole 'nother article), I didn't want to put out something I wasn't genuinely excited about.

"What if I wrote a song for it?" she asked. Now, this was interesting. Among her many talents, Luna is a professional singer/songwriter, and has a pretty sweet home recording studio. And she had read and loved my book, so she "got" what the book was about. Who better to capture my story?

As I began to mull this over, she started ad-libbing some lyric ideas, and immediately captured one of the metaphors I'd used in the book. I loved the initial couplet she had just reeled off, which ultimately became the first two lines of the finished song. Sitting at the table we started brainstorming about the mood and lyrical content of the song, and agreed that it might be cool to try to find a climactic place in the song to include the phrase "me again" (the title of my book), as long as it didn't seem forced or corny.

Inspired, she wrote the words and melody in a single day, and I have to say, the song sounded great. And her inspiration was contagious: suddenly I had a rush of ideas for how the video could flow.

I had storyboarded some corporate training videos, so I had some experience in combining images and timed narration. And during my abortive earlier attempts at brainstorming the trailer, I had at least isolated the three things I wanted the video to accomplish: I wanted to show that my book was funny, that it was emotional, and that there was a sense of hope to the story.

This last part was important to me, because I was finding that when I described my novel to people, they'd often say, "Wow, that sounds depressing." While there are some powerfully sad moments in the book, there is also a steadfast humor and underlying optimism. But in early drafts of my storyboards, between all the medical imagery and ominous phrases describing the problems my characters faced, I could see how the book seemed like a downer.

Having identified those goals, it was time to figure out how to achieve them. To capture the humor, I decided to start the video with the opening passage of the book, which has a nice punch line to it. The emotional part was easier to capture: we simply began listing the problems the characters faced, while the slow, plaintive beginning of Luna's song played underneath the onscreen captions. Finally, the third part: showing some hope. If you study many movie trailers, you'll notice that they often show another dimension of the story by abruptly changing the mood of the music. So that's what we did: I specifically asked Luna to try to develop a song with a slow opening, that would suddenly transition into something more upbeat. I gotta say, she knocked it out of the park. You can see and hear the final result below. 

Yeah, but will it sell books?

I have no idea. But the initial feedback I've received has been compelling:

  • It changed some bloggers' minds. Several literary bloggers have publicly commented that while they usually feel "meh" about trailers, this one actually made them want to read the book.
  • It got at least one member of my publishing house's sales force fired up about the book. She wrote to me after seeing the trailer, raving about it and promising to read the book right away, which was quite a compliment given the size of the catalog she represents. A sales rep who has actually read the book she's pitching is a powerful ally indeed.
  • It secured me at least one review. I started including a link to the trailer in my pitch letters to the big review sites, and one reviewer wrote back right away, saying, "The book trailer definitely has me interested, and I'd like to read this for review." Score!

Based on that, the trailer has already provided ample return on my investment. True, we did put a lot of time into it, but the only real cost was for the two pieces of stock video footage used in the first half of the video. And hey, even if it never sells a single book, I still ended up with a theme song for my novel, which is pretty darn cool.

But at a personal level, this was also an extremely rewarding experience. After Luna's initial offer to write a song, the two of us fell into a collaborative back-and-forth that was thrilling to experience. Luna and I are each other's biggest supporters, and we've made music together before. But we had never before collaborated in this way, and together we really did achieve something that felt greater than the sum of its parts. It was a real lesson in how inspiration can snowball when you put two minds (and hearts) together.

So if you can analyze and identify which aspects of your book you want to capture in a promotional video, and have the time and resources to find and assemble images and music (or some artistic acquaintances to assist in that task), who knows? Maybe all this is telling you something:

You should do a book trailer.