Laura Rossi Totten has over twenty years of experience as a book publishing and public relations professional. In New York City, she ran publicity campaigns for many celebrity and bestselling authors at such prestigious publishing houses as Random House / Bantam Doubleday Dell and W.W. Norton & Company, with authors including Terry McMillan, Stephen King, and Danielle Steel. In September 2011, Laura Rossi Totten makes her publishing debut as a contributor to MAKE MINE A DOUBLE edited by Gina Barreca. The book is a collection of witty, intelligent, and provocative pieces from a diverse community of voices including such luminaries as Fay Weldon, Wendy Liebman, and Amy Bloom. Here, she answers 5 questions from She Writes intern Isabel Farhi about how to market a book, and how that has changed in the past years.
You have worked with some big-name clients as well as lesser-known ones. What are the major differences between the publicity campaigns for a new author as opposed to an already established author?
During my twenty-plus years in book publicity, I have had the honor of working with first-time novelists, Pulitzer-Prize winners, celebrity authors, and NYTimes bestsellers. In my opinion, one of the main differences between publicity campaigns is traditional media reception. An established author has a media history -- one that is comprised of, for example, NPR interviews, book reviews in major dailies, tv interviews and trade recognition from places like Publishers Weekly. With each new book, an established author builds his brand, his readership and his media exposure. Unlike established authors, new authors have to work harder to get the big breaks (or any breaks!) in traditional media circles.
Fortunately, online and social media have leveled the playing field. New authors are reviewed alongside bestselling authors and internet success can catapult a new author into the media spotlight and onto bestseller lists in an instant.
Since you began working as a publicist, the publishing industry has changed significantly. How has the Internet changed your strategies in publicity? What are you doing now that you would not have done ten or twenty years ago?
The internet, including social media like Facebook and Twitter and now Google +, has transformed the way I do publicity both for authors and other clients. Ten years ago, publishers were not carving out specific internet strategies for authors. Today, it’s crucial for every author to have an online presence -- hopefully a combination of social media, an attractive web site and a blog. My publicity campaigns always include online publicity -- for authors that means reviews, giveaways, blog book tours, blog hops and more. Twenty years ago, when I started in book publishing at Viking Penguin (publicity) I never could have imagined being hired by major publishers to create and implement online book publicity campaigns! And now, this is a thriving piece of my business.
You, as opposed to many people on She Writes, work with industries outside of publishing. What adjustments do you make when you’re working with books instead of a store or firm?
Because I have worked both in-house and at a p.r. agency (and both within and outside of the book publishing industry), I bring unique experience and a very creative vision to my public relations work. I like to think about it this way: I build my campaigns with the “Best Of…” -- that is the best of my book publicity experience, the best of my agency experience and the Best of everything I’ve learned from authors, businesses, non-profits and all the creative people I’ve been lucky to represent all these years. In fact, my Twitter feed (@BookPRGirl -- please follow me!) has been named a Top Book Publicity Twitter Feed 2011 by GalleyCat/MediaBistro.
Like my clients, I’m diversified. I work with all kinds of media. I’m as comfortable with book review editors as I am with economists. I’m not frazzled by tight deadlines. I bring the best tactics to all of my campaigns -- I have learned so much from my different bosses, clients and authors. And finally, I have deep contacts across a wide variety of industries.
The main difference between books and products: the length of the campaign (companies often hire me on retainer and I’m part of the full-time team; authors sometimes hire me for a short span of time surrounding a book’s publication or for a specific book related project). Regardless of the product, I bring my “A” game to all clients and customize each campaign. And I never take “NO” for answer!
You recently started to write by contributing to an anthology. How does your career as a publicist inform your writing? Do you plan to continue writing?
Many publishing people have unfulfilled dreams of becoming authors. I’m no exception!
Recently, fellow She Writer Gina Barreca (also a friend and client) invited me to contribute to her new collection Make Mine A Double. (Thank you Gina!) The collection will be published on September 13 by the University Press of New England. My first author copy arrived yesterday and I had to pinch myself after I opened the UPS package to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!
My secret confession: I’d love to write my own book. I love writing (In addition to the new anthology, I blog at www.MySoCalledSensoryLife.com -- the blog is on Babble.com’s Top Mom Blogs List and I’m a Circle of Moms Top 25 Inspiring Blog. Of course, I’m always on She Writes.com). I write all the time -- for my blog, for work, for my clients. Exercising my writing muscle regularly has made me a stronger writer, more creative and poised for the future writing opportunities. My writing fantasy -- to sit on the author side of the publishing equation and have my own publicist one day!
Do you have any advice for an author who is trying to publicize her own book, regardless of whether it was self-published or with published with a traditional house?
Network, network, network. Read, write, research, build your platform. Blog. Google. Create your online identity. Find friends, fans. Meet other authors. Use Facebook and Twitter and Google + and most of all join a writing community like She Writes (I’m serious!) where you can meet other writers, learn about publishing, get advice.
Offer free copies of your book. Write content for sites and offer it for free (this is publicity!).
Consider hiring a publicist -- I did a blog re-launch for a writer and 8 months later, she has a book deal with a major publisher!
I also encourage all writers (self-published included) to reach out to your local media. Offer to write for your local newspaper or invite an editor to lunch and give her a copy of your book.
You never know who might be reading…
Look at Laura's chapter, Mom's Club, in the anthology Make Mine a Double!
Check out Laura's website to find out more about what she does!