Prior to publishing my food memoir, Tasting Home, with She Writes Press (in March of 2013), I had published five books with traditional academic houses. The world of academic publishing at that time was completely different from today’s world of publishing for a general audience. In my former life as a professor, I was unfamiliar with the word “platform”-- except as it referred to “principles,” “a flat, raised, horizontal surface,” or possibly a trendy shoe. I had never sent a query, posted a blog, used Twitter, visited Goodreads, or heard of Pinterest, and had only joined Facebook to keep track of my daughter’s life. The idea of hiring a publicist had never occurred to me. It was this lack of experience, coupled with lightning changes in the world of book publishing, that led to some recent mistakes. Here’s what I’d do if I had it to do all over again.
1. I wish I had begun researching publicists from the moment I signed my contract with She Writes Press. Yes, publicists are expensive, some more than others, but I underestimated how much work publishing for, and marketing to, a general audience would be. Two months before my publication date, I was completely fraught from having waged a lengthy campaign to secure permissions for the recipes in Tasting Home. I had started my own blog while continuing to contribute to iPinion.com. I was tweeting, pinning, establishing a presence on Goodreads, reading and re-reading proofs. I had also downloaded and perused six notebooks full of blog posts on topics like domain names, SEO, mailing lists, pings, platforms, web sites, blogs and, seemingly, all other forms of other social media (Seven Sins Never To Commit on Twitter!) The idea of marketing a book all by myself had begun to seem overwhelming. I decided to give a few discreet tasks to a publicist, justifying the expense as a form of therapy. I would hire a publicist to keep myself from going mad.
2. I wish I had hired a publicist three to six months before the publication date of my book. As one of my publicists has since informed me, it is not just major review journals that require a copy of the book well before it is published, magazines and major newspapers also require months of lead time for reviews. In March, for example, the month Tasting Home appeared, some major outlets were only looking at books due to be published in October. This is just one reason I wish I had settled on a public relations person well in advance of my publication.
3. I wish I had hired one publicist to do everything. Because I was reluctant to spend money, I ended up hiring three different publicists at three different times to do different, and increasingly expensive, things. They did them well and guided me to several important decisions, but the decentralization and schedule I had unwittingly imposed worked against me. I hired my first public relations person, for example, to write a press kit for $250. Her first sample sentence made me painfully aware that I could never write about myself and my work in such a commanding way. I needed her—badly. She also prompted me to submit to the Huffington Post, an action I would probably never have initiated on my own. I did submit a post, “A Valentine for My Gay Ex-Husband,” and got 10,700 likes and 600 comments. The piece was then republished (in French) in the Paris edition. Who knew? Because the piece appeared a month before the book came out, and because I had made my book available on Amazon for preorder, its reception led to an initial, and quite satisfying, spike in sales.
A month before my publication date, I hired another publicist to do a blog tour for $1500. This hard-working woman got me many on line reviews and guest spots on over 20 blogs and shows. I wrote blog posts and prepped for interviews every day for a solid month. If I had been searching for outlets on my own, and if I had found even half of what I ended up with, which is unlikely, I don’t know how I could have also done the writing and preparation they required.
This publicist also managed to have Tasting Home reviewed by Independent Publisher and made sure I entered their contest, a contest I had never even heard of before. Tasting Home ended up winning an Independent Publisher Award in May. She arranged a Goodreads giveaway. Some 600 entered, and the number marking the book “to read” went from 0 to 576. She was great, and worth every penny, but in terms of timing, it made no sense to do a blog tour and then decide, as I later did, to try for print as well.
I hired my third publicist after my book appeared and just after I received a handsome, and unexpected, refund on my income taxes. For $1000 to $1200 a month, she has also done a splendid job, but I hired her too late for major media outlets and for a lot of print. I’ve done readings, events, guest blogs, radio shows, and we’ve marketed to reading groups and food studies professors (after I discovered that a colleague was teaching my memoir in her food studies class). She is so encouraging that I sometimes slip and refer to her as my therapist. And, once again, I don’t know how I would have managed the research and scheduling on top of writing, prepping for interviews, driving to readings, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, Goodreading, and pinning my heart out.
In the end, I paid as much for three publicists as many spend for one who does it all. I’ll never know if one publicist would have led me to all the good decisions that the three proposed, but one publicist, hired months before publication, could have coordinated the press kit with the blog tour and the print outreach, scheduling the latter far earlier in the process. Still, even with my bad timing, having others doing the research, sending the inquiries, fielding the replies, scheduling events, suggesting topics for posts, and cheering me on has given me a reassuring sense of having that part of my life under control. Best of all--all things being relative--I have not gone mad, and to me, that’s money well spent.
Professor Emerita, UC Davis
Women and Gender Studies
Tasting Home, She Writes Press, 2013