producing documentary books

Producing Documentary Books: Coordinating Publicity

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As I near the end of my series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books, the discussion turns to coordinating publicity. After the launch, there are still critical weeks ahead where the window for potential book sales is wide open.

Dating the rock carvings at Petroglyph National Monument is a quagmire; many etchings are actually modern-day vandal art. Another threat to the site is suburban development as Albuquerque grows to the edges of the volcanic cones. (Jain Lemos, Petroglyph National Monument, NM; 2014.)
Dating the rock carvings at Petroglyph National Monument is a quagmire; many etchings are actually modern-day vandal art. Another threat to the site is suburban development as Albuquerque grows to the edges of the volcanic cones. (Jain Lemos, Petroglyph National Monument, NM; 2014.)

The challenging thing about publicity is that it comes down to connections. Unlike marketing, where just about anyone will gladly take your advertising dollars, publicity is about pitching the authors and the book’s story to people with large audiences. There is an old saying, “Marketing is something you pay for. Publicity is something you hope for.”

If you hire a publicist, they can’t promise you coverage, but the advantage of having one on board is to access their relationships with influential contacts such as magazine writers, radio talk show hosts, bloggers and television producers. Make sure their channel of prospects is solid and proven. Some titles are so niche that you might have a better database. Whether you hire someone or handle publicity yourself, get specifics and work with percentage targets instead of guarantees. For example, if you send a pitch package to 200 media prospects and 10 percent agree to feature your book, that’s 20 articles or interviews.

Start by mapping out strategies by segment and location. Unless you have a big name tied to your book or other ins with top venues, there may no point in trying to penetrate major markets in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Instead, work the outskirts where you are more likely to be picked up. Your authors need to commit to their availability well in advance. Sometimes it’s easier to book them solid over a two-three week period. Then, you need to factor in appearances at trade shows, conferences and tie-in events. Use a sharable master calendar and as events are booked, blast out notices through social media accounts. Stay super organized and ask for help if you find yourself overwhelmed.

Radio is one of the easiest venues to pitch. Documentary books typically have more than one author but radio interviews are better with one person. Divide the authors up by regions or type of show. When sending your query, include a list of compelling questions for the host and make sure the authors have answers prepared! One drawback is that visual books can’t translate to a listening audience. That means the authors need to find another way to engage everyone. They might talk about their personal approach to the documentary topic or discuss what they learned and what surprised them.

Speaking engagements can also be easy to book, especially in smaller cities. Package your show as a one hour lecture (with plenty of photos!). Emphasize that it is free and open to the public or can be tailored specifically for a certain membership. These are somewhat akin to book signings but if you can’t sell books at the venue, then hand out cards with a promo code for a discount and easy instructions to buy the book. See if a local bookstore will honor a coupon. Beyond usual bookstore signing venues think about platforms where you’ll be in front of your target audience. Don’t rule out local lunch clubs, community centers, assisted living complexes, churches, school auditoriums, independent theaters or any building with a large space ready for a presentation.

Trying to get attention for anything requires perseverance, especially in a world where spans are short. If you did a good job of preselling non-returnable books and calculated your print run correctly, publicity becomes icing on the cake. Keep perspective and remember to stay engaged with your core audience and their concentric circles. Stay excited about all the work you’ve done to get to this point. It’s a big achievement!

I hope you have enjoyed my series as much as I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge. Next week, I will finish with Starting the Next Book. Now it’s time for my own publicity stunt: I’ll be giving a lecture on this topic in ABQ on Wednesday, October 22 for the ASMP New Mexico Chapter.

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