Building Your Platform: Tips from a Top Publicist

“Platform” is the current publishing buzzword. If you’re an author and don’t have one, you’re not likely to interest a publisher, and you’re not going to sell many books. Not having a platform is bad for authors—and it’s bad for their ghostwriters.

An author’s platform is the marketing engine that draws an audience to the author and his or her message. It starts with an existing social network or fan base, and must become a dynamic and powerful force that attracts the kind of attention that generates sales.

There are many elements to an author’s platform, including Web sites, blogs, social media sites, reviews, articles, interviews, book signings, and speaking engagements. Today, we’re going to focus on the role a publicist plays in platform-building, by getting authors and their books exposure at events and in the media.

I talked to Charlotte Tomic, who started her career in publishing at Simon & Schuster and currently represents authors and university professors through her Miami-based agency, Tomic Communications (917-882-5243). What follows is her advice on getting the most out of the author-publicist relationship, and how ghostwriters fit into the equation.

How can authors find a good publicist?

“There are lots of great publicists out there, and the most important thing to look for is how you fit with each other. You’re going to have an intense relationship, and you’ve got to like your publicist! It also helps to find someone with a track record helping authors, because they’ll know how to get maximum exposure for your book.”

Does it matter where your publicist is located?

“Unless you have a specific niche title that’s geared to a single location, you want someone who can help you locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. I have a current client who’s getting their book translated into Chinese, and we’re researching media outlets and events in China.”

What can authors expect from a good publicist?

“The key is strategy and accountability. When I work with an author, I create a targeted list of media outlets that will likely review his or her book or do an interview. I also arrange book signings and speaking engagements at bookstores, universities, libraries, and other venues. Overall, I keep my authors updated at all times, and make sure they know that I’m working hard for them. To make my work most effective for each author, I focus on media and events that are appropriate for their subject matter, and I position them to reporters as experts on their topic…I also try my best not to overwhelm my clients. Sometimes there’s a flurry of publicity that’s unavoidable, and it’s a good problem to have, but I do my best to keep a steady stream of publicity at a manageable pace. That’s really important, especially for authors who have other careers or busy family lives.”

What do publicists need from authors to make the relationship work?

“Publicists need review copies of the author’s book, preferably in advance of official publication. I’ve helped authors after the fact, but it’s much easier to get news outlets interested in books that are yet to be released. Publicists also need authors who can respond quickly when interviews and speaking opportunities materialize. I want the authors I represent to be excited by and engaged in the process, and I want them to keep the lines of communication open.”

What’s the life cycle of an author-publicist relationship?

“It depends. I have authors who I’ve worked with for years, who benefit from the momentum gained from ongoing publicity. I require a three-month minimum contract, and then it goes from there. Once you start getting reviews, you can use them to get more publicity, and on and on and on. Publicity builds on itself and generates larger and larger followings — and customers — for authors.”

How can a ghostwriter help an author get publicity?

“Having a ghostwriter involved can be a great plus. This person knows the book as well as or better than the author does, and can be a big help writing articles and even responding to interview questions in writing or when the author’s not available. I love working with author-ghostwriter teams, and it’s a smart author who includes their ghostwriter in the publicity process.”

Any advice for author’s web sites or blogs?

“Web sites and blogs should be interactive and user friendly. I don’t like sites that are just one big sales pitch. Authors that are seen as providing valuable tips and information, without saying “Me! Me! Me!” all the time, are going to do better in the long run. The best thing an author can do, on their web site or in any other medium, is comment on things that are relevant to your subject matter and show people that you’re doing research and adding value.”

What are your thoughts about social media tools like Facebook and Twitter?

“I have mixed feelings about social media. It’s great for tying into particular dates or occasions, like Mother’s Day or a book signing you’re doing, but so many people use it for meaningless things. I encourage authors to join groups to promote themselves as experts without overtly selling. It goes hand in hand with what I do for them and can get them to the next level professionally.”

Thanks, Charlotte!

[Photo by bleublogger]