9 book publicists’ tips on how to build pre-publication buzz

By   Hannah Bickerton 8 min read

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Planning is essential to the success of any publicity campaign. When it comes to books, it can be tricky to get noticed amongst the seemingly insurmountable competition of constant new releases. It’s really crucial, then, that publicists generate lots of excitement around an upcoming book’s publication and capture people’s attention in a variety of mediums. We spoke to nine talented book publicists about the importance of planning, the key elements of creating a pre-publication buzz campaign and the results they aim to achieve.

‘Giving as much time to plan ahead is very important because there are so many outlets, podcasts, blogs, websites and traditional media to reach and communicate with – allowing as much time as possible really helps create a stand-out campaign. The pre-buzz campaign would be to have a large piece of coverage in traditional media such as a print newspaper and then its online platform. This is then followed by the book being shared on influential social media accounts the week of publication– making it desirable to their audiences. Then the book should be seen on websites and in short-lead media, and be visible in as many different platforms as possible.’ | Fiona Smith, founder of the publicity agency Smith & Baxter.

‘It’s essential to plan ahead for long-lead publications, such as magazines, and national newspaper supplements. However, if left to the last minute, it’s still possible to gain pieces with a shorter lead time, such as radio, online and dailies. It’s always a case of better late than never! We always aim to get our clients radio, print and online as this gives a broad range of exposure. However, the results vary depending on the goals of the author as well as the topic and quality of the book. Some clients want a targeted reputational campaign – a broadsheet piece, BBC Radio 4 slot and a weekly magazine, whilst others are more concerned with targeting a specific niche market. The content and themes of a book dictate the parameters of the campaign. If the story links to the news agenda, has original research or high-profile contributors or endorsements, this will help to increase coverage.’ | Sophie Toumazis, CEO and founder of tpr media consultants.

‘For a novel it is hugely helpful to have proofs six months in advance of publication. One of the reasons to send out proofs well in advance is that monthly magazines work with a longer lead time. It is also so competitive for review space now that it is best to flag books early to reviewers and literary editors. A pre-publication buzz can be created by finding early champions for the book across social media platforms – book bloggers, industry people, other authors. Then by using acclaim cards to share any early praise so it creates a sense of FOMO in everyone. What can be achieved in certain cases is that a book in proof becomes highly sought after and you find the media and journalists coming to you, rather than the other way round, and this can be incredibly helpful in setting a narrative of success for the campaign.’ | Georgina Moore, Director of Books and Publishing at Midas PR.

Key elements in creating a pre-publication buzz would include:
– Serial sale to a national newspaper or high-circulation magazine.
– Proof copy mailing to a range of influencers and opinion formers.
– Highlight coverage in the trade press, particularly The Bookseller – author profile, book of the month selection, etc.
– Meet-the-author events for the book trade – either virtual or ‘in the room’.
– A classy media kit including social media assets, any video footage, plus a well-written press release and high-definition visuals.
– Setting up a programme of author events, including festival, bookshop and cultural centre – e.g. Southbank – appearances.’ | Dotti Irving, Chief Executive, Culture at Four Communications.

Planning is paramount. For major campaigns, I often plan up to a year ahead, thinking about the readership, events strategy, potential UK tour if the author is abroad, feature ideas, getting to know the author, pitching to long-lead monthly magazines who work four months ahead. Publicity is all about time management and getting in touch with the right outlets at the right time. Generating pre-publication word-of-mouth buzz is vital for a successful publicity campaign. I aim to get bloggers and journalists who I know will love the book to become early champions and post about it on their social platforms and blogs. Internal trade excitement is also useful. e.g. articles in The Bookseller, getting fellow colleagues to become champions or offering free copies of the book out to colleagues. In terms of campaign results, I’d hope to achieve as much coverage across the broadest range of platforms possible to reach the widest range of readers, whether that’s through reviews, features, interviews, extracts in print and online, events, podcasts or radio.’ | Milly Reid, Senior Publicity Manager at Quercus Books & MacLehose Press.

‘Publicity is certainly not an exact science – you can plan every detail only for something unexpected to happen that changes the course of a campaign completely. Perhaps a smaller component of the campaign takes off in a big way so then you pivot to make that a focus, or something happens in the wider news agenda that you can lean into or perhaps need to move away from – anything can happen! So it is important to be agile and reactive. However…! The easiest way to stay nimble is to know your author, book, audience, campaign… inside out, and that comes with detailed, strategic planning. Having a top-line campaign plan in place from the start is a key way to ensure those early buzz-building activities are agreed and happen on time. A long run up to a publication date is especially key when it comes to breaking a debut novelist, but the way that time is used to create the biggest pre-publication buzz can vary according to the book and its market. It might be spending time taking an author round the country meeting the mighty booksellers who will come to hand-sell their novel, or connecting them with the blogger community who can make their cover reveal go viral on Twitter, or having early journalist meetings to make sure they know this is THE book they need to read and review next year. Having as much time as possible allows a publicist to really focus on those early grass roots of a campaign, which can make the world of difference.’ | Ellie Hughes, Head of PR at Penguin’s Michael Joseph.

‘The ideal timeframe for starting your publicity and marketing strategy is six months before publication date. Start by working out who your target reader is then mapping where they spend their time, what they read, watch and listen to (newspapers/online/magazines/TV shows/radio/podcasts). Where do they get their book recommendations? Is your book genre a popular one for book bloggers? You need to build up a team of ambassadors who will help you to achieve the holy grail of marketing: word-of-mouth recommendations! Whether a potential reader hears about you on the radio, or sees your book on their Twitter feed, or they watch a YouTube video review, well, it’s all about letting them know your book is out there, and that it’s too good for them to not snap up! But PR and marketing of books and authors is about so much more than ‘just’ sales, isn’t it? It’s about opening doors for that author to appear at literary festivals, sign a bigger book deal, talk at that massive conference, build awareness about a wider message, or a brand, or a business… for each campaign success means something different to every author.’ | Helen Lewis, Director of publicity agency Literally PR.

The more time you have to build a PR campaign the better. Time to be creative, liaise with all the authors and other publishing departments so that you are all pulling together with a clear direction and building a timeline of activity all help towards gaining strong visibility. Arresting proofs are a key element of pre-publication buzz campaigns. The further ahead you can use these to build awareness with journalists, influencers and social media users – particularly book bloggers – the better. Author and celebrity endorsements are also incredibly useful to build excitement. And of course, many of the key media outlets and book festivals plan many months in advance too. Results that you’d hope to see include huge visibility on social media, building pre-orders and bookseller support and agreed media slots a long way ahead of the pub date.’ | Caitlin Raynor, Head of Publicity at Hachette’s Headline.

‘While a cliché, publicity is always a marathon as opposed to a sprint so planning in advance of publication date is ideal. The timing of when a publicity campaign should begin varies based upon genre and authors goals but, for fiction in particular, it’s always best to have more time prior to launch. The key elements of planning a pre-publication campaign are identifying your core audience(s), building out key media targets, and developing a strong press release. These elements will always be at the foundation of a campaign as you move closer and closer to publication date. All efforts should have your core audience(s) in mind at all times, and they should be the driver of what media outlets you – or your publicity team – are targeting at any given time. As for your media targets, it’s important to start with an initial list, including a mixture of top-tier and audience-specific outlets, and continue building upon it as you progress through your outreach and research. New entities will likely emerge along the way as you dive deeper and deeper into the areas that you find are most impactful for your project and message. While book sales and other new business or platform-building opportunities are always top of mind, the elevated credentials and increased discoverability that comes from publicity is the result we’re always targeting. Finding a balance between quality media coverage and a robust quantity of awareness should be at the heart of any publicity strategy.’ | Smith Publicity, New Jersey, US.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.