Colour PR Co-Founder Daniel Freeman on BookTok, promotional strategy and successful non-fiction book campaigns

By   Hannah Bickerton 8 min read

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Daniel Freeman is the co-founder and director of London-based arts and culture public relations agency Colour PR, who are celebrating their fifth anniversary this year. He is a PR specialist with 17 years’ experience working across consumer and B2B PR for brands in the publishing, arts, technology and entertainment sectors. Daniel is an accomplished non-fiction book publicist who has helped to launch and promote dozens of authors and titles across genres such as business, self-help, current affairs, health and education. He has held senior positions at various London-based PR agencies and worked with publishers and industry brands such as Bonnier, Usborne, Simon & Schuster, Routledge, Pavilion, Pan Macmillan, W.F. Howes, Audible and industry professionals.

Hi, Daniel. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and how Colour PR was founded?

When I first started out working in PR at a small/medium-sized London agency, press releases were still being sent by post, and in some cases fax machines – just to give you an idea of how long ago we’re talking! I did some really fun stuff like work on Magners during that famous summer when cider-on-ice became cool, and I also promoted some fairly offbeat products like office shredders and printer cartridges (believe it or not, somebody has to do it!). In 2010, I moved to an arts agency and was introduced to the wonderful world of publishing. Having spent seven years working across all kinds of bookish projects – doing the PR for publishers, book tech companies, book fairs and book prizes, as well as loads of non-fiction book campaigns as a publicist – it was time to move on.

I was already pretty sure that I wanted to work for myself, but it was only after going for a drink with a couple of colleagues who had also recently left the agency that I realised that this dream could actually become a reality, and that I didn’t necessarily need to do it alone. My fellow co-founders of Colour PR – Zekra and Liz – were already great friends of mine, and between us we had a fantastic rapport and different types of experience to offer. And, by luck, it turned out they were also looking for a similar challenge too. The idea of creating our own brand, establishing our own identity and vision, working with people we liked on projects we felt passionate about quickly became a mouth-watering prospect and within a few months we were ready to get out there into the big, bad world. And that’s how Colour PR came into existence – almost five years ago to this day – and we haven’t looked back, or come up for air, since!

What are some of the key differences when it comes to promoting non-fiction books in comparison to fiction? How much does the genre influence the promotional approach taken?

There are a few similarities, but in general we’re talking about two completely different beasts that require very distinctive skill sets and approaches from publicists. Fiction publicists probably benefit from having more review opportunities and author interview slots, in addition to larger and more engaged book blogger networks and social media communities. A great deal of creativity is often needed from fiction publicists to make the author’s personal story and narrative really stand out.

Meanwhile, depending on the book, non-fiction can often lend itself well to news and feature generation, particularly if the subject matter being tackled in the book is topical, current and fresh. You also have the added benefit of being able to tap into the expertise of an author, who is frequently an expert in their field with a range of interesting opinions that can be placed as interview angles and comment pieces. For a lot of the non-fiction campaigns we have taken on during this last year at Colour PR we have taken a community-led approach, working hard to create a buzz around a book within dedicated communities and networks with specific interests around the topics covered within our books.

Can you talk us through some recent book campaigns you’ve worked on, how their promotional strategies were developed and why they were effective?

Firstly, we worked on Not Quite White, Laila Woozeer’s stunning memoir exploring mixed-race identity in the UK. Our campaign offered a national platform to an underrepresented voice, while helping the book to reach the country’s fastest growing mixed-race population. We worked closely with Laila to develop all kinds of media angles for interviews and op-eds exploring the topics of race, ethnicity and belonging. Highlights included: a thought-provoking piece in the Guardian; a first-person piece in Stylist; two widely debated articles in the Metro; further hits on Dazed, Mashable, BBC London and Aurelia; and plenty of attention on social media, particularly among mixed-race commentators and Instagrammers. This campaign was a huge success, partly due to the author’s ability to resonate and engage while being bold and unafraid to tackle controversial themes, but also because of the creativity involved in placing Laila and the book in all the right places to reach her target audiences.

Another title we thoroughly enjoyed working on was insect expert George McGavin’s audiobook original, All Creatures Small and Great. Working on audio exclusives has its own set of unique challenges, but our campaign, which was designed to make the most of George’s unrivalled expertise in the field, did a great job at both promoting the audiobook and highlighting the crucial role insects play in the natural world. We placed a full page “Six-legged national treasures” feature and map in the Sunday Express and secured big spreads and interviews in the Sunday Mail and Scotland on Sunday. George penned an op-ed in Country Life on what the world would be like without insects and appeared on several radio shows, including BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright Show. We also ran special promos with the Royal Entomological Society and Dorset Wildlife Trust to reach their dedicated networks of wildlife lovers. Again, this a solid example of how a book PR campaign can reach a broad audience but also appeal to niche, dedicated communities of potential readers/listeners.

In what ways is the growing popularity of ‘bookfluencers’ and online book communities, such as Bookstagram and BookTok, impacting the world of book PR?

You really cannot underestimate the influence and impact these communities can have on a book’s success, especially in a world where book-related column inches in newspapers and magazines are ebbing away, and younger readers aren’t really consuming mainstream media in the same way anymore.

Publicists have been harnessing the power of book bloggers, BookTubers, book Twitter and Bookstagram as integral elements of their book campaigns for many years now. And BookTok now presents a whole new level of opportunity, especially when you see how titles published a decade ago, or by completely unknown self-published authors, are propelled to bestseller status overnight purely by virtue of going viral on TikTok.

Most of our recent non-fiction book campaigns at Colour PR have featured activity across these platforms in some shape or form and we are increasingly working with authors who are mindful of the value book influencers can bring to a book campaign and in helping them reach new audiences that were perhaps previously considered out of reach.

Which of these online communities and social media platforms do you think are best suited to non-fiction authors and why?

As much as I rate BookTok for the impact it is having on the book industry, I would definitely say that up until now fiction has certainly been the main beneficiary. Driven by the whims of BookTok creators, this success has mostly been organic, however publishers are increasingly allocating marketing spend towards TikTok in an effort to go out on the front foot, exploit this huge potential and make their front-list fiction titles go viral.

For non-fiction publicity, I would say we’ve had the most success and engagement on Instagram for our recent campaigns. There is a Bookstagram community out there for all kinds of non-fiction genres and topics, and it can be thoroughly rewarding when you build a collaborative community of influencers around your title/author and see the book prosper as a result.

What advice would you give to independent authors when it comes to harnessing the power of online book communities to promote their books?

The first and most important thing to do is to really understand the audience of your book and learn as much as you can about who your potential book buyers are most likely to be. Think about age, sex, gender, geographical area, interests, but also where this audience exists, what they read, how they engage and interact with content, and also how authors with similar books in similar disciplines have reached and targeted them successfully before. The temptation is to get your book on every platform possible but, in reality, your book might not be relevant or appealing to certain influencers and their audiences, so it’s really important to narrow that down and take a targeted approach.

Once the ‘who’ has been established you have to get into the ‘how’ and ‘what’. Think about how these book communities generally work with authors and learn about the approaches that work best, then consider what you can offer – whether it’s giveaways to their followers, simple book reviews, a blog tour or live Q&A’s offering up your expertise. And last but not least, spend a lot of time exploring what kind of content and tones work on each platform before launching into any activity – the last thing you want is to look out of place or to come across pushy. For example, everybody knows that Instagram content is predominantly visually appealing, so maybe think about providing a gift package with items that complement your book to send to relevant Bookstagrammers.

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.