Publicist and author Natalie Obando-Desai on defining your target readers, promoting in the US and standing out in a saturated market

By   Hannah Bickerton 10 min read

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Natalie Obando-Desai is the founder of Do Good Public Relations and the author of How to Get Publicity for Your Book. She started working in the PR industry in 2008 and her love for books and PR transpired into the career of her dreams as a literary publicist. She has been a panelist and speaker at some of the most well-regarded literary conferences in the industry, including the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, The West Coast Writer’s Conference and the Central Coast Writer’s Conference. Natalie is also a judge for several book awards, including the highly sought Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association. 


After recognizing the need for businesses, brands and people to become more socially conscious within their community and around the world, Natalie formed Do Good Public Relations Group. She combined her years of experience in PR to serve her clients and a greater purpose. Her unique and generous business model makes it easy for clients to know they made a difference in the world while she provides them with the best campaign possible.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you founded Do Good PR and why it is different from other PR agencies?


I absolutely love books. Books were what kept me in love with a world that I often felt alienated from growing up poor and often in nonideal circumstances. My mother always had a library card, and books and their authors became somewhat of babysitters to me. Since then, I’ve never been without a book in my hands, backpack or purse, and I always knew that I would work in the literary world in some manner. When I first founded Do Good PR in 2014, I had been working in book publicity since 2007 with a literary PR firm where I started as an intern. I always liked to tie the campaigns that I was working on with a greater purpose (events that gave back to local charities, portions of sales going to non-profits, etc.) and when the company moved, I knew that I wanted to maintain that ability to connect campaigns and social good with everything that I did. My former boss mentored me and helped me to form my own company, Do Good PR. Do Good PR is different in that we are constantly creating innovative and cutting-edge campaigns while working on making the world, whether in publishing or beyond, a better place. Through the efforts linked with each campaign, and through our own mission to create a more equitable world in publishing and beyond, our clients know that while they are doing good for themselves, they are also doing good for the world. 


What is a common myth or misconception about book marketing and publicity that you wish more authors knew before publishing?


A common misconception that authors have about book marketing and/or publicity is that if they are traditionally published, their publisher will do all the marketing and PR work for them. This is simply not true, and unfortunately authors often find this out when their book isn’t getting the attention and/or the sales that they wished for. Authors should understand that the journey doesn’t end at the completion of the manuscript. If you want a successful and long-running career as a writer, you have to understand all aspects of it—that includes marketing and publicity. It’s extremely important for authors to ask their publisher about marketing and publicity efforts and plans that are already in place. Once an author knows what those plans are, they are better equipped to understand where they may need an extra boost from a publicist or where they might need to jump in a bit more.


How do you think marketing and publicity have changed and adapted in the publishing industry over the past few years?


Book marketing and publicity are ever-evolving. With the dawn of social media it can be really easy to get your book in front of the right audience, but it can also be very confusing if you are just getting to understand the ins and outs of marketing and publicity. With the ability and the direct access to more people, there is also a flood of more information and ads, so consumers are constantly being pulled in a million different directions. But the key to marketing and public relations remains the same as always and that is being able to grab and maintain the consumer’s attention long enough for them to want to learn more.


Considering the vast landscape of the US and variants of different state characteristics, how do you tackle this when it comes to preparing a campaign and building this into your strategy?


Each campaign’s strategy is different, not just because of this but also because of the content of the book and the story behind the author. We read each book we work on cover to cover, and while we do, we always ask ourselves and our authors about strategic tie-ins. Does the book connect to specific locations? Does the author have connections to certain locales? We utilize all that information, and we also do a very in-depth interview with our authors prior to the start of their campaign. This helps them to flush out some connections and ideas that they might not have ever considered when thinking about their book or their campaign. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to book publicity; however, there are some elements of a book campaign that we can always count on. For example, pitching trade, genre and niche are typically constants in our campaigns and those tend not to be affected by states and their characteristics unless of course we are discussing Southern Gothic, or a genre of that nature.


How does your approach and strategy for book campaigns change depending on the genre of book you are promoting?


Book publicity is not cookie cutter even when it comes to grouping them into genres. Each book answers a ‘why?’ for its readers, therefore the content we create and market is unique to each book and campaign. However, the genres that tend to be the most distinct in the different methods of pitching are fiction vs. non-fiction. Usually with fiction, we are pitching the story (mainly) and an emotional connection to the story and its characters. When pitching fiction, the author tends to be a secondary pitch, unless there is a really great story or tie-in with the author that needs to be told. Fiction tends to be a very emotion-driven campaign because we want readers to emotionally connect with what we are showing them about the book so that they want more. With non-fiction, especially if it has to do with an expertise, we are pitching the credibility of the author and the author’s platform. There is some crossover between the two but those are really the most distinct.


How do you strike the balance between promoting the book and the author? And which is more important?


First, I really get to know the author and what they would like more than anything. Promoting both are equally important, especially if we are promoting a non-fiction book and more so promoting the author’s expertise. However, some authors want to stay out of the limelight as much as possible and want to have little to do with that direct connection to promotion. I always recommend that if authors are in it for the long haul, they get used to and somewhat comfortable with promotional interactions. It’s important for potential readers and your audience to connect with and get to know you and your writing on a more personal level if you are comfortable with that. We don’t necessarily try and strike a balance, but we do try and see what feels the most natural and authentic to the author and the flow of the campaign.


In such a saturated market, how do you ensure that a book stands out against their competitors?


The right content is key in a saturated market. There is so much content being generated everywhere right now that people’s attention spans are limited as well as being pulled everywhere. When it comes to discoverability, what’s most important is that you know your market. And I’m not talking about a demographic like ‘women 18 and over.’ No, that is just too vague and general. In this day and age you need to get very specific about who your audience is and why you or your book should be important to them and build content and pitches from that. It’s important that you spend time to get to know your consumer’s likes and get to know the editors and producers you will be pitching to. The easiest way to do this is via social media. Follow the people you want to cover your book and see what type of content they are posting. How do you and your book fit into that? Follow people who write books that are comparable to yours and see what their audiences are responding to. Does your book or do you have something that you can share that you think these audiences will connect with? The way to stand out is simply to connect on an emotional level with your audience, but you have to know who your audience is in order to do so.


What advice would you give to authors looking to promote their book pre- and post-publication with a limited budget?


  1. Know what your goals are. When beginning a PR campaign, set goals for yourself. It’s really hard to do it all, so really narrow down what you are looking to achieve. Be specific and set some attainable KPIs for markers of success.
  2. Get organized. Find who you want to reach out to and get to know their lead times and if they have rules to being pitched. Also, make a list of all the people you want to reach out to. I find it’s great to use an Excel or Google spreadsheet for this because you can collect their information and keep track of your pitching efforts and their information.
  3. Do your research. It’s fairly easy to get contact information these days of people who you want to review your book, but it doesn’t always mean that you should. Make sure to note if reviewers have notes how to and how NOT to solicit them. Make sure that you are thoughtful and respectful in your outreach to them.
  4. Be realistic. Yes, it’s great to shoot for the stars but be humble and self-aware. Book reviewers and producers are inundated with requests and respond to kindness more than they do demands. 
  5. Opt for trade reviews. If you are able to, send out your books for trade reviews first (Kirkus, School Library Journal, etc.). It typically takes about 8-12 weeks for a reviewer to read and review a book, so allow for that amount of time prior to your book launch so that your book has credibility before it’s released.
  6. Set up your platforms. Make sure that you have the staples set up: website, social media, Amazon Author page, Goodreads, etc. The more places your book and your author information are available, the better.


What publicity trends do you predict we’ll see in the near future and what impact do you think they will have on the industry?


This is a great question that I’ve actually been thinking about for a while. I think as we see the rise of individual content creation in short social media consumable bits, books will also start to move in this direction. We have already seen the influence Bookstagrammers and BookTok has had on the book industry as a whole, but also the need for short bursts of information is getting more and more prevalent. And as the rise of social content goes up, it seems that the rise in audio books and podcast consumption does the same. But what remains a constant is that people connect with content whether it’s books, social media, shows, emails or people, through story and an emotional spark. Our job as publicists is to light that spark.

Natalie Obando-Desai
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.