Watch television and read newspapers from a marketing perspective and look for media trends.
Every day for at least a month, watch as much television news and talk show programming as you possibly can, and read at least one national newspaper and your local daily paper. Pay close attention to which news stories are making the most headlines, and the names of the reporters and producers covering those stories. If you’ve authored a book, ask yourself if there’s anything in your book that relates to these current hot topics, and pitch yourself as an expert to the press on that subject.
For example, I was publicizing a book on divorce and getting little response from the news media until the Donald Trump divorce broke in the press. I immediately started calling every television and radio show in the country, telling producers that I had an expert who could make sense of New York’s most scandalous breakup. The author got so many bookings that the book hit bestseller lists coast-to-coast. The same goes for getting a book deal.
Publishers are always looking for book proposals that capitalize on current media trends. If you can cleverly tie a book idea to a hot media topic, your chances of getting a publishing deal are increased exponentially.
While I was getting my divorce-expert author on television, literary agents were getting book deals for writers who had manuscripts on the subjects of relationships and divorce law, among many other related topics.
Think creatively about how you can position yourself and your subject to tie in with current events.
Think beyond the obvious. When a front door is dosed, you can usually find a side door that’s open. Look at the big stories the press is covering, and develop an unusual approach or an intriguing take on a hot topic.
For example, let’s say you’ve written a cookbook called Comfort Foods, featuring recipes for higher-calorie dishes such as macaroni and cheese or chocolate cake. If you wanted a publicity placement in your local paper, the obvious reporter to pitch would be the food writer. If the food writer says no, how could “working the headlines” help you snag the coverage you want? Suppose you’re doing your media research as described in Step 1 and you come across a huge feature article about stress written by the psychology writer at your local paper. You could custom-design a pitch for him that focuses on the emotional importance of comfort foods.
Perhaps the article could be entitled “Food for the Soul.” Taking this idea one step further, that article could even become the genesis for another book that you write with a psychologist or that very same psychology writer on the value of comfort foods, why we love them, and their place in culinary history. The point here is not just to be creative, but also to be creative in a whole new kind of way.
I remember once doing publicity for a novel written by a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The publisher was struggling to obtain coverage because the media kept insisting that if the book were nonfiction they would do something, but a novel wasn’t news from their perspective.
So what did I do? I turned to a beat reporter, who rarely gets any attention from publicists, whose work–covering high school sports–often has been taken for granted.
To me, the tie-in was obvious. The author was an expert on drugs. Where else is the threat of drug abuse more disturbing than in America’s high schools, particularly among young athletes who want to improve their athletic performance? I pitched the high school sports reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times about interviewing the author on this topic: “10 warning signs a student may be using illegal drugs to enhance his/her game, and what to do about it.”
The reporter was thrilled, because his readers were parents and coaches. I agreed to give him a great interview and he did a boxed review of the former DEA agent’s novel.
When the piece ran, it was a two-page spread that not only went out on the wire and ran in over 500 papers nationwide, but generated so much buzz that the author was then sought after by all the country’s top talk shows.
Look for opportunities in your hometown news.
Following media trends and headline stories not only generates book publicity and book proposal ideas, it can also lead to exciting and lucrative collaborative projects. It’s all about looking at the world from a new vista.
As you’re reading newspapers and watching TV news shows, keep a creative eye on big, unfolding local stories with national potential. They could lead to book deals and commissioned articles. Here’s how. Often, a story will emerge in the press that has tremendous human-interest appeal. These are small-town dramas that over time capture the attention of the entire country. They can range from bizarre murder cases, dramatic legal battles and major corporate debacles to medical stories, unusual personal tragedies and triumphs, and intriguing local mysteries. Frequently, these stories can be fodder for successful books and major magazine articles. Stay alert when it comes to big news stories in your hometown.
Several years ago, a college football star made local headlines because “boosters” (college football fans who give star players money, girls, cars–you name it) were lavishing such riches on this particular player that it drew the attention and ire of the FBI. It also landed this kid in prison. The debacle became an unprecedented scandal. A local journalist who followed the story decided it had enough juice to make a good book. He approached an agent who agreed, and within weeks he had secured a generous publishing deal. The book, which I then publicized, made headlines, too.
If there’s a particular story that’s dominating local press and it’s something you’re genuinely interested in, seize the reins. You could approach individuals directly involved in the story and ask if they’d like to explore the possibility of doing a book with you. Or, pay attention to the name of the reporter who’s covering the story in the paper and contact him about the possibility of co-authoring a book with you. Many journalists who cover these prominent stories would love to author a book but don’t have the time to do it on their own, and would be happy to have a collaborator.
Watch what’s happening around you. Use the local news as your guide and barometer. If you see a story that could be told in a book or magazine article, jump on it. You have a gift. Offer it, use it and feed it.
Hooks from the headlines
Mayflower Madam Sidney Biddle Barrows given jail sentence for running bordello
Possible book spin-offs: a novel featuring a debutante who turns into a criminal; a nonfiction book on good girls who go bad and why; the history of famous American madams.
New England Journal of Medicine study says eating chocolate can lower cholesterol by 80 percent
Possible publicity angles for books already published: If you’ve written a cookbook, pitch food writers on succulent chocolate recipes; if you’ve written a history book that touches on the history of certain foods, pitch the cultural reporter on the history of chocolate; if you’re a romance writer, pitch the relationship reporter on how to use chocolate to sweeten up your love life, or write a romance novel featuring chocolate in the plot.