Since I joined the IBPA Board of Directors last summer, the one question I have heard from members more than any other is this: “How can we get our work more attention from the media?” It’s a query I hear all the time, both at IBPA functions and during the course of an average week at my job as news editor at Publishers Weekly, and it’s a good one. After all, indie publishers rarely have the marketing budgets or connections with industry and consumer media brands that big corporate publishers have built up over the years, and, as such, their books rarely get the same sort of attention from the press. But that shouldn’t stop them; many a small publisher’s endeavors merit editorial coverage, and no book should be published unseen.
Consumer media can be tricky, as most glossy magazines and websites that focus on books are more interested in interviews with big-name authors and sure-hit roundups of the most anticipated books of the season than they are in giving limelight to small publishers. Trade magazines, on the other hand, are more than happy to give the right story a fair shot. Those are the key words right there: the right story.
But what is the right story? More specifically, what makes a book or its publisher right for news coverage? To some extent, it’s a matter of preference, but at PW, there are a handful of things we look for right off the bat. In order to break them down, I had a chat with my boss, PW editorial director and former IBPA board member Jim Milliot, about what he looks for when considering coverage. Here are some tips, stemming from that conversation, for how to get trade publications to give independent publishers and their books the attention they deserve.
1. Introduce yourselves.
“The first thing you have to do is reach out,” Milliot says. “So many people think that somehow, miraculously, we’re going to discover them. If they haven’t worked with us before, they should introduce themselves.”
Often, that means giving a rundown on the nuts and bolts of a publisher’s operations: the names of top staffers, the number of workers the publisher employs, its location, its distributor, its primary sales channels, the categories in which it publishes, how many titles it releases per season and per year, and, ideally, what the print runs are on each season’s biggest books. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to not be afraid to send the email.
“You have to pitch!” Milliot says. “Although, of course, the secret is in what you’re going to pitch.”
2. Give us a news hook.
When reading publisher press releases, “I look for something that is unique or timely,” Milliot says. “The publisher or the author doesn’t have to have a huge name. But the release does have to make a convincing argument that its news is something worth covering. It has to give us a hook.”
A good hook leverages the specificity of the news, whether because a particular title is tied to a major current event or because a publisher has made some significant strides in-house. The more relevant to the publishing process, the better, Milliot says. “Tell us if you’ve started a new imprint, or hired a new executive editor, or you’re working with a new distributor.”
Remarkable sales for a book, too, will always pique interest. When it comes to covering independent publishers from a news angle in a trade magazine, what’s key is to indicate that the accomplishment is going to have some impact on the trade. “It doesn’t have to be that, for example, a book sold 100,000 copies, or that it hit the bestseller list,” Milliot says. “If you usually sell a couple thousand copies, and you have a book that all of a sudden hits 5,000, tell us about that. That could be a good story!”
3. Don’t be hyperbolic.
Hiring an outside publicity firm can do wonders in getting word out about a book published by an independent press. But depending on how the press release is worded, it can also accidentally do some damage. “Some of these press releases are so over the top, it’s laughable,” Milliot says. “Any press release that says ‘this is the greatest book ever’ isn’t going to get very far. Or ‘we’ve got this thing that’s going to upset the whole publishing model, we’re going to revolutionize publishing’—you roll your eyes every time you hear it.”
If a press release about a book tries to get attention by saying it’s the best book ever written, or the most important book since, say, the Bible, “nobody’s going to look at it,” Milliot adds. “These press release factories hype everything to the hills.” That makes it difficult to discern when a book is actually doing, or saying, something new. Milliot suggests that publishers request specificity in their releases when working with independent publicists—and that they always eye them over before they’re sent.
4. The publishing landscape is always changing—meaning there are exceptions to every rule.
Certain things are mostly set in stone. For instance, Milliot says, “we’re probably not ever going to cover a one-book publisher.” And yet, if that book sells 100,000 copies? Maybe that rule could change. (Here’s one rule that won’t change: If you ever sell 100,000 copies, it is certainly a story.)
Things certainly have changed, from a news coverage perspective, in other arenas. For a long time, Milliot says, he wouldn’t consider covering a publisher that didn’t have a distributor. But we now live in an era of e-books and digital audiobooks, and “if you’re hitting e-book bestseller lists, that’s unique,” Milliot says. “If somebody comes along and says, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do podcasts, and then we’re gonna try to turn them into books,’ that’s an interesting model. That’s something we would cover.”
And, of course, we also live in an era dominated by social media. Success there, too, is worth touting. “I can see that headline now,” Milliot says. “‘TikTok Makes Success of ABC Publishing, Tripling Sales.’ Now that’s a story!”
5. Pitch a piece you would want to read about another publisher.
When pitching a story, perhaps the best advice to consider to ensure that the media will find it interesting is to look at it from a bird’s eye view, rather than through the eyes of someone who has been working intensely on a book for months and believes in it above anything. If this was a story about another publisher’s successes, whether on the business level or for a particular title, would you want to read it? If you would, it just might be the right story.
“We’re always looking for stories,” Milliot says. “We get a lot of pitches, but we don’t automatically reject anything. We’re always looking for good stories.”