Friday, June 9, 2017

HIRING A PUBLICIST . . . A GOOD OR BAD IDEA?


By H. W. “Buzz” Bernard


Writer to writer, the first piece of advice I’d like to give you is this: Don’t listen to any advice I give you.  Why?  Because I don’t listen to my own.

If you’d asked me a year and half ago if you, as a novelist, should hire a publicist, my answer would have been, “Absolutely not.”   That was the conventional wisdom I’d always heard.  A publicist, I’d been told, might make sense if you were a nonfiction writer or a big, brand-name novelist, but certainly not for us scribes who travel in steerage.

So what did I do prior to the release of my most recent novel, Cascadia?  I went out and hired a publicist.  Why didn’t I follow my own advice?

My previous novel, Blizzard, came out with very little pre-publication publicity.  My publisher, BelleBooks, is a small independent press and doesn’t have the big bucks to mount strong pre-pub campaigns.  Blizzard ’s sales, despite its great reader ratings, were miserable. I was extremely disappointed.

I knew the same thing would happen with Cascadia unless I tried something different.  I thought, how can I prevent my book from becoming a bottom feeder among the million and half other titles published every year?

In the past I’d tried blog tours, Goodreads giveaways, Facebook ads, blog series on my own website, special presentations, and Facebook campaigns.  None of those efforts really paid off.  So, given that trail of failures, I began to toy with the notion of hiring a professional.

But there was another reason.  Cascadia takes place in the Pacific Northwest.  I live in Georgia.  That, in and of itself, posed a significant promotional challenge.  So I thought it would be really great if I could find a publicist who lived in the Northwest.

Much to my surprise, I found one in Portland, Oregon.  And, by lucky coincidence, she, Jessica Glenn of Mindbuck Media, just happened to be getting her home retrofitted to withstand a powerful earthquake.  Cascadia, you see, is a novel set against the massive earthquake and tsunami that will be triggered by the Cascadia Subduction Zone in the Northwest (think San Andreas Fault on steroids).  Most everyone who lives in the region is aware of the danger.

Jessica jumped at the chance to represent a novel centered around that eventuality.  It helped, too, that I had, as Jessica said, a great “track record,” solid sales for my previous four novels, including a number-one bestseller on Kindle.

Jessica was up front with me, saying she doesn’t promise sales, but does promise reviews.  Reviews are what I needed, something to get Cascadia in front of readers.

Mindbuck delivered.  The reviews came, despite the fact there turned out to be a huge stumbling block.  Jessica told me a lot of the bigger-name reviewers require a print ARC (advance reader copy), not an electronic one.  I requested print ARCs from my publisher, but they balked, said I’d have to pay for them myself.  I reluctantly did, but the ARCs, through CreateSpace, turned out so crappy we couldn’t use them.  Thus, we undoubtedly lost some great opportunities.

Still, we got some wonderful reviews, including what I considered a real coup; a three-quarter page spread in The Sunday Oregonian, Oregon’s most widely circulated newspaper.

The number of ratings posted by readers on Amazon and Goodreads responded, and so did sales.  Cascadia reached fifty reviews on Amazon twice as fast as did BlizzardCascadia also sold more units in its first six months on the market than Blizzard did in almost two years!  To me, that defines success.

But, you ask, was the effort cost effective?  The answer is Yes.  Publicists aren’t cheap, but the gross royalties from Cascadia for the first six months of its existence covered the expense of hiring Mindbuck . . . and a bit more.  I expect even more dividends down the road.

I can’t tell you if a publicist is right for you.  Each of you will have to perform your own analysis.  Remember that I had a “track record” going for me, and that the novel I wrote resonated personally with the publicist I hired.
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H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is the author of Cascadia, Blizzard, Supercell, Plague and Eyewall. Before becoming a novelist, Buzz worked at The Weather Channel as a senior meteorologist for 13 years.  Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades.  He attained the rank of colonel and received, among other awards, the Legion of Merit. His “airborne” experiences include a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, air drops over the Arctic Ocean and Turkey, and a stint as a weather officer aboard a Tactical Air Command airborne command post (C-135). In the past, he’s provided field support to forest fire fighting operations in the Pacific Northwest, spent a summer working on Alaska’s arctic slope, and served two tours in Vietnam.  Various other jobs, both civilian and military, have taken him to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Panama. He’s a native Oregonian and attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; he also studied creative writing. Buzz currently is vice president of the Southeastern Writers Association, member of International Thriller Writers, The Atlanta Writers Club and Willamette Writers.  He and his wife Christina live in Roswell, Georgia, along with their fuzzy and sometimes over-active Shih-Tzu, Stormy.


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