The importance of building partnerships and collaborating was the main theme of yesterday’s Marketing and Publicity conference hosted by The Bookseller, with delegates also urged to "get out of old habits and into the new spaces where readers are".
Speaking at a panel entitled 'Ask the Influencers' which brought together key figures in the industry to discuss how publicists can best get their attention, author and journalist Hannah Beckerman emphasised the importance of building relationships. “We’re all in communications relationship business", Beckerman said. "The single most important thing is building relationships. I want to be the first person getting the Joanna Cannon proof, the Maggie O'Farrell proof, in the same way publicists want me to be pitching those books to newspapers. Building relationships, and learning what reviewers like and what they’re going to really get behind, is the way to get your books noticed."
Beckerman also said that it was important to note that "you don't need to meet people in order to make those relationships", with Waterstones events and festival co-ordinator Steven Cooper advocating Twitter as a way of getting in on conversations and building relationships online. "It's easy to find everyone on Twitter," he said. "It's a great platform for all of us to start with. I see it happen all the time, recommendations just naturally spring up between people. Twitter is best place to start -everyone has access to it, everyone has it."
Joe Friel, director at social talent platform Social Circle, warned against starting relationships "when you need something". He said: “You want to start from an early stage. Social media is democratising; you can speak to these people that you have huge respect for and build relationships with them.”
Friel also warned against attempting to partner with "hero influencers" or people with the most reach at present. He said: "If you form a community with loads of smaller influencers it can actually create a much bigger splash. Also look at the people who are growing - in terms of average engagements - and start up relationships with them at an early stage."
He added: "Work on your own brand profile. If you can give something to influencers as they feel they can get value from you, that helps conversation as well."
Becky Fincham (right), director of BigMouth Book Events, discussed ways of reaching new readers and getting the most out of book events. "Publishers should put the books themselves back at the heart of the event, in place of discourse around the books”, she said, adding “the collective experience of a live event should mirror individual's connection to the book.”
Discussing how to draw bigger pools of readers for book events, Fincham said that "books can be bought in a variety of different retail outlets - you can pick up a book at a supermarket while buying groceries, for example - whereas book events remain in their context, in bookshops, with authors." She said that using unique venues that pull the book out of its context and making the event stand out can help to reach new readers.
The most common online activity is discovery of information about live events, artists or performer, and that 55% of millennials are spending more on live events, Fincham said, while encouraging publishers to "start looking at the role events have in their business and make them more central".
Five independent publishers gave quick five-minute presentations about their budgets. Sarah Braybrooke, publicity and operations manager at Scribe, discussed promoting Gavin McCrea's Mrs Engels with a £100 budget, and said: “When you can’t spend money, you can still spend time, energy and love”.
Director of Salt Publishing, Chris Hamilton Emery, also discussed collaboration and partnerships, saying: “It pays to keep an active interest in collaborations, partners and pals. Be promiscuous - work with literary development organisations, libraries, and other publishers”.
Rebecca Gray, senior publicity manager at W&N Fiction, and Julia Pidduck, senior digital manager, discussed the launch of W&N's Belgravia app, and decribed having to create their "own shop window", through partnerships with TimeInc, National Trust and the Grosvernor Estate. Grey said: "If you have chance to work in mutually beneficial collaboration, it’s really worth doing".
Authors Jessie Burton and Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Bookseller’s contributing editor, spoke about the emotional pressures of becoming a published author and about how publicists could play a role in managing that.
In February, Burton wrote an essay on the anxieties she faced as a published writer. Rentzenbrink said that there was something about the publishing process that challenged mental health, but added that it was a difficult conversation to have because of the perception that, once published, authors had “won a lottery”.
Burton told Rentzenbrink: “I never thought about what being published actually meant, I’d used up all of the confidence to get to that point. You don’t expect to feel anxious about something that is an achievement, I didn’t expect to feel so alienated from myself.”
Burton also spoke about the difficulties of becoming a public figure. “For any author who is used to working solitarily, to suddenly be doing three or even 400 public events [is a challenge]. Nobody tells you how to do it. You don’t want to become a false version of yourself, but you have to be careful. You don’t realise what it is like to be commodified. Readers don’t see you as a human being, they see you as a name.”
Her advice for publicists was to “have everything explained” so as to help authors avoid the pit-falls and understand the pros and cons of a decision. She recommended to those putting on author events to give authors a safe-space before the event, and for publicists to handle the logistics and the worry. Being on display beforehand, she said, “can make you feel like a travelling sales-person [waiting for people to turn up]”. She said the best publicists were “good people-readers” and often understood instinctively what authors needed.
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