I’ve been a book publicist for more than a dozen years, as well as an editor and ghostwriter. Among other activities, I schedule radio and TV interviews, book presentations, write press releases, blogs, and articles, apply for book awards, and engage with social media. Sometimes I’m hired for three months, six months, sometimes longer. Without a doubt, the most comprehensive campaign I’ve ever conducted has been for the memoir The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs, which Alan Day and I co-authored and the University of Nebraska Press published in March 2014.
Following is a recap of that campaign. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned author, perhaps you can pluck a few nuggets for your own publicity. Or maybe it will entice you to turn the other cheek and take up painting. (Just kidding. Sort of.) Like writing, marketing takes time and commitment. So saddle up. Here’s the good, bad, glorious, and ongoing, with a few shoulda-woulda-couldas thrown in to reflect reality. First, however, a little background.
The Manuscript Sells:
Back in 2002, Random House released the memoir Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, co-authored by Sandra Day O’Connor and her brother H. Alan Day. Not surprisingly, the book quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Four years later, when Alan knocked on my door with the first draft of The Horse Lover, he had that bestseller in tow along with Justice O’Connor’s foreword to his new book.
Alan and I eventually decided to partner on writing the manuscript. What we ended up with was a story about an innovative, risk-taking cowboy who established our country’s first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary. From 1989 to 1993, Alan managed 1,500 wild horses on 35,000-acres of pristine South Dakota prairie. He had enough adventures with those animals and the Bureau of Land Management to warrant a 75,000-word book. Matt Bokovoy, an acquisitions editor at the University of Nebraska Press, loved the manuscript and persuaded us to publish with UNP.
Matt offered to dispense with a peer review and schedule the book for a September 2014 release, eighteen months from the date we first submitted the completed manuscript. We suggested a release date of March 2014 to coincide with the Tucson Festival of Books, now the fourth largest book festival in the country. Alan and I both reside in Tucson and I’ve served on the festival’s author committee for seven years. Alan pulled some short strings and arranged for Justice O’Connor to present at the festival, too. All parties agreed to the earlier release, so we signed, sealed, and delivered the UNP contract. We were on our way to publication. Yee-ha!
Let the Marketing Begin:
Marketing campaigns can be a 24/7 endeavor. To avoid sinking in the Land of Overwhelm’s quick sands, the first thing I always do is create a timeline of activities. For the next twelve months, we almost always followed our set timeline.
We asked eight individuals to blurb the book and ended up with five heartfelt blurbs. Monty Roberts was too busy, Jeanette Walls never responded, and for some reason, we never asked renowned horse lover Temple Grandin, who frequently endorses books. Our first shoulda-woulda-coulda.
If at first you don’t nail it, keep on pounding.
Websites always take longer to complete than I anticipate, so I wanted to begin working on one as early as possible. The goal was to launch www.thehorselover.com by the end of August. In addition to choosing a template and images, and writing copy for the web designer, I also set up a Facebook page, plus accounts on Twitter, Goodreads, and YouTube. (A year later, I added Pinterest and assigned the task of growing that account to a high school intern.)
I heart social media. Okay, maybe not always, but it sure is useful for promoting books.
Alan had some gorgeous photos from 1990 of the sanctuary and the wild horses, which we incorporated in the website, but I thought it might be useful to have a stash of current photos and videos for publicity purposes. With a college intern in tow, we schlepped up to South Dakota and spent a day on the ranch and another day in the area shooting photos and videos. Martyn Beeny, UNP’s Marketing Manager, joined us. Besides being a ton of fun, I appreciated the opportunity to noodle publicity and marketing ideas with Martyn and learn what UNP would do so I could avoid duplicating efforts. The trip paid off in dividends. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, book festivals, and other organizations that hosted Alan as a speaker made use of the photos. Our talented intern created a three-minute slide show that we still show to groups. We posted it on YouTube and eventually on Facebook. Each post bumped Amazon sales.
Website launched on schedule. First blog posted – a Rafflecopter giveaway.
I pitched the book editor at True West magazine hoping that a review might run close to March 1, 2014, the book’s scheduled release date. He responded to the email, we had phone a conversation, and he requested a hard copy of the manuscript. The review, along with the photos we took in August, appeared in the February 2014 issue.
I also started posting tweets and connecting with wild horse advocates. I felt certain this demographic would be particularly interested in Alan’s story, but I’ll be danged if they didn’t gallop the other way. I changed tactics and started following accounts connected to the Wild West, cowboys, ranchers, and animal lovers. I sometimes forget how slowly social media accounts grow when first launched.
Posted two blogs, one a 90-second video clip shot in South Dakota.
Alan decided to purchase twenty ARCs (advance reader copies) to send out in addition to the batch that UNP mailed. Publicity Manager Rosemary Vestal and I compiled a list of recipients and mailed those ARCs along with a media kit that I had created.
Radio show hosts, editors, bloggers might not read your book, but they will scan a media kit.
The Phoenix Art Museum had scheduled (not through me) Justice O’Connor and Alan to speak at their annual holiday docent luncheon. I got to tag along and bear witness to their entertaining pitch-and-catch presentation about growing up on a 200,000-acre ranch. I received permission to set The Horse Lover bookmarks at each table. This event was the first of at least a half dozen publicity events involving Justice O’Connor.
Goodreads is great, but author beware, connecting with others can be a time-sucker.
The pace of publicity ramped up. UNP received a Kirkus Review: “A fresh, occasionally biting report from the early days of a mustang sanctuary.” We had two book signings: one without books because they hadn’t yet arrived and one with books, a cowboy-themed food truck, and a bunch of friends.
On Twitter, I discovered the WHOA podcast. I pitched on interview with Alan on Jan. 19th and the interviewed taped on Jan. 30th. Alan and I took a filed trip to the state prison to learn about its wild horse program that allows selected inmates to train BLM-owned wild horses, and I posted a blog about the experience.
Patience and persistence proved golden: The wild horse advocates started following on Twitter.
On February 11th, Alan’s WHOA interview posted; UNP received a starred Booklist review: “With coauthor Sneyd’s expert assistance, Day’s authentic western voice, coupled with his deep understanding of the nature of horses, makes for an instant classic”; and a press release went out that resulted in interviews and reviews. It was my birthday and I couldn’t think of a better present.
Consistency is key to social media marketing. Oh, to be a Millennial and not a Boomer brought up on typewriters and white out.
Sometimes you just have to sit back, let the horse have its head, and enjoy the ride. That’s what March was all about. We had four book events at the Tucson Festival of Books, a lovely signing at an art gallery, a book club appearance, signings in Phoenix, and various radio interviews. I think in fourteen days we had twelve events. This is when the toils of writing pay off. Also, I started writing blogs for Alan’s virtual blog tour scheduled to run April 7 through May 7.
During a virtual blog tour, an author “appears” on 15-20 blogs over a month. Appearances take the form of book reviews, interviews, guest blogs, or sometimes a podcast interview.
While I continued writing blogs, pitching media, and scheduling events, The Horse Lover began crossing state boundaries. Alan had events in South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, California, and Arizona (and later Washington, Montana, Texas, and Missouri.)
Keeping up with event calendars on websites and Amazon’s author pages requires time and extra coffee. Yikes.
Three events stand out from this month. Alan and his sister, Justice O’Connor, presented to a July 4th crowd of 1,500 people at Chautauqua, NY. It was an unscheduled, last minute event arranged through the Justice’s channels. As it turned out, the local bookstore ordered in about thirty copies of The Horse Lover. Major gaffe! Could I (or Alan) have called the bookstore directly and inquired as to their order even though we didn’t schedule this event? Perhaps. But sadly we never did.
On a brighter note, I traveled to my hometown of Milwaukee, where I spoke at Boswell Books. Advance PR included newspaper mentions, and a local radio and TV interview. The bookstore owner called up a few days later and asked if I had done another signing in town, which I had promised not to do. Forty books had sold at the event, but overall two-hundred books sold according to Nielsen BookScan. Kisses to those friends with large Facebook followings, who posted about the book event and helped boost sales.
Back in Tucson, a funky microbrewery agreed to host Alan and another cowboy author on July 26 in honor of National Cowboy Day. A local radio show broadcast from the bar and a rousing game of cowboy trivia, followed by a western musical duo, engaged the audience. And that same cowboy-themed food truck opened for business in the courtyard. Book sales were under twenty, but we had a two-steppin’ heck of a good time.
Keep on laughin’, keep on bloggin’. It’s all good.
The pinnacle of all events, however, occurred in late August. In spring, we had received an invitation from the head librarian of the Library of Congress to present at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. He offered to fly us there so we could present on a panel and Justice O’Connor would introduce us. The events, dinners, and tours surrounding the festival exceeded both of our expectations. After our festival presentation, we were ushered to a signing area. Most of the people in the snaking line wanted the Justice’s signature. My favorite comment was made by a young woman who said to Justice O’Connor, “One year I went as you for Halloween.”
Hats off to the Library of Congress folks for the red carpet treatment and for posting our presentation on YouTube.
Via a social media connection, I landed a deal on production of a book trailer. Yeh, usually you do this at the front of a campaign not in the middle. Up it went on YouTube and Facebook. Alan had more speaking engagements and radio interviews. Both of us journeyed to South Dakota to present at the South Dakota Book Festival. It’s such a kick to hang out with fellow authors and this well-run festival was no exception.
Shoot, no blogs posted. Yeppers, that’s a shoulda-coulda-woulda. Time to find a college intern to help with social media.
Alan barely had time to breathe between returning from South Dakota and leaving for Puyallup, Washington where he was a featured guest at the Western & Wildlife Art Show & Auction. He also managed to squeeze in a book signing in Tacoma. Back home on the range, we had our first gig at White Stallion Dude Ranch in Tucson, where we continue to regularly speak. Guests come from around the world—England, Australia, France, Japan—and from across the U.S. In addition, we won first place in the Arizona Author’s Association Literary Contest and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Four more awards ended up coming our way, the last being the Will Roger’s Medallion Award this past October.
I twittered and tweeted and burbled and blogged happiness, while our college intern posted on Facebook and worked on growing that account.
Which brings us to 2015:
To date, Alan has given over one-hundred presentations, twenty-five radio interviews, and seven TV interviews. More than twenty newspapers and magazines have reviewed or featured The Horse Lover. We currently have forty-eight mostly 5-star reviews on Amazon, 2,314 followers on Twitter, and 1,904 “likes” on Facebook. While we’ve had many publicity successes, we also had some flops including a postcard mailing campaign and cross-promotion with two different wild horse film documentaries. Neither got out of the corral. Certainly, we could have done more social media marketing, including writing more blogs.
The majority of books sold because Alan is one talented storyteller and speaker. Though I pitched organizations, I also had groups contact me to book him. One woman scheduled Alan, then recommended him as a speaker for an event this past October. An attendee at that event owns a trust company and has decided to give The Horse Lover to perspective clients. Last week we signed sixty copies that he purchased. Word of mouth is golden. It’s a current that pushes books to tipping points.
Also, as of last week, Martyn informed me that we had sold 6,200 copies of the The Horse Lover. “That’s brilliant,” he wrote in his email. Thank you, Martyn. And thank you UNP for the support and for producing a handsome book. Based on all our activity, Alan and I expected sales to be higher. Still, it’s been a good ride, an amazing ride in fact, and one that continues. I usually tell my clients they need to publicize their book for three years; thus, we remain on the PR trail, though we’re walking, not galloping. Alan’s 2016 calendar is lightly peppered with presentations in the first quarter, and we’re writing another book. In true cowboy fashion, Alan told me more stories than could possibly fit in The Horse Lover, so we’re compiling the overflow into a collection tentatively titled Cowboy Up! Life Lessons from the Range for Greenhorns, City Slickers and Other Urban Dudes. When that book comes out, we’ll have a plethora of places to return to for interviews, reviews and presentations.
Happily, that’s a good thing.
-Lynn Wiese Sneyd