Think Like a Journalist

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By Steve Matteo, Publicity Director

Long before I started my career in book publicity in 1999, I worked as a journalist, writing for such publications as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Salon and Elle. My career as an author began in 1996 when my first book Dylan was published.

While it is obvious that having a book published was a valuable experience for my future role in book publicity, I continue to work as a journalist and my work as a writer has aided me more in being an effective publicist. As with most book publicists my primary function is to get media placements of my author’s books, or obtain, facilitate and coordinate interviews with my authors and the media. Media placements are the key activity of my job, but using my knowledge and understanding of how reporters, editors, producers, interviewers  and content producers think and work is the key to my success. As publicists we’re focused on getting coverage for our authors and our author’s books. There are times where we are almost like sales-people convincing the media to cover the books we are working on, without really thinking beyond getting coverage. Part of why I have had such sustained success, is often thinking more like a journalist than a publicist. I find it valuable to put myself in the place of the media person I am pitching and not just be the pushy publicist.

It’s also important to follow the news cycle closely and see if there is a way that the book I am working on provides real news value to the person I am pitching. Media folks also appreciate it if you know their publications and beats and contact them about appropriate books. It’s also important to pick your spots and pick your times. Don’t contact the book review or appropriate editor or producer of say The New York Times, the Today Show or Publishers Weekly with every project you are working on and don’t be a pest.

While publicists have a specific period of time they are working on a book, the timing of the publication of the book varies in the significance of publication date. Long-lead magazines and the book trade must have books months in advance to consider coverage. One of the biggest obstacles to coverage in magazines, the book trade and often major daily newspapers, is first pitching and/or having galleys or finished books too close to publication date. With the 24/7 news cycle, timing is everything and a book published after you are pitching it is often going to be a tough sell. If the catch phrase of the real estate industry is “location, location, location,” the mantra of the world of book publishing is “pub date, pub date, pub date.”

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