NICK TAYLOR: Letís start by asking Beth, what do you look for in an author? You want to know if they can talk, right?
BETH DICKEY: Talking is important. As important as writing.
TAYLOR: Thereís a revealing statement.
DICKEY: It is very true, actually.
TAYLOR: What can an author bring to the table? What should an author think about?
DICKEY: As a publicist, an author whose platform lends itself to a nonfiction book is always more appealing to me, even though, as a reader, I prefer fiction. With that said, if it is a work of fiction, there are certainly angles that can be exploited, that can be used in media. Exploited is the right word. For example, Iím working right now on a book by the former sex columnist for the Yale Daily News. Her name is Natalie Krinsky and her book is titled Chloe Does Yale. It is a novel, but she had already made a name for herself. The Today Show had her on when she was an undergrad. Candace Bushnell is a novelist who made quite a name for herself with Sex and the City, which was a collection of newspaper columns. So works of fiction can have platforms too, but in general nonfiction is the easiest sell for the media.
TAYLOR: How do you find out if someone can talk? Do you do a pre-interview before you send the word out on an author?
DICKEY: Yes. Thatís an integral part of the acquisition from a publishing standpoint. Unfortunately, itís really a major part of the buy. Itís certainly a major part of the appeal. We always have someone in publicity, whether itís me or my boss, sit in on each potential acquire because we have to be able to go back to the publishing side and to our peers and say, This person is articulate, camera ready, has had media experience. Thatís very, very important.
TAYLOR: And thatís before you even acquire the book.
TAYLOR: So would you say then that an authorís ability to be presentable on television or radio helps sell the book in the first place, as opposed to the book itself?
DICKEY: Without a doubt.
TAYLOR: Letís move on to E. Jean and to Nelson. Both of you have made these kinds of national media appearances. What do you do to prepare for them? Or, what did you do before the first one?
NELSON GEORGE: I realized very early on in my writing career that being a specialist was an asset. I always wanted to write fiction, but my entry into writing was covering music. I worked at Billboard magazine from 1982 to 1989 as an editor. I ended up doing a book on Michael Jackson in 1984, a quickie book that actually did very well. I did a book on Motown Records. And I did a sort of a conceptual book, called The Death of Rhythm and Blues, in 1988. Those three books were centered in the music world and so there was a natural platform for me. I was working at a major trade publication. I started to do a lot of press interviews, even when I didnít have a book out. Someone would say, I want a comment about this new direction in disco or hip-hop thatís coming up, and I made myself available. So I was able to build a name for myself as an expert in music.
The next leap was when I left Billboard in í89. I didnít want to write music books only. I started writing for the Village Voice. I still did music reviews but I also started writing a column, which was more of a general column about life in New York. I did pieces on sports. I did pieces on film. And eventually I wrote more books. I did a book on film. I did a book on basketball. Every step of the way my journalism career was sort of my baseline. And from that baseline I would go do books that somehow related to things I was covering and had some expertise in. So thatís my nonfiction career.
As I started doing novels it got a little more tricky because the things I wanted to write about in fiction were not necessarily the things I was writing about in nonfiction. Of the five novels, the books have been very up and down. The books that have done the best have tended to have a music connection. Having a music connection has made it easier for me to get press. A really good example is this past Sunday. I have a new novel out, my first mystery, but itís grounded in the entertainment business. The lead character is the guy you see at every nightclub in New York, the big black guy who doesnít let you in. That guy is the lead character in the novel, which is called The Accidental Hunter. I was on Hot 97 Sunday night on a show called Street Soldiers, which is a kind of community affairs hip-hop-related show, because thereís a connection between the novel and my brand, if you will. I was able to get on that show and get a kind of exposure I wouldnít have gotten if I had just been a mystery writer and I didnít have that kind of pedigree. I always worked very hard to use the brand that it took me so long to build as a music writer and also as a cultural critic, to help the fiction help my other activities. I think itís very important to come from a place of specialization; it is very helpful in getting media.
TAYLOR: Before I get to E. Jean with the same question, let me mention some of your nonfiction titles, which include Black Face, Reflections on African Americans and the Movies; Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive 1980s as Experienced by African Americans Previously Known as Blacks and Before That Negroes; The Death of Rhythm and Blues, and Buppies, B-Boys, Baps and Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Culture, an essay collection. Thatís just a handful of your titles, but clearly you specialize in contemporary black culture.
GEORGE: When I was a young boy, just out of college, there were books that I wanted to read. I decided as I got older, I realized that nobody was writing the books I wanted to read. So I decided to write those books. Thatís always been the motivation: to write the books that I wanted to read. I always try and write. I always think thereís a bright nineteen-year-old somewhere in America who is me now. And I want to write books for that person. Thatís always been sort of my target readerówho I was when I was eighteen or nineteen.
TAYLOR: So becoming a specialist, becoming the go-to person for bookers on talk shows and so forth, certainly is a great aid in building a platform.
GEORGE: Absolutely. It can be limiting in a way, but if you have something that you know very well, thereís a show somewhere in America that wants to talk to you about it at some point.
TAYLOR: E. Jean specializes as well. And anybody whoís read her Elle column will know that she specializes in the concerns and anxieties andó
E. JEAN CARROLL: Idiociesó
TAYLOR: Desires of, I guess, young women in America, but young men as well. And her website, greatboyfriends.com keeps the buzz going. Would you talk about specialty from your standpoint?
CARROLL: When Nelson talked it almost didnít make any difference what he said, because heís so likable. You could be on a television show with the sound off the way your face is all lit up.
GEORGE: Thank you.
CARROLL: That right there is what Beth is talking about. Itís the way you talk. I donít care what youíre saying. I understand that youíve made yourself the go-to expert in music. That I understand. But theyíre going to you because youíre so likable. Thatís the essence of somebody who can sell a book. You are likable.
GEORGE: But I had to learn how to do that.
CARROLL: Oh, get out of here. Youíve got it. Youíve got it. [To audience] Am I wrong? No. Heís just likable. Right? Heís just likable. Thatís it. Some authors come on and youíre just like, ohÖWhoís that horrible woman whoís on the radio who answers questions?
CARROLL: Dr. Laura. Remember when they put Dr. Laura on TV? It was hideous. She couldnít be on TV, her sales went down. As soon as they took her off TV, and put her back on the radio, her sales went back up. Now you, you could be put all over the TV and your sales would just boom, boom, boom. Thatís all Iíve got to say. You need to know nothing more.
GEORGE: Let me jump in. I want to say that I didnít go through media training formally but I actually watched people on TV and realized when youíre on TV you only have X amount of time to speak.
DICKEY: Like four to six minutes.
GEORGE: And that four to six minutes goes by like this. [Finger snap.] So I really learned. In 1985, I did a book on Motown, and I was on the Today show with Bryant Gumbel. Iíll never forget this because I thought, Bryant Gumbelís black, Iím black, itís going to be wonderful. It was not wonderful. I sat in the green room. I sat down and I said, ďHow you doing, Bryant?Ē ďAll right.Ē I thought, uh oh. He comes in and doesnít look up at me. And he really came at me really hard with a lot of tough questions. I was really young, it was my first major book, and I was very, very nervous but I got through it. It was a trial by fire and it was a really good experience. Almost getting my ass kicked by Bryant Gumbel was really very good because I realized if Iím going to be on TV I have to have my thirty-second bites, at the very least, and I have to be very clear about what Iím going to say. That experience made me a better speaker. I see Bryant Gumbel now and I love him because I admire what he does and how he handles himself. But sometimes you have to go through those moments of awkwardness to learn.
TAYLOR: So itís a matter of really paying attention to the preparation for the kinds of things you may or may not want to do but have to do in order to get out there and stay out there?
GEORGE: Absolutely. Iím actually doing media training now of some recording artists. Iíve been working with a nineteen-year-old singer who has a hit record out. Itís interesting working with someone that young whoís already done a lot of media but has no idea how to tell a story about himself.
TAYLOR: Just being on a stage doesnít automatically make you a good talk show guest.
GEORGE: No, not at all.
DICKEY: Thatís an interesting point. Experts are incredibly articulate within their field of knowledge and thatís how theyíve gotten where they are. But to boil that down to a four- to six-minute interview on national television and sell your book is a whole ínother ball of wax. Thatís why thereís media training. Ideally, the publishing house doesnít want to pay for that; they want someone to have it naturally.
TAYLOR: As Nelson said, they have to be able to tell a story.
TAYLOR: In four to six minutes.
DICKEY: And make it interesting.
CARROLL: Hereís the thing about that. All those authors who speak really well, who got their message down and say the name of their book every twenty secondsóthat works against you. The ďwell spoken author.Ē Donít you hate that? The thing is to differentiate yourself, let your real personality come through, donít pay any attention to the media training, which basically sucks. They will tell you the same thing: Wear something around your neck. Have your hair done. Wear quarter-size earrings. Itís stupid. Donít pay any attention to it. Be yourself. Be eccentric. You know what I mean?
DICKEY: But honey, E. Jean, you are a fabulous version of yourself and some authors are not.
CARROLL: Anybody is more interesting than I am. Iím just saying, be that quintessential self.
GEORGE: One thing I learned working with this young singer was that he was told by someone to say the name of the album every sixty seconds. So I watched all these tapes of him. Itís all ďMy new album is coming out, blah, blah, blah.Ē No, no.
DICKEY: Heíll probably never get another interview.
GEORGE: Heís not projecting who he is. This is a really good lesson. I watched all of this guyís tapes, and you donít have any idea who he is. You have no idea who this young boy is. It turns out he has a fabulous life story, how he got to be a singer, his family. But heís been afraid to tell that. And ultimately itís who you are thatís the connection.
CARROLL: Itís a good thing you got ahold of him, thatís all Iíve got to say.
GEORGE: I hope so. The specialist thing, though, I definitely believe in. But itís specialization through passion. You have to communicate the passion. I always tell stories about my mother. My mother was one of those women who used to have these parties on Saturday night. And sheíd have the 45s stacked upóremember 45s, folks? And I used to look over at the little Motorola stereo and see them flip down. I would know the names of the record labels because Motown was blue and red, and Stax was light blue, and Atlantic was red and black. And so I would tell stories about how I got into music. Those were the waysótake those personal things and make them into stories. Because if you connect them to what youíre writing about, theyíre priceless.
TAYLOR: This is a question for all of youócan an author develop a platform if he or she has trouble coming across as interesting?
CARROLL: I think BethóBeth has a string of famous people who do really, really well.
CARROLL: Well, Carlin was great. His book tour was great. His appearances were great. He just sat and told a story. I think the day is coming when the book will not be the platform. The book is starting to be ancillary to the platform. Are you aware of this?
DICKEY: Thatís absolutely true.
CARROLL: I use a book as an ancillary to my websites now. I mean thatís how fast the world is changing. The book is like, eh, itís out of print. Frrppp. Everybodyís on the websites now. Ads are going to the websites now. Everybody wants to get on the websites and they want to get on the cable TV, they want to get on the radio, they want to get on Sirius. The book is on the outside now. It used to be on the inside, everything swam around that, now the book is on the outside.
GEORGE: I started a website about two and a half years ago, and itís been a boon to my career, partly because media can find me. I was getting e-mails there for people trying to reach me for interviews, which helps the book sales, helps with visibility. And now Iím just going to take E. Jeanís model, Iím going to use if for a lot more commerce, which I wasnít doing as much.
DICKEY: Iíd like to get back to your question about whether you could develop a platform if you werenít a particularly interesting person. One thing I always tell authors is to pay attention to the headlines and pay attention to whatís happening out there. Look at the plot of their book and look at what theyíre writing about and pay attention. I go back to Candace Bushnell. When the term metrosexual was all of a sudden being written about, she immediately integrated that into her stories. I work with Alexandra Robbins, who writes nonfiction, but she is an absolute pro at doing her research and paying attention to whatís happening in the news and connecting it to what sheís writing about, and then getting her voice out there.
CARROLL: Beth, when you call the publicist in, when youíre doing the pitch, you say, ďTake Candace and the metrosexualĒóis that how you pitch it?
DICKEY: As soon as I saw it, as soon as she called me, she was like, have you seen this about metrosexuals? Immediately I called The View and I said, Listen, you guys have got to be reading about this, Candace is the best person to have on to talk about it, and then she was a guest co-host for a week.
CARROLL: That is brilliant. Can I ask you one other thing because you have such a great personality? Do you call people on the phone or do you e-mail them?
DICKEY: Ninety percent of the time I e-mail. It is all about the e-mail now. I have friends who constantly comment on how quickly I respond. I couldnít do my job without e-mail because writers are on deadline, producers are moving ninety to nothing. But I do make a call when it is a headline story or I have a very good relationship with the producer and I feel confident that Iíll get their ear. But you can get into it over e-mail.
CARROLL: So you called The View.
DICKEY: You canít get into it over the phone unless you do have that relationship.
GEORGE: You only get so much time with them.
DICKEY: Youíre not going to leave a mile-long message about things either. Thatís the quickest way for them to never want to talk to you again. So the e-mail is the thing.
TAYLOR: Iím going to take it as a given, and maybe youíll tell me Iím wrong, E. Jean, but Iím just going to assume that not everybody has the product to put up a website that attracts advertisements and six thousand hits a day. How many hits does your website get?
CARROLL: About a half-million a week.
TAYLOR: So Iím going to assume that for many of us in the auditorium maybe selling the book is still the thing that they want to do. Most of us arenít going to be on Today or Oprah talking about the current buzz word, or getting thousands of hits on our websites. How would you go about just selling the book?
CARROLL: This year was a catastrophe because I was on Oprah four times and it never coincided. The book was just coming out but she wanted me on for something else.
DICKEY: I know how that is. Always.
CARROLL: Whatever the queen wants. I am a complete ignoramus. I do poorly on television. Iím too all over the place. I canít get my mind constrained, I am the worst there is. I am a moron and you really shouldnít pay one bit of attention to what I have to say. Listen to Beth, listen to Nelson, listen to Nick, do not listen to me. I do everything wrong and I just completely screw up all the time. Thatís it.
DICKEY: Iíll say quickly about the website thing, that you have to approach this as an investment in yourself. There are companies that know how to create a book website or a website around you as an author and make it interesting. Itís an investment. I know Hyperion, and I would imagine pretty much every major publisher, makes that investment directly for authors. We encourage authors, but a lot of times we also develop websites for them as well as a vehicle to sell their books.
GEORGE: Well, the website connected to Amazon or connected to whoever is the sales agent is the relationship you want. You want to have someone hear you on the radio, read about your book somewhere, go to the website, be intrigued and order that book immediately through Amazon or whoever your source is. I think thatís crucial. The commerce part of it is that youíre still selling books.
CARROLL: You sell them on your website?
GEORGE: Itís really, really important.
CARROLL: You give them away.
DICKEY: And you are not a moron because Oprah doesnít book morons.
CARROLL: Iím just saying itís so hard. I donít know how anybody does their job. I donít know how anybody gets a book on TV. It is so hard.
DICKEY: Iím happy you understand that.
CARROLL: Right, Beth? I donít know how you do it. The competition to get your book on the Today show is so incredible. Youíre out there competing against sixty or seventy thousand books every year. Luckily, there are only a few really, really sensational publicists in this town. And if you have oneóand Beth is one of themósomebody who can get in and sell you, then youíre halfway there. As Beth said, it almost doesnít matter what you write. I swear to God, thatís the kind of world weíre living in now.
GEORGE: Iíve been writing books now for about twenty years. The book tour was an essential part of the mechanism at one point. And now fewer and fewer publishers are doing book tours, or doing them as extensively as they used to. I understand the economics of it, but because there are fewer tours, there is less connection with the readership. A lot of great success stories start with these connections that writers make with the audiences one-on-one. Because the book business is increasingly mirroring the film business and the record business, with the idea of the big opening, there is less and less of that building a book slowly over time. I still think the fundamentals apply to a great degree. Especially for fiction, I think, that you have to find your readers, you have to cultivate your readers, and independent bookstores, in my opinion, are still the best way to do that, especially for literary fiction and even some commercial fiction.
DICKEY: Itís critical for literary fiction.
GEORGE: Itís still about finding the bookseller who likes your book, going to their store, going to the book circle. Book clubs are essential. Being aware of book clubs, finding book clubs. For every topic, there is a book club that is interested. And theyíre online to a great degree.
TAYLOR: So word of mouth is still important.
GEORGE: I think so.
CARROLL: Oh yeah, peer to peer.
DICKEY: I have an author on a thirty-city tour right now, which, as you said, is very unusual now. Itís the economics. But bookstores can be so defeating. This author is one of my favorites; sheís genuine and interesting. Weíve broken her out in some new markets. One was Dallas, Texas, and when she signed at the Waldenbooks there last week, there were five people and two books sold. Thatís good for a new market, thatís really good. Because often there are zero people and zero books sold. But the advantage is that you have the opportunity to meet the bookseller, to discuss your book, and that will improve the hand sell of your book. It is very good for fiction. But there is an economic situation there too. The local media doesnít book the way they used to either, because they too are more susceptible to the flashier news story.
GEORGE: It used to be easy to get on the local Live at Five. You could always get on the local Live at Five in Birmingham, Alabama or in some secondary market. Now a lot of those pieces are being funneled in from the national network.
DICKEY: It took several phone calls to get Candace Bushnell on Good Day Dallas. You know, this is Candace here. So itís not easy. Itís important to keep that in mind. To get back to the book tour, realize when you go out there that youíre doing it not just to sell your book; youíre doing it to connect with your audience, and to connect with the bookseller, and to really make a big difference, especially with those independent bookstores.
CARROLL: One time I went to Indianapolis. Iím from Indiana, I had a book, and I went to Indianapolis, and did two morning shows, three radios, the Indianapolis Star. I said, ďCome down and see me, four oíclock this afternoon, Iíll be at Barnes & Noble, I canít wait to see you.Ē I said it all morning long on every show. I go into the signing. Two elderly sorority sisters of mine show up, thatís it.
DICKEY: God forbid if it rains. Forget it. If thereís, like, inclement weather, itís over. Itís over.
GEORGE: Thereís nothing worse than having two people show up and then you go back to the empty hotel room, and itís freezing cold, andó
CARROLL: You get the mini-bar though; you get the mini-bar.
GEORGE: You get up early the next morning to go to the next city and youíre afraid no oneís going to show up there. And then you go to Seattle, which is a great place. Elliot Bay is one of the best bookstores in the country. You go there and you have a fantastic audience and people really know what theyíre talking about, and the whole trip is salvaged.
DICKEY: By that one great experience.
GEORGE: Itís definitely slogging, though. Itís definitely trenches.
TAYLOR: Are you all saying that TV and local TV appearances and radio appearances really donít make a whole lot of difference?
GEORGE: I think radio helps.
DICKEY: They make a difference, they absolutely make a difference. And itís imperative that you find at least one interview here in your market.
CARROLL: Whatís that station in Portland that will put a book on the bestseller list? A little one. TV and radio station in Portland.
DICKEY: Northwest Afternoon.
CARROLL: Thatís it! Northwest Afternoon. You get an author on that show and those people will buy and read that book.
DICKEY: Thatís a good show. Not every market has those. But it does absolutely make a difference. If nothing else, you have to look at it this way too: if nobody comes to your book signing, you were on the radio and somebody was in their car listening. That is going to get somebody to a bookstore, whether itís the one youíre signing at that night or not.
TAYLOR: Authors are always complaining about in-house publicity, theyíre saying my book was just published byówell, not Hyperion certainlyósome other publisher.
DICKEY: Not Hyperion.
TAYLOR: And theyíre not doing anything, theyíre not getting the word out. And sometimes authors hire outside publicists. Is this a good idea? Is it worth the money?
CARROLL: Can I just say one thing about publicists?
CARROLL: I think theyíre the hardest working, and theyíre the first people blamed when stuff doesnít work. Blame it on the publicist.
DICKEY: Oh, I knew I loved you. I knew it.
CARROLL: Itís true. Publicists are blamed, publicists are fired. When GE, take all your big companies, if theyíre launching a new product, the product doesnít go well, who are the first people out the door? Itís the head of PR. Out the door. Do you know the average person in PR in big corporates lasts barely two years and then theyíre the hell out of there? If an authorís book is not selling, who gets blamed? The publicist. You guys suck wind the minute you get out of bed. I donít know how you do it. And of course we do hire outside publicists.
DICKEY: I hate to say I think sheís right. On a personal level, when an author hires an outside publicist, Iím always a little like, Oh, crap. The truth is itís a blow to the ego.
TAYLOR: How many books are you working on right now?
DICKEY: Iím going to be perfectly honest. If I were an author today and I had the meansóeven if I didnít have the means, Iíd find a way to get the meansóand Iíd hire a publicist. Because the truth is, at the end of the day we work for the publisher. We donít work for you. Weíre not doing client here. You are my client, but I work for the publisher and at any given time Iím working on twelve to fifteen authors, twelve to fifteen books. Itís insanity in the office. And thereís never a time that I donít finish a book or wrap up a project that I donít feel so strongly that if I had just had a little more time, if I just had more one-on-one with this book and this author, thereís more I couldíve done. And it makes me feel bad, but thatís just the nature of the beast.
GEORGE: Iíve used outside publicists a few times and I think one of the things to remember if you do is to have a clear mandate as to what the outside publicist is supposed to do.
GEORGE: Vis-ŗ-vis what the inside publicist is supposed to do. Thatís really crucial.
DICKEY: Itís imperative.
GEORGE: Whatís a good example? Hip-hop America, which was a history of hip-hop. Okay, someone handled The New York Times, handled all the mainstream media. I wanted someone to make sure I got in every little hip-hop magazine and every little hip-hop radio show, I wanted someone who just does that kind of stuff, make sure that audience knows it exists. So thatís a good example of being very specific about what youíre paying these people to do.
DICKEY: Absolutely. Iíve worked on Anthony Keidis, the Red Hot Chili Peppersí lead singer. I worked on his book.
GEORGE: Heís not dead. I thought you said late singer.
DICKEY: The lead singer.
DICKEY: Heís very much alive. But heís an example. Itís Anthony Keidis, it wasnít all that difficult to get him media, but I didnít know that thereís a lot of specialized media out there. I worked with a woman I had met in passing who does music websites. She was invaluable to me for reaching that core audience.
If you do hire a publicist, itís much more helpful to do it in the beginning phases. Iím very used to working with outside publicists and I love them. But itís good to get that dialogue started early, so that you can divide and conquer. And you donít step on each otherís toes.
GEORGE: You can monitor what theyíre doing because youíre paying them.
GEORGE: You want a specific mandate so you can easily see what theyíre doing and not doing for you.
TAYLOR: Letís open the floor to questions at this point.
Q: What does it take to get the word out on a book?
DICKEY: First of all, organization is key. Itís absolutely key. One of the very first conversations that I want to have with an author is, ďHave you interacted with the media at all? Who do you know?Ē I am so irritated when they go, ďOh, about two years ago I was on radio andóĒ No, no, no. I want a database here. If I were an author, thatís what I would do. You need to be very, very organized. So think outside the box. Think, oh gosh, Iíve never done an interview for anything, but my cousinís nephew is a writer for the Tampa Tribune. Anything you can think of. I am always, always impressed and very thankful when an author is organized. The more that they can supply me with, the better able I am to increase their visibility. I mean Iím busy. I canít be reading, I canít be thinking about one book; I have to think about twelve. So if your client sees a headline and says, ďGee, I could really talk to that. Thatís something Iím passionate about and thatís something I write about,Ē they should shoot me an e-mail about it. That makes a big difference. And it can increase their visibility because I can just tailor that e-mail a little bit and blast it to my contacts. And the next thing you know, we get a phone call. So, thatís a big deal.
CARROLL: You just said when your clients send you an e-mail to send you a really good e-mail so you donít have to spend the rest of the afternoon working on an e-mail that you can blast out.
DICKEY: I usually do a little tinkering.
CARROLL: But itís good to give you the basics.
DICKEY: I need the basics. Another thing is to be proactive about their careers: They need to get out, they need to be talking to people, they need to interact with their peers. The more you do that, I think, the more you get to know people. You get on those Rolodexes and you become a spokesman for your platform.
TAYLOR: In the third row, the lady in the hat.
Q: How do you persuade a publisher to buy a book on a subject thatís not new?
GEORGE: Iíll give you a good example. A friend of mine is a yoga instructor. She studied under a very well-known yoga instructor who had two books of her own. She came up with a take on yoga that involved weightlifting and mixing the two together. She asked me for advice, and I said, Why donít you use the book thatís already sold and say youíre adding an element to it. So she went to the same publisher who had published her mentor and said, Iím taking that philosophy but Iím extending it sideways. And she showed how. Maybe she said an audience exists for this style of yoga, but by adding this other element to it I believe Iím extending it and opening it to another audience. She was able to get that published. I go into a bookstore right now, and her bookís there. She did it in two years. So I think itís definitely possible, but you should also make sure that you look at the marketplace first.
Q: What do you mean by a platform?
TAYLOR: Thatís a great question.
DICKEY: I have a definition. I have a dictionary.
GEORGE: Iíve got to tell you, I use brand, I never use platform.
DICKEY: Well, the dictionary definition is ďa position of authority or prominence that provides a good opportunity for doing something.Ē I thought, Iím going to say platform a lot tomorrow, I better know what it means.
TAYLOR: Some platforms are more like a big three-ring circus. E. Jean, maybe you can add to that definition.
CARROLL: Iím telling you itís ceaseless, itís endless. You have to become a non-person. If you have a book, you do nothing; you do not eat, you do not sleep, you do nothing except badger people. You become a bad human being. Truly, you give up your soul, you do things youíd never dream you would ever, ever do. Youíre making calls it kills you to make. Youíve got to make the calls. It is endless. It is grinding. It is not fun. Youíre constantly on. You feel so sorry because youíre calling your publicist. You say, I canít call, Iíve called her twelve times today. And you know what? Authors get nuts. Every agent in the audience knows what I am talking about. Authors are insane people when a book comes out. You act insane because you have to get so much done. And basically the platform is your energy. Remember Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? That was a nowhere book. He got in his car and drove to every little bookstore in the South, and he made that book go on the bestseller list. He just willed it. He ate in his car, he slept in his car. He made that book happen. I swear to God, nothing will stand between you and selling your book if you just have the enthusiasm. Emerson said you can accomplish anything with enthusiasm. I swear to God I think thatís true. But you will drive your publicist crazy. How many authors do you have right now who call you more than twice a day?
DICKEY: Oh, good lord.
CARROLL: How many?
DICKEY: I donít know, maybe ten, fifteen.
CARROLL: See? But thatís what it takes. You have to not care whether youíre liked. If you want to have friends, forget it.
DICKEY: Wait. Now Iíve got to disagree. You do have to be driven. You do have to be passionate. But if you drive them crazyó
GEORGE: Thatís not a good thing.
DICKEY: Itís not good. Thereís a fine line.
GEORGE: Iíve been in meetings and Iíve heard publicists talk about other authors, and I didnít want to be the other author.
DICKEY: I have groups. I love them and I hate them. And there is no one in between.
CARROLL: Tell me this, the ones you hate, do you work just as hard for them?
DICKEY: I donít. Because they are thankless and they are annoying. And thatís that.
GEORGE: One thing I have learned over the years is that your publicist and your editoró
DICKEY: Need to be your friend.
GEORGE: They are going to love you.
DICKEY: And if we love them, then I will work my ass off.
GEORGE: Okay, you know what happens, in those meetings you know nothing about, when theyíre doing budgets and talking about where they are going to put ads and if youíre going to do the extra promotional thing, that likability is the difference between your book getting into the book fair, or not, or ďletís have that sign of his bookĒóas opposed to her book.
CARROLL: See, youíre likable, thatís what it is.
TAYLOR: Thereís a fine line between persistence and being annoying. Right back here, yes.
Q: How do I market my book to black audiences in the English-speaking Caribbean and the U.K.?
GEORGE: I can tell you one thing. Thereís a couple of really good black newspapers in London that you should go to. Actually, you know the model for that. He does a literary festival in Jamaica every year. Colin Channer is a black novelist with a Caribbean background. When I was in London he was doing readings. Very unusual to see an American author, especially a black American, doing readings. But he used a Caribbean connection. Thereís a huge community of Caribbean blacks there. And a lot of media outlets, newspapers.
DICKEY: There are. I worked on Bob Marleyís wifeís book.
GEORGE: I think you can do that. But I think that community probably reads newspapers more than Americans. Theyíre very literate in terms of what they read and their newspapers are cleaner. They really pay attention to that. So I would really target the Caribbean media in the States. Because it works both ways. They read in both places.
DICKEY: I donít do any kind of international media. I get lots of phone calls for it and I immediately pass it along to our subsidiary rights department. Or if I know that the agent negotiated for all rights outside of the U.S., then I immediately take it and send it to their agent. I would go completely insane if I did all that too. But itís really important to remember your core audience. Iíve worked on several Irish-American books. And it is unreal to me, but thereís the Irish Times, the Irish Edition, the Irish Echo. And it makes the book. I mean these are the people that are interested. This is your core. You always have to target the core before you can even think about the outside, the rest of it. So there is a lot of press for you for that book here in the U.S. Like I said, I worked on Bob Marleyís wife Ritaís book, No Woman No Cry, and it got a good deal of that press.
Q: Can authors contact media venues on their own or do they have to go through publicists?
DICKEY: You need to go through your publicist. You really do. Itís the quickest way to totally annoy a producer.
CARROLL: Talk about that. Whatís that like? What do you mean?
DICKEY: It depends. Someone like E. Jean, whoís been on the Today show several times, whoís been on Oprah several times, writes for Elle--if she wants to call them, fine. But 99 percent of the authors out there donít have that luxury and they should not be calling. And it doesnít matter if theyíve been on the Today Show before, what they need to do is keep careful documentation of every media individual you have ever met. Keep their e-mail, keep their phone, whatever youíve got, keep it in a database. Then you can give that to your publicist and let him or her do the talking.
Q: How do you get people to come to your website?
E Jean Carroll
CARROLL: You have to have publicity. We launched Great Boyfriends, no hits. I launched it in Elle magazine, no hits. The thing was I got all these letters from women complaining they didnít have boyfriends. And I thought wait a minute. You all have great ex-boyfriends that you just have gotten tired of, or you broke up, and heís got a great job, and you disagreed about religion, whatever. Why doesnít every woman out there just recommend a guy she knows and then everybody who wants a boyfriend can have a boyfriend? So itís a great idea. So we had all the girls recommend their ex-boyfriends. So I called somebody at The New York Times, and it hit the front page of the Style section. Boom. The website was born. Thatís all I needed was one hit, one hit.
DICKEY: But you know what you couldíve done. The Style section is a great hit for anything. But letís just say I was your publicist and you said I would really like for you to call. I would call.
CARROLL: And you probably would have gotten a better response, you know.
DICKEY: No, well, look what you got. But Iím just saying, to go back to my point, letís not encourage a lot of phone calls.
GEORGE: Everywhere your name is, every time you send out your biography, your website should be on that.
DICKEY: On everything.
GEORGE: I did a radio show Sunday night. I was supposed to get the names of all the events I was doing. I said, itís all on my website. Iím driving people to my website as much as possible. Thatís how you create traffic. People tell their friends, and it gets on links, and thatís how you do it.
Q: What makes a good e-mail?
DICKEY: Well, the headline is critical. Youíve got to have something in that headline thatís going to make them open it up.
TAYLOR: You mean the subject line.
DICKEY: The headline of the actual topic. You donít want to just write hello, or great book. No. You need to say what you are e-mailing them about. It doesnít need to be a mile long but it needs to say what you are getting at. Then you go into the body of the message, you want to have an interesting opening. You want to get to what youíre doing here from the get-go. First line, get to it. Then you introduce yourself and the title of your book: E. Jean Carroll, author of Mr. Right Right Now, parentheses, HarperCollins, the price point, and the publication date. You put that in all bold, all caps. And then you go into it. If youíve got them in those first two paragraphs, you can go on and on and on. I usually attach a press release, or a Q&A I might have done with the author, a photograph of the author, if itís for television, that kind of thing.
CARROLL: How many words? Do you keep it under four hundred words?
DICKEY: Oh God, yes.
CARROLL: Under three hundred words?
DICKEY: Oh yes.
CARROLL: Under two hundred? Wow.
DICKEY: Yeah. I mean it needs to get to it. Make him want to call you and talk about it further.
CARROLL: Do you ever send handwritten letters by messenger?
CARROLL: Because you know what I suspect now? I suspect television producers get so many pitches that theyíre like everybody in this room, you read your e-mails, you put it aside, say Iím going to deal with this later, and then you forget. So Iím starting to think if you messenger over a hard copy of what you just e-mailedó
DICKEY: Iíve done that. I donít do it a lot, but I have done it.
CARROLL: Does it work?
DICKEY: Yeah, it works. It actually worked with the Style section once.
TAYLOR: Thank God, weíre entering the post-e-mail world.
Q: How does a mid-list author achieve a platform?
GEORGE: I think itís very much what Beth said, being aware of ways your specialty intersects with whatís going on in the news. I think thatís really essential. The other thing is to look at magazines, specialized groupsólike if youíre in the record business, the RIAA; then there are all these groups that do seminars for their clientele. There are many ways you can flip your information and introduce it to another audience. Thereís a book that lists every trade organization in the country.
DICKEY: The Directory of Associations.
GEORGE: I would look closely at that list and see if thereís a trade publication or a magazine out that you donít know about. Youíre a product. And if you werenít you and you were just a product you were selling, what would you do to sell that product?
CARROLL: Youíre exactly right.
GEORGE: You have to look at yourself as that product. How do I take what I know and get it to the people who are interested in what Iím talking about? Itís particularly true of nonfiction, because with nonfiction thereís a real hook there. I met a barber once and he told me a great story about the dangers of being a barber, so I wrote a story about a barber and put it on my website.
CARROLL: I canít wait to go to your website.
GEORGE: I got an e-mail from the National Barber Association. I had no idea they even existed. They told me, we loved your story. So you never know what groups are out there that are interested in what youíre doing.
CARROLL: I think this is the publishersí fault. I think publishers are buying too many books by people who will never sell. Swear to God. You are getting stuck with authors you will never be able to get on anything. They feel bad, you feel bad, everybody feels bad about it. If they just wouldnít buy these books to begin with, it would be much better and everybody wouldnít have to go through the pain.
GEORGE: I agree. There are probably more books being published now than ever.
CARROLL: How many books are being published now?
TAYLOR: A hundred and fifty thousand a year? Something like that.
DICKEY: I thought it was 130,000.
TAYLOR: 175,000 is what Iím getting from the second row. And that doesnít count self-published or print-on-demand, which really will get it up there.
CARROLL: So to get your book out there to more than four peopleó
TAYLOR: Youíve got to have more energy than E. Jean Carroll. Question here, yes.
Q: I worked on a book about martial arts with an instructor. Is there a way a ghostwriter or collaborator can help with publicity?
CARROLL: You should be because you are great looking. I swear to God, thatís 94 percent of it, right there. Talk to Roger Ailes, who runs the Fox News Network. When he hires anchors he never has the sound on, he just looks at the people. You should be on TV just for the way you look. No, really. Beth, am I wrong about that? Look how cute she is.
DICKEY: The attractive quality. Yeah, I agree with that but also I donít. I donít want my people, writers, to thinkó
CARROLL: I think you could help it, I really do. Am I way off here? When you get an attractive, articulate person like this whoís got aó
GEORGE: Itís not her story.
CARROLL: Itís not your story. Oh, okay.
DICKEY: You wrote it. Itís his story and you wrote it.
TAYLOR: So the question is, how can a ghostwriter help sell a book she wrote, though the story isnít hers?
DICKEY: Your contacts are critical. I mean youíve got the contacts, heís got the story. But you want this book to sell too. You want to make some money from it too. Unfortunately, itís his story, theyíre going to want him to do the interviews. Theyíre going to want your contacts absolutely. You should do that as much as possible. And you can have as much of a dialogue as the other writer. I work with two authors all the time.
GEORGE: I was going to say that since youíre an experienced journalist, you should be training him now. Thatís where you can be really helpful to him. Iíd make a list of the ten questions you know theyíre going to ask this person and help him refine those ten questions into really good answers.
CARROLL: Another thing is how anybody makes any money selling books. Really, if weíre going to start telling the truth here, hardly any authors make the big money.
DICKEY: Thatís true.
CARROLL: Itís the big lie. You work three years of your life, turn out the best thing you possibly can, the book may, if it does well, break even.
GEORGE: Can I ask you one more question? Does your friend have a company?
GEORGE: Then what he should be doing is thinking about ways of inviting media to get on-the-job training, with a TV crew. Morning shows love to have their people come down there and act like theyíre breaking a brick.
DICKEY: You could even do an event there. Wherever his hub is, wherever his big studio is, do an event there. Have him do a workshop and bring in a bookseller to sell books.
DICKEY: That will also invite press.
Q: How do you find a private publicist?
DICKEY: Thereís a website called Literary Market¨place that some publicists are connected to. Also, if you notice a particular book is getting a large amount of press, you may want to go onto the authorís website, the publisherís website, because oftentimes the contact, if itís not someone you know, if it doesnít say Beth. Dickey@SimonSchuster, or Beth.Dickey@Harper Collins, if it says something else itís probably a freelancer.
GEORGE: If youíre with a publisher, they often have people they work with that theyíll recommend.
DICKEY: I know a ton.
GEORGE: If your bookís already set up you can ask them.
Q: How much outreach is there to local public libraries for author publicity?
DICKEY: I would say thereís a fair amount. A lot of libraries are connected to festivals, so itís important to think about what region of the country your author lives in or what region of the country their book is appealing to, and get them to that festival. You also like to have a presence as a publisher. Often, a bookstore has a unique relationship with a library and will bring an author to the library because itís a bigger setting, and can hold a larger audience. Iíve had some library events and I have to admit Iíve not had strong fills. But we do try to work with them. I mean libraries are critical. Theyíre the bread and butter .
Q: Do you always wear glasses on TV?
CARROLL: I do. I always wear them. Thereís a guy who watches television a lot and if I donít wear my glasses he sends an e-mail saying he was frightened to death.
DICKEY: Theyíre your signature.
Q: With a book that is about to come out, how do you leverage early publicity into publicity when the book is actually available?
DICKEY: Book buyers are impulsive. If you do early publicity and youíve made your point, then they rush to the bookstore and canít get the book because itís not publication date or itís not been shelved yet. So itís always good to say you know what, I would love to do your interview. My publication date is in about two weeks. But if theyíre like, no, no, no, this is my deadline, this is when weíre going to do it, then you say all right, Iíll do the interview as long as youíre willing to plug my book on your website at least on pub date. Youíve got to work it a little.
CARROLL: Whatís the name of your book? Letís do a little publicity.
Q: Baby G.
CARROLL: Baby G. Look for it in your bookstores. Baby G.
DICKEY: Time Out New York is a fantastic forum for fiction, for literary fiction. Very good.
Q: What is the role of paid advertising in a bookís publicity campaign?
DICKEY: There is an advertising budget for every book you publish, and sometimes itís zero. The problem with advertising is, letís say a book is $24.95 in hardcover and you take out an ad. Iím not good with numbers, thatís why Iím in publicity, but letís say youíve got to sell 100,000 books to break even on that ad. Big car companies can bring out their big ads because their product is expensive and they will break even. In our industry, unfortunately, the price of the product is so low compared to the cost of an ad that it wonít.
I have to say in my career, Hyperion is noticeably more generous with their advertising dollars, and sometimes I really think itís worked. But theyíre also very selective. They do it very carefully. They target it, which is what everyone does, obviously. Also, if a book does start to take off, and they want to continue the book sales, theyíll up the ad budget that way because they know the publicist has got to move on. Most of the time youíre going to hear, ďThis isnít in our plan, this wasnít in our budget.Ē I have to say I see the point of the publishing house because as publicity director at Long Street Press in Atlanta I had to do the marketing and the advertising. So I handled those dollars. Ads are ridiculous. I mean just ridiculous. Even a quarter-page ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution when I left was $75,000.
CARROLL: Are you serious?
DICKEY: Quarter page in the AJC.
TAYLOR: But as Nelson and E. Jean have told us, you can use your website very effectively for advertising.
GEORGE: Unless your book is already climbing the bestseller charts and is already on its way and youíre trying to maximize it, advertising is not an effective use of your money.
DICKEY: As an author, you should really encourage those dollars to go elsewhere. I completely agree with that.
GEORGE: Youíre better off having the local rep put a big poster in the store.
DICKEY: A blow-up. And those are expensive. And I canít tell you how many times authors are like, Well how about a blow-up?
GEORGE: They are. They are expensive. But theyíre reaching buyers.
DICKEY: It ainít in the budget.
TAYLOR: Iím afraid that weíre out of time. Let me thank Beth Dickey, Nelson George and E. Jean Carroll. Let me thank the audience for coming out. Weíve learned that more and more, the author is the product in todayís book publicity machines. And Iím going home to work on my website.