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How does a top book publicist think? Q&A with pro Karen Engler

What can all authors, regardless of their publishing model, learn from a veteran book publicist? Successful pro Karen Engler shares insights.

Because I know how powerful news media exposure is for books, products, and services, I’m constantly encouraging you to pursue publicity for your book.

My publishing experience is a great example of why it’s important. My first book contract was a direct result of publicity I generated for a subscription newsletter I created around the lighter side of gender differences. That book sold out, thanks to book publicity generated when my publisher’s in-house book publicist and I collaborated and worked together as a team.

My second book sold out three press runs on the strength of publicity alone. (It was published before social media was a thing.)

Because I think publicity is so important to your author career, I asked a veteran book publicist how she decides which authors and books to work with and how self-published authors can make their work more promotable. It’s an enlightening Q&A with important insights.

Introducing book publicist Karen Engler

book publicist Karen EnglerI met Karen Engler after I used HARO to find sources for an article about how to turn your passion into a retirement project. I was so impressed with her pitch on behalf of her author client and our resulting conversation that I knew she’d provide thoughtful answers to questions I wanted to ask on your behalf.

Karen is a 30-year publicity veteran specializing in flexible author media tours. As a secret weapon on publicity teams, she has vast experience with nonfiction and children’s books.

Her hobbies include an obsession with animals – especially dogs – and tiny houses. She’s excited to hear about people’s passion projects that have led to their books. Feel free to reach out for a quick consultation; here’s her email address.

Q&A with book publicist Karen Engler

Whether you are a DIY marketer or are considering hiring a publicist, Karen’s insights will help you understand what you need to succeed.

I’ve noticed that not everybody understands what a book publicist does. What services do you provide?

Yes, part of that confusion is because publicity can be a broad category, but publicists are best known for lassoing media attention.

My focus is;

  • To generate press materials like press releases, author Q & As, advise on videos, edit articles, and more. It’s different for everyone.
  • To reach out to journalists; bloggers; newsrooms (where applicable); website content directors; producers; and radio, podcast, and TV hosts, to lasso media coverage of their books.
  • To present the books and authors in the most concise and personalized way. This can vary depending on whom I’m approaching.
  • To read the book!

What makes you decide whether to take on an author or book? What do you look for?

I have to be inspired by them and their story or their angle or approach to any given topic. One of the things I love about working primarily with nonfiction books is that most authors are doing an act of service. Whether it’s to inform or entertain, I like being part of bringing their efforts to more people.

I prefer to work with open-minded people. Though I always start by swinging for the fences, the most significant results often come after you redirect or regroup who and where you’re pitching. I’ve seen some amazing things come out of coverage from small media outlets.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”I’ve seen some amazing things come out of coverage from small media outlets. ~ Book Publicist Karen Engler” hide_hashtags=”true”]

What’s your biggest challenge when representing an author?

Finding the sweet spot, that is, the intersection of the author’s work/topic with the zeitgeist in our culture (and media) at any given moment. Then finding the best way for their work to jump off the page.

What’s the difference between promoting a self-published book and one that’s traditionally published?

Traditional publishers are ninjas at packaging books. Though I’m not a big fan of pitching solely with their general press release, they’re great at describing a book and its relevancy.

Self-published books tend to come from lesser-known authors. There’s much nuance to presenting someone who is new or has done little media. This takes a lot more time as well. It is also a big turn-off to people in the media when it’s obvious that authors haven’t worked with an editor on their book.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”It is also a big turn-off to people in the media when it’s obvious that authors haven’t worked with an editor on their book. ~ Book Publicist Karen Engler” hide_hashtags=”true”]

What can a self-published author do to help make hiring a publicist worthwhile, or to enhance their chance of success if they go the DIY route?

Let go of old-school expectations! It’s a long game now. There is some pre-pitching six months out. However, campaigns start later and go longer than they used to, about six to eight weeks before the publication date, and then continue three to four months after that.

If someone chooses the DIY route, they should be comfortable handling rejection and lack of response. I prototyped a consultancy with authors who wanted to save money and handle their press, and I took over. They were bummed out when they should have been writing! With a few exceptions, it’s taking on another job.

What’s the most important thing you’d like authors to know about working with a book publicist?

A cookie-cutter or formulaic approach to book publicity is short-sighted. Every book is unique. Some methods tend to work, but there’s no formula. Also, success isn’t guaranteed just because another author has written a massive bestseller about the same topic.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”A cookie-cutter or formulaic approach to book publicity is short-sighted. Every book is unique. ~ Book Publicist Karen Engler” hide_hashtags=”true”]

Big thanks to Karen for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully!

What questions do you have for book publicist Karen Engler about working with a book publicist? Please ask them in a comment. 

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  1. Great column and tips.
    As a book publicist, I add authors should remember they are purchasing the publicists’ services, expertise and time. No publicist should or can promise any sales of your book; publicity raises awareness, but that doesn’t guarantee success.
    Listen to the publicists. Do every book-signing event, bloggers tour and everything else they suggest. Put your ego aside, and get to work. Writing the book was the easiest part of the book journey.

  2. Thanks so much, Karen, Stephanie, and Sandra (always, Sandra). Publicity for fiction needs creativity and ways of mining the story or author’s story. That is what’s difficult for us. But even with entertainment, there are takeaways, sometimes strong ones. So I have a question: how do you go about finding the “message” or “takeaway” when working with a fiction author?

  3. First rule for me is to focus on the author and his or her personal story. Did you write your book because you fell in love with dolphins when you were seven? Did you write your book while on a cross country tour? Is this you 100th book and the first published?
    The book is not the hook. The author draws people in first, then they will consider the book.

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