What sells books? Electronic media? Print? One answer could lie in Kathryn Hall, Publicist’s unique National Print Media Tour which some publishers and authors have come to regard as a highly effective approach to media coverage. A veteran with twenty-five years experience in media relations, Kathryn was kind enough to share some details of her National Print Tour in an interview with Kathlene Carney recently conducted in Hall’s Sonoma County office.
KC: How did your National Print Tour come to be such a major focus of your work?
KH: The one-size-fits-all approach to promotion is rather narrow. Personally I have never subscribed to the Ten-Cities-in-Ten-Days concept of touring for authors. This seems to be a marketing strategy with New York roots that only now, with shrinking local programming, coupled with more limited budgets is beginning to be reevaluated. I think it only works for authors like a Clinton or Gates or Welch, where their reputations or stories precede them. Lesser known, but wonderful authors who had been on these whirlwind burnout tours kept showing up in my office wondering why their publisher wasn’t “doing more”. I was quick to reassure them that their publisher had done a lot, and that, really, expecting that their publisher would make their book a bestseller was like giving birth to a baby and expecting that the obstetrician would parent the child. I began counseling authors to take more responsibility for ensuring the ultimate success of their books. There are those rare books that will take off on their own, but one must remember that over 150,000 titles published each year in this country. The numbers speak for themselves. This advice helps authors shift to taking responsibility for getting the results they envision. Then they have to decide whether they are willing to do it all on their own, if they get an assistant who can help, or if they need and have a budget for contracting the services of an independent publicist.
The services of Kathryn Hall, Publicist extend almost exclusively to what I call socially responsible nonfiction, usually written by corporate consultants or therapists, lots of PhD’s whose books represent the culmination of years of work--major chunks of their careers put down in writing. These authors need someone who believes in their work and is available to make a major time commitment to promotion, and they need to maximize their resources. Their books often lend themselves to readers, not viewers. Especially in these times when thoughtful forums are on the wane, print was the logical way to go. So the National Print Tour developed. I have been conducting National Print Tours for authors for nearly twenty years, so it has stood the test of time.
KC: What exactly does the National Print Tour entail?
KH: Basically the structure is this: I create a representative press kit with a cover letter and send 100 copies of an author’s book to a hand-selected list of print media. I ask where I want this book to go, which editors? The list is comprised of magazines, business journals, major newspapers, some online sources and a few specialized newsletters. Each book is different. And I make a one-year commitment to turning as many of those contacts into media opportunities as I can. This is done through months of conversations with various editors as I look first for an interest and secondly for an editorial fit. I frequently check editorial calendars of various publications for the year and try to match my authors with their editorial concerns. It’s not uncommon for me to have authors writing articles for publications that are due out months away.
KC: Why so long a commitment?
KH: Magazines and newsletters are publishing four, six, or twelve publications each year. They are working with a minimum of a three-month lead time. It is not reasonable to expect to maximize results in any less time. Given the nature of the books I do, messages will be just as valid a year from now, and they warrant this time commitment. Any less of a time commitment does not honor the nature of the information and shows a limited understanding of how print media works in America today.
KC: Are you looking for reviews? And will a publication review books past the traditional three-month shelf life?
KH: I’m looking for any way to get into the publication: reviews, features, profiles, articles—if the author is available to write--or frequently using my authors as experts for articles. And that process can take many, many conversations with an editor over several months to collaborate on those kinds of creative decisions.
KC: How do you keep an editor’s interest alive for a year? Do you continually repitch them with new angles?
KH: From the very beginning I’m looking for the level of interest of the editor in this particular subject. If he or she really is not interested, I will trust that. I need to invest my time where their is interest and then I’m looking for fit. If I’m looking for a straight review I bow to the discretion of the editor. In that case my job has been more about bringing the book to the editor’s attention, sorting it out for them from the other two to three hundred books sitting on their desks that were mostly computer generated and that no one is going to call them about. You and I know that this is done every day in big houses and then the in-house publicist says to her author, “We sent your book out to 250 publications.” And I say to those authors, “Yes. But are they making any followup phone calls?” Some of them are, but most simply don’t have the people power to follow through over an extended amount of time. They have another ten or twenty books coming down the pipeline.
KC: Do you include trade journals, those that require galleys in your tour?
KH: So often I’ve been hired by authors who need to supplement what their publisher has already done, and by that time it’s too late to send galleys to trade journals. Occasionally I have the luxury of working with galleys, too. Then I know for sure that the trade journals were handled and that follow up calls were in fact made. Right now I have that opportunity with two new Berrett-Koehler titles and it feels very satisfying to be there right from the beginning.
KC: This brings up an important question. Who hires you?
KH: I’m often hired by authors to supplement what their publisher has done or not done. I’m also hired by publishers who want to give special attention to a particular book, one that lends itself more to print than to electronic media.
KC: So you get hired and paid by both authors and publishers?
KH: Yes, and on occasion they go hand in hand and an author will ask his publisher to pay part of my fee and that seems to be a particularly good win for everyone.
KC: We’ve heard you are very discriminating in selecting titles. How do you go about deciding what books you want to promote?
KH: I am, in fact, very selective. A year’s commitment is a big one so it has to be a conversation I really want to be having in the first place! I look for alignment of purpose. Why did the author write the book? If his/her intention was to somehow make this world a better place to live we might well have something in common. That still allows for a wide range of projects. I’ve worked primarily on business books, and some psychology books. But also a wonderful artist’s biography that an editor at Abbeville Press wrote, which I loved. I got a half page in the New York Times for that book as well as lots of urban coverage. And I worked with an extraordinary poet, David Whyte.
KC: So you’ll work with self published authors?
KH: Only if they have really done their homework and created a beautiful product and also have good distribution in place. It’s not enough to simply be available on Amazon. You want your book available in stores.
KC: How does the yearlong length of the National Print Tour affect the availability of the book in bookstores so long after the publication date?
KH: That’s a good question. I do pay attention to that. One thing I do is keep everyone involved in the life of the book well informed with publicity placements as they come in. I tell whoever is appropriate: sales reps, publicity departments, distributors, whoever could benefit from this information. I have placements coming out over the period of the year so there are plenty of opportunities to keep my authors on the publishing teams’ radar.
KC: So you only do print tours these days?
KH: My focus is now either on the National Print Tour, or a select group of retainer clients for whom I do more extended and tailored services, or on an Article Placement Service which I sometimes offer to past clients. If I am conducting a National Print Tour for an author, he or she automatically becomes eligible for electronic media services, which I charge for on a per placement basis. But I always encourage my authors to wait until we have built up a strong press kit before I approach radio or television. You can always do radio and tv. You cannot always do print, as editors are more sensitive about publication dates, so it makes sense to work on print first.
KC: Thank you for taking time to tell us about your National Print Tour.
KH: Thank you for inquiring!
Note: This interview has been slightly edited to bring it fully up to date for this site.