As we all know, all is not well in newspaperland: journalists are being laid off left and right, daily papers are getting smaller, quite a few of them have gone – or are slowly, painfully going – under.
People just don’t consume news the way they used to: by which I mean all at once, in one package, from one source, once a day. We no longer wait for the news to land on our front porches, or to arrive in a coin-release box at the end of the street: we go hunting for it on the Internet. Since people aren’t reading newspapers the way they used to, advertisers aren’t buying ads in them, which means that the papers have to cut and cut, and on it goes.
If you’re a writer (no one else much cares about this part), the situation appears to be particularly dire when it comes to books coverage. “Books editors” have all but disappeared, and finding a books page or even a single book review in a newspaper is less likely all the time. For those who have self-published, the situation seems even more discouraging (although we have to admit that no one forced us to self-publish): almost all of the books that do get reviewed are from traditional presses.
Perhaps A Silver Lining?
In considering the implications of the decline of the print media, I’ve made some observations that could perhaps add up to a window of opportunity for those of us who find ourselves promoting our own books at this particular point in time. The situation could be very different even two years from now, but at the moment, with a bit of creativity, we might be able to put these points to use in ways that may not only help us to sell books, but may also solve some problems for the people who are running the skeleton staffs of the world’s remaining newspapers:
- The print media have not disappeared completely. Lots of people are still reading newspapers on the subway, in coffee shops and doctors’ offices, on park benches and maybe even in their bathrooms.
- Most of us approach the papers we read differently than we used to. When I sit down with an actual newspaper these days, I tend to skim over items I’ve already read online (i.e., most of the news stories), and look instead for editorials and other opinion pieces, investigative journalism and those items known as “human interest” (to distinguish them from items of merely ferret interest, I suppose). I’m also more likely to read an article all the way through in print than online, because when I do sit down and open a newspaper, I’ve usually got a cup of tea at my elbow and have already mentally committed some time to checking out what’s inside of it.
- In addition to daily papers, there are weekly and monthly specialty newspapers, some of them subscription-based but many of them free: community and small-town newspapers, real estate papers, seniors’ newspapers, advertising flyers that break up the monotony with brief general-interest articles, etc.
- Since there are too few writers left on most newspapers staffs today, I am guessing that editors might be having a hard time generating items of local or general interest for the papers that do remain. Rather than ignoring it, if a compelling story falls into their hands that is already well written from a journalistic point of view (intriguing, apparently objective, answering the who-what-when-where-how questions, etc.) and that is about the right length for what they need, they might just sigh with resignation if not relief, and run it.
- Most people who are working on newspapers have an interest in writing and writers: many of them are would-be book writers themselves — even those who edit the automotives section or cover regional politics. An interesting subject line in an email might just attract such an individual’s attention, and compel him or her to call you for an interview.
- A story about a book that appears in some section of the paper like “City News” or “Lifestyle” is going to reach a lot more potential buyers than is one that appears in a cultural silo, such as the Arts and Entertainment section or The Weekend Reader.
Two Plus Two = Just a Hunch
There has got to be a news story relating your book somewhere, even if it is only “Historic novel took took twenty years to write,” or “Nightmare inspired fantasy,” or “Author swears erotic novel is invention; husband begs to differ.” If there isn’t, maybe you can create one (“Book launch at swimming pool makes big splash”). (I’m sure you can be more creative: the more creative the better, in fact.)
Once you’ve written your news item, Google “daily newspapers Canada” or “weekly newspapers North Dakota” or “newspapers Roman Catholic” – whatever suits your fancy – and start sending out your story. In my brief experience with this type of endeavour to date, at least I feel as though I’m working on book promotion, even if it has so far failed to bring forth any fruit.
Who knows? If all else fails it might lead to another news story: “After 500 media releases without a single nibble, despairing writer seeks refuge in new novel.” Now that has a human-interest ring to it, don’t you think?
Update: After you’ve read this post, go immediately to the first comment below, from Marcus Trower, and read it. I was writing about my hunches on this issue in this post; he provides some genuine, practical advice from the field. THANK YOU, Marcus! (I’m hoping he’ll do a guest post at some point.) (I love the Internet.)
I am looking for someone to do a guest blog post on book promo blog tours. Experience (with blog post tours) necessary. We want to know: How you set one up. What you do. What you offer other bloggers in exchange. What the outcome has been for you. If you can write such a piece, apply within (i.e., at mary at marywwalters dot com)
I am also looking for a few people to talk to about their experiences with video book promotion (YouTube or other) – either as the focus of the video or as a consumer of author videos. What is most effective format? How long should they be? What should they be about – the book? The author? Does anyone actually watch these things? If you can help, contact me at mary at marywwalters dot com.