If you’re self-publishing your book, does that mean you can’t get publicity?
Not according to my guest today, the publicist Dawn Michelle Hardy, who is also a friend of mine. She’s going to give us a good schooling in how a self-published author can and ought to seek publicity for their book.
Dawn is a publicist and literary agent who received the name “The Literary Lobbyist” from Ebony Magazine for her ability to help authors reach their readership using strategic promotions, win awards and garner national and local media attention.
She founded her company Dream Relations PR and Literary Consulting in 2004 and she expanded into an agency in 2011.
As a publicist, she spent the past 16 years managing pre-publication details and publicity elements for debut book campaigns consisting of things like galley mailings, development of proper angles and pitches for both national and regional mediums, quote requests, coordinating and implementing book tours, award submissions and speaking engagements, which have resulted in several bestseller lists.
She passionately represents authors of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books. So without further ado, I bring you my friend and the amazing publicist Dawn Michelle Hardy.
(You can also check out Kelly and Dawn’s interview on our YouTube Channel!)
About Dawn, “The Literary Lobbyist”
Kelly Notaras: Dawn, I’m so excited to be here with you. It feels very exciting to get to talk to you for professional reasons, not just for fun.
I’m really excited specifically to talk to you because so many of our authors are interested in self-publishing and they want to know ‘Should I think about publicity for self-publishing?’
So that’s really what I want to talk about. But, before we get into any of that, I want to hear from you. Well, first of all, can you just tell me a little bit about how you fell into publicity, because I know it’s an interesting story? Also, can you discern for us the difference between publicity and platform-building or marketing?
Dawn Michelle Hardy: So I got started in publishing in 2002, and I was basically serving as an assistant to a self-published author. So, you know, you’re helping with a little bit of sales and cover copy and editing and cover design. And out of everything that I was doing, I really liked the publicity aspect.
Publicity is active promotion, active pursuit of media opportunities to let the media and consumers know that a book exists. So out of everything that I was doing, that’s the part that I loved the most. It was a high getting an author magazine interview and a television interview. So I built my agency around publicity.
Publicity vs. Platform
DMH: The difference between publicity and platform: Platform is something that proves that you already have a relationship with the people who should be reading your book. So a lot of times authors are asked, “Who are you writing this book for?” And once you answer that, platform basically says, I’m writing this book for people who are looking to get married. And I already have a blog or a podcast where I’ve been conversing with this group of people who want to get married, and now I’m just going to give them a book to keep the conversation going.
Platform basically is proving that you already have an active relationship via blog podcasts, email lists, etc. with the ideal readers for your book. And that makes it that much easier to promote a book because you already have a platform. I liken it to being in an auditorium. Platform means that you already have people in the seats waiting to hear from you. You’ve already been talking to them. So when you don’t have a platform, that means that you’re entering into an empty auditorium and you’re standing at the podium and you’re hoping that people will come in and sit down and listen to what you have to say. But when you have a platform, the room is already filled before you even get in there.
KN: I love that example. That makes so much sense, because that really does distinguish the two.
So that’s not to say that once you have the auditorium filled, you still don’t do publicity, but publicity can be one way that you actually get people into the seats for your next book or whatever it is that you’re doing after this one.
DMH: A platform is basically allowing you to connect with the first wave of people that are going to buy your book, because you already have a relationship with them. They already find you credible, they respect what you have to say, and what you’ve given them thus far has been helpful. And now you’re just adding one more product to your presentation, which is the book. So, you’ve already proven to them, and their feedback and reviews are going to help you then get the next wave of people who may not know about you yet. And that’s where the publicity comes in.
What is Publicity?
KN: And so reviews are where you sort of tip over into publicity, right?
Do you want to just define publicity for us, and give us some ideas of the kinds of things that as a publicist, specifically working with self-published authors, that you go for?
DMH: Yeah! So publicity is the active pursuit of media opportunities to promote the book or the author. So as a publicist, it could be radio interviews that I’m going after, podcasts, obviously the holy grail is everybody wants to be on television or in O Magazine, social media, local newspapers, as well as events.
Publicity is basically saying that if I’m featured on Good Morning America, the viewers who watched that segment on Good Morning America now are aware of my book. And that viewing audience is going to be in the millions. Which as an author working one-on-one, it’s going to take you a lifetime to get to a million individuals.
So you get publicity because you’re leveraging that particular platform’s audience to promote your book. So Good Morning America has an audience across the country, and when you do publicity and you get an interview on there, people across the country are now aware of your book. That’s why publicity is good, because no author, working one-on-one is going to be able to reach your entire readership doing one-on-one transactions.
So you need publicity to leverage larger groups of people. And Good Morning America is like filling up a football stadium.
KN: I’m glad you brought that up, because that is obviously one of the biggest outlets that most authors want, because they believe that it’s going to make their book. And to greater or lesser degrees, I definitely have heard that the average number of books that gets sold off of an appearance on Good Morning America is like 800. Which you would think it would be like 8,000 or 80,000, but it’s actually 800. And that’s the average. Obviously there are some people who would get much more than that and other people who would get less than that.
But that’s a good example, because that’s such a huge mainstream outlet. And I wanted to ask you, as a self-published author, should you be aiming for Good Morning America?
DMH: Well, here’s the thing it’s really about the topic. And authors have to think beyond what their heart’s desire. You know, we all want to be on Good Morning America. But, I always tell my clients to think about if you’re the producer. Your goal is to have everyone as many people, as many households as possible tuning in to the show. So you’re putting someone on the show, whether they’re self-published or not, who is going to gather the most audience.
So most times, self-published authors don’t have the distribution, or the proper cover, or their book isn’t quite as polished for a producer to feel secure that, on a national scale, this is the ideal person.
So you might have a great topic, but what they’re going to do is find a more established author who has the platform, whose book has been published with a major publisher, and have that person come on and talk about that.
So again, when you’re self-published there are so many other things you have to have in place, but for national attention, you really have to dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s.
KN: I love the way you’re saying that! In a way, you’re saying that Good Morning America is its own platform. And they want to leverage someone who also has a different platform because everyone wants it to be a win-win.
So those of us who maybe don’t have a huge platform, like for my book as an example, I would never have thought I would get on Good Morning America. My book is sort of a niche for people who want to write a book and mostly for people who want to write nonfiction. That’s a pretty small group for such a huge outlet that’s trying to reach so many different types of people.
But, I know that you have actually had some success working publicity with indie authors. So I’m curious, what are some more of some reasonably-sized, but also impactful placements that you would suggest an indie author go for?
Where Should You Start?
DMH: I think that all authors, whether they’re self-published or not, should start in their local market. For example, if you live in Philadelphia, and you can’t get on NBC Philadelphia, the likelihood of you being on the Today Show is very slim. Because if people in Philadelphia, who you probably run into and you’ve been at events with aren’t interested, then why would the Today Show, which is a national scale that’s covering all 50 States?
So I always tell authors, start with your local newspapers, the local free magazines, and then the local TV and radio affiliates. That’s the ideal place to start. And then you have a book event at one of the local bookstores.
So, start right in your own community. Because again, what’s the tie-in? If you want to be on Good Morning America, it has to be something that covers a national topic. But if you haven’t actually discussed that in your own local market … Oftentimes, self-published authors ask why you want to promote your book? When you get on television, it’s not necessarily about your book. Unless you’re writing a novel when you’re writing nonfiction, it’s about the topic.
I had an author who self-published at the beginning of the year, and her book is about how to future-proof yourself. So like right now, with COVID-19 people are losing their jobs, trying to switch careers, and she’s basically put a plan in place on how to make that happen. Her TV segment and her local Houston market was basically about reassessing if the job you have now is the right job for you. So she was introduced as the author of the book, but the segment wasn’t sitting down asking her author about how she wrote her book. It was a wider topic for the community about careers and job placement. So again, a lot of times if you want to get publicity, you have to think beyond your personal book and think what’s the conversation or the message that I can get started in the community at large.
KN: That’s such a good point, and so clear. A lot of the people that are reading this, haven’t actually gotten their book out in the world yet…Now is the time to think about: “What’s my topic?”, “Is it something that a wide variety of people are going to be interested in?” and, “Who is my ideal reader?” Because you’re going to target which outlets you go to for publicity based on where your readers are actually taking in their news.
DMH: A lot of authors will say, oh, my book is for everybody. And you and I Kelly know that that’s not true. So, no matter the size of the audience, just focus your message and your promotional efforts to that demographic. A lot of authors can have great success by just focusing on a niche market. Because, if you try to cast too much of a wide net, you wind up not getting anything back.
I would say, start local and focus on your target audience. And then over the years you’ll expand.
How Long Should You Promote Your Book?
DMH: I also tell self-published authors, you should spend one full year, 12 months, all four seasons promoting the one book.
KN: Wow. I love that. Tell me why? What is it that says to you that you need to spend at least a year?
DMH: Because in the summertime there are different opportunities for events and different press than there is in the winter and the fall. When it’s a fourth quarter and businesses are trying to make more money. Or, we’re in an election year, so November is going to be really loud this year with the results of the election. But if your book came out in May, you have more likelihood to get some publicity. So you have to go through all seasons because tons of opportunities come and go based on the season.
And then also with TV, depending on the topic, TV and print magazine, it takes months. So you start pitching someone in January, and the opportunity may not actually manifest until May or June. So, that’s why you shouldn’t then be putting out another book in six months, because now producers are saying, Oh, we want to interview for book one. And now you’re promoting book two. So I think all authors should at least spend an entire year promoting so that you can really maximize and explore all the opportunities that are available.
And then you can make modifications to your pitch and things of that nature, but one year per book is, I think it’s just the best way to go. Anything less than that, you’re going to lose out on opportunities.
KN: Everything you’re saying, I could ask you 25 questions about what you’re saying, but I love that. And what you just said was something I thought was really important…
Changing Your Pitch
KN: You talk about changing your pitch so that the story isn’t that Joe Smith wrote a book.
DMH: That’s never breaking news. Like Oprah put out books that we didn’t necessarily know about! If you went on Amazon right now, there are books about Oprah that you’re probably like, ‘Oh, I never knew that this book was coming out.’ That’s because it’s not breaking news. Like everybody’s putting books out and with self-publishing that literally means everyone can put a book out. So a book being published is not breaking news.
KN: So, what is breaking news?
DMH: Breaking news is more so when you can tie into current events. Or if you’ve won an award or you’ve hit a landmark sale. If you’re a self-published author and your debut fantasy novel sells 20,000 copies in the first week and you’re self-published, that’s breaking news, because now the publishing industry is saying, “20,000 copies in a week?!” And the publisher, libraries, and newspapers are thinking the same thing. And then that becomes the story, because they want to know, not even so much what the book is about, but how did you sell 20,000 copies? That’s what the story is going to be about. You’ll get to talk about your fantasy novel, but the breaking news is that you sold 20,000 copies in a week as a self-published author. So putting a book out is not news. It’s what the book accomplishes that becomes the news.
KN: Yep. 100%. It just sort of reminds me of a book that I published when I was at Hyperion. And it was a book about this woman who was a blogger in Washington, DC. It was called the Washingtonian and she was sort of giving up that she was having these affairs with these senators and stuff, and she ended up writing a novel about it. So if that novel had come out, and it hadn’t had that tie-in, it hadn’t had the risqué sort of expose that it had happened when she’d been discovered as this secret blogger. I don’t know that we would have gotten any publicity for it, but we got a ton of publicity for it because it tied into something that was considered newsworthy.
Then let’s talk a little bit about some things that people who don’t necessarily have what we would call a “newsworthy topic” can do.
A lot of the people that follow me are writing books in the self-help, personal-growth space, that sort of space that the mainstream media has yet deemed newsworthy, unless something’s gone very, very wrong.
So what does someone do if your topic is the topic that is what you’re teaching? Let’s say you’re a teacher, you’re a healer or you’re a coach or something like that, so it’s really germane to that topic, but it’s not really newsworthy. Is there any publicity that you would suggest somebody go for?
DMH: Yeah, because the publicity doesn’t have to be as big as GMA or the New York Times. So even if, let’s say, you’re doing a yoga book for beginners. You start with that community. The way to get publicity is from websites that cover health and wellness. Or, if it’s just for women, then there are lifestyle sites for all women, black women, millennial women, working moms. So you go to those lifestyle sites because once you know who your audience is, you go to where your audience is. So again, you go to those lifestyle sites for women and pitch for health and fitness.
You’re not going to get cover stories in a magazine, but you can get publicity because you go directly to platforms that speak to the audience for whom you wrote the book. So we wrote a book about yoga for women. Then you go to platforms who offer content on health and wellness and lifestyle for women. That would be it.
Print Media vs. Online Media
KN: That’s such a good segue into just a little bit about the discernment between print and TV media versus online. So what distinctions would you make for our self-published indie authors?
DMH: As of August, 2020, it was already announced that O Magazine is no longer going to be in print. But they would be doing Oprah.com. So that is an example. I’ve always told authors. Yes, you can be published in a magazine and everybody loves, I have tear sheets and you love to have a tear sheet, but that’s all one publication for one month.
So if for whatever reason, I didn’t get the August issue, I still have no idea that your book exists. However, if I get you that online presence, then that link can be shared and it’s going to be on there for decades to come. And then people can happen upon it by doing keyword searches. They may still not know about you, but if they put something in a search, it will appear on Oprah.com.
So a lot of times there’s a level of sexiness about getting into print, but at the same time, a lot of magazines are no longer printing and they’re only going digital because digital is more effective. It increases your opportunities to get publicity because every website it’s putting up multiple stories every single day, 365 days a year.
So you increase the opportunity of how you can actually get on Oprah.com versus there’s only 12 issues for the year. So that’s the only 12 opportunities in print versus endless opportunities on a daily basis to be seen online. And then online, you can circulate that internationally as well.
KN: Yeah and online is forever. At any point someone might search for your topic and find your book because of that online article that you wouldn’t happen upon if it were in the magazine.
DMH: Exactly, so print is one and done. You know, you can have a beautiful layout, but again, if everyone doesn’t have access to that magazine, then they’ve never seen it.
KN: And that’s the same as broadcast, right? If you don’t listen to the radio program or you don’t see the TV show it’s over, but if you get some sort of an interview with someone on YouTube, it’s going to be there forever.
DMH: Absolutely, same thing with podcasts. I remember when blog talk radio first started, and there were some authors that I were like, “Blog talk radio?!”
They just saw that as beneath them because they wanted to be on their local FM dial. And I was like, listen, Blog talk radio is going to grow because a lot of things are going to be going digital. And now that’s like one of the best platforms for authors. There are TONS of shows. Sport shows, cooking shows, all that is done through blog talk radio, same thing with broadcast. You want to be on your FM dial. So if I’m not tuned in at 9:05 for your three minute conversation, then I missed it. Because most radio stations are not going to give you a MP3 that you can then share and create a newsletter. So again, if I’m not tuned in at 9:05, then I never heard your radio interview.
KN: My own distillation from what you’re saying is: For an indie author, if you feel that desire just to have some sort of print or broadcast, go local. Go to your local radio station, your local TV, local newspapers. But if you want to be global and have more bang for your buck, go with online media.
DMH: Yes, absolutely. And when you go local, that’s looked at. So if a producer is producing for a national television show or a national syndicated radio show, they’re going to do their own research to see if your local affiliate covered you and take that into consideration.
If your local radio station didn’t cover you, why would I want to have you on my syndicated radio show? That’s covered in 18 States.
KN: Right. It makes so much sense. It’s sort of like the place to start, and it could plant seeds for the future. But, it’s just like one of those places where working with authors, whether they’re published by traditional publishers or indie publishers, or they’re doing their own thing, managing expectations is a big part of the job because so many people assume if you publish a book, you’re going to be on Good Morning America or the Today Show. And you’re going to be a New York Times bestseller. But our job is to actually bring you down to earth, and say, even though that’s not where you are right now, there’s a lot you can do. And it will actually bear fruit for you.
DMH: Yeah, and it’s just a patience game. That’s another reason I say that you should spend one year doing active promotion and publicity for your self-published book, because sometimes it’s really just a waiting game.
I know a woman who started out as a relationship blogger about her own experiences, her moving to New York, then she wrote a book about that – Simon and Schuster picked up that book- and then for years her platform was that she joined all of these online Q&A platforms where people could submit dating and relationship advice and scenarios that they were in. And for years she was answering back. Then she also went on Good Morning America to talk about a dating show. So at this point, it took years for her to get on Good Morning, America, but it wasn’t about her book. It was about the fact that she was able to give dating advice. So when she was brought on Good Morning America, it was because they saw that her platform was that she shared so much information on dating and they wanted her to come on Good Morning America to share dating advice.
KN: Yes, she made herself into an expert.
DMH: Now that raises her star, and people can look and say, “Oh, that’s the author of XYZ book who was just on Good Morning America,” but it took years. And when she finally got on Good Morning America, it wasn’t about her book at all. It was about dating.
KN: Right. I think that’s such a good, important thing to say again. People think the book is going to be the hook, but it’s not, when it comes to publicity, there’s got to be something that’s bigger than that.
Submitting Your Book for Awards
KN: I want to make sure we touch on one more topic, which is something that you seem to love, and that is making sure people apply for awards for their books. It seems like that’s something that, as a publicist, you try to encourage people to submit their book for different awards. I’d love to know why, what does that get for somebody?
DMH: When you’re self-published, more than likely you’re a team of one. And maybe you have a spouse or a dear friend who’s willing to help you out in your endeavors, but when you submit your book for awards, there are judges and agents and editors connected to that particular platform that’s offering the award. And then they do their own set of publicity to say, “These are our award winners for 2020.”
So the opportunity to connect again is a platform. So for example, if you win an award—now you’re connected to that platform. And then they are going to raise you up and amplify your book because they deemed it worthy to win an award. So even if your book has been out for a year, if you win an award, now you can do a whole new campaign.
Most awards give you a seal that you can put on your book. You update Amazon and schools and libraries and bookstores are aware that you’ve won an award and it can breathe new life into it. It’s basically validation. When you’re self-published, authors need to get to the next level by getting validation from established outlets and entities that understand how publishing works. These outlets say, “Even though you did this book yourself, it’s worthy of the accolades that we’re giving it.”
KN: Yeah, and in a way, it’s them putting their name that’s already an established presence, behind your name. And now people may be willing to take a risk on buying your book that they wouldn’t otherwise have taken because they recognize the name of that award.
DMH: Distributors get that list as well. And then sometimes they’ll contact you and say, “We saw that you won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book of the Year, and we would love to distribute your book to our stores in the Midwest.” So again, that information gets out there and then opportunities are coming to you. A lot of times, some of these awards are connected where you’re self-published and then part of the prize is that you get the literary agent.
KN: Oh, interesting.
DMH: And if you’re working on something else that literary agent is now going to represent you to help you get your second book sold, knowing that you won an award for the first one. So it opens up a world of opportunities for authors who are looking to make a career out of it.
KN: Got it. That’s great. So actually, I know that you have a wonderful e-book giveaway that’s got awards that people can apply for. So I’m going to just say, we’ll have the link below where you can click through and get Dawn’s own list of her favorite awards for self-published authors.
DMH: Yeah, it’s a list of 15 outlets that you can submit your self-published book to for awards. These are notable awards for fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and even poetry and unpublished work. So if you’re working on an essay and it’s just on your computer, there are awards here that will say, ‘submit your unpublished essay, you might win a thousand dollars.’
KN: Great. Well, I encourage everyone to download that and to stay connected to Dawn, because she’s an amazing publicist. She’s also got all sorts of other things that she does, literary agent, all sorts of things. I have learned so much about self-published publicity since I met you that I just had to share you with the rest of our viewers. So thank you so much for being here!
DMH: Thank you so much. This has been great.
Don’t forget to check out Dawn’s 20 awards where you can (and should!) submit your self-published book. Enjoy!