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My publicity strategy: personal messages and the power of “No”

Photo: Pixabay

Today, I’ll share some insight into how I do outreach to influencers . . . and the power and courtesy of the answer “No.” I am going to reveal how I’m doing publicity and how it feels.

I’m doing most of my own publicity outreach for the new book. The publisher has a list, but any author worthy of the name knows they need to do their own promotion.

Here’s one thing a real publicist has going for them: a list. They can reach a lot of people. Now, I could have paid for that, and I carefully considered it — and even reached out to a couple of publicists I was close with. But every author I have conversed with who hired a publicist said it was a waste of money. There are unique challenges with my book (it’s a writing book from a former technology analyst, and it has a curse word in the title) so I decided to go it alone.

As my own publicist, here are my assets:

  • This blog. Daily posts with a loyal following.
  • I’m pretty good at social media. Cowrote a book on it, in fact, and have used social media promotion strategies on five previous books. You’ll see a lot of shareable stuff here in the next few weeks.
  • I understand my book and how to pitch it to a diverse set of audiences.
  • It’s a unique book idea with a broad applicability.
  • I have a lot of friends who are either reporters or have large social media followings.
  • I have the time to work on this, and it is a labor of love.

Here are my liabilities:

  • My list is not nearly as large as a real publicist’s.
  • I’ve got a few other things going on at the same time (like writing articles and blog posts and doing consulting.)
  • I am not objective. (Obviously.)

The personal outreach strategy

Here’s what I won’t do: create a list of email addresses of influencers and email all of them the same pitch. My asset here is my personal relationships. That would be both insulting and ineffective.

Instead, I have elected to write personal and personalized emails, Facebook messages, or LinkedIn messages to each of my contacts with influence. Each one is unique to our past relationship and the person’s beat or area of expertise.

While this is far more time consuming than just spamming a list, it has a much higher hit rate.

I’m getting a very encouraging response from fellow authors and thought leaders with blogs and podcasts. My experience with the formidable Jay Baer, for example, was incredible: not only did we record an excellent podcast, but he invited me to guest blog on his site. I’ve lined up a slew of these podcasts, and my outreach is not nearly complete. Shel Holtz has also been a huge backer. And there are plenty of others.

(By the way, if you’re reading this and wondering if I’ll do a post, interview, or podcast with you, the answer depends on the size and makeup of your following. I don’t say yes to everything. Email me, don’t pitch me in a comment.)

I’ve had much less luck with reporters, even though I’ve been quoted by many of them in the past. And a surprising number of my best contacts are no longer journalists, a reflection of the state of the media industry.

Outsourcing rejection

I respect and admire PR professionals and have worked with, many who were excellent, both those at Forrester Research, and those who worked for companies that were trying to influence me.

I saw the value of their help with strategy, with messaging, and with the legwork of outreach. (I tended to rewrite everything they wrote, but that’s just the kind of writer I am.)

My experience with PR colleagues is that we’d set up the strategy, they’d work on delivering it, and then they’d come to me and say things like “This reporter at the New York Times wants to interview you” or “You can write a bylined article for Ad Age.” I’d be delighted, and I’d do the work and get the exposure.

Now that I’m the one doing the outreach, I realize just how many of these messages get no response at all. Just an echo in the void, even from people I’ve worked with.

I guess this is a secret superpower of the PR person — they absorb all the rejection for you, and pass along the successes. You hear nothing about the non-responses, you only hear about the hits.

I don’t mind the rejection. But it’s worth noting that without the PR person, there’s no one to outsource the rejection to.

The empowerment of a “no”

Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience.

I like hearing “no.”

As in “No, that’s not my beat.”

“No, I’m too busy working on something else right now, contact me in a month.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a unique idea after all.”

I learn from these “No”s. And they represent the continuation of a relationship.

When people contact me (and I include complete strangers trolling for all sorts of things, like writing articles for my site, which I don’t accept), I try to respond honestly, including with a “No.” If you ask me in a personal message for something I can’t give you, you’ll get a personal response.

“No, you can’t pay me to edit your graduate thesis.”

“No, I don’t accept advertising.”

“No, I don’t think your podcast is right for me.”

Even “Go away, you’re a pest.”

I think people get so damn many solicitations — mass solicitations — that they have grown used to ignoring them. That’s too bad. It’s part of the rising tide of bullshit we all must deal with.

If you email Seth Godin with a serious request, you’ll get a response, even if it’s a “no.” I like that. So I’m pledging that I’ll do the same, as long as I can.

You might think “No” is cruel. And my “No” responses don’t sugarcoat anything — they’re honest. But I’d rather do that than ignore you.

A note for readers of this post

If you are a publicist reading this, please don’t solicit me. If you post a comment to promote your services here or responding to this on Facebook, I will delete it.

And I’m sure a lot of you authors and consultants will want to tell me about your incredible strategies that work so great — how to build a mailing list for a newsletter, for example. I’m not looking for advice. The book comes out in two weeks and I have a plan. I blog daily and I have a following. So I’m pretty comfortable with where I am.

I’m all for dialogue. But this is not a space to sell your services.

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  1. Jay Baer is incredible. I reached out to him once and he found the time for a half an hour phone call. I don’t know how he does it.

  2. Thanks Andrew for sharing this piece.. Speaking of personalization. I was wondering, what is your take on writing emails to bloggers for your outreach with a casual tone (e.g. using emoji)?

  3. I just picked up an idea from you: writing a DAILY blog post. And I realized that writing only when I have something I want to share with fellow writers, maybe readers, misses a lot of potential relationships with people who might like my fiction.

    Mainstream literary fiction, especially written by a SPA (self-published author), is hard to market. SPAs are known for genre, and mainstream fiction usually comes from the big publishers and their usual sources of reviews.

    But there are several blogs I follow who manage to send something interesting every day – and I might consider reading THEIR fiction if they create some.

    As a disabled (and very slow) writer of fiction, this is a big commitment: daily (or any other short frequency) is an allocation of very scarce resources, and this will take a while to test.

    HOWEVER, I already do something like this, because I use commenting on other people’s blogs (when interested) AS a way to get my brain moving and composing – daily. And I have a practice of turning a nascent comment into a blog post instead, when it starts to get longish (and always remembering to quote the blogger who is the source of the idea).

    I like to create a graphic to go with each post, so this would mean doing those more frequently – and subscribing to a paid version of Stencil (which have been providing me ten free graphics a month for years – plenty for my current blogging schedule). But all of this is worth trying, and could be done without much of a change in the way I get myself going in the mornings.

    Now I just have to go chew on the details a bit – but first, thanks!

    PS ‘Normal’ SPA marketing methods – publishing lots of books quickly in a genre – doesn’t work for someone whose work feels to a reviewer as if ‘every word had been weighed.’ (David Rose, with permission). I’m way too slow. I’d provide the Amazon review source, but am not sure your comment space allows links.