Author PR: An accountability-free zone

Over the past few months I've received panicked calls from at least half a dozen authors asking me the same question: "Tim, how do I find a publicist who doesn't want to charge me $10,000 a month for doing nothing?" I have to admit, I'm a cynic about PR, because the accountability bar is set low. When you work with the press, you're not in control of the ecosystem that determines if you can deliver your deliverable. In other words, unless you're Rupert Murdoch you can't guarantee press coverage (and if you ARE Rupert Murdoch, why the hell are you reading this?). So it's very easy for publicists to make big promises, collect big fees, and then when they don't get their authors on The Daily Show  or in the New York Times  the first month, to do a French shrug and say, "I tried, but I don't control the press."

Bullshit. Today, author PR isn't about traditional media. It's about social media. I'm working on an experiment in changing how author PR is done, and I'll share it as it develops. But the basic idea is this: I want to "invert story scarcity." That sounds really impressive, doesn't it? Well, it's not. This is what it means in a few quick points:

  • The currency of the PR economy is attention. Media outlets "pay attention" to authors, who spend that attention to sell books. If you're an author, you want to get paid more. 
  • The problem is that authors create too much supply of their stories. They issue press releases, beg media outlets to do profiles or interviews, and invest time in the smallest podcasts and tiniest local newspapers. By doing this, they create over-supply of story, and that reduces both demand and price. Why should a media outlet care about your story when there are a thousand other desperate authors banging on the door? 
  • The answer: artificial scarcity. Disney's done it for years by only releasing a few of their movies on DVD or streaming at any one time.  
  • In story scarcity, authors don't chase the traditional media. They work their own social media (blogs, podcasts, webinars) and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) relentlessly, using a master brand strategy designed to make them likable, provocative and unavoidable. Over time, they create a personality that the traditional media HAVE to cover, so the newspapers, TV stations, etc., reach out to the authors—NOT the other way around. 
  • When that happens, scarity says "DON'T say yes to everything." Don't agree to every interview. Play hard to get. Instead of begging, make the media beg a little. Obviously, if Oprah calls you say yes, but that's just common sense. 

Anyway, that's where this is beginning. I'll keep you posted as it evolves.  

Glad to be back in steamy hot KC, where the real local baseball team is doing a lot better than my fantasy one...