Publicity Lessons: A Cautionary Tale

January 26, 2023 § 20 Comments

By Linda Murphy Marshall

Except for a book I co-authored on the South African “click” language Xhosa, this is my first book, so most of the advice I offer I learned looking through a rearview mirror. I’ve made mistakes.

Even if you can afford a publicity team, they’re not holding your hand 24/7, and their tenure doesn’t extend indefinitely after your book publication. You’re on your own.

* Approach friends or publications willing to include a review or interview, if that’s your goal, but make sure you have enough lead time, at least three months.

* Submit your manuscript to Kirkus, though there’s a fee. I’ve shamelessly parlayed my starred review into a major publicity plug. There’s no guarantee they’ll favorably review your book, but you can choose not to have it published, or can cherry pick words/phrases you like, even if those positive words are drowning in dross.

* Build a website. I did not have one initially and, given my lack of technical expertise, hired a talented web designer to create mine. In the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category, make sure you know how to update it. I’m a linguist, but honestly, the instructions seem like a language I will never master, so that has been challenging.

* Court libraries. I wrote an e-mail to everyone in my address book (but only bcc contacts) asking them to request that their library buy my book. You’re just asking them to do something you can’t do, while also getting the name of your book “out” there.

* Approach bookstores and libraries from your hometown or — if different — where your book takes place, in my case a suburb of St. Louis, where I grew up. Reach out to your undergraduate university and, if relevant, graduate university. The goal is to appear in your school’s Alumni Notes, the least the school can do, considering the boatload of money you or your parents or someone else paid.

* Find your themes and unique qualities: Ask yourself what makes your book “valuable and different.” What are the sub-themes running through it? In my case it was languages and translation. Capitalize on any and all connections.

* Order swag: stickers for signings, custom bookmarks, posters for book festivals and book signings. My bookmarks have the image of my book on the front, and on the back an excerpt of the Kirkus Starred Review and my website link. You can hand them out wherever you are; not everyone wants to buy your book on the spot.

* Sign up for a portable payment device (Square, Venmo, PayPal) so you are ready to sell your book at festivals, bookstores, or book groups.

* Research contests and submit your book; decide how much you are willing to invest because they can be costly, then choose wisely.

* Talk to book clubs in real life and on zoom. Add book discussion questions to your website to make it easier for groups to find traction.

* Write reviews: if someone says they loved your book, pounce, ask them to please write a review. You need the reviews or your book will disappear.

* Think outside the box: in my memoir I compare my father’s relationship to model trains to Candice Bergen’s father’s relationship to his ventriloquism dummy, so I contacted her on her official website. A former U.S. Senator, Claire McCaskill, is from my home state, Missouri, and currently lives in the suburb where my memoir takes place, so I contacted her on her website. Have I heard from either of them? No. But I’m no longer afraid to reach out to make those connections.

* Be bold. If you’re an introvert, step outside your comfort zone and talk/share/push/plug/ submit/insert your book into every conversation.

As they say in basketball, you only make the shots you take…Good luck!


Linda Murphy Marshall has a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her memoir, Ivy Lodge: A Memoir of Translation and Discovery, received a starred review from Kirkus. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Catamaran Literary Reader, The Ocotillo Review, Mom Egg Review, Under the Gum Tree, and elsewhere. Two of her paintings were featured in literary magazines.

She is also a Trustee for the National Museum of Language and a docent at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Her second memoir comes out in 2024.

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