COURTING THE MEDIA by Laura L. Valenti
In the last few weeks, I’ve been most fortunate in that media contacts, I’ve been working on, in some cases, for a full year, have finally come to fruition. In June 2010, my first novel, The Heart of the Spring, was published and I began the media chase to get the needed publicity to sell books. For those who have yet to reach this point, let me be clear: Publication is just the first BIG step in getting your book out there. Unless your name is Stephen King or John Grisham, once your book is published, your next BIG step is marketing and that takes as much, if not more time, sweat and energy than writing the book in the first place. (Once upon a time publishers did a great deal of this for you but not anymore.)
The Heart of the Spring is a historical novel set in 1924 and tells the story of the beginning of Bennett Spring State Park on the Laclede-Dallas County line, 12 miles west of Lebanon. I’ve been blessed to be a Bennett Spring resident for over 30 years and I’ve written several historical articles on the park for various publications. With that foundation, I was able to place a fictional family in the midst of the 1924 Ozarks and voíla, a novel was born. I’ve also been greatly blessed in that this book has been well received by reviewers and readers alike and has sold more than 700 copies in just over a year. The Bennett Spring Park Store concessionaires, Jim and Carmen Rogers have been kind enough to sell it in their store as have the two local Lebanon book stores and three other area stores. It is available on my website as well as my publishers’ website and of course, the ever present Amazon.com. This last month, the sequel, was also released. The Heart of the Spring Lives On, a new novel, picks up the story and same characters, 11 years later in 1935, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was in the park (and many other parks across the state and around the nation), building the many features we know and love today as Bennett Spring State Park. It, too, is doing well and I’m pleased to say, many who have bought and read it are already asking, when will the third one be available? (The answer: The Heart of the Spring Forevermore is set at the end of World War II and will be available next summer.)
Even so, to get the word out, one must continue to court the media and recently, it occurred to me that this is the very same struggle we face with publishers and agents. Once again, we, the writers, must present our work in an abbreviated form as we try to convince the local newspaper editor, the news commentator, or local radio talk show host that our book is important, something of interest to the general public and worth a few column inches or a bit of air time on their news program. And once again, we run into the same obstacles. What if the media person we are writing to, emailing, calling or otherwise attempting to contact (dare I say FACEBOOKing or Tweeting?) knows nothing about our subject matter. In my case, if the editor hates history, I’m sunk. Years ago, my first book by a traditional publisher was about adoption, but when I was interviewed by a single man in a TV interview, it was rather disastrous. And then there are editors and news folks who are too busy, overwhelmed, ‘scared’ of independently published authors (And understandably so. There are those who have slapped a lot of words and pages between a front and back cover and called it a book and that’s about all that can be said for their endeavor. There are others, however, who have produced exquisite stories who see little distribution because the author will not or simply cannot bring themselves to do the required publicity.) And so, again I’ve been fortunate in that an article I’d been working on for nearly a year came out in the Springfield newspaper the night before a book signing in Buffalo where their weekly had also run an article. The result was 26 books sold at Aimee’s Books, a very small book store on Labor Day weekend. (Many book signings only result in a handful of books sold, unlike what one sees on TV or in the movies.) And in early October, Tom Trtan of Springfield’s TV Channel 27 interviewed me on his local TV show. And he told me beforehand, he loves history and historical novels!
Just like when writing the book in the first place, a writer cannot allow herself to become overly discouraged. When the media seems to ignore your efforts—learn to bide your time, try a different reporter or a different approach, just like you would with a publisher, an agent, or an editor. Make certain you have an excellent product to market by conferring with other professionals in the writing game (previous English teachers, fellow writers, former editors) and when they have helped to make certain that is the case, don’t give up! Keep your professional ‘cool’, keep working, keep praying! and you will prevail.