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February 4, 2022
By Jane Friedman
When seeking coverage for their books, authors should make specific asks.

When authors are putting together book marketing plans from scratch, I suggest that they start by making three separate lists: one of owned media, one of paid media, and one of “earned media.” 

Owned media are existing resources and assets you control that can help spread the word about your book. This can include your website or blog, email newsletter, social media presence, or anything that reaches readers directly, whether digital or analog. Paid media are those you pay for attention or exposure. This includes advertising and paid reviews. Earned media refers to media coverage or attention that you secure for free—what publicists typically help with.

Everyone wants earned media. Though it’s without cost, it’s not without effort. Because outlets that cover books are shrinking or disappearing, it’s more competitive than ever to score reviews or other attention. Still, traditional book publishers’ marketing plans tend to focus on securing earned media from outlets that they know and have experience approaching. These include recognized review publications, as well as TV, radio, print, and online outlets.

"Self-publishing authors—or any authors who are pitching themselves—should seek alternative options to gain momentum."
Self-publishing authors—or any authors who are pitching themselves—should seek alternative options to gain momentum. These include local and regional media, influencers in the relevant target market, and any person who is likely to answer your emails or pick up the phone when you call.

But how thoughtfully you make your approach will determine your success rate. It’s essential to suggest a specific method of support, and a single action step is ideal. You have to figure out the right ask and then make it as easy as possible for your contact to say yes.

Here are two things that do not have to happen for someone to support your book.

They don’t have to read the book or have a copy of it. Consider that reading a book takes hours of time that someone might not have. Although it may seem counterintuitive (not to mention the fact that some authors are hurt by the implication that not everyone is eager to read their book), if your target already knows you or your work very well, don’t put them on the spot to read the book. They might already have confidence to support you. Of course, you should always offer to send a copy. Just don’t make that central to your ask—e.g., “May I send you the book?” Instead, think about what you’d like to see happen if they agree to support the book. Do you want them to tweet about it? Post on Instagram? Have you on their podcast?

They don’t have to review the book to help spread the word. Authors are commanded to secure as many customer reviews as possible in the first weeks after release. As a result, that tends to be the default ask: “Would you write a review on Amazon?” Once again, getting people to read the book then write a review is a time-intensive ask; it may be hard to agree to. It also leads to a low completion rate even when people initially say yes.

Here are some ideas to help you get to yes.

Respect the person’s time. I don’t know anyone who isn’t pressed for time. Just about all of us have too much work, too much to read, and too much that we owe others. While people you reach out to will likely want to help, if it requires too much time—especially if you ask for a conversation or meeting—you’ve just decreased your chances.

Figure out the method of support that best fits the situation. If you don’t know already, you should find out how, where, and when your target shares or discusses books. Is it on social media? Do they run a book club? Do they have a blog, email newsletter, or podcast? Figure out their standard communication or publishing channels, and make your ask specific to their existing behavior. Don’t ask them to do something they’ve never done before.

Don’t make a complicated or broad ask. Your initial ask shouldn’t require research or intensive deliberation, or a multifaceted response addressing several different issues. Never make a broad request like, “I’d love to collaborate with you!” That will strike fear into the heart of your contact, especially if collaboration is not strictly defined. Make it easy for someone to agree to something specific—something they can envision themselves doing or adding as an item on their to-do list.

As someone with an active blog, newsletter, and social media account, I receive frequent pitches for coverage, but only a tiny percentage of pitches express awareness that I don’t review books and I rarely interview authors. However, I do run book excerpts, so that’s what I offer instead of a review. But not all people you reach out to will offer an alternative method of support. They’ll simply say no.

That’s why, if someone says no, it is beneficial to keep that person on your list for the future. As author James Clear has said, no often means “not right now” or “not in that way.” Your timing might be better next time—as well as your ask.