Book Publicity- An interview with Susan Schwartzman (Part 1)

Written By: Kellie - Jan• 27•12

Today we’ve got something a little different. Book publicist extraordinaire Susan Schwartzman has answered some questions about what she does and how the internet has change the shape of book publicity. Susan has been in publicity since 1992 and has worked both as an in-house publicist as well as for herself. Some of her recent titles include… Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately, The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein and Just Tacos: 100 Delicious Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner by Shelley Wiseman.

You can visit Susan online on her website or on twitter.

ReaWrite: How did you get into book publicity?

Susan: My start in book publicity was somewhat serendipitous. I had held various positions in book publishing throughout my career. I had left a full-time position for personal reasons and was freelancing at the time when a colleague recommended me for a free-lance publicity position to fill in for a publicist who was on maternity leave.

When she returned, I went to another publishing house as an in-house freelance publicist, and did that for about two years, when Workman Publishing asked me to handle a campaign from my home. And that’s how I launched Susan Schwartzman Public Relations.

ReaWrite: What are the most significant ways that the shape of book publicity has changed since you started working in the industry in 1992?

Susan: The Internet has had the most profound impact on the way we do publicity, and in so many ways. The first change was the use of e-mail. When I began in 1992, contacting the media was done by phone. Sometimes I had to fax pitches, which was so time consuming. I cannot imagine having to fax press materials today, when now all I have to do is click a button and can send press materials in a second.

With the Internet came websites, blogs, social media. There are now more ways to promote a book than years ago. While the traditional media markets are decreasing opportunities for print coverage, there are so many more online opportunities for authors to get their book noticed. There are so many bloggers out there who love to read and review books. Websites devoted to books such as BookReporter and GoodReads. And Facebook and Twitter are necessary in getting the word out about your book. Amanda Hocking became a bestselling self-published author by using social media strategies.

Which brings me to another  significant change in the book industry. Self-published books are now a viable part of the industry. Where there was once a stigma attached to self published books, that stigma has lifted. There are increasingly many high quality self-published books being published independently. Those books are not only competing against the traditionally published books in the media market, they are competing for readers. There are still venues that will not give media coverage to self-published books such as NPR, and most newspapers, but that will likely change as more and more authors of quality books choose the self-publishing path.

Just this year there was much media attention given to bestselling thriller author Barry Eisler, who gave up a $500,000 advance from St.Martin’s for his next two books to self- publish his next thriller. I think you are going to see more and more authors following in his footsteps. The paradigm for success is just too tempting for authors who have a built-in audience as Eisler does. But you’ve got to know what you’re doing to successfully self publish. There are still many advantages of having your book published by a traditional publisher.

ReaWrite: How would you describe the main differences between working as an independent publicist and working for some of the major publishing houses?

Susan: There are many differences between working as an independent publicist and working in-house for a major publisher. I can pick and choose the books I want to promote. An in-house publicist has to promote the books she is given, whether she likes them or not.

As someone who has worked in-house, I can say that the most significant difference is the amount of time I have as an independent publicist to devote to my authors. As an in-house publicist, you are assigned limited campaigns. And much of your time is devoted to meetings and other corporate business. In-house publicists are usually assigned a greater amount of books than independent publicists handle, which means they cannot give the hands-on attention to their authors that I do.

I am able to really strategize a campaign from beginning to end and run with it. I can handle a media tour, national radio campaigns, national TV campaigns, online and print campaigns for all of my authors, whereas an in-house publicist usually does a print mailing or some social networking or online campaigns and that’s it. Sometimes they handle national TV and media tours, but not always, and definitely not for all of their books.

I also have a lot more freedom. But I have a lot less time to take vacations, and I’m usually working 7 days a week, even if it’s only for  1 or 2 hours on the weekend. And I don’t have a steady paycheck or benefits. So if living without a steady paycheck and no paid vacations is too risky for you , then freelancing is not for you. But, in my opinion, the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

ReaWrite: A big thanks to Susan for answering all these questions so far. The rest will be up on Monday, the 30th so be sure to check back. Also, remember to have a look at Susan’s website for more information and to follow her on twitter.

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  1. What a great interview. I look forward to Part II. I didn’t realize that already popular authors were considering or already have jumped to self-publishing instead. That’s interesting and creates a lot more competition of folks like me. But, I’m not in it for fame or money at all. I truly just want those who do buy my book and read it to love it. There’s no better feeling in the world that hearing from someone that she couldn’t put my book down – and therefore got no sleep!

  2. Bekah says:

    Really interesting… You never think about exactly how many people are involved in getting a book out there.

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