A couple of weeks ago, the day my book released, my good friend Sherry from Montana called to say she needed to buy an extra copy. Apparently she listens to Outlaw Country on XM Radio and decided that singer-DJ-radio-host Elizabeth Cook needed a copy of Honky Tonk Debutante so she could talk about it on air.
I happily sold Sherry a copy of the book, and signed it, but I kept my hardened, cynical opinion about her plan to myself. Yeah, right. Like that book will ever make it into Elizabeth Cook’s hands. Because as it turns out, when it comes to free press and book publicity, I have about as much confidence as a beaten pound puppy. I could not have tried any harder with my first book to get it in the press. I launched out with visions of Oprah’s Book Club and The TODAY show. But after being repeatedly dissed by countless magazines and newspapers, I was left merely begging for a mention in our own family Christmas newsletter.
That’s not to say I did not have wonderful support for Paddlefish. I did! Friends and friends-of-friends threw book parties. My blog readers were the best cheerleaders. Bookstores and other retailers were incredible. I worked with amazing venues for book signings. The speaking tour was dynamite. The Texas Water Safari community was stalwart. Baylor University and the Waco Chamber of Commerce catapulted the book’s reach to a whole new level. The Bob Bullock Texas History Museum and the Friends of the SMU Library were unbelievable to Paddlefish.
We sold out the entire first print run of Paddlefish in a relatively short period of time. And we did so with virtually zero free press.
There were a few errant mentions online. A lovely interview in BOATING Magazine. My friend Kevin Tankersley penned an incredible piece for The Wacoan. There was one radio interview and a few podcasts. (I am told I give good interview, by the way.) But other than that, I had a black cloud over me when it came to the press. We scrambled to provide information on big magazine stories that all inevitably seemed to get pulled at the last minute. Newspapers would have little to do with me. Local television avoided me like the plague.
People scoff when I say I am bad at the PR side of this. “But you were in marketing and advertising for, like, ever!” Exactly. I was in marketing and advertising working with million dollar corporate budgets to create TV spots, print campaigns, design websites from way up high in a conference room on the 22nd floor of an office tower. I don’t know reporters on the ground. I have never written a press release. I don’t know how to track down a publicist. All of which is of critical importance because as my first publisher told me repeatedly, “You have to get other people talking about your book, it cannot just be you.”
The obvious answer, of course, is that I should hire a book publicist myself. Which may or may not still happen. But after all my years in marketing I am so wired to measure the tangible results of a campaign, I have a hard time seeing precisely how that money is going to calculate directly into book sales.
Certainly I can get free press for free, right?
Apparently not. When it comes to cutting through the clutter and getting free press I am decidedly less publicity stunt and infinitely more publicity stunted. So my nature is to say screw it. I sold every copy of Paddlefish on my own back, I will do the same with this book. Working with good retailers, scheduling author appearances and public speaking are my bread and butter. I don’t need their help. And I probably won’t get it anyway. I will do this on my own, in my own way…scrappy, grit, gonzo, grassroots. And one book at a time.
Last Friday Tom and I were in Alabama on our way to a book event. Just moments before we pulled in, my brother-in-law Randy called and we just assumed he needed directions to the book party. In a million years I could not have predicted what he was calling to tell us.
Randy was also in his car, listening to Outlaw Country on XM. Much to his surprise Elizabeth Cook began talking about Honky Tonk Debutante on the radio and READ AN EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK ON AIR!
Knock me over with a feather. I am not at all too-cool-for-school and will share shamelessly that I have been on cloud nine ever since. I just can’t believe it! Not only is it thrilling that she talked about it, let’s not overlook the exciting nugget that she liked the book. Someone not related to me, either by blood or by Facebook, saw the book cold and liked it. Not just anyone, the recent award-winning Ameripolitan Outlaw Female of 2014. And I swear, like some cosmic shoehorn, the Elizabeth Cook mention has unlocked some invisible momentum in the past few days. Parnassus Books in Nashville has already called to reorder. And last night I received some other crazy fun fairytale news that is not quite ready for public consumption. But believe you me, when it’s official, I will share it here first. Yall have been unwavering in your support, don’t think I will ever forget that.
Vanity makes me giddy over the radio plug. And I am once again encouraged that I might receive some air cover from the press with this book. But what will always remain more important to me is sharing this journey with readers, family and friends. THANK YOU SHERRY for swinging for the stars, especially where I was feeling fatigued and aiming low. You are officially now my Chief Publicity Officer. But you did so much more than get the book mentioned on the radio. (Uh, make that national radio, ahem.) You reminded me to dial back up the hope. You have inspired me to tune in to optimism. And to press on with the press. So thank you, Sherry, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
And thank you too, Elizabeth Cook!
Oprah, I’m coming for you.
So now that I am reinvigorated and ready to rumble with the press, I will ask humbly, do yall have any ideas or connections? Blog interviews, podcasts, newspaper reports, TV morning shows, speaking gigs. Below is the download link for the press kit, feel free to share the love with anyone you think might want to spread the legacy of honky-tonk, an all-American music genre.
(I will do my own hair and make up and bring my own green room snacks.)