One of the biggest book PR myths is that PR is the main driver of book sales. It does raise awareness, but it’s only one piece of the book promotion pie. Robin Colucci’s guest in this episode is Kim Corbin, a Senior Publicist at New World Library. Join Kim and Robin in this conversation about some myths around PR and publishing and the relationship between a publisher’s PR department and authors. Kim also shares some great ideas for promoting and launching your book, regardless of how you chose to publish.
Every little thing you do in the digital world matters. Plan ahead of your publication date how you’ll present your book to your audience. Make it interesting and fun! Tune in to learn more and be your book’s best publicist!
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Book PR Myths You May Not Know about And How To Be Your Book’s Best Publicist with Kim Corbin
One of the biggest controversies in the conversation between, whether or not an author should self-publish or seek a traditional publisher is this big question, “What does a traditional publisher do to help authors promote their books?” There are a lot of mythology around this, anywhere from the most extreme fantasies of book publishers funding worldwide book tours to the most cynical point of view that they don’t do anything anymore. To help clear some of this up, I have invited our special guest, Kim Corbin. She is a Senior Publicist at New World Library Publishers. You probably have heard of some of their books, including The Power of Now, Creative Visualization, and the Way of the Peaceful Warrior. These books are among the most well-known books ever published, as well as hundreds of other books that are changing lives in the world for the better.
Kim has handled the publicity for the renowned authors throughout the spiritual world of expertise. She was also the host of the podcast, New World Now, where she dove deep with these authors to share their wisdom with others. By night, Kim is a skipping superhero. She has been the world’s most vocal advocate for the body, mind and spirit benefits of adult skipping for over 21 years. Her skipping movement has been featured in USA Today, Time, People and Newsweek Magazines. You can check that out online at ISkip.com.
I loved my conversation with Kim and a lot of myths around PR, publishing and the relationship between a publisher’s PR department and authors. We have busted a lot of myths and uncovered a lot of unknown truths that most people don’t know. You will also get to know some pretty darn great ideas for promoting and launching your book, regardless of how you chose to publish. I hope that you will get tremendous value from this show as I have. Sit back and enjoy it.
Kim, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.
I’m excited to have you with us because this is such a big question, this whole idea of working with a traditional publisher and what they will or will not do for you to help you promote your book. There are all kinds of fantasies as well as unfair portrayals of what they don’t do. I’m happy to have you here to set the record straight on some of these things. Before we get into that, I would love it if you would share with our readers how you landed in this field because it’s an interesting story.
I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I went to Purdue and got a degree in Elementary Education. It was impossible to find a teaching job when I graduated because it was so crowded in the market. I was able to get a teaching assistant job, which I enjoyed but then during that time when I was doing the teaching assistant job, my dad who owns a printing company wrote and self-published a book called The Edge Resume and Job Search Strategy. It was the most unique cool book I had ever seen. He was encouraging people to be bold in their job search, use the four-color resumes and all this fun stuff. I fell in love with the book.It’s not that publicity doesn't sell books. It just doesn't sell as many books as what people think. Click To Tweet
I started selling it going to colleges, “My dad wrote this book. Isn’t this neat?” I was on fire about it to the point that I said to him, “I feel called. I want to help you sell this book.” He agreed to hire me and match my $5 an hour teaching salary to be his book marketing person. I went to work for him and taught myself the self-publishing world. I ended up getting some fun publicity. That’s what I do now as I’m a Publicist. I had a natural knack for that. I’ve got us a great Father’s Day feature in the Indianapolis Star. I ended up finding a bigger publisher to distribute us to the trade. I’m self-taught through self-publishing. It’s a whole other story.
I met a guy on the internet who lived in San Francisco and started dating him long-distance in 1996. It was way ahead of my time. While I was thinking about moving here, there was a job opening that was listed at Jossey-Bass Publishers for a publicity assistant. The Publicity Director, JoAnne Skinner, who is now my lifelong mentor, interviewed me. I wasn’t even living here yet. She saw me and said, “I want to hire her,” and convinced them that they should wait for me to move there. I started at Jossey-Bass as a publicity assistant and then JoAnne ended up getting pregnant. I learned all about it and then took over as the publicity director there. That was my entrée into the publishing world.
Now you are in New World. How long have you been there?
I have been there for several years. It’s an incredible company. Once people start working there, you never leave because they give back to the community, their employees and a generous profit-sharing program. They put such good work into the world. I’m very happy there.
We get into this nitty-gritty stuff. You are the PR go-to person. What do you find when a new author is coming and when you sign a new author? What would you say is the number one misconception that authors have coming into this initial conversation with you about planning and as you are cultivating your promotion plan with them?
There’s an unrealistic expectation often about how challenging it can be to get publicity. Not only that but then, once you get publicity, especially this has changed drastically over the years, what that publicity has the power to do. There are some shows. If Oprah has you on Super Soul Sunday, you are going to sell a lot of books but these days, even an author gets on Good Morning America, it can be a short clip and they show the cover of the book and will not sell that many books. Back in the day, if you were on Oprah, you would go back to print 30,000 more copies. Those days are over. It’s a completely different media landscape. That’s the biggest misconception.
The misconception that PR is what drives book sales.
It’s a piece of the puzzle but that is the only piece because that’s not accurate.
Something that I have heard myself say to authors that I work with is that they have to understand that what PR does is raise awareness. It helps people know that you and a book exist but it’s not a driver of book sales, not nearly in the way of being in the room with 100 people and having your book for sale. That’s going to drive book sales. These authors come in with this misconception that PR is going to cause book sales.
That’s true overall. Everyone thinks, “I want to be on Good Morning America.” They are convinced that that’s what they want. They are going to get on national TV and that’s what they are going to get. Even if it did with Good Morning America, it wouldn’t matter. Also, the right indeed targeted podcast for your audience where a much-beloved podcaster endorses you and says, “This is a great book,” you can watch those Amazon rankings immediately change. It’s like a balance. It’s not everything. It’s one piece of the pie. Especially nowadays, there are many pieces to the pie. I wouldn’t say that publicity doesn’t sell books. It just doesn’t sell as many books as what people think or they will say, “My book was 20,000 overall on Amazon.” That means that they probably sold 50 books, where an author will think it’s thousands of books. It’s scale. It does sell books but not hundreds and thousands.
It’s not like the book sales ATM where you put it in, and then the book sales rain down on you. You brought up a good point that I want to drill down in here because this is worth mentioning. Good Morning America, for example, has a very huge but general audience. When you talked about a smaller yet, highly targeted podcast with a host and a following that adores them, those first of all are much easier to book and potentially way more productive when it comes to booking sales.
The podcast world has opened up. There’s so much you can do. That’s an interesting thing for authors. Different authors approach it in different ways. I always like to check in with my authors about, “Are you going to be willing to do anything and everything? Are you an A-list person that only wants to do an A-list?” My personal philosophy is every little bit adds up in this digital world. You might be talking to someone on a small podcast that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get very much but someone else could be listening. The more your name is out there, the more that you come up in Google searches, the higher your SEO is.
I love when an author says, “I will do it all.” It used to be hard to find shows to pitch. There are a ton of shows now. I can get an author sometimes 60 or 70 podcast interviews during their launch at New World Library. Going back to other publishers, in New World Library, the way we do publicity is not often how a lot of in-house publishers work. I wouldn’t say that you would expect that normally. It’s knowing what your publisher does or doesn’t do. Oftentimes, you are not going to get someone that has been there for sixteen years that’s into it like I am and loves to pitch. Not every publisher does that.
Generally, one of our clients might get anywhere from 4 to 26 offers when an agent is pitching their book. What kinds of questions should an author be asking of the PR part of the picture when they are selecting a publisher?
It’s finding out what their regular treatment for authors is, what they do and where you are going to fall in that. I know a lot of times like Hay House, for instance, there’s the A-list authors that are the big recognizable names and then they have different levels. They even have a vanity publishing where it’s going to be different. It can vary. I would ask them very specifically like, “What is your publicity plan for your authors?” Maybe ask for a couple of examples of what they’ve gotten because every PR department keeps a list of the PR they’ve gotten or that they could create something. That’s an interesting question like, “Where have you gotten placements for your authors lately?”
That other question that you pointed to is also very important because they do, especially with the Big Five, tend to heavily invest in the more proven authors or the ones who they bet the most money on. Where they have the larger advances, they are going to double down on those to try to make those sales earn that advance back versus the authors where they didn’t invest as much don’t tend to get the same level of attention.Every little bit adds up in the digital world. Click To Tweet
In most cases and my philosophy on this has shifted since the pandemic. When my authors would ask me before about hiring their own freelance publicist, I would tell them they didn’t need it. I love what I do and I get a lot of publicity for my authors but that’s not always the case. I would say to them, “Now, it has changed.” I have encouraged some authors and have had good working relationships with freelance publicists now. I’m shifting how I feel about that because it’s such a team effort. Overall, what I would say to authors regardless is, “This is a team effort and you need to be actively involved. You don’t sit there and wait for them to present your publicity to you on a silver platter.”
You need to be thinking, reaching out to podcasts yourself, and recommending yourself. A question to ask, too is, “Can I do that? Can I send review copy requests to you? Will you fill them and follow up if you do it yourself? Do I need to hire a publicist? Would that be helpful?” Sometimes with a freelance publicist, the reason I was hesitant before is you can spend a lot of money on a freelance publicist and you get promised a lot of sizzle without a lot of stakes because it’s hard to get publicity.
It doesn’t matter if you go to lunch with someone at Good Morning America once a week, which a lot of these people, that’s what they sell. If it’s not the right book at the right time, the best connection in the world doesn’t matter. You’ve got to take that with a grain of salt and realize that if you hire a freelance publicist, you need to have something else like you are a coach and you are going to get clients or speaking gigs. If you think you are going to sell and make enough money to cover the cost of your publicists from book sales alone, that’s not going to happen. I was honest with people about that.
The other thing that they need to understand on hiring a freelance publisher, which also I do recommend that my clients do as well and then you can have that partnership with the in-house publicists. That can help to geometrically increase the results of the efforts of both if they are working together. One thing a lot of people don’t understand is you don’t wait until the book launches to hire a publicist. You need ideally six months runway leading up to the launch. Would you agree with this to reap the benefits?
Yes, because the long-lead process starts. We are usually at 4 to 5 months in-house. Where we get the PDF, it’s time to start reaching out to the long-lead media. It’s best to not wait until the pub date. When you are in the editorial phase, you would be thinking about it and checking in. People get busy and they don’t have space.
The PR arm of a publishing house and you have worked at a couple so you don’t know all of them but what would you say? It seems like there’s more to your role than just pitching. Tell us more about your role and how you fit into this picture and this team that’s supporting the author.
It starts when we get the long galleys. At that point, it’s taking the material and figuring out the most exciting way to present this clearly and concisely like, “What’s the golden nugget?” I will work with authors to come up with press materials and sample interview questions. The first phase is taking it out of the editorial to present this in a way that’s going to be exciting to people. Sometimes I’m a therapist because things go wrong, some ego management, reality checks and encouragement. One of the things I always say to authors, especially nowadays and since COVID, is it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Even The Power of Now, which is New World Library’s blockbuster bestseller, took a couple of years before it started getting traction.
It’s easy to think it’s all going to happen at once, and then get discouraged when it doesn’t but it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There are a lot of that framing, encouraging, and then empowering them for my authors to be able to reach out to podcasters. If you listen to a podcast and you like it, you can write a personal note and say, “I’m an author. I would love to have my publicist send you a copy of my book. Here’s what I loved about this episode.” That’s better than me where I’m doing so much all the time that I come up with a great pitch and I will personalize it for here and there for different contexts but it’s pretty much like quantity.
An author can help with that. Hopefully, the publisher would be open to all publishers and working with an author like that, that has helped me to generate leads. You are not relying on someone else because in-house publicists have a lot of different authors who are working out at a time. We hold a lot, even under the best of circumstances. Authors need to be aware of that. It’s like your own medical care. You need to be aware, read up, do your own legwork and don’t just expect it to come to you.
Be an advocate for your project, not just by pestering.
You have to trust. Sometimes you can tweak things to death. You have to let the energy flow by the time it gets there. It’s hard for authors because even working on your baby, for all this time, you have been so close to it and then it’s time to let the baby go out into the world. That’s where the therapy thing comes in again and sometimes it’s feudal. It doesn’t matter. It’s like letting it have its chance and go out there, trusting and hiring or having good people if you don’t have them around you to help with the process.
What is the biggest mistake an author has either made when working with the PR department or do you think could make? Maybe both. We have to hear about the training record, too, here because we can learn from others’ mistakes before we make them.
Never ask a publicist, “Have you read my whole book?” Probably the answer is no but we have read enough. It’s all about the essence and flavor.
It’s like, “Are you kidding? Sixty percent of the people who buy your book are going to read the whole book.”
It’s the same with podcast interviews, overcontrolling the process, not being able to let go and let the professional take it from here and trusting. It’s like, “It needs to be this way.” Controlling the process and wanting it to be your way where it’s a time of letting go. It’s important to have it be right but don’t nitpick every single word. You are moving out of that editorial process and into the bigger picture.
Making that transition from getting every single word dialed just right to allowing the professional in the PR department to take the ideas and push them out to the world. It might be perfectly imperfect but that’s interesting and funny. I did not expect you to say that. It could also probably be an error to be so hands-off to do it all for me while I sit back and have grapes killed for me. What would you say is a more common mistake trying to micromanage it versus doing that?Putting yourself in the other person's shoes goes a long way. Click To Tweet
Luckily, we don’t have too many crazy micromanagers. There have been authors that I think, “How could you put it all the way through?” You just let it go. Putting your work and yourself out in a world like this is very vulnerable and scary, even for New World Library authors. A lot of times, people write about what they need to learn. Interestingly, sometimes the people who write about letting go are the ones that have the hardest time doing so. What’s so wonderful about this industry and this job is it varies. Every season, there’s a new weather pattern that comes in.
The other thing, too, is your time with this person is short. You have a finite amount of time with them. For me, when I’m doing a lot of in-house publicity, I will say to people, “I’m going to be doing all this. I will get you all these interviews.” I’m going to be done and moving on. “Maybe it would be better instead of hiring a freelancer now.” It used to be you had to get all your publicity when a book first came out. That’s not necessarily true anymore. There are so many different ways to sell a book these days. You can wait and hire someone once I’m done. Don’t spend so much money that you don’t have when it may not ultimately end up.
If the budget is tight, maybe it’s better to hire a freelance publicist after you are done with the PR department at the publishing. What is the window of time that you are assigned to a book that you have that slot available for a book to launch?
It’s the beginning of July 2021. I am finishing up my press materials and mailing out books to come out in October 2021. Especially books that come out around then, there’s the New Year and new you that happens in January. I will probably work. It also has a natural flow. It’s interesting how it comes and goes. 6 or 7 months that New World Library does. Unlike the Big Five, that’s going to be a shorter window and then you are done but New World Library doesn’t do that. One of the biggest mistakes that authors make is they don’t befriend their publicists. They become an enemy. You want that person to be excited and feel good about your project so that they will want to continue working with you. It’s such an important relationship. Don’t be too bossy. Be grateful that you have someone who is helping you out and believes in you if you have that.
I know every publicist is different. What are some things that authors have done to befriend you that you especially appreciate? We are going to give it away. Whatever it is, be careful because you are going to get a lot of it.
Kim Chestney, who wrote a book called Radical Intuition, sent me a beautiful painting. Gifts are nice. They rarely happen. An acknowledgment of recognizing like, “I realize how much you have going on and I appreciate it.” Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes a little bit goes a long way.
That’s so powerful, having that empathy of like, “What must it be like to be the publicist?” How many books typically are on your plate at once and recognizing that this is not a Big Five house? It’s probably not as much as some PR departments.
Each season, I usually have 5 or 6 campaigns that I’m doing. I’m finishing up winter and spring. I still have some very active campaigns that I’m working on as I’m starting to transition. There are the six from fall that are now in my orbit and there are 3 or 4 from spring that is still in my orbit. There’s a Venn diagram that happens.
At any given time, could you be working with 10 or 12?
Yes, and booking 30, 40 or 50 interviews for each of them. It’s a lot of data that runs between them around.
It’s a lot to keep track of.
You’ve got to have good systems in place.
Something else is coming to mind as well because it’s interesting, one of the roles that I play with my client when they are getting multiple offers. Sometimes they will get an offer from 1 or 2 Big Five houses, and then they will get some offers from some smaller houses. There have been several times where I have advised them to take the deal from a smaller house. You could probably speak better to what the reasoning is behind that. I would love for you to share about that because authors must keep an open mind around this.
We have an author that’s coming down the pipeline that’s a perfect example of this. Her name is Shelly Tygielski. She started the Pandemic of Love and wrote a book called Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World. She got some big offers. She told us in our initial marketing call like, “We are very excited about this book at New World Library.” She made the conscious choice to forego the big advance instead of being like a little fish in the big pond to bring this project that’s in perfect alignment with who we are, what we do and bring it to New World Library. They ended up retaining the audio rights so that they could sell the audio rights themselves to make up some of the money.
It’s true. We will have people who come to us and they will get all this personal treatment. We will get them all this publicity and then they get the big six-figure advance. You look at the BookScan numbers later and they’ve got all the money but they didn’t get the traction in the marketplace. It’s about why you are doing this. If it’s to change lives and impact the world, then maybe money isn’t the most important thing. Maybe for you, it is.
Maybe the money upfront is the most important thing. I know some smaller presses that will give you a much higher percentage as royalty in traditional houses, not hybrid houses. This is a real factor. Who is going to be the biggest advocate for you and your book? Who is going to give you a seven-month window to help you promote your book versus a three-month window? It does take time for a book to get traction. People grossly underestimate how long it takes. The books that last, these perennial bestsellers like The Power of Now, Chicken Soup for The Soul and Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass. I know for a fact, every single one of those authors did the daily grunt work of pushing that book every day for two years or close to two years before it kicked into that New York Times bestseller status and most people give up after six weeks.Your journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Click To Tweet
It’s so challenging. It’s hard to show up again when you don’t feel like you are getting traction. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You talked about being a partner with the publisher and the PR team. Give us some more ideas like, “What can an author do to be a great partner?”
Get mailing lists, like capturing emails, growing your mailing list and having a core audience to pull from. One of the things we will do with our authors when they first come down the pipeline in the pre-sales mode is will create a launch team with Amazon. They reach out to their audience and say, “We are doing this launch team. You will get a sneak peek of the book, pre-order the book on Amazon to be a part of it and then leave a review for us.” That ends up working out pretty well.
That’s pre-launch. Is that a while before the book comes out or just before the book comes out?
We like to have the pre-order numbers in place right before it goes to the printer because Amazon uses those pre-sales to set their print run. You want to have a good list. Back to your question, the mailing list, that’s why building your platform is so important, it’s a partnership. People that have a well-organized list and people who follow them, they have 100 or 200. The most we have had is 500 people who signed up to be on the launch team that are this core group of superfans that help them. It’s that mailing list and your social capital that creates that.
Speaking of social capital because I know social media is also a big part of what you do, let’s talk about that.
It’s always changing in how much we invest and don’t invest. New World Library has such a diverse list. We don’t do a lot with Facebook because there are so many different topics. You can’t do Facebook advertising for any of them. YouTube is our favorite. We always have our authors do a short Q&A video so that we can show them what they look like in the media. We have 18,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel. That’s good and then Instagram. I have an author I’m working with, Regina Louise, whose book Permission Granted came out. She loves Instagram. She is not doing anything else on social media but she is all about Instagram.
She has done some Instagram Lives with people. One woman had 3 million followers and her sales rankings were awesome after. It moved the dial. That’s another way like what you were saying about podcasts, where a sincere plea from an influencer to their people, “This is a great book. This is a great person,” or having them on to do an Instagram Live is a whole new way that you can promote. I have more to learn about TikTok. In our book, The Angel Experiment, we were in our marketing meeting and I looked at the numbers and it sold 600 copies in one week. I was like, “What’s that for?”
I emailed the author to ask if she knew what it was. She went, “This guy did this TikTok about my book.” It’s called The Angel Experiment. It’s about working with angels and how he used her book to get a free car for $8,000. That’s what it was, one TikTok video. You’ve got to be in the game and trying to create things but it’s also more of a ride the wave kind of thing versus a strategy that you sit down with. If you try and do that, what is that magic thing that happens?
Most of the people I work with are in their 40s and 50s. I don’t think TikTok would have occurred to any of them. I’m positive, not on their own. There was an article in The New York Times about how TikTok drove some books right onto the bestsellers list. It’s that crazy once a person made a TikTok video about it.
Social media is like keeping an eye out. What we say to our authors in New World Library is, “You don’t have to feel like, ‘I have to do Twitter. I have to do all of them.’ Pick one to focus on that’s the best fit for you and your audience and build it up there.” Unless someone is well-versed and they love it. It’s better to have one that you are super connected and feel comfortable in if you are not a social media person.
Also, it gives you more of that laser shot instead of the scattershot. If you are a little bit of everywhere, you are not going to have the same impact as being focused and dialed in one spot or maybe a couple. This has been so informative and exciting. What did I not ask you that I should have?
You asked so many good questions. We covered the partnership, platform, empowering yourself and your book is the best advocate but not being so pushy that you alienate the people who are wanting to help you. We talked about the social media piece and podcasts. We didn’t talk about media coaching.
Let’s talk about media coaching.
Media coaching is expensive. It needs to be for the right fit. A lot of times, that can be helpful for people, too, if you have the money to spend on it to work with someone that helps you hone down your interview skills. I had an author who had a great experience doing that and it was worth the investment. She was glad that she did it. We don’t recommend it for most of our authors because it’s spendy but it can be a valuable thing if you are moving forward, want to branch out and take your media coverage to the next level.
It can be so important, especially when you are doing traditional media like traditional radio interviews or traditional TV. You don’t necessarily get a lot of time, not like with a podcast. You’ve got to make your points clearly and succinctly. There are a lot of protocols with television. They are not intuitive. I could see that being beneficial. Kim, thank you again for sharing this incredibly valuable information with our readers. There are so many nuggets in here. This could transform an unlimited number of book launches. Thank you again for your time and for sharing so generously.
- New World Library Publishers
- The Power of Now
- Creative Visualization
- Way of the Peaceful Warrior
- New World Now – Podcast
- The Edge Resume and Job Search Strategy
- Radical Intuition
- Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World
- Chicken Soup for The Soul
- You Are a Badass
- YouTube – New World Library
- Instagram – New World Library
- Permission Granted
- The Angel Experiment
- Instagram – Regina Louise
- The New York Times – Article
- JoAnne Skinner – LinkedIn
About Kim Corbin
In addition to being a Senior Publicist at the book publisher New World Library, Kim “Skipper” Corbin has been the world’s most vocal advocate for the body, mind, spirit benefits of adult skipping for over 21 years. Her skipping movement has been featured in USA Today, Time, People, and Newsweek Magazines. Visit her online at http://www.iskip.com.
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