The Elephant in the Room

[This Friday’s “What It Takes” is the first from my publicist Callie Oettinger. I’m sure the first thing most readers will think is, ‘Does a writer really need a publicist? How can you afford it? Isn’t that over the top?’ I first worked with Callie on a job-by-job basis. Her forte is the military; she’s based in Washington, D.C., and has done outreach for a number of successful military writers. She helped me on the launch of The Afghan Campaign. Her work has been invaluable.

But what really got us working together full-time is this blog. “Writing Wednesdays” was Callie’s idea. Without her, it wouldn’t exist or it would have pooped out months ago. In fact, the blog itself was Callie’s idea. She cracked the whip over me to make me do it. But let me let her tell it. Callie, over to you . . .]

Steve and I first worked together on The Afghan Campaign—an amazing experience and confirmation that he needed to break away from the traditional media outlet outreach. When Steve called up about a video series he was developing, the time was right to start things on a different track.

In the coming weeks, I’ll pull out all the stories from the past few years—what worked, what failed, what we’re still trying to figure out. I’ll go back to that first bit of outreach with The Afghan Campaign and move forward into the evolution of the blog and where we’re at today, prepping to launch the outreach campaign for The Profession.

For now, I want to jump back to Shawn Coyne’s first “What It Takes column”—”Getting the Meeting“—in which he shared the big elephant in the sales room:

“My colleagues and I were not in the business of selling to consumers. We made (and our authors made) our livelihood by selling to retailers.”

Delete the word retailers and insert traditional media and you’ll have the big elephant in the publicity room.

Traditional media has always been the way-point on publishers’ routes to connect with consumers. Book reviews, radio and television interviews, and magazine features have been the middlemen. With a few exceptions, direct-connects between publishers, publicists, authors and readers didn’t exist.

As we started building awareness for Steve’s blog, his work was featured by traditional outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the NY Daily News,  and Newsweek. These are the outlets publishers and their sales reps like to see.

Reality: None of these outlets triggered the traffic that we witnessed when Crossfit posted the name of one of Steve’s blog series on its site. That was Oct. 2, 2009, and we’re still seeing traffic from the Crossfit community today. The same is true for sites such as Small Wars Journal and individual bloggers Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) and Seth Godin.

Traditional media outlets have never covered even a dime in the dollar of books published each year. Everyone wants in, but there’s not enough room. And even though specific genres have never received equal coverage from traditional media outlets—military, science-fiction, and romance come to mind—many of the publishers and authors of these books continue traditional pitching, hoping something will stick. Why? Because that’s what’s always been done.

I still cringe when authors tell me they want to be on Oprah. I’m not discounting her program, but for many authors, a spot on her show is the answer to everything. They put all their eggs in that basket, rather than figuring out how to direct-connect with an audience the size of Oprah’s on their own.

And that’s the good news about where we’re at today. Authors, publicists and publishers can make that direct-connect with readers. It just takes time. Oprah didn’t build her following overnight either.

Should traditional outreach be ignored? No. It depends on the author and the book. But, traditional outreach shouldn’t be the linchpin, holding entire campaigns together.

Tune in for more in the coming weeks.

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  1. andrew lubin on December 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    But if an author uses the blogs, does that not limit him to a certain market? SWJ, TheMilitaryObserver-onpoint, Instapundit, are all military-related; whereas Oprah is mass-marketing.

    Are you suggesting that it’s best to abandon the mass-market and instead concentrate on your genre, be it military, religious, romance, etc? Makes sense, actually; it’s target-marketing.

    • Callie Oettinger on December 27, 2010 at 8:26 am

      Concentrate on readers interested in the types of books you write. Develop your core audience and then grow from there. Instead of going after everyone, approach the individuals you know are interested and then go from there. R.E. Oprah: She doesn’t have enough segments available to offer every author and the reality is her audience isn’t interested in every book published. Yes, she has a large following, but is her following your following? Look at the interest over the numbers. Too much focus has been placed on circulation, wattage, syndication, etc. Consider interest/genre first, numbers later.

    • John on April 30, 2023 at 10:42 pm

      what is the context behind it.

  2. Ulla Lauridsen on December 25, 2010 at 3:07 am

    But traffic here, to the blog, does not equal book sales, I’m sure. I come here to read the blog entries. I found the blog because ‘The War of Art’ was of enormous use to me. I bought ‘The War of Art’ because it was recommended on another writing-blog. I have a clear feeling that the target readers of Stevens books won’t care about the blog and vice versa. I’ve read a few of the exerpts of the books featured here, and they were not for me.
    But you could make the blog a separate income source with commercials and a few more books, maybe e-books, about writing, the publishing industry etc.

    • Callie Oettinger on December 27, 2010 at 8:58 am

      Thanks for your comment, Ulla! Blogs do help with book sales. When Steve launched his blog, he wasn’t promoting a new book, but in this past year, we’ve seen the sales of his backlist titles move. One Example: The War of Art sold more copies in 2010 than it did the year it was published, almost 10 years ago. This wasn’t something we set out to do. It just happened, through Steve’s blogging and getting to know readers. You mentioned that The War of Art “was of enormous use to me” and that Steve’s other books “were not for me.” Thank you for sharing your kind words about The War of Art. With the other books, what we’ve found is that some readers are interested in The War of Art and Steve’s Writing Wednesdays blog. There are other readers that only are interested in his novels. And, there are readers that are interested in everything—The War of Art, the blog posts, the novels, and other projects. It is important to share all of Steve’s work in one place, to share with all of his readers. The blog is a work in progress, so if there’s something you’d like to see more of—or if you have a question for Steve or there’s something you think we might try doing differently—let us know. That’s the great thing about blogs—being able to share with, and learn from, each other!

  3. Ric Locke on December 27, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Andrew, Ulla — the objective is to sell books. Sell a copy to one out of every hundred Instapundit readers, or one out of every ten thousand Oprah viewers? The decision should be easy.

    Sure, it’s target marketing. What a lot of people miss is that the target market has organized itself into an easily accessible mass. The problem with marketing has always been that you had to address thousands of people who weren’t interested (and who might resent the ad!) in order to reach the few who were. A person who reads the New York Times is likely to sneer at a new military fiction book. Someone who reads Crossfit, SWJ, BlackFive, Castle Arrgh!, or Instapundit is likely to be on the lookout for new military fiction, and happy to see something come up. Callie might also check out Baen Publishing, a science-fiction imprint with a huge military fiction overlap.

    Another phrase is “niche marketing”. Up to now it’s been deprecated, but things change. Not all genre readers confine themselves to genre, and if your book sells tens of thousands and attracts further notice, it makes it easier to get on Oprah. If you sell at all, that’s the best possible marketing to the general booksellers — and if you can feast from the niche in the meantime you should go for it.


    • Callie Oettinger on December 27, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Great comments, Ric! I often use the New York Times as an example: Large circulation, but does every person included in the circ. read every article in the paper? While some people do hit everything, most of us go to those sections of greatest interest—business, sports, etc. With the limited space available in the book section, where does it make the most sense to go? In the case of military writers, the op-ed section is incredible. Readers of op-eds often are pro-active book-buyers. They might miss the books in the book review section, but they always check out the op-eds. With the book review section, the military isn’t represented as much, and the readers of that section, while proactive, are made up of a wider variety of people. What makes more sense? Going to the book review section because you have a book? Or going to the op-ed section because that’s where your audience is at? I’ve always said that I’d rather have my military authors on speed dial with the major military journalists/editors than with the book reviewers. The first is a long-term opp. The second is a one-shot-per-book deal.

      And thank you for your Baen Publishing suggestion. I’ll def. check it out.

  4. Rob Crawford on December 27, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Not to mention that “Oprah viewers” is just another niche. Maybe it’s bigger than the others, but it’s still a niche.

    • Callie Oettinger on December 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

      You nailed it, Rob! Oprah spent 25 years developing her following—and the viewers that make up that following belong to a targeted group. Often, authors see the number of people who watch her program first, without considering the audience’s interest first.

  5. Bill Peschel on December 27, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I’m learning through my experiences promoting my first book that there’s room for all kinds of publicity. Online marketing and promotion can reach people who are specifically interested in your book’s subject. Tradition promotion can reach people in your area who might not be tuned into you online, but who might, and those who are interested in local authors.

    What national publicity can do is increase the awareness and value of your name. It can give you credibility with other media outlets. Getting an essay published in the New York Times Paper Cuts gave my publicist a reason to pitch various NPR shows. Being accepted as a speaker at a writers’ conference helped my reputation with the local librarians.

    While my local booksignings resulted in about 10 sales, my Amazon bookscan report shows at least 50 sales in the area, driven (I assume) by two reviews in the local newspapers and a couple of announcements about the signings.

    • Callie Oettinger on January 4, 2011 at 3:50 am

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Bill. Yes, there’s certainly room for all types of outreach. Congrats on having an essay pubbed in the Times and on the overall outreach for your book.

  6. P.J. on January 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    As a member of the military involved in the CrossFit community I can tell you that Callie is definitely moving in the right direction. We focus on constantly varied function movement to produce the best overall general fitness possible; why shouldn’t a pursuit for constantly varied, functional marketing work just as well?

    The CrossFit community may be a niche but it is a large niche that is growing everyday. I personally know many, many, more people who do not CrossFit that would be interested in this blog and these books.

    Sometimes you have to step outside of the norm, think out side of the box, and never underestimate the power of the social media!

    • Callie Oettinger on January 4, 2011 at 4:25 am

      P.J.—Thanks for posting this comment. You nailed it. One of the great things about “constantly varied function movement” is that you’re always learning something new. Through this type of outreach, we’ve been introduced to people and organizations with which we haven’t connected in the past—and we’ve learned from them. Though I’m sure the person who posted that first link to Steve’s site didn’t intend it to be an introduction, it was. In 2009, I knew nothing about Crossfit (or kettlebells). We’ve learned about Crossfit, about those who follow the program, and we’ve learned more about Steve’s readers, too. Now I need to figure out the L-sit. . . . (And a thank you to Crossfit for linking to this post today.)

  7. Vikram Narayan on January 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Getting featured on Oprah or some other mainstream media channel is like winning the lottery. It’s great if it happens but you can’t control it. So don’t bet your life on it. I also know of writers who were featured in mainstream newspapers but had relatively little sales to show for it.

    On the other hand, you do control some of your social media outreach efforts. These efforts (blogging, twitter, Facebook, podcasting, book promotion through fun online games etc.) tend to last a lot longer and the benefits are cumulative (i.e. the longer you stay in the game building your online platform, the more books, you are likely to sell.) And for an independent writer, it’s probably the only means available today.

    • Callie Oettinger on January 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

      Vikram – Thanks for posting this comment. You’re right. Authors can’t control everything, so it’s important to invest time in different types of outreach. Callie

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    I just finished reading “The Elephant in the Room” on Steven Pressfield’s blog, and I must say, it’s quite an eye-opener. The shift from traditional media to direct reader engagement is fascinating and seems to be a game-changer for authors and publicists alike. It’s intriguing to see how the focus is moving towards niche markets and direct connections with the audience.

    This approach reminds me of when I took an real IQ test. It wasn’t just about the score, but understanding the different facets of intelligence and how to apply them. Similarly, this blog post highlights the importance of understanding and targeting your audience effectively, rather than relying on broad, traditional methods.

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