How can publicity form part of your book marketing strategy? How can you research the best media and craft a pitch or a press release that might get you and your book some attention? Why is publicity still useful in an age of pay-per-click direct advertising? Halima Khatun shares her valuable tips and experience.
In the intro, Alliance of Independent Authors Indie Author Income Survey results; Experience of book to TV show [and previous episode, Johnny B Truant’s creative pivots]; Michael Anderle expands on his AI-assisted goals [20Books To 50K Facebook]; Loop earplugs.
Plus, Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change, Adapting Fast, and Future-Proofing your Career by Jason Feifer; The future of publishing is now on the Dialogue Doctor podcast; Content vs connection [Jay Acunzo on Twitter]; Why I’m focusing on being an AI-assisted artisan author; Death of an Author, from Pushkin Press.
Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at draft2digital.com/penn
Halima Khatun is the award-winning author of romantic comedy novels, including The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage. Today we’re talking about her nonfiction book, Priceless Publicity: How to get money-can’t-buy media coverage for your business.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Halima’s writing and PR journey
- Finding the “story behind the story”
- Pitching your story from different angles
- Balancing PR and protecting personal stories/privacy
- Tailoring your press release
- How to prepare for an interview
- Is PR worth it?
You can find Halima at HalimaKhatun.co.uk
Transcript of Interview with Halima Khatun
Joanna: Halima Khatun is the award-winning author of romantic comedy novels, including The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage. Today we’re talking about her nonfiction book, Priceless Publicity: How to get money-can’t-buy media coverage for your business. So welcome to the show, Halima.
Halima: Thank you for having me, Joanna.
Joanna: I’m excited to talk about this topic. But first up—
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing, and also PR.
Halima: I always wanted to write. There was never any other creative outlet or any other career option for me, even when I was growing up. So I sort of lived in libraries when I was younger.
The funny story I always share is at the age of 12, I actually wrote a book, believe it or not. 60,000 words, a coming-of-age children’s book, which I thought would be the next JK Rowling with a slash of Stand By Me for girls. It didn’t do any of those things. I remember sending it to Penguin and the likes, thinking they’re going to love it, they’re going to bite my hand off. They didn’t. And I was 12, and probably had a bit more work to do.
As I grew up, I parked that idea because I always thought writing isn’t really—being an author—isn’t really a career, per se. You know, you get the people that make megabucks, and then there’s everyone else.
So I did what I thought was a sensible option. I still wanted to write, so I went into journalism. I did broadcast journalism for my post grad. And I did ITV and BBC, and that was great fun, but I quickly realized that it’s less about the writing and more about getting stories short and snappy and to the point, and camera angles, etc.
So I navigated to what they call is the dark side of PR, which basically is sitting on the other side of a journalist. So my job was then to bring stories to the media. So I’d be on the other side, and speaking to clients, trying to really find the story behind the story, if that makes sense.
So I did a lot of healthcare PR. So for example, if I was speaking to a hospital consultant about a procedure, that might seem like quite a dry subject. So what I would do is I would find a case study, a patient who had the procedure, and talk about how their life had changed from how it was to how it is now. I’d go into the national media, the regional local broadcast media, and I really enjoyed it to the point that I still do some private consulting to this day.
I then went freelance. So I set up as a limited company, and I had my own clients, with a view that—I laugh now—with a view that it’d be great when I think about having children, having a family, I could work around them. I had this notion that children nap, and then I had my babies.
So I didn’t quite do as much, but one of the beauties, and I think it came full circle, with my circumstances with not really working as much in PR purely because of time when I had my daughter, I revisited this idea of writing a book.
The idea of The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage came to me because I found that nobody had really written about it.
So there’s already a fixed narrative in the media, often the term arranged marriage gets interchanged with forced marriage, it gets mixed up.
And I thought, why don’t I write something that’s like the ‘brown Bridget Jones’ and show the funny side, and the cringe-worthy side, and really give a nuanced picture. And people loved it. That was the best thing.
So I didn’t know anything about self-publishing. I assumed I’d go to agents and go the traditional route.
I quickly realized I didn’t want to spend years shopping it around and sending query letters.
I kind of stumbled upon this whole amazing world of self-publishing, and how you can actually be in charge of your career and your author career.
I learned the notion of you’re not just an author, you’re a business owner when you have books and you self-publish because you’re in charge of every aspect of it. I really got my teeth into that.
So that was one book, and then I did The Secret Diary of a Bengali Bridezilla, and then there was a third book, and now I’m working on the fourth. All while I raised my children. My daughter is now five and my son is two. And luckily, my husband has taken them out while I’m doing this podcast. You know, got to keep it safe. You don’t know who’s going to scream while I’m in the middle of talking!
So the Priceless Publicity idea came about because firstly I thought, I’ve built my career in this. And one of the beauties of being able to do my own PR was I thought, well, I’ve done it for clients all these years, why not get some publicity for myself, for my books?
It was a no brainer because one of the things, for me personally, was I had a little bit of impostor syndrome when I self-published. I think a lot of authors do because you don’t have that gatekeeper and that sort of validation of, even if it’s a small press, oh, it was published. You know, it was published by somebody else in the traditional route.
I didn’t have that, and I thought, I really want it to stand up alongside traditionally published books. So I set about generating my own PR.
So I wrote press releases around the angle of the story. I talked about my backstory being a mom at the time. My son was a newborn and I was nursing my daughter before he was born, writing the draft. And then I published it the month before he was born, which was crazy, in hindsight. The idea was that I had all these different angles to pull apart.
And it did great.
I generated lots of media coverage and regional coverage. I was on the BBC.
BBC Radio, they had a whole topic around my pitch, which was around arranged marriages. Are they outdated? Are they misunderstood? And I was on a panel with other people.
I think for me, it sort of culminated in a full page spread in Good Housekeeping, where I was talking about my career as an author and how I kind of had this almost second career trying to write a book when I was much younger, gone into PR, and now doing this. So I just suddenly thought, when I was going through the self-publishing process and learning about all the different nuances, I saw a lot of parallels between independent authors and business owners, because we’re constantly told, you have to think of it like a business for it to thrive.
I remember in my PR career, when I’d gone solo, when I’d become a limited company, one of the things I started doing was training up business owners because they wanted to learn about how to do their own publicity because they couldn’t afford me on retainer. They couldn’t afford a PR agency that charges four figures a month, five figures a month. They needed something that they could do themselves, in their own time, while running their business.
So for me, it was almost a lightbulb moment. And I thought, I generated this great PR that I felt leveled me up with traditionally published authors, and I didn’t have this hang up of kind of, “oh, it’s self-published, people will think it’s not as good.” Because if it was good enough for a journalist to publish stories about my books and me, it was good enough to stand up there and be read.
The other thing is I noticed that I was getting traction and recognition through PR.
I know that sort of PR is seen as a bit woolly and a bit vague because you can’t necessarily quantify it the way you can pay per click. However, it was one of those touchstones of marketing. We talk a lot about seven touchstones, and it was that sort of recognition and sort of planting that seed that you’re out there, and you have a book that people started recognizing.
I remember one of the reviews on The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage was someone saying, “I bought this as an impulse buy after reading about her in Good Housekeeping.” And I was like, well, it works, you know. And I thought more people need to do this because as authors, we juggle a lot of hats, and there’s a lot of focus on social media, and rightly so, TikTok is blowing up. But actually, and when I say traditional media, it’s not just newspapers and magazines anymore. I mean, I’m on your amazing podcast talking about my book, that is me PR-ing my book.
So actually, there are so many different outlets.
It’s about having the confidence and the tips, and the know-how to be able to get out there and pitch with confidence to a journalist, and find the story within your business, within your books, and what you probably have under your nose and don’t realize.
I thought more people need to know about this. So that’s why I wrote Priceless Publicity.
Then on a personal level, it was also really nice for me to marry my kind of new career as an author with my career I built over the years as a PR consultant, and putting them together to really help others. It’s been quite amazing. It does feel like it’s come full circle on my journey.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. There’s so much in what you just said that I want to explore further.
So you’ve mentioned a couple of times the story behind the story. And having done some of this myself and seeing other people—well, I get pitched all the time, obviously, I get pitched every day.
And one of the most common pitches is, “I’ve written a book. Can I come on your podcast?” And like it could be any book, like without even thinking what my audience is about.
Can you explain what ‘the story behind the story is’? How can an author go beyond “here’s my book?”
Halima: Well, there’s a few things. I think the first thing I wanted to say was, I think with a story behind the story, “I’ve written a book” actually can work for some media outlets.
And the reason I say that is because I think authors forget this, but your book is a product. So if for example, you went to your local press and said, “I’ve written this book, and it’s about X, Y, Z,” they would be interested because essentially it’s launching a new product.
You might think, “oh, but it’s just a book.” But actually, mobile phone, I always use this example, but mobile phones have been around for decades now, but it still doesn’t stop iPhone bringing a new one out and then getting coverage off the back of it. So for certain outlets, it is worth remembering that your book is a product, and that’s a story in itself.
The story behind the story, now there are different ways of looking at it. So for me, the example from my fiction books, the story behind the story was I had an unusual writing habit. I was a mom, and I was literally nursing my daughter and writing the first very rough draft of my book on my iPhone notes.
To this day, that’s my initial method. I take walks with my son in his pram, and I’ll dictate to myself, looking a little bit like a crazy one walking down the street. But that works for me, and that was quite unusual because it was the human interest angle. It’s kind of writing against the odds in a way, because you know, I still don’t have the seafront office working on it, but it is kind of showing the different ways of doing things.
Joanna: Can we just be more specific on that one? So were you pitching, “Mom does unusual thing whilst nursing?” As in, was it a mom pitch or was it a writer pitch? Because obviously, I get a lot of writer pitches. And to me, that is not unusual at all. That is not an unusual way to write.
I’m wondering how you pitched that. Was it like the mom side? Or what angle? And to what kind of press, I guess?
Halima: Yeah, so there’s different angles. And this is the thing that’s really important —
Different press require different angles.
So an example of that story was actually the Manchester Evening News, which is a big regional in where I live in Manchester. And that came about because I actually won an award, I won a Best Adult Fiction award for my book, which may seem arbitrary in the author space, but actually, the media loved it.
So when he was interviewing me and talking to me, I mentioned my unusual writing habit, and that was the most interesting thing for him. The headline was “Mom drafts book on iPhone notes and wins a national award.” If I went to the mom press, absolutely that would be the angle.
The Good Housekeeping angle was a bit of that. And again, it was an award-winning book. But if you went to, for example, and I would advise this to all authors, if for example, you started with your local media, they want to champion a local person done good. So they would be interested in the fact that you’ve written a story and you’ve published a story.
I think this is a really important point you mentioned, that it’s not unusual to you what I mentioned about the writing habit.
Sometimes I think we can discount potentially interesting stories because it’s usual for us. However, it might be interesting to a reader who knows nothing about the author world.
So the fact that you say it’s not unusual, but actually the interesting thing is to another person, they’re like, “Wow, how did you manage? How did you do that while pushing a pram? How does that work?”
I think there’s definitely a balance, and I talk a lot in my book about this, that there’s a bit of a litmus test where you can ask yourself certain questions to see if it’s a story. I think sometimes it’s always worth bearing in mind that sometimes we can be our own worst cynic in a way, and we can be our own biggest barrier because we assume something’s not interesting, but actually it’s because it’s so normal to us.
Another example might be, you know, you could have had a complete career change and gone into writing, and it could be the complete opposite of what you were doing. That’s another interesting angle.
Another thing could be, for example, and like I say, I know they’re arbitrary, but —
Book awards do generate media coverage, because again, the media loves an award stories. Local media, regional media, they love to champion someone that’s done well.
Another angle could be if you’ve got an unusual take on a story.
So for example, you’ve written a sort of Northern English take on Game of Thrones or something very against norm, something you wouldn’t expect. And I know in sort of author world, we talk about tried and true tropes, but actually there is room if you did a twist on a traditional genre or traditional tale, that would be of interest.
So it’s really kind of asking certain questions. The things to begin with, you know, before you even think about what media, I would say find the stories and go,
What is new? What is different? Are you bucking a trend?
A really simple thing, and again, a lot of us will forget this day-to-day, business development, which might not necessarily make your books fly off the shelves, but it does add to your whole roster of media coverage.
So for example, if you’re writing by yourself, and suddenly you’ve hired a PA, you’re growing your business. That’s development. And a lot of people would think, “So what? I would never think to pitch that.” But actually, you’re growing your brand. You doubled your business growth in terms of personnel.
So it’s really looking at—and I talk about this a lot more in detail in the book—looking at the different areas that might be of interest to a journalist. And then thinking about, okay, would it be of interest to my local press? Would it be of interest to my regional? If, for example, you have a niche topic, there are magazines out there.
So with my work, The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, it was a lot of my readers, I’ve actually got a broad spread of readers, but there was within there a niche of British Asian people, British Asian women. So I went to the niche media. So I was on the BBC Asian network, I was on certain niche publications, and I went to a lot of the local press.
So there’s lots of different things. There’s lots of different angles.
It’s really about starting from the beginning and asking yourself the questions and thinking, “Okay, what is different? What is new? What have I got to say about my books?”
And then you can look at marrying that with what media would potentially be interested.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. And again, your book is so full of tips. But that’s the thing, you didn’t pitch me about The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, because, well, I just don’t know if that would have stood out. What you pitched me was what will help my audience, which is this Priceless Publicity book. So that’s a perfect example of tailoring it.
I did want to come back on a couple of things. So you mentioned niche publications there. But you also mentioned before that you got on a panel around the arranged marriage thing. Now, obviously, culturally, you can talk about those things. You mentioned the ‘brown Bridget Jones’ earlier, which I thought was a great little tagline.
But this is something that I’ve worried about in the past, and something I’m also thinking about now, which is sometimes PR people want the personal story behind the story, and sometimes we don’t necessarily want people to know more about that.
So for example, I’ve just written this memoir called Pilgrimage, and there are aspects in there about midlife and menopause and mental health.
On the one hand, I want people to hear about it, and on the other hand, I’m kind of terrified that I might end up on TV talking about something that’s frankly terrifying, I guess.
How do we balance the desire to get the book out there but also protect our personal lives?
I mean, it’s a tough thing to balance, right? How have you dealt with that?
Halima: Absolutely. And it really is, as you say, a balancing act. So I think, for me, it was being very clear about boundaries of what I will talk about and what I won’t, and really being clear in your mind.
So if you’re pitching a personal story, which by the way, thank you for sharing, that sounds great. I had a little nosy. So it’s what is within your comfort zone to talk about.
So with my book, it’s not my memoir, but of course, like with all fiction, it’s snippets of my life, others, etc. And a lot of people obviously will naturally say, so how much of it is your story? And I was very clear about how much I could mention that would still be interesting enough, and what things were off the table, which journalists are very receptive to.
To give you another example that helps around that is—and I know a lot of authors struggle with things like if you have a pen name, if you want to be quite anonymous. So certain things, if I’m honest, will be harder. So you’re not going to be able to get the human interest angles if you don’t want to be pictured or you don’t want to talk about yourself.
It’s not to say all media will be shut off to you because there are other opportunities, like I mentioned about the business development angles, the award angles. The example I have is aside from my books, I write a lifestyle blog. And it started off very frivolous, talking about lipsticks and things like that. And then as I had children, it pivoted slightly towards being a mom.
One of the things with my boundaries is I don’t put pictures of my children publicly on social media.
That’s just my thing. So certain journalists would say, “Oh, we would like to have a picture of your children, if possible.” But the workaround was, I’d explained, so for example, I was in Mother and Baby Magazine, and the angle was I gave birth in the midst of a pandemic. And then I got to also mention my book within the article.
So the story, you know, the photos we did required strategic work, where I kind of like was holding my son, but you couldn’t see his face, and my daughter was holding a toy, and they were fine with that. Not to say everybody necessarily will, but I just wanted to stress that there are ways around it and certain publications will be very receptive.
The thing to bear in mind is, they will only know the information you give them, if that makes sense. So when you write a press release, when you have your pitch, when you have your points, if there’s something you don’t want to mention or you don’t want to go there, you wouldn’t include that in your pitch.
Perhaps the thing to be prepared about—and I appreciate the feeling of terror because I get it. I mean, I was talking about a subject that doesn’t really get talked about, so I 100% understand.
Thinking of every eventuality and being prepared is a big help.
So it’s almost like, and I don’t want to sound scary but I taught a lot of crisis communications, which is coming up with and having to think of all the questions. And I know you mentioned that people often criticize in the media on subjects around your books. So think about, well, what are the criticisms? What do they bring up? What do they sort of say? What does the media publish about them that’s negative?
And then thinking, okay, how would I combat that? How would I account for that? What can I say about it? What’s my narrative and my story?
So with my books, the back of my mind was, what if some journalists think, oh, you’re trying to promote arranged marriages or some kind of archaic out-of-date tradition. So luckily, that didn’t actually come up.
However, I was prepared for those questions that might come up and how I would answer it, and say, well, I’m not actually promoting it at all. It’s a very nuanced view. It’s not a negative view, but I’m showing the good, bad and the ugly. And ultimately, it’s a story that all women can relate to, all people can relate to, that have that desire to settle down. And that was me being prepared.
So it’s worth sitting down almost and thinking, okay, what could they ask that might be tricky? And how would I answer that? What can I say? What can I bring to the table?
Joanna: That’s great. Okay, well, let’s get into some more specifics about actually getting some attention. So I mean, one of the things many of us get as authors is as soon as you self-publish a book, you’ll get emails from some spam companies who say, “Pay us $200, and we will send out a press release.” And they’ll put it on that PR Newswire or whatever it is, and it will just spam go out to hundreds and hundreds of people.
What is the best way to do a press release?
Halima: A much more tailored approach than that, I would say. So we talked about the key points you’d want, the key angles that might be of interest.
And then once you think of a few angles, or even one angle, think, “Okay, who would be interested?” And that goes back to looking at the media and sort of reading the magazines, newspapers, listening to podcasts, looking at online magazines and news sites, which is huge now, and thinking, “Okay, do I have a place within that? Can my book sit within that?”
And this is the thing, when I pitched to come on this podcast, it wasn’t about, as you say, it wasn’t about The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, because to all intents and purposes, that’s another fiction book. It was about, what can I do to help? So that’s absolutely the right way to go into. Think, what can I do that would be of interest to this magazine, or newspaper or website?
So for example, if you’re a nonfiction author, and you’re writing about finances, and how to keep your finances in check as a family, are there any money websites? Are there any family websites that would be interested in the story?
If you’re doing a fiction book, again, it’s the story based in another area? Would that area’s local publication be interested? What about my local publication? Would they also be interested? You know, once you’ve got the angles.
If you want to go more national, it’s looking at, do they have a section that I could actually see myself in? So for example, I got a national piece in Metro magazine. And again, it was talking about the misconceptions when I got married. And it was kind of people asking me certain questions about how I met my husband. And it’s kind of like well-meaning welfare questions, but I remember the awkwardness around it. So that was a pitch because they have a section called first person. And that’s a national mainstream magazine, so it’s any kind of first person story they take.
It’s looking at what you can bring to the table when you’ve got your angles, and just seeing how you marry your story with what they need.
And that’s almost the simplest way of looking at it. But actually, once you strip away all the, how to write a press release, how to do it, how to pitch, that is simply what we’re doing. We’re giving a story that promotes our work to a journalist in a way that they would want to write it or present it.
Joanna: Okay, so we’ve got our topic, we’ve got our publication that we want to pitch. So do we need to find a named journalist? Or do we email it? Do we put it in the post with a copy of our book?
What do we do to get this to the right person?
Halima: So well, the way I would go about it is email, for sure. And I would find the journalist, and this is a little secret I’m going to share.
So obviously, swanky PR agencies, of which I was a part of a while ago, will subscribe to these super expensive databases which throws up hundreds of journalists names.
I would honestly say Google is your friend. If you go on to any, even the magazines and newspapers, they always have an online version. And there you’ll see a list of the journalists. That might be a local area journalist, it might be a journalist on a topic, like a political journalist or a lifestyle editor.
Find the journalist that writes the kind of stories that you can see being featured with, and then just email them and get in touch.
What I would suggest is, for authors that are first starting to do their own PR, a full press release is quite daunting and quite a big undertaking. I would actually start with a pitch, and it would be as simple as, “Hi, name of the journalist. I think this would be of interest to you because…” and literally a two or three sentence pitch, which is, what my story is—and when I say what my story is, I don’t mean about the book necessarily, unless you’re pitching your book to an editor who’s doing the book curation, book features. I mean, the actual story.
So for example, with your story, you want to speak to lifestyle press. With your nonfiction book it would be, “This is my story. I’m writing this book on keeping fit and healthy through menopause and going on walking and pilgrimages. This is why it would be of interest to your readers.” Give them the why, and then you’ve offered them your story on a plate.
Then it’s simply saying, “For more information or pictures, do let me know if you need anything else.” And that’s always a lot better than sending a blanket email to all and sundry because they will know it’s a blanket email to everybody.
Joanna: Yeah, it is very, very obvious. I mean, I get pitches that say, “Dear podcaster,” and then it’s about a Visa card offer or like utterly ridiculous things that obviously are just spam pitches, but they still seem to get through and it’s just very annoying. But, I really like your tips.
So let’s take it a step further. Let’s say someone’s actually interested. Someone said, “Yes, I’d really like to talk to you.” So I mean, you mentioned first up really thinking about like we’ve got our points, and we’ve now thought about the negative things.
Anything else we need to do in terms of preparing for an interview?
Whether that’s on a radio station, or whether that’s someone coming and taking photos of you, or an interview. What are some things, or lessons learned, or things to avoid, I guess?
Halima: So the first thing is, don’t panic. I think it’s really important to remember, it’s a great thing.
And I’ve had clients when I’ve trained them up in the past, saying, “Oh, my gosh, this journalist has come back and said, ‘Can you write an 800 word article about it,’ and I’m terrified.” And I say, that’s an amazing thing because an 800 word article is huge, and that is a big space for you to talk about what you’re trying to promote.
So there are different ways a journalist will get in touch. And the first thing is, and I joke and say, don’t panic, but really don’t, they’re just like you and me. I always mentioned this, and I say in the book, they are overworked, underpaid, and that’s why sometimes they might be a little bit to the point because your email will be among a sea of hundreds. And they’re always on a deadline, so that’s why they have to be quite picky and sometimes, like I say, get to the point of the story.
They will come back to you saying what they want. Often they’re quite receptive. If they know you’re not a PR person, they’ll see if you’ve got any more information and you can put together a few bullet points, then you give them that.
If they want to interview over the phone, which I must say is a little less and less these days, more because journalists don’t have the time that they used to. It’s a different world for them now. They’re often on a deadline, and they’re often short staffed. And sadly, they might not be based in even the area that they cover.
So what they’ll often say is, have you got a press release? If they call you for a phone interview, which I’m not saying they don’t, I’ve been asked a few times, again, it’s preparations. Maybe having the key questions to ask yourself, so it’s kind of what they might ask you. Why is your reason for writing the story? What’s different? What’s unusual? The things that also you want to get across, it’s really worth having written down just in front of you, so you’re not nervous and tongue-tied.
I think if they ask for a photo —
It’s always worth all authors having a photo ready. Whether that’s a great shot of your book, but more often than not, if they want the story behind the story and the person, a photo of you.
And I have to stress, this isn’t the time for sending your grainy Facebook photo, they want a decent high res image of you.
I’ve got one of me casually leaning against a bookshelf, and it works really well. Very, very casual, head cocked to the side. And the thing you don’t see in the photo is my two children are on the bed opposite playing with each other while my husband was taking the photo. But that’s the story behind the story. Yeah, having a photo ready.
If they send around a photographer, they’ll often be led by you. So with Good Housekeeping, they did send a photographer, and they asked me if I knew of a local cafe. And luckily I did, and it’s a great, quite quirky independent cafe that had some nice artwork. They sent hair and makeup, which I have to stress doesn’t happen often, before anyone gets excited. It’s rare, it’s rare. And it was a lovely treat as I had a baby at that time. So it was nice, it was like a spa day. So they’re few and far between, more often than not, they’ll ask you for a photo.
And that’s really it.
It’s thinking of the questions they might ask, and it’s just being as helpful and as accommodating as you can.
I think I must stress this, the easier you can make their life, the better it is and the more chance there is, that they’ll cover your story and also be receptive to stories from you in the future.
And just to roll back actually, and I was talking about when emailing them the story, I wouldn’t attach a photo. I wouldn’t go and attach a one megabyte picture because often they have very limited email capacity, and they wouldn’t want to open it just in case it spam. Just as you mentioned with your podcasts, they get any manner of random pitches that are irrelevant or not even aimed at them.
Joanna: Never attach anything to a first email is basically the thing.
Halima: Never attach anything to a first email. You can always mention in the email, “If you need pictures or more information,” that’s always really helpful. Because sometimes they’re so quick and they’re on such a deadline, they might just print a paragraph of what you’ve got. And you’re like, oh, I wish I had mentioned a photo. So offer that up in the body of the email, just say, “I’ve got pictures if you need. Do get in touch for more information.” And it’s as simple as that, really.
Like I say, we can dress it up and overthink it, but it is simply giving them what they want. And it goes back to know the publication you’re pitching. And by that, you might only need to read a couple of articles or listen to a few of their podcasts or read a couple of their stories online, but just get a feel because I think there’s nothing worse than poorly pitching something inappropriately to the wrong person.
Joanna: Just on timeliness, because I mean, this book, Pilgrimage, as we speak, I did a Kickstarter, but it’s coming out officially, it’s on pre-order for the first of May. So I’ve still got a little bit of time.
We’re recording this in mid-March, so this is about six weeks before the official launch of the book. Pilgrimage is a kind of timely thing, but that’s when the book comes out. I could keep pitching it forever, really. I’m not intending to write another book on pilgrimage.
When we’re doing this, can we pitch for older books? Or does this really need to be timely?
Halima: Absolutely, you can. And the thing to bear in mind is, again, it depends on the angle.
If you’re pitching it saying, “Hi, this is a new book and haven’t I done great,” then yes, it has to be timely. But if it’s a story around the book, so the fact that like I say, for example, you’ve won a new award, then that’s the story is that you’ve won the award. But it’s about a book, and that might be a book that you wrote last year, and it’s just won an award.
Or if, for example, you’re building your business, and you’ve recruited a couple of PAs, couple of members of staff, your books might be years old and you’re continuing to write books, but the story is about the fact that you’re growing.
So it depends on the angle. Like I say, if you’re talking about a new book coming out, then that’s slightly different. But most of the media I’ve had has been on different angles, like I say, the story behind the story.
So the Metro article that came out, I think it was middle of 2022, so we’re going back to last year, but they pitched The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage and they mentioned it at the end with a link, and The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage came out in 2020. So often when it’s sort of, and I don’t want to overcomplicate, but sometimes you can call it a case study or something that’s not time sensitive, that’s when you don’t have to worry so much about your books being older.
Other examples are, I get a lot of love from my London magazine because that’s where I used to live. And the book is first based up north, but then it goes into London, and they get in touch with me or I get in touch with them, and we have a conversation when the new book has come out or is coming out. Yeah, so it depends on how you pitch it.
Joanna: That’s really helpful. Because also, I mean, you mentioned at the beginning about the imposter syndrome. And I say it’s funny, it’s completely natural.
I’ve been doing this 15 years now, and I still have impostor syndrome —
which is why I mostly avoid traditional media because I don’t want to have to deal with the “Oh, you’re just an indie author,” or whatever.
I do think things have changed now, and certainly with this book, Pilgrimage, I really want to push my comfort zone a bit.
Coming back to another reason I don’t do it is, and this is where we need to say, is it worth the time and the energy, right?
I did all the things with traditional media and I got all the results, and I hardly sold any books. Because I guess the books weren’t in the bookshops, but also traditional media is pretty much more scattergun. And like you’re talking about, okay, a mom walking and dictating, does that translate into book sales?
It comes down to the question — is PR worth it? Because it might not lead to book sales.
Like even if you get on national TV, you’re not going to sell 200,000 copies of your book that day. So is it worth it?
Halima: You’re absolutely right in asking that question. And what I would say, and any PR person worth their salt would say, PR alone isn’t the answer to everything. It sits in alongside all of your marketing.
So the thing I say about a PR is, it would be false of me to say, “Oh, write this press release and go to this journalist, and they’ll print it, and your sales will spike.” There are exceptions to rule which I’m going to go on to in a minute, but it doesn’t necessarily work like that. What PR does is you’re using it alongside all your branding.
So to give you an example, it has so many other areas to leverage. If you’re featured in a magazine, or a newspaper, or you go on a podcast, you can then add that to your about information on your website. You can add it to your email signature, as featured in. You can add it to any ad copy for any Facebook ads or Amazon ads. You can share it with your newsletter. So you suddenly have another talking point —
It gives you gravitas that you don’t get from other marketing.
I should say I use Amazon ads, and I do use pay-per-click because I wouldn’t just do PR. I think it needs to sit with other things, like your TikTok and your other areas.
It’s a complement to everything you do. So another example is, when I get great media coverage, I always share on my social media, and people that are sort of thinking about buying my book go, “Oh, that’s amazing. I’ve just ordered your book.”
It gives you more content. So with your podcast and your blog posts, you have more content to add, and write, “Oh, and I was featured here.” It gives you the gravitas that I would say money can’t buy, and it is about leveling up.
You’re absolutely right that a lot of certain international non-niche publications are scattergun. And you’re right, because they are read far and wide, and not necessarily people looking for those books, but it’s planting that seed. Within that I want to add, there are also niche publications which do really make a difference.
As a point, I actually was on the Self-publishing Show Podcast about Priceless Publicity, and that is PR because it was me pitching my story and speaking about it. I got a spike in sales because it was very niche to the audience of authors who are interested in doing their own PR.
In your answer, I would say, give it the time it deserves. So I wouldn’t say pause the book you’re writing and just spend two weeks learning about PR, or I wouldn’t say hire an agency and spend four or five figures a month. There is a place for that, and the big corporates who don’t have time to do their own PR do outsource and it makes sense for them because they need to be seen and they need to be making noises on a sort of peripheral level about their brand.
For an independent author, I would say do it in your own time around your business.
And I use my own example, life is quite full, I have two small children, so I’m not hammering on the phone speaking to every national, every local. I simply don’t have the time. So I am getting PR as and when I can around my business. It’s bubbling along. And it’s something you certainly can do in your own time, and give it the right amount of time to get yourself publicity.
It’s very effective. And like I say, it gives you things that aren’t so tangible and aren’t so measurable. And it’s the things that really helped build your brand over time and show that you’re basically a serious contender as an author. That in turn, it does lead to sales. They might not be the obvious sales, they might not be the spike necessarily, but they will trickle through.
So I wouldn’t say stop everything you’re doing. I would say it’s great to learn and do alongside your business because over time, it really does help. And quite simply, if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be doing my own.
Joanna: The book is excellent. I mean, you obviously sent me a review copy. I’ve also ordered it in paperback because it’s one of those books I’m going to put on my desk and like look at and go, “Right, I could just do something. I could just do a little pitch.”
And you’ve definitely given me some ideas for my book, Pilgrimage. And I guess for people listening, it’s got to be the right book, you know, it’s got to be the one that you feel perhaps has the most stories. Like I’ve got 40 books, a lot of people listening have a lot of books. So it’s almost like the book is definitely not the point anymore, but it is that story behind the story. So that’s been super useful.
Where can people find you and your books, both fiction and nonfiction, online?
Halima: They’re available everywhere. I’m wide with my books. So the usual return is Amazon, Kobo, Google Play. And also, I’m a big fan of this, you can order it from your local library if you request the book. I’m quite passionate about that, and I think in this time, I think it’s really great for people to be able to go and use their library. So you can get my books everywhere.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Halima. That was great.
Halima: Thank you for having me.
The post Book Marketing: How To Get Publicity For Your Book With Halima Khatun first appeared on The Creative Penn.
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Author: Joanna Penn