Promotion for Books and Related Projects

Book promotion is a specialized form of public relations. I have been involved in the promotion of thousands of books-Bibles, cookbooks, travel books, juveniles, classics, sports books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, novels. For all of them there is one way to start a campaign.

I outlined these first steps for an association of small religious publishing houses. With slight changes they can be applied to any book. Here they are:

Basic Steps for a Publicity Campaign for Religious Books

  1. Prepare release on book.

    a.All important facts-title, author, price, publication date, and quick summary should be contained in first paragraph so that can be run alone if desired.

    b.Some interesting highlights on book and/or author in second paragraph. Also brief quotes from book.

    c.Hold to one page if possible. Keep sentences short and clear. At upper left-hand corner put "For Immediate Release" or "Release" plus date. At upper right-hand corner, name, address, and telephone number of person to be contacted for further information (publicity director or assistant).

    d.To make your releases more eye appealing, or different from one another, switch to colored stock occasionally. Important: release should go out not more than four weeks prior to publication.

    e.Headline. Headline should be descriptive and, if possible, interest catching. Keep it short. f.    Important: keep objective. Do not use adjectives such as wonderful, great. This is the difference between advertising and publicity. Release should read as news story not as advertisement.

  2. Send copies of release to all religious book editors of newspapers and magazines; also to radio and TV stations in locales where author is known; also to syndicates and wire services. If there is any woman's or other angle, mail to selected "department" editors. (Lists may be rented, or compiled.)

  3. Release may also be included in review copies.

  4. Follow-up. Wherever possible, follow up with personal visit, telephone call or letter. A personal letter can be an effective tool.

  5. If author is available interviews, luncheons, autograph parties, testimonials, proclamations may be arranged.

These rules put into action might produce a release such as the following news story for a Bible Story Book. Approximately 1,100 copies of this release were mailed to book reviewers, selected columnists, general consumer magazines, women's page editors, religious publications and major weeklies.


The entire sweep of Bible history is given vivid perspective in the new deluxe edition of Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. (Warner Press: illustrated, $6.50.)

To assist the teacher and librarian in bringing the Bible to life for today's children there is a special section describing, with illustrations in color, the way people lived in Biblical times. Typical of these is a paragraph on fishing:

"In Bible times fishing was one of the main occupations. Fishermen are often mentioned in the Bible. It was fishermen living near the Sea of Galilee that Jesus called the first disciples. Some of the fishermen waded into the water with a net, called a 'casting net,' which they threw into the water with a skillful swing. When it was filled with fish, it was dragged to shore with a strong cord which was fastened to the center of the net. Others went out in fishing boats. Often two boats were used for one net. As the boats came close together, the net formed a big scoop. This was called a 'drag net.'"

Other helps in recreating the stories of the Bible are full-page photographs of Bible lands as they are today.

In addition, there are questions and answers to the stories of both the Old Testament and the New Testament; a section of Bible information; and interesting facts about the Bible; as well as a listing of Great Prayers of the Bible, and our Lord's parables.

Mrs. Billy Graham read Egermeier's Bible Story Book to her own children.

Sometimes an author can himself make news that will help to sell his book. One such author owned a pet Department Store and was available for guest appearances, interviews and autographing parties with almost any kind of animal. He brought live cobras, monkeys and spotted leopard cubs.

A release on his book was sent out at publication time. Later a second release featuring a wild animal sale was sent out; in all interviews the book was mentioned. The second release follows:

The second animal story got space in McCall's Magazine, Scholastic Magazines, Wall Street Journal among other publications, and also was featured on Monitor (NBC network), a TV show for children, and three news programs.

The appeal of adventure is illustrated by our experience with a young man named Bob Webb who walked into my office one day. Employed as a salvage diver and machinist by the Panama Canal Company, he was preparing to sail a dugout canoe from Panama to Hawaii, a 5,000 mile trip. He knew we had publicized the book, Kon-Tiki, the story of Thor Heyerdahl and his companions who sailed a balsa-wood raft through 4300 miles of the Pacific with only the winds and currents to guide them.

Bob Webb asked if we would publicize his trip. In the case of Kon-Tiki the voyage had been made and the book was written when we came into the picture. In Webb's case nothing had happened yet. In spite of that, and on the chance that a good adventure story might develop, the Outdoor Editor of True Magazine said he would run the story, and wrote the Hawaiian Tourist Bureau to prepare a colorful welcome for Webb's canoe, LikiTiki Too, when and if it arrived on Hawaiian shores. He also wrote Pan Am to request that their pilots be alerted to watch for Webb's canoe.

We had excellent coverage on the departure of LikiTiki Too from the Diablo Spinning Club in Diablo, Canal Zone. Unfortunately, after three days at sea Webb turned back for lack of wind. And so the trip was given up.

I use this instance of an uncompleted public relations job to point up another fact of promotion-that it's not necessarily the amount of work you put in on a project that determines its success or failure. Some books and projects have success built into them. Kon-Tiki did. There was no magic in our campaign. There was a press party but not a lavish one. There were no personal appearances for the author. Thor Heyerdahl caught cold flying the Atlantic and spent his time in New York in a hospital.

Any magic was in the book. This is true of many books we have publicized, each one differing completely from the other. This is one of the elements that gives excitement to a career in publicity: no one honestly knows how a product or project will respond.

Letters, releases, and captioned pictures are the tools of book promotion. A press kit combines all these. We put together a press kit for a travel project that with very little additional publicity produced tremendous coverage by the press, radio and TV. This was a reenactment of the first travel tour of Thos. Cook & Son. Since we were called in late on this, and the agency had a small budget for promotion we kept costs to a minimum. The press kit earned the whole message.

We ordered two-pocket blue folders from the letter shop. These were rubber stamped PRESS KIT. On them were pasted white titles: REENACTMENT OF COOK'S FIRST SWISS TOUR. Inside in one pocket we placed captioned photographs of Swiss scenes from the nineteenth century suitable for newspaper reproduction. These were museum pictures furnished us free by the Swiss Embassy. Opposite the glossies we placed a postcard and three releases. The postcard, stamped and addressed to us, gave the editor three options: he would like further information on the 100th Anniversary celebration; he would be interested in pictures about the tour; he would be interested in doing an on-the-spot story from Switzerland. His name, publication and address were requested.

The first release in the press kit described briefly what would take place at this reenactment: "Thomas Cook, great-great-grandson of the original leader of this travel-history-making tour, will conduct twelve actors in Victorian costume-travelling by old trains, steamers, carriages, sailing boats and sedan chairs restored to use for the occasion-over the original route. Even some of the festivities-a candlelight dinner at the Castle of Chillon, a folklore festival at Interlaken, sunrise watch from the RigiKulm-will be in the spirit of the 1860's. A reception will be held by the Swiss Alpine Club."

The second release told of "firsts" of Thos. Cook & Son, other than the first Swiss tour:

1841-First organized rail excursion. 1851-First travel magazine published. 1854-First tour of the Continent of Europe. 1866-First English tour to the U.S.A. 1870-First tour to the Holy Land. 1872-First pleasure tour around the world.1874-First "Travelers Cheques."1886-First pilgrimage tour to Mecca.1892-First cruises to the West Indies.1920-First tour from Cairo to the Cape. 1927-First organized air tour from New York to Chicago for a heavy-weight championship fight.

The third release in the press kit listed the effects of Cook's first Swiss tour-resulting in the start of a multibillion dollar industry, and introducing the fifth freedom, freedom to travel. Travel statistics obtained from the Passport Office of the United States Department of State were given. Occupations listed by applicants for passports indicated the democratization of travel as still another effect of Cook's first Swiss tour.

Rarely has such a small outlay of money produced so much publicity. Clippings poured in. The front page of travel sections of leading newspapers featured the tour. The whole campaign was covered in one press kit, demonstrating that editors-in this case travel editors-welcome newsworthy and colorful material.

A far more costly and elaborate promotion was one we did for a noncommercial project. This project centered about the arrival in New York Harbor of the S.S. HOPE, the world's first peacetime hospital ship, following one of her many voyages to under-developed countries where her medical teaching and treatment staff taught the people basic hygiene and medical-dental care, and supplied the children with milk reconstituted in the "iron cow" deep in the hold of the ship.

This project has the support of all Americans who know about it; and millions do. Yet, unless it is seen as news, no newspaper, magazine or network will give it time or space. Many influential people in communications, and corporations, including Time-Life, have donated money and services to the S.S. HOPE; but in the fight for the printed fine, and for radio and TV coverage the S.S. HOPE remains just another competitor.

The press kit we assembled listed the events of home-coming week and summarized the activities. First in the kit, preceding the series of releases, was the following invitation:

You are cordially invited to join us at the Press Launch leaving the Coast Guard Station, Battery Park, 8:00 A.M., Wednesday, November 30, to meet the S.S. HOPE as it comes up the Bay, and to preview the docking ceremonies.

Interviews with medical, dental and technological personnel returning from Nicaragua may be arranged. RSVP Your name and affiliation must be sent to us by Friday, November 25.

Attached to this invitation was a memo to interviewers informing them that in addition to the availability of the medical staff, the Founder and President of Project HOPE, Dr. William B. Walsh, would also be present. There was a further item that film clips in color of The HOPE in Peru and Guinea might be obtained. The proposed homecoming schedule for S.S. HOPE was next itemized:

The press kit also contained statistics on the Nicaragua mission-patients admitted to ship, outpatient visits, operations, immunization for polio, tetanus, diphtheria, number of local personnel trained and receiving certificates for completion of formal courses. Another page gave some facts about the background, history, operation, continuing programs, Presidential endorsements, financing and contributions. Staff members, both permanent and rotating, were listed with their home addresses, for the benefit of their local newspapers. Glossy photographs included one of the hospital ship with the Statue of Liberty in the background; a Nicaraguan family which had traveled miles across country to reach harbor at Corinto for treatment; children receiving pints of milk; a classroom where native nurses learned modern techniques; and pictures of the ship's nurses having their hair done by a celebrated hairdresser who volunteered to meet the S.S. HOPE out in the bay the night before she docked.

A press kit can be simple or elaborate, depending on the story there is to tell. At press cocktail parties and conferences a press kit is often supplied to each guest. It furnishes complete information on the project which the reporter can adapt to his own needs. In general, few books call for this treatment since in most cases the book itself is available. However, a press kit might be used to publicize a book club, or a series of books, an encyclopedia or an expensive art book or Bible.

New ways to sell books are being developed. Some books are being sold like toothpaste-in supermarkets and drug-stores. New ways to publicize books will have to be found too. But it is difficult to imagine book promotion for the average book that would not make use of the tools that have served the book industry well in the past.
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