This is a guest post by Steve Piacente

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying, “Circus Coming Saturday,” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. ( Quoted in Reader’s Digest)

That explanation of advertising, promotion, publicity and public relations is old enough to have been etched in stone tablets. Yet it still resonates because, despite phenomenal advances in technology, the principles that concern us as self-published authors haven’t changed.

I’m talking mainly about pitching and selling. You’d think that with all the social media tools at our fingertips, it would be easier than ever. It’s not. It’s harder, because life is more complicated. People run themselves ragged paying bills, chasing the kids, and pleasing the boss. Leisure time is scarce, and thus precious. You’re lucky if you get one quick chance to make a very favorable impression.

If you do, however, make it quick and engaging. Ironically, you should think Twitter when you think traditional PR. It doesn’t have to be 140 characters, but it shouldn’t be much more than 280 (two tweets’ worth). Your pitch should match your book. If you write horror, your pitch should send chills. If you write funny, your pitch should make folks smile.

For Bella, I boiled 300 pages into: Isabel Moss knew she could lose her husband when he went off to war. When the call came, she was almost ready. What stopped her cold was the second call. (154 characters)

None of this is to say you should forego social media. Indeed, to have any chance of success, Indie authors need a strategy that mixes high and low tech. Remember that while writers can reach millions of prospective readers without the aid of traditional agents and publishing houses, the connection is fragile. That’s why Facebook isn’t enough. Get out and add some face-to-face to the mix. Look your potential reader in the eye and slip your custom bookmark into his hand as you shake it.

What else?

– Apply the above principles when you call your local paper and ask for a review or interview. Remember you have two hometowns – your current one and the one where you grew up.

– Don’t overlook the local cable station when you’re out pitching.

– Think hard about your target audience. Who does your book appeal to? If there’s a military slant, for instance, pitch the local military bases.

– Book clubs are terrific. Offer yourself up for Q & A if they choose your book. This is a great to make some sales and hone your pitch. Especially if you encourage penetrating questions.

– Position yourself as an expert and go speak about self-publishing. There are lots of possible venues, including community bookstores and university writing classes. You can also write about writing and self-publishing for other sites and hard-copy pubs, which will raise your visibility.

– Last, a noun and a verb for all you writers. Build a brand and then brand everything from your traditional press release to your Twitter profile. Invest the time and resources to do it right, and be aware that every item that goes out bearing your name could open an opportunity or ruin your credibility.

If you think “traditional” PR is stale and old-fashioned, think again. These are the hard steps, the ones that get you to the top of the slide. Then you can sit back and start enjoying the ride.


About this post’s author:

Steve Piacente has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella. Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the Charleston Post & Courier. He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at [email protected]. Bella is available at


About the Author

  1. Having worked in the “traditional” pr world I’ve never forgotten to use it in my world of writing. It’s a wonderful way to reach those who are not into the whole social media thing.

  2. Thank you for confirming that the ideas I had are NOT old fashioned and out dated.Can’t wait to show my “know nothing but tech” kids that getting back to the basics is not just nostalgia.Great post!

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