Indie authors, don’t turn your noses up at traditional PR: Some tips to consider

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



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.

    Steve Piacente

    Thanks for your comment, Jamie, right on point!

Julie Dennehy

Really thoughtful post, Steve – I love the tips and how you’ve customized them just for authors. Terrific post, thanks for sharing Emlyn!

    Steve Piacente

    You’re welcome, Julie, and my thanks as well to Emlyn. As the Friday group already knows, Novel Publicity is a great resource for writers!

Laura Reese

Good advice — on target!

Sarah, The Webbiegrrl Writer

Steve, Thanks for putting this list together for your committee and writing it up as an article we could all absorb in an eyeshot! Your journalistic skills are still honed nice and sharp!


    Steve Piacente

    Thanks, Sarah. I always tell my students that the fundamentals remain the same even though the delivery vehicles have changed.

CF Winn

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!

    Steve Piacente

    Thanks, CF. I also teach communications classes at American University in Washington, D.C. If there’s one thing I try to get through to every student, it’s that while the vehicles have changed, the fundamentals of good writing and communicating remain the same.

Yamina Collins

As always, Steve, great advice. But what, specifically, constitutes “branding” everything? Do you mean a writer should have a certain logo attached to everything they do, or the title of their book, or a certain picture?

A little expounding here would be great. Thanks, Steve.

Yamina Collins

Steve Piacente

Hi, Yamina, thanks for your kind words and question. To me, “brand everything” means taking advantage of every opportunity. For instance, sites like let you not only shorten, but customize, your links. Thus, when I direct people to my Amazon site, the link is: Will that link actually help Bella catch on? I don’t know, but why not plant the seed? Same with my website: we could have gone with, but we wanted to drive the action, hence: Every email I send has my social media links (Emlyn is the master of this), and every time I send out a book for review, I include a personal note on Bella stationary. We also needed a handout, so we created something folks could actually use, a Bella bookmark with original art. In sum, brand it all, and make sure all your sites and products have the same look and feel. Hope that helps, Steve

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