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Message Points--what they are, how they work and how to find yours
by Theresa Meyers
President, Blue Moon Communications

Many authors think about promotion of their book and reach a panic state about having a pr plan and selling the book. But before you do any promotion for your book, you need to take a step back and work on message points. Why? Because without this, you are going to be wasting your time and money creating and executing your promotion plan.

Why do you need a message?

Part of the reason you hardly ever see authors interviewed in the media is because they don't have a message outside of the obvious, Buy My Book. That isn't going to cut it with the media. They are in the business of delivering stories. Let me explain how this happened.

Ever since the introduction of CNN in 1980, news has fragmented and metamorphosized into neo-journalism. The goal of every good reporter use to be objectivity. That's changed. Journalists, television producers and radio hosts are expected to be story-tellers. They're supposed to give a story a face, show it with details instead of telling about it, give it context and meaning for their viewers, listeners and readers. That's why the first thing you'll see about a ship coming home from war isn't the ship, it's three weeks in advance of that and it'll be the mom at home with the kids who've painted their house red, white and blue with a huge yellow sash across the door, or better yet, the brand new dad with twins whose wife was called off to war and how Mr. Mom has been coping. What they are doing is giving characters for us to identify with.

As story tellers you're one-leg up on the rest of the business world when it comes to promoting your product. You understand the basics of story telling are good characters, conflict and stories with heart that produce an emotional, visceral reaction in your audience. That's exactly what the media want from you.

But let me give you this word of caution. The same story telling abilities can also be a weak spot for writers. Instead of 80 or 100 thousand words, you have to reduce your message down to fit the instantaneous nature of today's media. The single biggest mistake people make is not knowing their message. In general authors as authors don't interest media at all. You don't make the phone's ring off the hook at the radio show. No one cares you've written a book. Most shows aren't about books, so producers and editors naturally assume (until you show them different) that you won't appeal to their audience. You have to have a hook and be the solution to a problem.

Finding Your Message Point

Finding your message points isn't easy, but can be done with guidance. It's kind of like looking for something that's lost. Until you know what you are looking for, it's going to be a long search.

Let's start here to give you an idea of what you are looking for.
Three strategies will interest media the most:
1. Identify a problem - Americans often confuse sex with romance.
2. Point to an opportunity - Businesses that sell products to women can have
an inside edge if they read romance because the target demographics are identical.
3. Explode a myth - Romances are only sex in a dust jacket.

Of these, exploding a myth gets the best response. Romance is perfect for this. Think of the following myths: romance readers (and writers) don't have a life and are frustrated housewives; romances are just sex books; romances are only read by women; romances aren't serious books in the publishing industry; romances are all formula writing; romances encourage loose morals and fantasy existence; romances degrade women. OK, now let's add some of them you've thrown at me later that have to do with the public's perceptions of self-published, POD-published or other situations. Myths: these aren't real books because they don't come from New York; authors who self-publish can't write; POD is shoddy printing done in some one's basement; author's only self-publish when they can't get published by big houses.

By exploding any one of these myths, you can drawn in the media, who will gladly debate it with you. Remember it isn't the truth you are asserting, but the juice the media can get out of it that counts. Perception is the reality here. When pitching a producer or editor, in thirty seconds or less you need to hold up the myth and then shoot it down.

Research has shown an audience will remember no more than three key message points. Everything you say, everything you speak about, needs to connect back to those points.

You need to stop thinking of yourself as a writer, and start thinking of yourself as a social commentator, waiting in the wings. Ben Aflec and J Lo get married, why do celebs marry other celebs instead of ordinary people? How does celebrity status change relationships? How do busy people find time to fit romance into their lives?

In developing your key message points, which will be different for each of you, I want you to consider answers to these questions:

  • What themes appear in my work over and over again no matter what the
    subgenre?
  • Are there certain characters that appeal to me? Why or why not? What does
    that say about how I view life and relationships?
  • What is important to me?
  • What one thing do I want to leave behind for them to remember?
  • What causes do I want to advance?
  • How do these blend with my career as a novelist?
  • What can I offer as social commentary (on relationships, blending work with
    family, how creative people contribute to the fabric of our society, etc.?
  • You are a mother, daughter, friend, sister, member of the community, reader of books. Think outside your role as a writer to what else you have to offer as opinion.)
  • What can I offer as small business commentary? (You are a small business owner. What makes that especially difficult in today's economy? Is your industry doing better than others? Why or why not? How have the downfall of technology and the war affected your business? etc.)
  • What is a problem I see?
  • What is an opportunity I think everyone should know about?
  • What are the biggest myths about what I do, my readership, or what I write?
  • What are the truths that explode those myths?

Now take your answers to the above and come up with three statements that you want to repeat over and over again as part of your brand. (Example: My client Jeannie Brosius, a humor columnist with a book, found that all her work revolved around the very reason she writes: Laughter is the best medicine. This may be old hat for others, but because she is a humor columnist who writes about motherhood and everyday life, the connection between what she writes, who she is as a person and the fact that many of her stories revolve around Dr. Mom fixing things works well.)

Now it's your turn:
My Three Message Points are:

1.
2.
3.

The Reductive Phrase or Sound Bite
We're also going to go one step further here. We're going to work on your sound bite. I want you to think for a moment of a large megaphone, like you used to see cheerleaders use in Happy Days. You're going to shove all your message points into the big end of that megaphone and what comes out the small end will be your sound bite.

By definition a sound bite is a reductive phrase that encapsulates more than the words contained in the phrase. For example, when Johnny Cochran said to the jury in the OJ Simpson case, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." he wasn't just talking about the glove. He was talking about the circumstances of the case, the sense that somehow this was tied into racial issues and much more. It all just got boiled down into that one phrase which was repeated on every news broadcast across the country.

We need to boil down your message points to an even finer level. A one liner that will be used in every interview, every speech, every talk you give. How does this work for fiction? One of my clients found her books, both category and single title, came back toone strong point. The very reason she chose to write romance: "It's all about the happy ending." Why do you write romance? "It's all about the happy ending." Why do people read this trash? "It's all about the happy ending." What makes romance sell to the tune of over one billion dollars a year? "It's all about the happy ending." Why do people seem to be leaning toward lighter fiction during a time of war. "It's all about the happy ending...they need it, they crave it. There has to be an escape from harsh reality to keep us sane and in touch with our human side."


From Message Points to Media Plan

Once you have your message points and a sound bite to work with you can start work on a media plan. Before you budget, you need to think big. You can always scale back, but the best and most innovative ideas come when you aren't placing restrictions on yourself. Just go with it for now and you can get down to financial reality in a moment.

The first place to start on a media plan is your book's publication date. Ideally, you'll want to have about six to eight months in advance of a book's publication to begin your work. Once you have a date then you can start on the publicity plan checklist. Some of it will apply to you, some of it might not. Work with what does and improvise the rest as your budget will allow.

PROMOTION SCHEDULE CHECKLIST


Title:
Release Date:

TWELVE TO SEVEN MONTHS AHEAD:

  • Get a "business" address (a P.O. Box or something similar for privacy)
  • Send manuscript to Romantic Times, Affaire De Coeur, Publisher's Weekly, etc. forearly review.
  • Ask publisher for list of reviewers and send a personal note. (Publisher may send letters out for you.)
  • Send manuscript to long-lead publications such as women's magazines like Cosmopolitan.

SIX MONTHS AHEAD:

  • Send announcements to "up-coming publications" columns in newspapers, trade magazines,etc.
  • Request extra covers from publisher (for displays in stores that carry your book and for publicity use)
  • Reserve ad space in publications advertising your book/ ask if they can use a regular photo or will need a slide/transparency.

FIVE MONTHS AHEAD:

  • Get bookmarks and flyers designed and printed. (This must be done as early as possible because flyers have to reach distributors, wholesalers and bookstores four to five months before your publication date. Look into using Romantic Times' Bookstores That Care mailing list.)
  • Have stationary and business cards printed.
  • Have photo taken professionally (will need both black and white and color head shot).
  • Update personal mailing list.
  • Contact local sales distributors/sales reps and arrange for as many copies of your book as possible to be sent to wholesaler. Tell them you want them for promotion and autograph sessions.

FOUR MONTHS AHEAD:

  • Write to wholesalers, distributors, booksellers and sales reps. (This can be a postcard, personal letter or flyer.) Become personally acquainted with as many as possible. If traveling, contact the reps serving that area (leave bookmarks, flyers, business cards etc.)
  • Send flyers to distributors and bookmarks to bookstores.
  • Make sure your or your publisher has mailed galleys to Romantic Times, Affaire De Coeur, etc., national magazines and online review sites.
  • Send announcements to regional and local newsletters.
  • Notify high school and college alumni newsletters.
  • Write an author profile for magazines advertising your book.
  • Gather TV/audio clips or any press clippings for book tour pitches to media.
  • Write 10-15 sample questions/tips for interviews and press kits.
  • Write press releases.
  • Update media database.
  • Update your website.
  • Start planning book tour (if planning to do one).

THREE MONTHS AHEAD

  • Assemble press kits. Place it on your website too.
  • Double check media database and write pitch letters.
  • Send bio, photo and book cover to publications advertising your book.
  • Prepare questions for hosts to ask during interviews (for publicity and book
  • Check with retailers in book tour cities regarding stocking your books.


TWO MONTHS AHEAD

  • Send press materials to all national media-TV talk shows, national radio, national TV and print media.
  • Send press materials to local newspapers, radio and television.
  • Send autographed copies of your book and a pitch letter to local newspapers, radio and television talk shows (or news/morning programs) to secure interviews.
  • Schedule autograph sessions at local bookstores.
  • Send letters and information packets to Community Relations Coordinators (CRCs) at Barnes and Noble bookstores to arrange speaking/autographing sessions.
  • Send books and press kits and make follow-up calls to all national television/radio shows and print media.
  • Start follow-up calls to media and bookstores in each city on book tour. Be sure to follow-up EVERY package you sent out.
  • Update schedule for book tour and book travel, hotel and author escorts for each city.
  • Update information on your website for appearances and contests related to your book.
  • Update your information and upload reviews and book information on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and other sites.


  • ONE MONTH AHEAD

  • Mail bookmarks to bookstores.
  • Mail postcards and/or newsletter announcements to fans.
  • Send thank you notes to local wholesalers, route drivers, stockers, anyone you talked with or contacted about your book.
  • Set up time to arrange displays in local Barnes and Nobles for your speaking session.
  • Write a small blurb regarding your talk and book for the CRC to include in the B & N newsletter.
  • Get extra B & N newsletters from the CRC to send out to your personal mailing list or give him/her labels to mail newsletters out.
  • Prepare and practice presentation for B & N speaking session.
  • Send any special requests for the booksigning/speaking session to the CRC two weeks in advance.

ONE WEEK BEFORE AN EVENT

  • Confirm signings one week before.
  • Try to speak with store manager to generate excitement over speaking session and
    booksigning.
  • Write a memo to the booksellers (very brief) explaining who you are, what your book is about and ask the store manager to mention your event at the daily meeting. Offer a book to be raffled off to booksellers the day of the event.

DAY OF THE EVENT

  • Check PA system 15 minutes before speaking.
  • Check to see if refreshments are available. (Water is a must for a speaker, also ask about coffee or tea and where to put cookies for audience if at a booksigning.)
  • Check chair placement to be sure the audience can see and hear you clearly.
  • Arrange staging area (where you'll speak) with your books.
  • Bring pens and autograph stickers.
  • Ask CRC to make an in store announcement 15 minutes and 5 minutes before
    you are scheduled to begin speaking.
  • Check to see that the music in the store is turned off before you being speaking.
  • Personally thank as many of the store employees as you can when you have
    finished speaking and autographing.
  • Assist in cleaning up the event, if time permits.
  • Check schedule for the next day (if on book tour) and make necessary calls and preparation.

WHEN YOU GET HOME
SEND THANK YOU NOTES TO EVERYONE.

  • Send pictures and updates to your web master to update your website.
  • Sit down and start working on the next book.

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