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Welcome to The Book Marketing Action Podcast with Becky Robinson and Christy Kirk. This is the final episode for the first season and we are grateful for you listening to us over the last few months. If you are a newer listener, don’t worry. We have 33 other episodes for you to catch up on before our new season starts in January 2021! For this final episode, we are pleased to have Mike Onorato from Smith Publicity. Mike shares everything you need to know about media relations, how to set expectations, PR myths, and more. 

Becky: Mike, as we dive in today, will you tell me a little bit about the work you’ve done/are doing with authors?

Mike: Thank you for having me on the final episode! I’ve been in book PR since 2002 and the majority of that time was spent in-house at Wiley. I worked with a lot of authors on crafting their message and pitching to media. At Wiley, all of the books we did were nonfiction and I specialized in the general interest consumer space. So basically, anything that wasn’t business or cooking. I was there for 12 years and it was great. 

It’s been 4 years since I’ve been at Smith Publicity and it’s a lot of the same work, again a lot of media interaction. A lot of representing authors to the media, but now I’ve folded in more of the fiction work. We also consult with authors on things like book cover design and what their platform should look like, and it’s been incredible to continue to work with authors. Publicity has changed drastically from when I first started, but not the way we interact with media—that will never change—it’s the way we are talking to them that has changed. We’re still trying to tell the world about a good book and interesting authors, and that has not deviated since 2002. 

Expectations when investing in PR

Becky: Publicity and media relations are a core offering of Smith Publicity, and I know Smith Publicity as a company has 20 plus years of serving authors. So, I’m curious if you can shine the light on what authors can expect when they invest in publicity/media relations?

Mike: Yeah, that’s a great question. What it looks like first off is they can expect us to get as familiar with their book, brand, and message as we can. Besides combing their book, website, and socials, we are going to try and get a really strong sense of their messaging. Sometimes they come to us and they don’t know what their message is, and we will help them develop that. And what we’ll do with that, in essence, we’re looking back and combing back through our mental Rolodex of pitching media all these years to find out what works. They can expect effort. We are going to represent and show their book to as many people as we can. And we’ll talk about how we are doing that and what angles we’re using. Publicity is a challenging field because you can’t guarantee anything. The only thing I tell our authors and clients is that you can guarantee effort. We will do what we can and if something isn’t working, we’ll pivot. We also try and be very transparent. If something isn’t working, we’ll communicate that to the author. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, they can expect communication. We want to be talking and interacting with them about what we are hearing, what we are seeing, and what the landscape is. We’re the media experts, we are monitoring the media all of the time. So we’re going to report back what’s getting a lot of attention or what we need to stay clear of. 

Becky: That’s really helpful, Mike! So they can expect honest communication, that you’re going to know their content well, and that if needed you’ll pivot. Those are all very powerful things to expect. I’m wondering what myths do you hear authors express about PR and what it can accomplish?

PR Myths

Mike: Often times authors will think that just getting 5-15 media wins will result in a bestseller. And we all know that there are so many factors, publicity being just one component that makes a book a bestseller. That’s one myth. The second one is just the fact that they’ve written a book it makes it newsworthy. One thing that I always tell my team is don’t rely on a news hook being “Hey, new book by…” unless of course, it’s James Patterson or someone at that level. That’s myth two. Myth three is people just want to hear from someone because they have a different perspective. Yes, of course that’s true, but what it all boils down to is what else are you doing? What have they been writing about? What have they been commenting on? If the Google results are blank, that’s a problem. So we need to build authors up. Sandy Smith, our president, has a wonderful phrase that I always steal, and that is when you’re dealing with national media you’re talking about the world series. If you are an unknown, you have to be known first in little league. And then we are going to build you up, but you need to take those steps seriously. You can’t just hit the ground and want to be playing in the big leagues. 

Becky: So it’s a myth authors can jump straight to the big leagues?

Mike: Big time. Now listen, there is always going to be the one exception when the book, author, and pitch just hit it. And that’s great, but for the most part, it’s going to be a build. It’s not a bad thing, you just need to be patient. We need you to trust the process and have realistic expectations. 

How to set reasonable expectations 

Becky: That leads to our next question. How do you set reasonable expectations with your clients?

Mike: We used to get this a lot, and we still do about other shows, but back when I first started in PR it was, “How can I get on Oprah?” Whatever show it might be, I would always say watch the show for a week and tell me how many authors you see in a similar topic or genre. And 9 out of 10 times they aren’t going to see that. So another way we set expectations is really just educating our authors. They don’t know media; it’s not their gig, it’s ours. The other thing is the timing of it. Some authors think, “My book comes out next week, I’m starting to work with you right now. So which tv shows will I be on when my book launches?” You know, Becky, how long it can take to build up a book. For example, at The Today Show, they get those galleys 3 to 6 months before the book comes out and so they are able to plan what that looks like 3 to 6 months out. If we are just coming to you a week before, not much can be done in that regard. That said, we will still pitch other places. Another big expectation setter is when there is a negative review. Because sometimes authors think, “Oh no! Everyone is going to be negative.” We know there could be an anomaly, who knows why that reviewer felt that way, but it’s the kind of thing where you know how many books don’t get reviewed. Yes, it’s a bummer you got a bad review, but you still got reviewed. That’s an important thing to remember. 

Easiest books to get press

Becky: Certainly. So let’s talk about something positive. Let’s talk about what books are easiest to get press for? Especially now with all the noise of the Coronavirus and the election. 

Mike: This is going to sound odd, but a really well-written book. And what I mean by that is we are going to do our darndest to get that foot in the door and get the book in the hands of readers, but the book needs to stand on its own. They need to be able to read it and say, “Yes! I want more.” So those are the books that are the easiest to get PR. Also, I think a really willing author, someone who is going to work with us and brainstorm angles and topics, makes our job easier. Listen, books about current events and politics are very difficult right now. Lifestyle and health and wellness are not as hard. Fiction is working pretty well for us thankfully. The fiction genres are more removed from the pandemic and the election. I would even take it a step further and say people are seeking out more fiction. Those are the books that are easier for us to work with. 

Smith Publicity’s criteria to become a client

Becky: That’s very helpful. The first time I met Sandy Smith she mentioned to me that there are many authors who come to you seeking services who aren’t a great fit for the work that you do. 

So, what is your criteria for deciding if an author is a good fit for your organization’s services?

Mike: Yes. First off, we look at the book and we look at the cover. We look at the topic and the title. We look at the author’s platforms and community and we get a sense of that. Lastly, and most difficult to measure, is their willingness to work with us and know they need to build their book up. What we look at, especially if the book is in health and wellness, is what are their credentials? Because that matters. We also look at their social media. Are they going to be able to get that word out and amplify the wins they do get? We do this vetting process because we want to make sure we are doing right by our authors. 

Becky: That’s really helpful, Mike. It occurs to me that it would be great to let our listeners know about your podcast. So before we outline some action steps as we do at the end of every episode, maybe you can give a quick plug for your podcast. 

Mike: Thank you! My latest guest is your host today. It’s the All Things Book Marketing podcast, and I’ve only been the host for less than a year. We’ve had some authors, clients, agents and media, and industry partners on. We really just try and talk about a different aspect of publishing or PR, that authors might not know. It’s a lot of fun, and we try and do it a few times a month. 

Action Steps

Becky: Before we wrap this episode and the first season of The Book Marketing Action Podcast, I’m wondering if you can identify a couple of action steps authors can implement after today’s episode to be prepared to leverage media relations and publicity in a more effective way? 

Mike: Great question! 

  1. Update your website. Get your website updated and up and running. Make sure you have a press section with your most recent media wins listed to show people you’re out there doing things and active in this space. 
  2. Take a stance on something. What I mean by that is, if you have a book that touches on the news, be prepared to think when something happens that is related. And think of 1, 2, or 3 things that are unique about that. Always be prepared to write down why your point of view or perspective is different. 


We hope you take advantage of the resources above and let us know if you take Mike’s advice and implement one or two of his ideas. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to cover in the next season starting January 2021, please email Becky Robinson here and Christy Kirk here

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