If You’re an Author – You Need PR!

Whether you’ve signed with a major publishing house, a boutique publisher or have self-published your book, there is one constant…

You need to market!

Unless you have very deep pockets and want to try the paid advertising, commercial route, your best bet is going to be a combination of a public relations outreach combined with a social media campaign

Why PR?

Because public relations is the only form of marketing that reaches your target market and offers you the credibility and validation of being featured in the media. You are not in a commercial or an ad. You are featured in the news.

To start, keep in mind that marketing your book, is different than marketing yourself as an author. A book can be an engine that helps pull the train, but the overall train is your image and brand as a writer. One of the problems with publishing houses is that they focus solely on marketing books and often overlook valuable PR and marketing opportunities that can be gained from marketing the writer.

I understand a publisher’s perspective. They’re going to make their return off the book sales and the author might not be with them a year or two down the line.

But as an author, you need to think more long term. Each book is a part of your canon. No one work defines you. Your marketing, PR and branding focus needs to be on your overall career as an artist.

Still, if you do have a book coming out, you’re then working with a specific timeline and need to develop a marketing and PR plan targeting your book release. Write out your plan. Have it include objectives, timeframe, goals and strategies. Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a traditional publishing house will change your approach.

If you’re self-published, you know that the marketing is going to be your responsibility. If you’re working with a publisher, they should give you some guidance, but do not expect them to take care of your PR and marketing needs.

Realize that no matter what your situation, you are going to have to take charge of your marketing. If you can hire a PR firm, do it. If not, there are still steps that you can take to promote and market your work.

Do some homework.

Learn some of the PR basics.

Remember effective PR is effective storytelling.

And who better than an author to tell a story?

PR & Marketing in the Age of Disruption

From music to film, to publishing, to the world of fine art, the internet has forever changed marketing in the creative industries. This shift has been seismic and has turned what had been thought of as set-in-stone business models on their collective heads.

I began as a music journalist and then managed bands in the early ‘90s, but those days are gone.  The music world was the first to be rocked by the changing communication landscape, whereas many were engulfed by the changes and faded, a new breed of musicians learned to take matters into their own hands and create successful careers utilizing PR, social media and guerilla marketing

The publishing world has also been turned upside down.  No longer do traditional publishing houses hold the keys to success.  Self-published authors are taking matters and marketing into their own hands.  Increasingly self-published authors are landing on the best sellers list and on Amazon’s top 20 list.  Amanda Hocking initially became a millionaire by self publishing her work.  It was only after she was established that she signed with St. Martin’s Press.

The shifts came later to the film industry, but it too is experiencing the change.  For example, as with self-published books, CreateSpace (http://www.createspace.com) serves entrepreneurs in the music, publishing, and film worlds. As an independent producer you can upload your film as part of a digital DVD along with cover art and information on the film.  Your film is then posted for sale.  The company (which is owned by Amazon.com) takes and fulfills the orders and splits the profits with the filmmaker.  That is just one option.  There are several outlets online that help producers sell their films.  There are also new channels of distribution.  Films are now reaching the public by being shown at churches, organizations, schools, museums, and other non-traditional establishments.  Theatrical distribution is no longer the only name of the game.

That said, the most powerful marketing tool available to artists is a combination of PR and social media.  An effective public relations campaign will land you media coverage that offers you the validation and credibility that no other form of marketing can offer.  You are the news!  You can then begin to share and amplify your media coverage on your site and on your various social media platforms.  Compared to other forms of marketing, this combined approach can be extremely effective and affordable.

Whereas the internet has torn down down some of the traditional walls and allowed artists in all fields to take more control of their careers, doing so is not always easy.  It involves creativity, persistence, and an investment of both time and money.  These changes can initially be daunting.  For years musicians, filmmakers, and authors were reluctant to rock the boat and alienate the powers that be by charting a path of their own.  But more and more artists are realizing that the old models have shifted, bringing different challenges but also opportunities.  The upside?  With tenacity and creativity, artists can now carve out successful careers on their own terms.

Bart's Books: An Interview with Matt Henriksen

Based in Ojai, California, Bart’s Books is a bookstore unto itself.

I was first introduced to Ojai by actors who were in my first play, Bang! A Love Story. That’s going back a few years now, and although my wife and I have visited several times since then we somehow never got around to visiting Bart’s. Truth be told, one of our cousins continually suggested we stop by, but, for whatever reason, we never made the trek.

Until finally we did.

Bart’s was a revelation.

A literal love-at-first-sight experience. Both my wife and I are writers and book fanatics, which works out well, because once we arrive we both know we’re basically there for the day. Eventually as dusk falls, one of us has to drag the other out. Bart’s visits have become regular pilgrimages akin to religious experiences.

I’m not one for buying books online, because I seldom start with a specific book in mind. For me the pleasure is in browsing, searching and finding a book I’ve never heard of, that seems to call out. And Bart’s has yards and rows and shelves filled with books. It’s a magical place bursting with fiction and non-fiction, the popular and the arcane. It’s a wonderful space in which to lose yourself and enter other worlds.

potteryBart’s is the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the U.S. The story goes that in 1964 Bart’s Books was little more than a sparkle in the eye of Richard Bartinsdale whose collection of books had gotten so overwhelming that he constructed a series of book cases along the sidewalk so that passersby could peruse the titles.

In lieu of a cash register, “Bart” left coffee cans atop the book cases. People would select a title or two and leave payment in the cans, giving birth to Bart’s world-famous tradition of selling books via the honor system. Since that time Bart’s Books has become host to nearly one million books ranging from the thirty-five cent special (that have now gone up to a whopping fifty-cents) which line the outside walls and are still for sale on the honor system, to rare, out of print first editions, and art books valued in the thousands of dollars.

Matt Henriksen Bart’s general manager kindly took some time to tell us a bit more about the magic of Bart’s.

What initially drew you to the bookstore?

I have been coming to the store since I was in middle school. I used to ditch school to come here to hang out.

How long have you run it?

I've been managing the place for seven years.

How would you describe Bart’s to someone who’s never visited the store?

The slogan from the bookmark back in the eighties said, “everything under the sun.” I think that’s a fair description, used new antique rare and valuable books, inside and out of a 30s honeymoon cottage and its courtyard.

Does Bart’s have a mission?

To get the best possible book into the hands of the person who needs it most, to preserve ideas and ideals and encourage their circulation, and to get our customers to try something just a little bit outside of their zone of comfort.

 What type of events to you have at the bookstore?

Art, music, book signings, wedding receptions, poetry readings, private dinners. Almost anything one could imagine if we think it will support our goals.

 As you mention on your site you offer “thirty-five cent specials which line the outside walls and are still for sale on the honor system, to rare, out-of-print first editions, and art books valued in the thousands of dollars”. 

How good are people at honoring the thirty-five cent honor system?

They have actually been 50 cents for over a decade now.   the honor system is after hours only and seems to generate somewhere between 20 and 0 dollars every month.

What are some of the more valuable books you’ve sold at the bookstore?

Value is relative, we have sold books I consider valuable from fifty cents to tens of thousands of dollars.

 What are some of the most unusual books that have found their way to Bart’s?

My current favorites are four bound volumes of New York Times mid-week pictorials featuring beautiful rotogravure reproductions of Europe throughout the first world war, an uncorrected proof of Ernest Hemingway's " A Movable Feast”, and   an early California promotional book published in Oakland in 1888 advertising for people to settle in east Los Angeles which includes an article by John Muir on the San Gabriel mountains. I also Have a couple john Muir first editions, "Travels in Alaska" & "My First Summer in the Sierra"

The sheer number and types of books you carry is dizzying.  That said, is there a prototypical Bart’s patron?

As a location that benefits a lot from tourism we get a large number of one time customers, many of whom are not regular bookstore visitors.  As far as repeat customers the single unifying feature of a Bart’s customer is curiosity.

Learn more about Bart’s at bartsbooksojai.com

The Indie Filmmaker’s Secret Weapon: PR

If you’ve finished shooting, or have locked your film—congratulations!

I know from experience that is not any easy process. It takes, blood, sweat, tears, and persistence—not to mention funding. So, do congratulate yourself, but then do a reality check and realize that your journey has just started.

You now need to get your film into the marketplace and promote it. What are your plans for distribution and marketing? If you’ve secured distribution that’s a huge step forward, but that in and of itself does not assure that your film will be successfully marketed. If distribution is still on your to-do list, an effective PR campaign will not only help create a buzz and establish your brand as a filmmaker, it can also solidify distribution and film festival interest.

With the film industry in such flux and more competitive than ever, effectively positioning yourself in the marketplace is more challenging than ever. At PR for Writers & Filmmakers, we’ve been promoting independent feature films (both narrative and documentary projects) for years. Having worked as a screenwriter and indie film producer, I know the hazards and pitfalls of getting a film from concept to the market. With that in mind, we’ve developed a unique PR and distribution approach designed to publicize and market films to the public, but also to help secure distribution.

Our firm specializes in media placement, media training and image development. We’ve placed clients in a wide range of local, national and international media venues including Time, Newsweek, The Today Show, 60 Minutes, CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, People, US, Entertainment Tonight, Premiere, Fox News, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, 20/20, Oprah, The London Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Entailment Weekly, and many more media outlets.

Making a film can be a magical experience, but the mistake many filmmakers make is to focus solely on the production and forget about next steps, specifically marketing and securing distribution. Too many filmmakers forget to develop an action plan they can implement once their film is completed. How are they going to get their film, promoted, marketed, distributed? What is their gameplan for building that bridge between the finished product and the audience?

Each film is unique and there are a number of different strategies we can utilize depending on the needs of each project. Effective marketing and promotion will help you achieve your primary objectives: to find your film’s audience and to make your project profitable, which will allow you to make your next film—and the next after that.

If you have a completed independent film, you need PR.

It’s that simple.

Why PR is Crucial for Your Film

Technology and the digital world have caused huge changes to what was once considered business-as-usual in the entertainment world. While the last decade has seen the music and publishing arenas changed forever, the world of film production, distribution, and marketing is also in a state of flux. There are new approaches to production, distribution, and marketing that were previously unheard of. Technology has also made it possible for full-length films to be created on minimal budgets, and there are a myriad of new distribution channels available.

Still, one question remains. What comes after you've produced your film? How is it possible to establish yourself in the industry, secure distribution, or reach your target market?

Social media is one very important piece of the puzzle. However, to get the attention that's needed to move forward, an effective and well-targeted PR campaign is your best approach. A traditional media campaign is critical.

Why is PR crucial when launching a feature film?


PR is the only form of marketing that offers you (as well as your film) the validation and credibility of being featured in newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio in online media outlets. Being featured in the media creates an undeniable buzz, building a brand for you and your movie. Being able to land that type of press coverage puts you a cut above the competition. And finally, it puts your film on the map, and shows that you can be a key player in the marketplace. Once you've put these elements into place, you can start to broaden the scope of your own marketing outreach.

When pitching the media, keep in mind that the stories and pitches that interest you aren’t necessarily those that will interest the media. Take time to study the media outlets you’re approaching. What type of stories and angles do they focus on? Let those be your guide.

Remember, you don’t want to simply focus on reviews for your film. Rather, what you need is a mix of interviews, features and reviews about you and your film. Brainstorm, come up with some creative, unique media pitches and hooks about you, your film, the cast, the story, etc. Once you’ve secured some press, you can utilize your media coverage in your social media outreach. That allows you to amplify the media you’ve secured.

A campaign that blends traditional and social media is going to be the most effective. But to start, you need to land some media coverage.

Our motto is effective PR is effective storytelling.

So, what are your stories?


The Art of Fiction in the Time of Trump

Fiction can generally reveal truth more powerfully than fact.

And in these times when the definition of what we once knew as facts and truth is melting every bit as fast as glaciers, fiction is perhaps more needed than ever.

These are chaotic and unsettling times of walls, fear, and suspicion. The rancor and vitriol seems to be perpetually stuck in high gear. People feel unsafe and unsure, tossed about in the divisiveness and turbulence. Many feel helpless, hopeless, and voiceless.

And because of that:

The role of the storyteller is now paramount. This is an era of pomposity and empty rhetoric. More than ever we need the truth found in novels, plays, films, fables, and poems.

Fiction can communicate both subtly and deeply. It can shine light in the darkness. It communicates at a visceral level and can fly past the radar. It can be difficult and unsettling but can also create change and dissolve despair.

In a very real sense, writing is magic.

But instead of waiting for the return of Merlin, we now need boldness. We need the courage to believe in our unique vision and the daring to move forward with blind faith.

The world is sounding a call to action. If you ever doubted the importance of your creative work, this is the time to put that doubt aside. Others have paved the way and have shown the impossible to be possible. They have moved through their doubts and past their personal dark-night-of-the-soul, and have created. They have impacted their world. They have changed hearts and minds.

Blaze your own trail. To quote Emerson, which I seem to do quite a lot, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This is no time for writers to doubt or hide their work.

This is not a time to be timid or hesitant.

Let your work shine particularly in the darkness. You’ll never know who the light will reach or what it will reveal.

Perhaps Francis Bacon put it best: “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.”

Go forth, and write. 

I’m a Writer, not a Marketer! (You Still Need PR)

"I’m a writer, not a marketer or promoter!"

That can be a nice sentiment, but it’s also generally the kiss of death. If you write and don’t want to promote your works, you best team up with someone who will.

The fact that successful authors need PR and to market their books is not a new phenomenon:

These three were giants of literature who were also brilliant promoters.

There are more stories than we'll ever know from talented writers who are unknown because they failed to promote, and many accounts of mediocre writers who have successfully marketed their works. A mediocre writer who promotes will generally be more successful than the talented writer who doesn’t.

Talented writers who also market and promote—those are truly ahead of the game.

The trick is not only to become comfortable promoting yourself as a writer, but to do so effectively. Sadly, it’s not enough to decide you’re going to promote, jump on Facebook, Twitter, and maybe Goodreads and then sit back and wait. Nor is cobbling together a media list and sending out a press release going to suffice.

The secret? Effective PR is effective storytelling.

Perfect you say, you’re a writer, storytelling is your stock-in-trade. True, but when it comes to PR you need to know what stories to tell, how to tell them, when to deliver them, and to whom you should tell them.

If all of those pieces aren’t in place, chances are not much is going to come of your efforts.

So, if PR and marketing aren't your strong suit—delegate.

Find a PR team that understands how to promote books and authors, have worked in the field and who you feel comfortable with. Bring them on board and, together, move forward.

Effective PR and marketing can spell the difference between success and failure of a book and a career.

Give yourself the best shot to succeed.

Skylight Books on Why Bookstores Matter

A conversation with Skylight Books Events Manager Kelsey Nolan

Nestled in Los Feliz, Skylight Books has been a neighborhood staple of the Los Angeles literary scene for more than twenty years. In a time when (to our great chagrin) bookstores are closing left and right, Skylight has expanded its reach, finding new and innovative ways to not only stay relevant, but to lead the charge in proving why reading, progressive thought, and places of learning are more important than ever.

In the last year alone, Skylight hosted events featuring the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Zadie Smith, launched an in-store nonfiction book club, facilitated fundraising for more than half a dozen human rights causes, made the news as an “oasis of dissent,” and partnered with local groups to put on a cross-city, Harry Potter-themed pub crawl that culminated in a midnight book release party. And of course, sold a lot of books. Whew. And that’s just a glimpse.

At PRFW, we’re all writers who represent writers, so for us bookstores are nothing short of sacred (not to mention we’ve all confessed to each other that we’re steadfast devotees of the printed copy). Because we approach writing from a public relations standpoint, we’re constantly looking to better understand the relationship between booksellers, authors, and the general public. See where I’m going with this? Who better to help elucidate the nuances of these relationships than the booksellers themselves.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Skylight Events Manager Kelsey Nolan to discuss the store, the role of bookstores in an increasingly politicized climate, and tips for new authors trying to make it.

NewBioPics_3Tell us a little bit about Skylight Books, its history, mission, and place in the Los Feliz and greater LA communities.

Skylight Books opened in 1996 on the site of a former 20-year old bookstore, Chatterton’s. The space has been an active bookstore for 40 years. Due, in part to its location, and in part to the staff it employs and the clientele it serves, Skylight Books is a community space, an advocate for progress and dissent, and an integral part of the Los Angeles literary world.

How do you choose which authors and books you carry: does Skylight’s process differ from other stores, and what factors do you consider when making stock decisions?

Skylight Books, just like Los Angeles, and just like Los Feliz, skews left. We focus on literary fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels and comics, books about politics, Women’s-, Black-, Asian-, Native American- and Latino Studies, and, of course, books about LA. With that in mind, we’ve had the same book buyer for the entirety of Skylight’s lifetime. He has watched Los Angeles and our neighborhood change and grow and, with input from the staff, he has maintained a keen eye for what our customers want, respond to, and like to discover. Plus, he does so much with the limited space we have.

I’ve had a lot of reviewers snub self-published work as not being as legitimate as those backed by a house, but we’re seeing an increasing number of self-published authors—is there a place for them in bookstores?

There is definitely a space for them in bookstores, especially indies. I think the stigma was born because, well, anyone can self-pub—which means not all self-published work is going through an editing process, so there is more potential for lower quality work. However, Skylight Books encourages and represents self-created work, particularly in the underground and DIY scene. We have a huge, carefully curated zine section that emphasizes and highlights marginalized voices, non-white voices, etc.

Do you have any advice for authors/publishers who are trying to see their books carried at Skylight or collaborate for an event?

As long as the work being presented is well done, looks nice, and is “Skylight-y” so to say (weird, thoughtful, beautiful, obscure, LA-oriented), there will probably be an advocate here pushing for it to be carried in the store. The title doesn’t necessarily need to be backed from a publishing house, it just needs to be something our community might want. Something different than what one could find a chain bookstore or online. A good example of that is the zine How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety, which the store carried for many years, and is our single greatest selling item. The anonymous author put together more titles (abstinence, evolution) and eventually landed himself a book deal. Another good example is Yumi Sakugawa, a comic book artist who got her start creating the loveliest zines. She produced a ton of different titles before getting enough exposure that the publishing houses started paying attention to her. She’s local to Los Angeles and we feel very strongly about her work being tied to Skylight’s identity. (Check out her new book about Life Hacks! There is gold foil!) There are many authors and artists whom Skylight Books has supported and carried who have gone on to get large scale recognition, whether it is through book deals, national distribution, etc.

Pitching for events is different than a request to be carried in the store. Authors who are self-promoting have it tough. Often, they don’t get enough guidance from their publishers about whom to reach out to, when to reach out, and what pertinent information needs to be included, if they have a publisher at all. For our store in particular, we book events 2-3 months in advance, so we need at least that much time when considering an event in the store. Also, because of the amount of event requests we receive we tend to prioritize new books, ideally, hosting the event no more than 4-6 weeks after the pub date. For authors, this means having a well-thought out "tour" and reaching out to the ideal stores with plenty of lead-time.

Also, a major factor for us is the type of book. Skylight's audience mostly responds to new, literary fiction and nonfiction and graphic novels so that's what we generally are beholden to. That's not a strict rule, but we like to think of it as our bread and butter. We do host poetry events, as well as events for political and social histories. Events we (almost) never host tend to be self-help books, business books, religion and spirituality books. This is to say that as the author is planning her tour, it's a very good idea to research the bookstores she wants, know what their strengths are and see if her book is right for them. If not, the pitch simply dies on the vine and she will have wasted her time as well as that of the bookstore's.

Again, none of these are strict guidelines. Timing, ability to draw an audience, and type of book are simply the initial aspects we consider when deciding when to host an event. Ultimately, we like to believe that we want to support someone whose book we believe in, and we think has a chance of finding an audience here at the store, especially given our limited space.

Skylight is beloved for its dependability and neighborhood feel, but is also an active proponent of progressive thought—in fact you self-identify as “fiercely independent.” What roles and responsibilities do you feel that bookstores, and Skylight in particular, have given the current political climate?

We feel an immense responsibility to inform the masses, support those who are marginalized, and give voices those who are often underrepresented.

Even before the rise of Donald Trump, Skylight staffers were passionate about dissent, encouraging positive political discourse, and excited about bipartisan, truthful voices. Since the election, Skylight has become even more involved in the community in a way that is truly inspiring. Individually, and on their personal time, staffers work with LA's homeless population, the Women's Center for Creative Work, operate a roving feminist library, edit a feminist nonfiction magazine, and regularly attend protests and marches, donate money to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, host gatherings such as phone banking, political dinners, and brainstorming sessions about how to create active resistance, and foster intelligent and productive conversations about how to help the world around them, most recently by launching a nonfiction in-store book club.

Skylight also helped raise funds to help support the organizations resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline by selling postcards and collecting donations at the front register of both stores, and perhaps most seismically, closing the store during the Women's March so that the entire staff could march in support. It's worth noting that the store issued a statement of values to customers and, upon opening the store later that afternoon, we found a half dozen customers who said they came to the store to shop simply to support us and our position.

We regularly hand-sell books to our customers to help educate people about intersectionality, race, poverty, disability, sexuality, abortion, in particular to those who are new to activism, in particular through our store windows, front register display (currently it reads "You Can't Gag A Bookstore" with a number of appropriate book selections) and our Current Events display. Teaching our community how to participate and resist in a thoughtful, meaningful way is ingrained in the fierce DNA of our bookstore.

Skylight Books prides itself as being the sanctuary that hosts, facilitates and fosters hope. We're very grateful and proud to work in an environment like this, at a time like this. Skylight Books feels like a light during a dark time, as it were. According to Amy Goodman, the journalist and host of Democracy Now! “Skylight Books is an oasis of dissent,” and we couldn’t agree more. The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the better informed you are about your world and the way you move throughout it.

How does Skylight reconcile authors’ right to free speech with its arguably liberal, left-leaning brand?

Skylight Books will order any book in print for any customer because free speech is free speech, and we are the last place that will restrict access to information. However, if we aren’t thought leaders, who will be? And so we are careful to carry books we believe in, that we feel will help inform our customers to the side of decency and inclusion.

We’ve seen a lot of bookstores go under in the past decade, but Skylight is seems to be holding strong—how have you adapted to changing times that increasingly tend towards the digital?

Our community is our cornerstone for success. Because we’re in a walkable neighborhood, we have street traffic other bookstores may not see. Plus, the people in our vicinity find it important to support local businesses, which is vital. And they have responded to what we’ve worked hard to do: support minority voices, expand thoughtful discussion, and get excited about literature they may not otherwise have access to. Plus, e-books sales hit a plateau a few years ago. They’ve remained at roughly 30% which means that digital and print can coexist and the love of holding a book in your hand will never go away.

You put on fantastic events, from a Harry Potter pub crawl culminating in a midnight book release party, to talks by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. How do you choose your content, and what does it take to coordinate these kinds of massive events?

Well, thank you! It is my great joy. I talked a lot about the right ways to pitch, and what qualifies as “Skylight-y” but in regards to what I like to book, I personally look for the impact in what we produce within our community. Whether it’s a zine that can help someone dealing with depression, an often untold history of the Indigenous People of The United States, a throwback event for adults who never stopped loving Harry Potter, or, of course, an opportunity for Los Angeles to feel brief optimism in the form of our beloved Elizabeth Warren. And, of course, the deep impact that the literary scene is having on Los Angeles is manifesting in the many local authors producing incredible fiction around town, which makes my little writer’s heart sing.

With our Elizabeth Warren event, we blew the single largest event we’d ever produced out of the water in terms of attendees. We are, at the end of the day, still a tiny bookstore, trying to make our footprint as big as possible, and that is a challenge we’re taking in stride. It’s been a labor of love learning the right (and so very wrong) way to operate our events, but the team (David Gonzalez and I) would be nothing without the rest of our staff, who have large hearts and a deep, unmovable passion for literature. And of course, our General Manager, Mary Williams, who gives us room to make these events our own, deserves a shout out. Her faith in us to pull off the impossible is unfailing and for that I’m grateful.

What can we look forward to that Skylight has planned this year—plug away!

What falls RIGHT in line with all this dissent we were discussing is our upcoming event with Naomi Klein! It’s at the Ebell Theatre, mid-city, on June 21st at 7:30pm. She’s been an activist for decades and she wrote a new book about recognizing the dangers of Trump and how best to fight him. She’ll be in conversation with the actress Brit Marling. We’re very excited about it, happy for the opportunity to continue our hard work. Tickets are available on our website.

Learn more about Skylight Books and get tickets to their June 21 event at skylightbooks.com or just swing by at 1818 Vermont Ave.

Kelsey Nolan is editor at Selfish, a biannual feminist zine; check it out at selfishmagazine.com.

A Conversation with Kathleen Sexton Kaiser

I met Kathleen at the wonderfully produced 805 Writers’ Conference. I make a point of that, since she produced it. Kathleen is a savvy navigator of all things publishing. With four published books and three plays under her belt, she understands how authors and artists are often confused by the new world of marketing their products and themselves. Kathleen, whose expertise encompasses seminars, conferences, special events, publicity, marketing communications and trade show production, maintains a small list of clients that allow her to continue her volunteerism, which includes being co-founder and executive director of the Pacific Institute for Professional Writing, producer of the annual 805 Writers’ Conference, president of the national organization Small Publishers, Artists & Writers Network (SPAWN), and organizer of a monthly literary meeting in Thousand Oaks, CA sponsored by SPAWN and the Independent Writers of Southern California. The following is a conversation with Kathleen on books, writers and the brave new world of publishing.

How did you get started working with writers?

I’ve always had people that write in my world. My career began as a music journalist and most of my friends were writers for local papers or magazines. Moving into the corporate world, I wrote marketing copy or hired copywriters. It was a learning curve to understand how to creatively describe a business or product.

I’d written a novel, and took it to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1998. That’s where I met this new world of writers and instructors—pros that were writing or editing everyday. The conference was a master class for me and is where I met the legendary southern California editor, Shelly Lowenkopf. He changed my entire view of writing.

What initially drew you to the field?

Always been a storyteller. Made up stories for my paper dolls, then for friends to act out. Was a school newspaper columnist by seventh grade and published in a local newspaper at sixteen. Founded a Beatles Fan Club in San Diego at fifteen and wrote a small newsletter. By twenty, I was an editor at Teen Screen Magazine in Hollywood, next west coast editor for Rock Magazine while freelancing articles. I worked until I was 32 as either a music journalist or publicist writing press releases. During that time, I wrote countless articles for publications in America, Canada, England, Italy and Japan and four books on rock and roll for Japan.

In 1997 I fell and broke my foot. Cooped up in the house I came up with an idea for a screenplay that eventually became my novel.

What are the main changes you’ve seen since you began working with authors?

How much they have to do to market their books and become mini-entrepreneurs. They must have an ability to write blogs, tweets, and talk about their books. Fortunately, I worked for 20 years in graphic design following the desktop publishing revolution of the late 80s right into the internet. Gave me a leg up on understanding the technology and, by working with a real futurist, Jonathan Seybold, I was introduced early to new tools that made writing and designing books easier. Then the World Wide Web exploded and we can never look back.

Authors are now in control of their destiny as long as they want to put in the hard work. Publishing is a business, not a hobby. It takes commitment.

How has self-publishing changed the publishing world?

It’s not really self-publishing that changed, it was two things that changed publishing: going digital drastically lowered the price of producing a quality looking book; and two, Amazon. Vanity presses have been around forever. Now you don’t need to fill your garage with boxes of boxes. Everything is done Print on Demand. If anyone tells you to order hundreds of books, run away. Totally not necessary. They are just taking your money.

For years independent films have been considered art, but self-published books were viewed as vanity projects.  Is that changing and if so, why?

The content and quality are what matter. Is it art? Only if it moves you. It’s all in story. Personally, I put down a book with grammar and construction errors because they pull me right out of the story. Most important relationship a writer has is with a great editor. They can save your book. And I don’t mean editors for grammar or punctuation. I mean real development and content editors.

What are some of the biggest pitfalls that self-published writers need to be aware of? 

Cost, distribution, marketing, and the time commitment you need to make to have any success. Plus, having a well-written story that follows the norms for writing in the 21st Century. If you haven’t read 20 bestsellers in your genre over the last 3 years, then you have no idea how much style has drastically changed. What readers want now are action from the first page. The days of 70s and 80s writing with long setups are gone.

Remember, buyers can read the first 3 pages on Amazon. If you don’t grab them within 3 pages, they don’t buy your book. Writing is competing with film, which drops you into the action immediately and your character must fight they way out from page one.

Pitfalls include the many scammers out there pretending to be publishers who take your book and then charge you a small fortune to publish your book. NO REAL PUBLISHER charges the writer. There are some good hybrid publishers who charge a small fee, but READ THE FINE PRINT.

Tell me about The Small Publishers, Artists & Writers Network (SPAWN)

SPAWN has been around for twenty years. In the beginning their goal was to build a community of writers, which the internet allowed because we didn’t need meetings with everything online. We have an award-winning website that is a top resource for writers. Our free monthly newsletter goes out to over 4,000 writers in five countries. Our Market Update, which is a member benefit, gives tips for marketing a book, for illustrators on style and color trends, for small publishers an update on what is happening in the world of publishing. I read or monitor over 50 newsletters to create each Update, bringing what I feel is the latest news, trends, and tips SPAWN members need to stay on the leading edge of book publishing.

How did you become involved with the 805 Writers’ Conference?

I produced the Ventura Writers Fair in 2010 and invited Shelly Lowenkopf to speak. He and I got talking afterwards about the many changes happening in the 805 area, the decline in the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the need for better education. We co-founded the Pacific Institute for Professional Writing in 2011 and launched the first conference along with a series of workshops and intensives. This year we launched the Indie Author Seminars for writers considering self-publishing. Since I produced technology conferences and trade shows for years, it was a natural fit to be the producer of the 805 Writers’ Conference.

What part of your work fulfills you the most? 

Hearing the joy in a writer’s voice when they receive that first printed copy of their book. The struggle and time invested to get to that point can be exhausting and the sheer triumph of holding your new book is amazing. I know it was for me.

Helping people avoid mistakes I’ve seen done in the past. Showing them how to build an audience and sell some books. Though I run two literary groups, my main work is in book marketing. I want to share what I’ve learned with others.

What are the three main tips you’d give to writers?

  1. Learn the craft. Take classes from established pros that work in the industry. If you can’t find one in your area, take university writing classes at night.
  2. Attend writer conferences. Meet the instructors, get on their newsletter or Facebook lists and learn. Meet agents and editors. Submit your book to qualified editors and listen to what they say. With my novel, I went through two editors that helped my writing more than anything else.
  3. Understand that publishing is a business that must be worked. You need to commit to finding and building your audience. Even bestselling authors must now market their own books. Marketing departments at publishers have gone the way of dodo birds.

Learn more about Kathleen at www.KathleenKaiserAndAssociates.com.