Episode 5, Season 1

Community Outreach

The 3rd Pillar of Successful Book PR

No book PR campaign is successful without community outreach.

While some people buy books solely from reading a review or listening to an author interview, most require a bit more nudging. Namely, from tastemakers they trust. For the avid reader, this may be a bookseller or librarian, or that one friend who always has the best book recommendations. For the occasional reader, they may read a book because their boss or colleague recommended it, or because a brand they trust is doing a partnership with that author and book. As we discussed in the last episode, reaching an avid reader is a bit more straightforward, but the occasional reader requires more effort.

Let’s start with the more straightforward community outreach: bookstores and libraries. Both are places where people get their books, but also where readers seek recommendations.

So how do you get your book on that coveted “Staff recommends” list? A few ways:

The first is by doing an event at that venue. Most bookstores have shifted to online events, which means you have the potential to reach a national audience; not just the folks who live within an hour of the venue. But it’s still up to you to fill the digital seats, so it’s important to focus on a single event and invite as many of your friends and family as you can. If the event is a success, the bookstore is more likely to continue to recommend your book to their customers. And since the online events are usually recorded, you’ll also have a video asset to continue marketing your book.

If you don’t feel like you have enough of a fanbase to fill a virtual event, consider partnering with other authors for a topic-based panel. This helps not only because all the authors combine audiences, but sometimes a panel discussion on a certain topic will attract people even if they haven’t heard of you. Aspiring writers are likely to attend a panel on “The Path to Publication” or “Honing Your Craft”, YA readers may show up for a “Fresh New Voices in YA” event, and so on. Your goal for any event is to have as many people attend as possible, which means getting creative and often collaborating with fellow authors.

There are other ways to partner with bookstores and libraries to generate word of mouth.

Suggesting your book for one of their book clubs or, if you’re a children’s author, one of their storytime events is a way you can reach readers without having to bring your own audience. You can also offer to teach an online class related to your books – like a cooking demo if you’re a food author or even a food-based novelist. Bookstores and libraries are always looking for unique programming, and you have the ability to contribute to that programming.

Another way to reach avid readers is through book festivals. These are one-day or multi-day events where multiple authors come to speak on panels, deliver keynotes, and lead workshops. Most festivals are free, so they attract a broad audience, and are open to all genres. While most of them tend to have a literary bent (that’s Literary with a capital L) more and more festivals are putting together mystery, romance, and other genre panels. There are also a large number of festivals that focus only on teen and children’s lit, but most standard book festivals boast a hefty amount of children’s programming. After all, what better way to attract a wider audience than free story time for families?

The submission process begins well in advance of the event—up to nine months earlier. There is usually a committee that selects keynotes, featured authors, and panelists. If you’re vying for a slot in the lineup, make contact with the programming director early.

These are some ways to reach the avid readers, but what about the folks who only read occasionally? How can we ensure that of the 10-12 books a person reads in a year that yours is one of them?

The approach is similar to media outreach: you need to meet them where they are.

If your book will appeal to moms of teenagers, who are they turning to for recommendations? What young activists? Or millennial gamers?

Go back to your notes from the last episode where you identified where your typical reader gets their information. What partnership opportunities could you come up with? For example, if your typical reader is an avid Instagram user, could you partner with an influencer for a live Q&A or read-along? If your typical reader is getting information from parenting blogs and magazines, could you partner with a parenting organization like Bump Club or Mama Tribe and offer an online storytime or book giveaway?

This is your opportunity to get creative and try something new.

To help get you started, here are some ways we’ve partnered with organizations outside the book world to reach a wider audience:

  • For The Living Dead by George Romero and Daniel Kraus, we partnered with local movie theaters to screen Romero’s Night of the Living Dead for a short run during launch month. Daniel recorded an introduction discussing the book and the film. When people bought tickets, they had the option to bundle a signed book with their ticket purchase.

And to clarify, these events happened of August 2020, during the pandemic. This was done either at drive in movies or at theaters where attendees could safely distance.

  • For Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want by Dr. Alexandra Solomon, we partnered with DAME intimate products to provide an online workshop that included a copy of the book.
  • For the Orphan X books by Gregg Hurwitz, where the main character only drinks fine vodka, we’ve partnered with vodka companies for everything from social media giveaways to “book and bottle” signings at local liquor stores.
  • For my very first client, Jamie Freveletti, whose series features ultra-marathon runner Emma Caldridge, we partnered with Sugoi running apparel to sponsor her book trailer (which was then shared on Sugoi’s website and in their newsletter), sent books to their top accounts, and even did a handful of book events in local running stores.

The events and initiatives reach a broader audience and because they’re interesting and unique, these partnerships usually get results.

One last idea for community partnerships is by partnering with a non-profit. More and more consumers are conscious about where they spend their money and are more likely to do it if there’s a give-back program or other social initiative. How can you use your book sales to improve the world?

We’ve had clients keep it simple and donate a percentage of sales to nonprofit organizations, and others go more elaborate by hosting fundraisers, organizing volunteer opportunities, even positioning themselves as spokespeople for the organization. These initiatives not only do good in the world, they also help you reach more readers.

Now it’s your turn! How can you reach more readers through community outreach? Start with these prompts:

  • Do you have a local or favorite bookstore you can partner with for an event? What about a library?
  • What existing groups may be interested in your book? This may include children’s story times, book clubs, professional organizations, and so on.
  • Are there book festivals taking place around your book launch? Are there panel or workshop opportunities?
  • What else are your readers interested in? Do they enjoy cooking? Sports? Crafting? How can you incorporate their other interests into an event?
  • Is there another influencer or trusted tastemaker your readers turn to? Could you partner with that person for a joint event or marketing initiative?
  • Is there a nonprofit that ties into your book? What are some ways you can use your book launch to raise money for that nonprofit while also reaching that nonprofit’s audience?

Go through your list of ideas and start with 2 or 3. It’s important to see what works well before scaling up and doing more. Remember, when you’re doing something unique, something that may have not been done before, it may take more time and effort to get everyone on board. Asking a bookstore to host a book event is an easier ask than partnering with a venue that doesn’t typically work with authors. However, it’s those out-of-the-box ideas that often have the greatest impact.

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