By Brian J. D’Souza
Back when I attended a publishing program at a Toronto university, we had a class led by an agent and his assistant where they devoted an entire lecture to the subject of “handholding authors.” We went through a series of exercises where the assistant read through “real” (embellished) case studies involving difficult/emotionally fragile authors who needed to be rescued. Examples ranged from authors who struggled with public relations, doing media and having their writing edited. The running theme throughout this was clear—authors suffered from “learned helplessness” and were as inept without guidance as Miranda Priestly’s alpha-slave driver character would be without her various minions in The Devil Wear’s Prada.
One wonders, then, how authors cope in a world of self-publishing, where they rely on their own ingenuity in order to launch a book. I discovered from my own experience publishing Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts that you can adapt and thrive if you have a strategy penciled in from the onset.
Understanding your market, making connections and having story angles that suggest themselves are the keys to garnering the publicity necessary to drive sales. The first step I took during the development of my book was to make a spreadsheet that listed all possible sources of publicity—television, radio and print; etc—and listed the subgroups of each category. As the genre of Pound for Pound was sports, this led to an endless series of possibilities when it came to coverage through all the outlets that cover mixed martial arts in the media.
There was still the issue of dealing with the competition vying for press in a crowded marketplace. Traditional publishers have the advantage when it comes to pre-existing relationships with media outlets and book reviewers. They can send out more review copies and utilize dedicated PR reps to solicit coverage in order to saturate the media with their signal. To cut through the noise, it’s sometimes best to use the personal approach of sending individual emails to media personalities, editors, writers and reporters that are researched in advance.
Crafting the story pitch is the place where authors can shine. After all, who can write better copy than a professional writer? I found an unexplored angle for approaching the subject of professional fighting in the dark side of the sport: shady business dealings, brain injuries and the involvement of organized crime. As a journalist, I knew that stories laced with controversy tend to generate more hits than a plain-vanilla approach.
I got my book featured on television programs like Fight Network and Sportsnet’s UFC Central; I received favourable reviews from MMA websites like BloodyElbow.com, FightOpinion.com, and TheFightNerd.com and I did a slew of podcasts and radio shows everywhere from SiriusXM to Sportsnet 960.
The wildcard in book publicity involves finding a way to market your book that goes viral. The ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge” is just the most recent phenomenon of the public buying into a cause. It’s great that so many Americans are raising funds for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but getting marketing efforts to go viral on this level is more of a statistical improbability for the author than a trump card. For instance, I made a video trailer for my book utilizing footage of interviews, fights, press events and other noteworthy moments that I’d captured over the years. I notched a respectable 5000 views but without an open-ended concept that people could imprint themselves onto, the trailer plateaued. On the other hand, the video detailing the making of the book cover for Matthew Polly’s Tapped Out got 70,000 views, mostly through the photography community; the actual book trailer for Tapped Out itself got around 1800 views on YouTube.
Getting publicity for a book is a challenging task. Even elite publishers can drop the ball when it comes to marketing their titles. But the work an author puts into the endeavour can be fruitful and rewarding, as every mention of your book will result in increased sales.
Moving into the future, I expect more and more authors to move away from being infantilized, and instead, develop the tools that put the reins of their careers into their own hands. Technology and business interests have converged to change the bookselling marketplace forever—and savvy authors will continue to roll with the punches to win over readers.
Check out the Pound for Pound book trailer:
Brian J. D’Souza grew up in the picturesque rural area of Caledon, Ontario. For Pound for Pound, he traveled from the gyms of Montreal to the academias of Curitiba, Brazil to the MMA training grounds of Los Angeles and many locales in between to capture the spirit and heart of the modern gladiators of MMA. He has written for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, MSN.ca, Sharp Magazine, Sportsnet Magazine and CagePotato.com.