By Guest Contributor Sharon Bially
Writers in the trenches of drafting and revising often look ahead with nothing but pure jubilation to the day when they’ll be offered a publishing deal. That’s the day all the hard work, the restructuring, the killing off of characters, the self-doubt, the trials, the tribulations and the waiting will end.
It’s hard to anticipate, though, that a publishing deal may bring trials and tribulations of its own. In particular, a whole new variety of self-doubt tends to emerges when a manuscript is done—yes—but now out of the author’s control.
The result: jubilation gives way to anxiety. Anxiety, intensified by the encroaching fear of disappointment and even the “failure” of low sales and bad reviews, then takes on a life of its own in the form of a nearly obsessive desire to be in control.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Authors come to me with the intention of feeling at least a bit more like the masters of their own literary destinies, since many believe (mistakenly) that hiring an independent publicist will by definition lead to a windfall of media coverage and success. Then, instead of stepping back and enjoying the peace of mind that enlisting my help could bring, authors suffering from this particular brand of anxiety succumb to the insidious fear that perhaps I am not doing the very best job possible. That I’m cutting corners or letting ideas slip through the cracks. Or that another publicist might, perhaps have done a better job.
This is what I have come to think of as book launch FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.
The six biggest signs I’ve observed are:
1. Suggesting media outlets to your publicist
It’s normal to provide your publicist with a list of outlets where you’ve been covered before or have contacts. She or he can leverage these in your campaign. However, spending time researching the media on your own and suggesting that your publicist contact the outlets you’ve discovered is most often anxiety-driven.
2. Asking for detailed explanations about the PR process
It’s true that PR can seem like a mystery to those not involved. That’s why it’s a profession! While it’s important for you to understand the bigger picture of what your publicist is doing along with certain key details, nobody should expect to be able to grasp every aspect of their publicist’s job.
3. Offering to help
While it may seem generous and well-intended, offering to help your publicist is a sure sign of serious anxiety. I’ve had clients offer to make follow-up calls “to help” when, in fact, they were worried that I wasn’t really making them, or that I wasn’t saying just the right thing to get reporters’ attention.
4. Micromanaging your publicist
Just as I’ve had clients offer to make follow-up calls, I’ve worked with authors with particularly pronounced cases of book launch FOMO who have provided me with to-do lists and asked for me to account for each item. Need I say more?
5. Insisting on specific language for press releases and email pitches
While it’s always helpful to hear an author’s thoughts on the themes and selling points of his or her book, there’s often a big gap between what an author thinks might hook the media and what the media is, in fact, looking for. Knowing what the media is looking for is an important part of a publicist’s job.
6. Suffering from PR envy
When authors start comparing the results of their PR campaigns to others’—and asking questions such as, “So-and-so was on Oprah. Did you pitch Oprah?” I know without a shadow of a doubt that they are suffering from FOMO.
Of course, you must absolutely expect and receive reassuring information from your publicist that he or she is working hard on your behalf. This includes sharing your press lists with you, answering your questions as they arise, communicating regularly and giving you updates and status reports. And you must of course see concrete results taking shape over time. If any of these does not hold true, then you have good reason to worry that something is amiss.
But acting out of a Fear Of Missing Out—whether you realize you’re doing so or not—actually winds up being counterproductive for all.
Suggesting specific media outlets time and again will leave you feeling confused and frustrated by your publicist’s explanations of why, in some cases, a particular outlet does not make sense. Besides, nine times out of ten, she’s already reached out to the place you’re suggesting and your time would have been better spent taking other initiatives.
Similarly, getting detailed explanations about what your publicist is doing will overwhelm you, leaving you with more questions than answers. It’s kind of like asking your doctor to explain how certain procedures or medications affect your body on a cellular level. And when you don’t fully understand the answer—which chances are you won’t—you will feel all the more anxious.
Offering to help, providing to-do lists and insisting on specific language can actually backfire by interfering with your publicist’s work. While I do believe it’s important to honor each author’s concerns by discussing these ideas, doing so paradoxically takes time and energy away from working on the substance of the campaign.
As for PR envy, alas… No two books, two authors or two PR campaigns are ever the same. While it is true that there are differences between PR firms, especially in terms of personal connections, no one firm will ever be able to make every imaginable connection. No matter who your publicist is, there will always be something he or she missed. On the flip side, though, there will always be a great opportunity that only he or she was able to secure.
How can you conquer your book launch FOMO?
First, be aware of it. If any of the above points sounds familiar, step back and ask whether your actions may be driven by anxiety and fear. Explore their roots.
Second, stay grounded in reality. The truth is, no single media opportunity is going to make or break your future. Rather, your success as an author will come from a combination of factors building slowly over time.
Finally, pick a few key things you can do that don’t overlap with your publicist’s job—and focus on them. This may mean blogging, engaging actively on social media, organizing your launch party and building word-of-mouth among family and friends. You won’t be able to do everything under the sun, so choose things you’ll be good at and that make you feel good in return.
Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is a lapsed fiction writer and the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s a regular contributor to the blog Writer Unboxed and an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center.