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Manhattan Book Publicist Scott Manning:: :: ::

Scott Manning

An exclusive interview
with a Manhattan book publicist

Launching the Book

by Kate Sullivan
and Danita R.A. Feinberg


You've finally done it. You've sold your manuscript. Your book is on its way via Fed-Ex to a publishing house in Manhattan. Within the next six months, and, perhaps with a few more revisions, it will be in print.

Now, you just need to compete with the thousands of other books on the shelves to catch a reader's eye, assuring yourself a spot on the bestsellers' lists and hopefully avoiding an early spot in the remainder bin.

No problem.

Scott Manning, a Manhattan public relations professional offers advice on how to publicize your book. He takes time out from his recent projects to talk with us about promotional responsibility. Projects that include "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War" and P. J. O' Rourke's newest book, "The CEO of the Sofa."

Manning holds the post of book-promotions advocate and media relations consultant and he provides an inside look at counter-currents hidden from an author's view. This is an in-depth discussion of publishing industry objectives vs. author objectives.

About Publishing

What trends do you see in publishing (other than merger fever) that will affect book publicity during the next few years?

As the economy continues its slow down, I think publishers' belts will become tighter than ever. A publisher has to be concerned with what will sell books-period.

Although many would consider publicity to be "free," it isn't when a publisher considers the cost of travel and more importantly, the cost of a staff person's time to work on a project.

When I was an in-house publicity director, I was constantly faced with balancing publicity potential with cost-and here is where an author's agenda and that of his/her publishing house can diverge. Whereas the author, on the other hand, might see opportunities in publicity efforts that will open other doors.

How do you decide if you will represent an author?

Above all else, timing is key. I can't tell you how often I receive phone calls from authors whose books have either just been published or are about to be published. Authors should contact people like myself at LEAST five months in advance of publication. First, we need to find out just exactly what the publisher is planning (or not planning) to do-how are they supporting the book? Second, in order to prepare decent materials and approach the media, we just plain need the time.

My guidelines are simple: is this a book for which I can deliver the goods? Is there media potential for this author and their work on and/or off the book page? Once I've established what I think are realistic goals, do they mesh with the client's expectations?

What are three things that writers should never do, besides tackling their own publicity if they are not trained in the process, when promoting a book?

  • Never cold call a media contact without mailing or e-mailing materials in advance-even if they are a personal contact and it's appropriate for you to call about your own work. Invariably, their response will be "send me something," if you haven't already.

  • Although there's wisdom in not taking "no" for an answer, you have to be realistic about it. If someone has given you a firm "no," don't turn into a stalker just because you have a new angle. It's more important that you retain a good relationship over the long term.

  • Don't sit back and expect things to happen just because you're being published. Make an active effort to find out what your publisher's plans are-and determine whether or not you'd like to do more.

About You

What did you do prior to artist/author representation?

I've worked in book publicity for most of my career. I took a sidestep into consumer products public relations for two years in the eighties. Believe it or not, that experience gave me some valuable insights into working with the media when there is no book or author involved. When you're handling Weight Watchers, as I was, the pitch is a lot more challenging.


How did you get started in publicizing authors and how long have you been in the profession?

I moved to New York to be an actor after graduating from college in 1979. By the end of my first summer, I knew that the theatrical life had been a total fantasy and I needed to get a job. Having been an English major, I decided to go into publishing.

After spending a year as an assistant in the sales and library promotion departments, I decided that publicity was where all the fun was. I talked my way into the department and stayed there for eight years.

Is there a book in your own future, and if so fiction or non-fiction?

Non-fiction. During a brief period of unemployment (yes- it happened to me and was in many ways the best thing that could have happened), I worked on a book proposal that did not get off the ground at the time-but I may return to it at some point.

It concerns adults, myself included, who overcame something in their childhoods and actually applied the experience toward success. To paraphrase Nietzsche, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

What are the books that you read (and read again) that make you believe that writing is a worthwhile endeavor?

There's one book that I'm constantly recommending to people, because it literally changed my life. Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson describes people who find themselves at turning points. In order to create a new direction for themselves, they take something from one area of their lives and combine it with another aspect that may be seemingly un-related.

In my case, I combined my vocation in publishing with my avocation as a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The result was the creation of the Books for a Better Life Awards, which honors the best self-help books published each year and at the same time has raised nearly a half million dollars for the MS Society.

About the craft

What would you tell beginning writers who wish to write?

I won't be trite and say "write what you know"-but, write what you know. From a publicist's perspective, we can only promote something that rings true.

For beginners hoping to get that first glimpse of reader attention, what components of short-story awards do you believe are most helpful to beginning writers: getting the story ready for a deadline, learning to wait for answers, proper presentation? How does the process help to promote writes' work?

Anything that brings greater recognition to a writer's work is beneficial. Even if it only causes one more person to read what you've written, you never know who that one person might be (an agent, an editor, a reviewer).

For three years, I handled the public relations for a wonderful organization called Poets & Writers, Inc. Their mission is to help would-be authors go about the work of getting attention for themselves in an intelligent way-to do their homework and focus on the right publications, how to present themselves, etc.

So, of your list, I would choose proper presentation.


What is your greatest success story?

Probably "Black Hawk Down," but on the lighter side I had a great time with the re-launch of "Valley of the Dolls." We proclaimed a Jacqueline Susann revival, and from there it took on a life of its own.

With "Black Hawk Down," did the campaign you planned for the book turn out as expected?

We all knew we had something special with this book-but I don't think anyone could have expected what it actually became. I had the great fortune of being part of a team on this book-and it's a classic example of how publicity should never exist in a vacuum.

Just relying on media ink to sell a book is not enough. By the time I came along, the book had benefited from strong word-of mouth in the military thanks to its serialization in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers.

In addition, the book's publisher, Morgan Entrekin, has an uncanny knack for creating pre-publication buzz around certain books. I was able to build upon both these elements by trotting poor Mark Bowden to practically every God-forsaken military installation in the country. I think he visited 25 markets in all, signing books in PXs and bookstores near bases-and slowly building his credibility with local media outlets.

With someone as irreverently funny as P. J. O' Rourke, how difficult is his work to promote? Were you part of the campaign for his previous work, "Eat the Rich," released a few years ago?

I've worked with P.J. on four books, including "Eat the Rich" and his latest, "The CEO of the Sofa." He is not difficult to promote at all. The art of handling his publicity involves strategizing about when to say yes to media requests. But P.J. is more than just good with a one-liner.

On September 11, he had just started his tour for "CEO of the Sofa." For two weeks, everything was canceled because no one wanted to laugh. But after that, we picked up right where we left off because he is expert at striking the right balance between making people laugh, and getting to the heart of some very serious issues. He's an amazingly smart guy.

Describe your perfect client.

Someone who trusts me.

Describe the client from hell.

Someone who doesn't trust me. I've been doing this a long time. If you don't trust me, don't hire me.

Links you would suggest to our site visitors.

www.pw.org (Poets & Writers, Inc.)
www.publishersmarketplace.com (great resource for everything you need to know about publishing-and for finding people like me)

Scott, thank you for participating in this Q&A, we appreciate your candid responses to our questions.

It's been a pleasure, Kate.

WordSmitten Writing Workshop


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