EBBC episode 9 – PR and business books with Ben Cameron

Ben CameronPromoting your book is just as essential and can be just as creative as the writing of it. In this week’s episode, book PR expert Ben Cameron shares a host of practical tips on what to keep in mind as you write your book to maximise your chances of getting effective media coverage once it’s published. What do you need to take advantage of opportunities to promote your book, and how can you position yourself so that journalists come to you when the right story breaks? See full transcript below.

Full transcript:

Alison :                   I’m here today with the lovely Ben Cameron, who has over 20 years’ experience in book promotion, publishing and sales, with both traditional publishers and self published authors, so mirroring me in many ways actually there. In 2006 he created Cameron Publicity and Marketing, to make the same marketing services that the large publishers benefit from available to all authors including self-published as well. Ben and his team have worked on hundred of titles for everyone to big publishers to independent authors and on pretty much every subject imaginable and I know most recently, Ben, you’ve been working on parenting with the latest Practical Inspirational title.

Ben :       Yes.

Alison :                   That’s been a fun one, hasn’t it?

Ben :       Yeah that’s been a great book, Real Parenting for Real Kids. It’s been really good fun and because I’ve got three young kids myself it’s been a great source of advice for my own parenting.

Alison :                   You and me both. I learnt so much editing that book, it’s fantastic. Ben was a speaker at my World-Changing Writers summit last October and he pretty much convinced me there that promoting your book is just as important as writing it in the first place and could be just as creative, so well done on that, you removed my fear of book promotion. Welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club Ben, it is really good to have you here.

Ben :       It’s great to be here.

Alison :                   Fantastic, so let’s start because I’ve got so much to ask you today. First tell me: you if somebody’s writing their book and they’re thinking down the line, you know, what sort of things do you look for, what kind of makes your heart beat a bit faster when you’re going to be working on [promoting] a business book?

Ben :       Yeah I think there’s a couple of things and some of it comes from the book itself and some of it comes from the author. As far the book is concerned the book has to make sense as a book, and I know that sounds kind of obvious, but a lot of people when writing down their thoughts are writing about a subject they’re a expert in. They often kind of brain dump everything that they know on to the page in a way that doesn’t necessary make sense to somebody who doesn’t know the things that they know.

You know an innocent reader who comes upon that book might not get much out of it, so it has to work as a book and a book works in a different sort of way than a business does in any other sort of media.

Alison :                   Are we talking structure here or is it something more mystical?

Ben :       Well we’re talking about structure and practicality I think, so a reader has to take something away from a book. They have to be able to, you know… it could be a theoretical book, but they still have to have something that they could think through and they could work with from that book. Books can be very practical, here’s how you do this, one, two, three, there you go. They could also be more theoretical, in a way that gets people thinking and that’s great too. It has to get people thinking, it has to make sense for them to do that.

Alison :                   There has to be a ‘So what?’ for a reader, doesn’t there?

Ben :       Exactly. I think the other thing is expertise, so what we’re saying when we’re promoting books is that this author is an expert in this subject. We’re talking to the media in saying that you need to talk to this person because this is the ‘go-to’ person. This is the person who knows and can talk about things and here’s the book to prove it. It’s about expertise and about the author being a spokesperson, really putting themselves forward. Somebody who can discuss the issues, discuss the business model or whatever they’re writing the book about, that’s really important.

Other things that we look for are news tie-ins, if there’s something in the news that comes up that the author can add their expertise to. The media are often looking for that.

Alison :                   Kind of a hard one to plan for in advance of course, isn’t it?

Ben :       It can be, exactly, and you know sometimes you have a book where you know something’s coming up, like you know an anniversary of an event is coming up and the book is about that event. You can plan for that in advance, but more often than not you know the author is an expert in the subject and you’re kind of waiting for something to come up in the news on that subject. Which can make it really difficult, you know, to some degree you only get one shot at it, so you need to be patient and wait for that thing to come up in the news. They always do eventually and, you know, get in there while you can…

Alison :                   I guess the key thing there is being ready to get in there isn’t it? Having all your ducks in a row, having your material ready to send?

Ben :       Exactly, something can come up in the news one day and then it’s old news the next day. You have to be ready, you have to have everything ready to go and then pitch it right away, you know, as soon as something comes up in the news that you can comment on. You get in there and you comment on it and you talk to the media about the things you have to say about that and get out there. If you don’t do it quickly you’ll miss your chance.

Alison :                   It’s interesting what you say as well about the fact that when you’re promoting a book, one of the big things in your favour is you’re the expert in a subject, because many people write the book in a effort to position themselves as the expert. There’s a odd sort of circle going on there isn’t it, symbiosis between your expert status and the fact you’ve written the book?

Ben :       Yeah well I think often people take a book as evidence, you know, ‘This person wrote a book and here it is and it’s, you know, a great big thing sitting on my desk. It’s got lots of words in it, so this person must know what they’re talking about,’ and on a very surface sort of level, it could be that. Ultimately people in the media are going to read the book and they’re going to find out how much you know about what you know. Just having that book as evidence is important in the first place.

Speaking of the book itself, something else that I’m looking for and… you know, I often turn down books that we’re not able to promote and it’s often got to do with the cover or the production. The blurb if it can’t be changed, there’re a lot of things that go into making a book that really attracts people’s attention and in fact its marketability. The cover is something that, you know, a lot of people don’t think about till the end, but it really has to be right and also a lot of people try to save money on that.

Alison :                   When you say ‘right’, do you mean really professional done?

Ben :       Really professional done and targeted for the audience …

Alison :                   Right.

Ben :       The book, so, you know, it could be for a business book. For a business-to-business book for example, the cover must look authoritative. For a consumer to consume a book it must look inviting. Whatever it is, you know, a professional designer needs to you know get in there and do their magic on it

Alison :                   Yeah, amen!

Ben :       If you don’t have it right you’re just not going to find your audience and we cannot help you find your audience if you don’t have it right either.

Alison :                   Yes, that’s so important isn’t it, we’re going to have to have an episode further down the line about the importance of covers, they’re just so critical.

Ben :       Yeah they are absolutely, and the other thing that we look for, the last thing that we look for when considering books is: is it business-to-business or business-to-consumer? If it’s business-to-consumer, that’s great as long as there’s, you know, enough of an audience out there for what they’re promoting, and there usually is. Business-to-business could be a bit more tricky, because if it’s something aimed at a very specific number of businesses then it could be hard to promote through the media. There just aren’t enough out there that would be interested in that book and as we try to appeal to the widest possible media market when we’re promoting books.

There are some book that are just so specific that we cannot do anything about it and that can be business-to-business books. Something to look out for, so you really want to appeal to a wide market.

Alison :                   It strikes me that there’re similarities there between how you promote the business as a whole and the book, because there are some business that… particularly when you’re serving other business and you’re a business-to-business business, if you like, when actually, mainstream media just isn’t your bag, it’s not where your people are and they don’t expect to hear from you there, they don’t look to hear from you there, you know, you have very specific channels and ways in. We’re really talking about books that have some sort of general appeal here, aren’t we?

Ben :       Yeah I think so, you know, something where you’ve got a large enough audience that reads magazines, that reads particular magazines and particular newspapers or listens to radio shows or podcasts, and you can target those people through the media in that way.

Alison :                   It used to be called ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’

Ben :       Yes.

Alison :                   Yes, I’m sure that phase is well out of fashion now! Going back to that sense of the business though, for most people who write business books and who run businesses, you would like to think that they’re quite clued up about marketing their business, you know: what is different about promoting a book to promoting just a business in general or your services?

Ben :       Well there’s a couple things that are different about books that I mentioned before, that a book is a tangible thing, you know, you can send it to a reporter, you can send it to a book reviewer. Then they’ve got something sitting there on their desk which they can’t exactly ignore, or at least they have to pick it up to throw it in the bin, and when they pick it up then maybe they’ll look at it. That’s a bit cynical, and people are more helpful in that in real life, but just having something physical there, there’s something to be said for that. Physical evidence that you know what you’re talking about and that your business exists. That also helps you promote yourself as a expert as well, you know: you wrote the book about it, you’re the person to go to for that.

More than that I think promoting a business book is promoting your business to different people in the media, so there might be a journalist that you’ll call up if you’re trying to promote your business in some way, say the FT, but if you got a book then you’re not only talking to that person, but you’re also talking to somebody on the arts desk maybe or somebody who reviews business books, who’s somebody else that you can go to and that gives you more opportunity at, you know, within media outlets that you can promote that book to so …

Alison :                   More touchpoints, more people.

Ben :       It’s a much broader scope. It give you more arrows that you can shoot at your target.

Alison :                   Yes.

Ben :       I think that’s the main thing. More people to talk about your business. Remember that you’re also selling your book as well as selling your business. By selling more books you’re selling your business as well and by selling your business, you know, by getting people interested in your business you’re also selling books. It’s a very symbiotic relationship there.

Alison :                   Absolutely – that’s one of the most exciting things that complementarity, it’s almost like a diversification of your business, you know, you’re selling your book and that creates leads and it’s also another revenue stream while it’s establishing … It’s all good, all works together. It’s also why I think, you know, it’s part of the platform – it’s not a thing on its own, the book. It’s part of your business, it’s got to fit alongside everything else and make sure you’re not pulling in two different directions.

Ben :       Yeah that’s true, they need to work together.

Alison :                   Yeah, so when you’re writing a book, as an author, what sorts of things could you be bearing in mind right from the get-go, you know, right from the beginning that are going to make this book more PR-able down the line (if that’s even a word)?

Ben :       Yeah the main question in the question that everybody should always be asking throughout writing a book: who is this book for?

Alison :                   Right.

Ben :       You know, who is the person who is going to read this? And that matters when you’re thinking about marketing and publicity, because you’re thinking about that same person and you’re thinking about what magazines, what newspapers does that person read? What podcasts do they listen to? What radio shows do they listen to? Who is that person and how you can target them through the media? That broader question of who is the book for really matters in publicity and marketing you know, as well as getting the book right, so it’s always something to consider.

I think the tone of the book is really important as well, because like I said before a book could be instructional, it can be ‘how you do task A’, you know, and then one two three, or it could be more about getting people enthusiastic about something.

Alison :                   Right.

Ben :       It will be building that sort of enthusiasm and ‘go out and do it yourself now’, and the tone of the book needs to be reflected in the press release and the marketing that you do. You need to be consistent throughout and you know there’s also books that work very well in sort of a club, almost a secret club even though anybody can go out and buy that book, that make the reader feel like that they’re part of something.

Alison :                   Oh I like that idea. Tell me a little bit more about what you’re thinking of there?

Ben :       Well you know there are books where you just feel like you, as the reader, are one of the sole holders of, you know, this book: you know the information in this book and you’ve got one up on everybody else who doesn’t have that book. That is something you can really carry through to publicity as well and you can get that message out to the whole world. People would still feel like they’re part of this secret knowledge and I think that’s something that’s quite powerful and great if you can contain that and put that into your marketing and publicity.

Alison :                   That’s really intriguing. Have you got a book in mind that you think does that well or is it that you can’t tell us, it’s too secret?

Ben :       No… I read a lot of business books. I suppose … Trying to remember his name now, there a Australian business book writer …Priestley I think …

Alison :                   Daniel Priestley?

Ben :       Daniel Priestley.

Alison :                   Yeah.

Ben :       His books really work for me

Alison :                   Oversubscribed is one of his.

Ben :       Oversubscribed is a brilliant book for me, for where my business is now, and I’ve read it through twice. I’ve listened to it in audio and in reading that I just feel like and, you know, I’m not the only person who know the things that he says in there, but I feel like he’s speaking directly to my business. I think it’s because it’s so apt for what I’m trying to do and he does it in a really sort of comfortable way that, you know, I feel like, ‘Yeah, he gets it.’

Alison :                   I think that’s a really good example because I’ve read that too and I think it’s brilliant – there’s loads of information there and you’re right, you get a sense that it’s inspiring, but it’s also got really practical things to do you know how to plan things out … Jeff Walker is another guy that does that really well with his Product Launch Formula stuff. You’re right, you have that sense of owning a bit of intellectual property that’s going to give you a competitive advantage, it’s very clever.

Ben :       Exactly.

Alison :                   Even though everybody else has read it.

Ben :       It’s a very popular best-selling book and I still feel like I’ve got the secret knowledge.

Alison :                   Nice trick if you can pull it off and it is about the tone, it’s about that sense of … It’s also about what they’re prepared to share, isn’t it, and you know so often people say, ‘I don’t want to give away all my secrets.’ Do – because the more valuable the book is the more valuable people will perceive you to be. That’s what really gets it isn’t it, that kind of no holding back, just, you know, be giving real value to the reader.

Ben :       Yeah and Priestly is a real advocate of that.

Alison :                   Yeah.

Ben :       But get the information out there you know, let people know how much you know about your subject and I think that’s great.

Alison :                   That’s brilliant advice, so what else would you say if somebody listening is in the process or the throes of writing their first business book? What advice would you give them?

Ben :       I would say a couple of things that I’ve talked about briefly before, practical: give people something to do or to think about in your book, so give them something to take away. Production and cover and… the blurb is very important, that little descriptive titbit that goes on to Amazon or the back of the cover of the book. It’s incredible important that you know it’s 150 words that can really make or break your book, so …

Alison :                   Any hot tips for blurb writing?

Ben :       Think about … I tend to think about it like poetry, where every word matters, and just go through and really just make sure that you’re doing everything that you can to get across all the elements of your book, but not being too overly descriptive and just really cut down the number of words. Everybody writes too much.

Alison :                   That’s so true isn’t it?

Ben :       Yeah.

Alison :                   It’s the cutting down… in a sense you’re doing the work for the readers, aren’t you, and it’s such a important step, it takes ages, it takes so long to write something short compared to just blurting out something long.

Ben :       That’s right and it’s easy to write something that’s descriptive that this book does this and it tells you about this, but what you really want to be is enticing. You want to give people hints about what’s in the book, but not tell them what’s in the book, that’s a difficult thing to do.

Alison :                   Not descriptive but enticing, I like that. You’re not using the word ‘tease’ here are you, it’s not quite that I mean, in a sense that is a fiction trick isn’t it. Teasing somebody with a problem you’ve left unresolved. How do you translate that across to business books? How do you entice without describing?

Ben :       Well you give people a sense of what’s in the book, you know? What sort of secrets you’re going to give them? Without giving them the secret in the blurb on the back of the book.

Alison :                   Makeing sure you deliver on that promise in the book of course.

Ben :       Exactly, and you have to be realistic, because ultimately you’re going to get reviews for your book and if you misrepresent your book in that blurb people are going to be disappointed with it and give the book less favourable reviews. Don’t go overboard and tell people it’s going to save their life, but tell them how it’s going to help them.

Alison :                   Brilliant and it’s probable really obvious to you, because you’ve spent your career doing this, but I know something that really struck me after I spoke to you the first time back in October was that sense of owning your expertise and I think that’s really important to people listening as well. As you said before being ready at kind of a moment’s notice, when the story breaks in the press, to say, ‘I have something worthwhile hearing.’ To say that, that doesn’t come naturally to everybody, but actually it’s kind of key to all of it, isn’t it?

Ben :       It’s a confidence in what you do in and I think most business people you know when they’re doing their work they’re really confident, they know their business inside and out. You just really have to convince yourself that, because you know your business inside and out, you can talk about your business in a comfortable way. It’s confidence it’s like… it’s a bit like public speaking, you know, you’re getting up in front of a crowd and you remind yourself that, ‘actually I do know what I’m talking about.’ That is the key I think to public speaking, I think that’s the key to, you know, writing a good business book as well.

Alison :                   It’s probably easier said than done, but I do think it’s a really important point and it only really comes with practice, doesn’t it?

Ben :       It does and you know, keep working at it and keep working at it.

Alison :                   Right, and ultimately you will become the person the journalist turns to when the story breaks, but until that moment they don’t know about you, they don’t know how much you got to say about this, so you have to be the one making the move.

Ben :       Well that’s right in that way, you know, it’s great to be ready to go when the topic comes up, but if you’re blogging and you’re working your social media on that subject you know, you can get well known for that subject before the topic comes up and they may well come to you, so …

Alison :                   Yeah, it’s about platform and consistency as well isn’t it?

Ben :       Exactly and I can’t say too much about how important it is to blog, you know, get your thoughts out there on all sorts of topics related to your main topic. It helps you in so many ways – it sets you up as an expert, it helps your search engine optimization, so people can find you. It, you know, helps people find your business as well as gives you a opportunity to tell people about your book too when it comes out.

Alison :                   Yeah superb advice and it’s funny actually the one thing I didn’t quite expect, but it’s come out of the podcast is that I now blog on two different sites, Birds on the Blog for the kind of business stuff and BookMachine for the more publishing-related stuff. Sort of following the podcast each week and, so when ever I have a interview with somebody – I know, you’ll have this treatment in time as well! – it goes upon the podcast and there’s also these two different blogs, looking at it from two different perspectives. All of which I can showcase on my site and link out to and it’s a real content production engine and, you know, it makes me much more visible. It also I think gets more value I mean every time you create content, you want to be working the pants off it don’t you to get the maximum kind of value out of it. That has been a really useful thing for me. I completely agree about the value of the blogging.

Ben :       Yeah absolutely, you know those links to your website, people going into your blog, reading your blog and then clicking on that to your website and going from your website to your blog and social media… That all, that whole structure of online presence joins together and it can really feed off each other and help people find you when they you know type into Google, ‘I’m looking for a business that does this.’ You know, people can find you much more easily if you’re got all that working really well.

Alison :                   Yeah superb, so bad news people if you thought you just had to write the book and sit back. I’m sorry about that, we’re here to disillusion you! But that was fantastic Ben, thank you so much. And the last thing I’m going to ask you, I’m asking everybody who’s a guest on the show if they could recommend somebody else they think I should speak to, somebody who’s got something interesting to say about the business of business books. Who do you think I should speak to on this show?

Ben :       I’m going to recommend an author who isn’t a business book author, but she is amazing at blogging, social media and working that. Her name is Carol Wyer and she writes women’s fiction and humour books, and she know her audience so well. She really taps into you know who her audience is and she has this sort of ability to go out and do what ever it takes. To promote her books and I don’t mean that in a cynical way. It’s amazing that she does the things that she does in order to bring people to her books and people love her books. She’s a fantastic writer, so it kind of justifies everything in the end. I would recommend that you talk to her.

Alison :                   I love that. I’ve never heard of her, I love the idea of… it’s funny, Rachel Bridge last week was saying when I asked her about who to have on the show, she didn’t want to recommend anybody because she doesn’t read business books, so she said read widely and curiously, and you’re just reinforcing that here, which is astonishing.

Ben :       That’s right: business people have something to learn from somebody who writes a book you know women’s fiction books and women’s humour books about menopause.

Alison :                   Brilliant!

Ben :       She really does have a lot that she could teach you.

Alison :                   Wonderful, great recommendation thank you. I shall drop your name and get in touch with her and hopefully have her on the show soon. Ben, if people want to know more about you and how they can work with Cameron publicity and marketing, how can they find you?

Ben :       Go to our website, it’s www.cameronpm.co.uk, PM for publicity and marketing.

Alison :                   Not PM for prime minister, no?

Ben :       No, not prime minister. We were cameronpm before Cameron was PM.

Alison :                   That’s quite funny, you should be suing him. Fantastic, well thank you so much Ben, a massive amount of really useful information there. It’s fantastic to talk to you today, goodbye!

Ben :       Great to talk to you, bye


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