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Book Publicity on the Internet

In 1994, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel flooded the Internet with ads for their legal services. The infamous "Green Card Lawyers" stirred up some paying customers, alright; they also stirred a hornets' nest of anti-advertising sentiment on the world's largest computer network. Canter & Siegel received hate mail and death threats, had their Internet accounts sabotaged, and have been stalked across cyberspace. It appears that no billboards will be tolerated on the Information Superhighway.

And yet, you can advertise on the Internet -- it just requires finesse. Rather than bombarding innocent users with junk e-mail, you provide useful news and information and make your advertising materials available only upon request. Marketing on the Internet involves publicity more than advertising, and it can pay big dividends.

The Internet is a global computer network; a well-placed book review can lead to foreign rights inquiries from countries you didn't even know existed. Built to facilitate research, the Internet is home to thousands of colleges, universities and libraries, all of whom might be interested in buying your book in bulk. Positive publicity on the net can lead to the sale of electronic rights, serial rights and reprint rights, as well as special market sales to businesses, government agencies and other organizations. These sales are in addition to the consumer market; with 30-40 million consumers online, Internet publicity can have a significant impact on retail sales.

Obviously, some books are better suited to publicity on the Internet than others: books on computers, business, careers, and cutting edge fiction are net favorites. However, any book can benefit from Internet publicity because of the ease of targeting people by their special interests. Below is a simple program for generating "heat" for your books on the Internet.

Discussion Groups

Two of the Internet's most popular features are "newsgroups" and "mailing lists." There are thousands of them, devoted to specialized topics, with strange names like "alt.books.reviews" and "misc.fitness." People interested in those topics can post messages and read what others have posted. Private information services such as America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and The WELL, have similar discussion groups, sometimes called "forums" or "folders" or "conferences." For convenience, I refer to all of these as "discussion groups."

If you were to post an ad for a book to these discussion groups, you would probably be "flamed," or verbally attacked for violating "netiquette." However, if you post a legitimate book review to the appropriate groups, you will be seen as making a positive contribution. And it doesn't violate netiquette to include contact information at the end of the review. So here's the plan for publicizing a book on the Internet. Whenever your books receive favorable reviews, request permission to reprint them on the Internet. Sometimes there's a charge to reprint, but usually the only cost is the time it takes to find the copyright holder and get their approval. Type-up the review and post it to the appropriate discussion groups. At the bottom of the review, include a tagline such as, "for more information about this book, send e-mail."

You should have a flyer for your book stored on your computer so you can send it via e-mail when people request it. You also need to monitor the discussion groups for a few days to see what feedback your reviews generate. Hit & run operations are not appreciated on the net. By participating in the discussion groups, you earn respect as someone who contributes to the net.

That's the basic plan: post news and reviews, then follow-up with advertising materials when requested. This simple strategy becomes routine after a few books, and it only takes a few minutes a day to maintain what you've started. Hunting down permissions and monitoring discussion groups can be time consuming, but this work can also be contracted out to people who enjoy hanging out on the Internet.

News Releases

The news release is the workhorse in the publicist's toolkit, and you'll be riding that horse down the "information highway," too. There are thousands of media representatives with Internet addresses. Whether it's Dateline NBC or Harper's Magazine, they are cruising the net looking for good stories.

An editor at Forbes saw a review I posted and contacted me for a review copy of the book. This resulted in excerpts appearing in Forbes, which led to many other inquiries. But you don't have to wait for reporters to stumble over your discussion group postings -- you can send them your news releases directly.

You can find an out-of-date list of media e-mail addresses at: http://www.webcom.com/~leavitt/medialist.html. The list includes daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, television and radio shows, wire services, review syndicates, and much more. This list is no longer maintained and there is no better list currently available. You can pull some addresses from this list and use them as the foundation for your own media list. Add the addresses of journalists you contact regularly and those you find in magazines, newspapers and other media outlets.

Every time you issue a regular news release, consider sending a copy to the online media as well. Whether you're announcing a contest, bragging about a deal, or just introducing new employees, you can benefit from lightning-fast e-mail news releases. You can post similar information to the net's discussion groups, but you have to carefully edit your release to stress news content.

Practice, Practice, Practice

We've covered the basic tools for of Internet publicity that will help you market your books online. In future columns, I'll look at some of the flashier things you can do to generate interest in your books and authors, including online Author Forums, excerpts on the Internet, and world tours from the comfort of your home or office. In the meantime, practice those cut & paste skills: posting to discussion groups, sending e-mail, etc. The future of bookselling is online, and you want to be ready to take advantage of it.


STEVE O'KEEFE is author of the books Publicity on the Internet (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), and The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity(John Wiley & Sons, 2002). You can reach him by e-mail at info@PatronSaintPR.com.


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