Julie Gwinn

Julie Gwinn has been a professional in the public relations, advertising industry for more than 20 years for organizations such as The American Red Cross, the YWCA and Dye, Van Mol and Lawrence public relations and advertising agencies in Nashville. She joined B&H Publishing Group in January 07, in the trade marketing and publicity department and is responsible for marketing their fiction line.

Publicity . . . Who Needs It?

...some writers, like comedians, rely on explicit details for shock value when the story is weak...

After more than twenty years in PR and advertising, I joined B&H Publishing Group. It was a little off-putting to be regarded a rookie, but I had no book publishing experience. Undaunted, I tackled book publicity the same way I approached PR for cars, flour, and college athletic programs.

First, discover what is unique about your product. For us, it’s the books we publish. Of course, our fiction books have Christian content. At the BEA trade show, we had a signing for two fiction authors, and I had people ask me to explain the difference between Christian fiction and regular fiction. I explained that the development of characters, the subject matter in story lines, and the emotional drama are the same. The only difference is that our stories are told without explicit sex, violence, or language. When comedian George Carlin died recently, the news re-aired an interview he did with Bill O’Reilly. Bill had asked George why he felt compelled to use the “f” word three times in every sentence. Carlin replied that I think the case can be made that some writers, like comedians, rely on explicit details for shock value when the story is weak. It is also true that some readers like and expect those details in their novels. If that is true, then it holds that writing Christian fiction is more difficult because you cannot rely on the explicitness to cover for a weak story line.

So I think it is important to emphasize this to the readers: we offer the same compelling story and complex characters as secular fiction but with a spiritual thread and without the shock value.

Second, know who your audience is. Locate titles like yours and Google those authors. Find out where their books pop up and strive to be there as well. If your audience is teens, men, or aliens, learn what other books they read and what Web sites they visit, then target your publicity directly to them. More is not necessarily better. To quote marketing guru Seth Godin, “Placing an ad on Facebook may get you thousands of hits, maybe even millions of hits, but when you look at who is on Facebook, are these folks really your book-buying public?”

Third, I would approach publicity like a yearlong (or two) PR campaign. You want to look at all aspects of communication from print to broadcast to Web, and from start to release to a year after release. When I came to B&H, Senior Editor David Webb, fiction maven Senior Acquisitions Editor Karen Ball, and I formed the “fiction team.” We “relaunched” fiction at B&H to show authors, agents, media, and readers that we were serious about Christian fiction. We put considerable time, effort, and

money into the relaunch. I approached it like a campaign: We designed a new logo (Pure Enjoyment), created giveaway items, and acquired great writers. The packaging was fabulous. The authors were avid self-promoters who helped the overall effort by blogging, contacting friends and family for signings, hosting Web sites, traveling and visiting bookstores, and creating great point-of-purchase items for smaller independent booksellers. I then kicked it up a notch by asking the authors to write discussion questions so that we could market the books to reading groups and libraries.

We also created an innovative Web portal at www.pureenjoyment.com, which is home to author interviews, sample chapters, free downloads, and the very cool book video trailers—not necessarily the approach others in CBA would take, but I find that telling the story visually is compelling and may help readers make a buying decision. Now several romance, suspense, and thriller Web sites host video trailers. Check them out and let me know what you think.

As our commitment to fiction continues to grow, so, too, does my enthusiasm for trying new things in book marketing. I’ll keep you posted on the successes and failures I find along the way.

Broadman & Holman Publishers