Evana Ho spoke to book publicist and author Emma Noble earlier this year about self-publishing. This article first appeared in the ACT Writers Centre’s member magazine, ACTWrite in April 2015.
Rightly or wrongly, marketing has long been viewed as a dark art. Its practitioners: spinsters, greasy salespeople; and in a post-Mad Men age, advertisers are probably at the bottom of the heap. It carries a sheen of disingenuity, like an oil slick. In marketing-speak you and I are “consumers” able to be haplessly guided into making purchasing decisions we might not have otherwise chosen for ourselves.
Fortunately, the business of book PR escapes this awful reputation. In the lovely world of words and literature, publicists are our friends. As writers, publicists are the intermediary between our books and our audience. They can make the difference between whether our book lives out its life quietly at the bottom of a bookstore’s bookshelf or whether book and author end up on Kochie’s couch, beamed into the living rooms of millions.
Emma Noble, Director of the boutique communications and book publicity firm Noble Words, defines publicity as being about the ‘exchange of quality content in return for access to an audience.’
Emma has been in the business of connecting books and authors with audiences for fifteen years; the past five of them at the helm of Noble Words. She has condensed her many years of knowledge and experience into The DIY Book PR Guide: The HAPPIER Guide to Do-it-yourself Book Publicity in Seven Easy Steps, giving self-published authors a tool for navigating the media maze themselves and offering other authors a behind-the-scenes look into what their publisher’s PR team might do for them.
In the mid-1990s, British ex-pat Emma Noble was doing a mixed English and journalism degree at Curtin University. She had a strong interest in reporting but later realised it was actually books she was really passionate about.
Seeing the dearth of publishing jobs that there were in Perth, Emma faced the choice of either moving out east or returning to London. She chose the latter, and in short shrift landed her first job.
Owing to some residual indecision about whether she wanted to do journalism or whether she was more committed to books and writing, she started off her working life in editorial departments, firstly at the art publisher Phaidon and afterwards with Quadrille (now part of the Hardie Grant Publishing Group).
At Phaidon, Emma was the person who applied captions to the photos in the great coffee table book Century. At Quadrille, where Emma worked as an editorial assistant, it took about nine months before she realised her current path was not for her.
‘The realisation hit that I didn’t have that attention to detail or that sort of level of dedication to look at the same piece of copy eleven or twelve or thirteen times,’ she said. ‘Every time a designer touched the page you had to proof-read it again and I just wanted to kill myself looking at the same writing over and over again.’
Luckily for Emma, her future lay right around the corner. A job opened up in the publicity department and the manager there made an offer.
‘”Come work for me, it’s much more exciting!”’ Emma recalls he’d said. ‘They all seemed to be sitting around drinking champagne and going to parties in that department, and I thought, “Well that looks like fun” and so I did another nine months in their publicity department.’
That role led to a fully-fledged publicist job with Orion, which turned into ten years working in London and Australia. Her last role with them was heading up the publicity department of the newly merged Orion/Hachette office in Australia. Hachette had in recent years brought Little, Brown into its fold as well as Orion, Hodder and Headline.
Then, in 2010, Emma struck out on her own, forming Noble Words.
The establishment of Noble Words was a confluence of Emma identifying the growing momentum of self-publishing and of an opportunity that arose which enabled Emma to pursue her desire for a change.
Emma says, ‘I could kind of see the way the wind was blowing in terms of self-publishing and that kind of democratisation of the means of access to publishing methods and digital publishing. I could see that there was going to be a big influx of self-published authors looking for a half-decent publicist to help get the word out about their book.’
Noble Words’ first client was Tammy Farrell, who, according to her LinkedIn page, had been approached by Hachette to write The Real Man’s Toolbox: A DIY health manual for men. At the time, Tammy had been running her own health consulting business and was being employed to provide advice to workers in male-dominated industries.
‘I did [Tammy’s] PR for her in-house at Hachette and then she was looking to expand her business and needed someone in a kind of comms management role a few hours a week,’ Emma explained. ‘Tammy offered me a couple of hours a week which gave me a bit of a platform. I knew where my rent was coming from each month so I could afford to take a bit of a leap of faith with absolutely no clients beyond Tammy at that stage.’
At that, Emma laughed, which she can afford to do now. ‘I just hoped that work came to me and I was very, very lucky. I’ve got some great friends in publishing who looked out for me and sent work my way. And the business has just been building and building.’
Emma told me that one of the most frustrating aspects of her job is dealing with the stiff competition for media coverage given the hundreds of books that get published every month.
‘You know the book is of really high quality and a really great standard, and you know there’s no good reason why they should not cover this book, but just trying to get an answer out of people can be really frustrating.’
‘I discovered that seven was the magic number of follow-ups that finally elicits a positive response from a journalist. It’s frustrating to keep hounding people, but it does eventually pay dividends.’
The main perk of being in book PR is, of course, getting to work with authors.
‘Authors are some of the most incredibly creative and interesting and knowledgeable people. The idea that I get to hang out with these people and work with them is just so, so appealing to me.’
Across her career, Emma has worked with some interesting people indeed. She cites highlights such as Michael Palin (‘Oh my God, the world’s nicest man! The funniest man, a very generous author’) and the young world sailor Jessica Watson (‘It was a massive campaign for a start. I think she did 50 book events, which is a massive amount of coordination’). She also mentioned novelist Camilla Noli, whose book was the result of a Varuna Fellowship.
Since starting Noble Words, Emma has also taken on some profile-raising projects like doing publicity for the Sydney Writers Festival (2011 and 2013) and the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (2014).
The most surprising thing I learned from Emma was the idea that a publicist doesn’t need to love a book to do a good job at promoting it.
‘I think that you can personally not like something, still believe in it and still find an audience for it,’ she says.
For authors intending to do their own publicity though, knowing their book inside out—and, presumably, liking it—is no doubt an advantage.
Emma’s new book equips “enthusiastic, self-motivated” writers with the tools and knowledge to be their own publicist. It takes the reader through a seven-step process that Emma has assigned the acrostic HAPPIER to: Hitlist, Angles, Plan, Pitch, Investigate, Engage, Report/revisit/reassess/reattack.
She likens it to a ‘choose your own publicity adventure’, saying that readers should pick and choose the bits that suit them. ‘If you’re a shy guy and you don’t want to give interviews, don’t bother going down that road. There’s plenty of other stuff you can do.’
Emma suggested offering written pieces to newspapers or encouraging reviews rather than lining up public events if an author is discomfited by the thought of speaking in front of an audience.
‘However, if there’s a book that lends itself really well to having the author speak about it, there is a certain amount of preparation you can do to minimise the distress of giving interviews as well, and I talk about that in the preparation guide [of my book].’
When I was talking to Emma about the genesis of The DIY Book PR Guide, I asked if her book had been born of the same motivations that led her to start Noble Words.
She confirmed that it was, adding that she’d had to regretfully turn down requests for publicity help from authors who didn’t have the budget for it.
‘I found it really frustrating not to be able to point them in the direction of a resource that was going to help them. So that’s really why I wrote the book. Anyone can publish, and now anyone can promote their book.’
The DIY Book PR Guide: The HAPPIER Guide to Do-it-Yourself Book Publicity in Seven Easy Steps is out now. Visit the Noble Words website: www.noblewords.com.au
Evana Ho works in communications and is a producer for the Canberra community radio station ArtSound FM. Her interviews and writing are on her website: evanaho.com.