Posted by: mygentlecloud | February 8, 2007

Beware! Not all publicity is good…

I learnt a lesson today, a painful one.

I had thought that another step to bringing attention to Through The Storm is to get it publicised in the papers. I prepared a short press release and sent it to both Straits Times and TODAY paper, angling it such so as to highlight the novel ideas such as audio trailers and e-chat sessions that I have lined up.

The journalist from Straits Times replied saying that she only writes about books she has read. Needless to say, I mailed her a copy.

Having received such a cool response, I was pleasantly surprised when someone – I shall not mention names – of TODAY paper offer to feature my book under the Thursday column on what the newsmakers are reading. I sent a photo of my book cover, a photo of myself and a writeup about what I’m currently reading.

It was held back for two Thursdays because of a bumper issue of Valentine and CNY advertisements. So, when two days ago, I received an urgent note from him asking for an interview to feature me in an article on self-publishing, I readily – greedily, I might add – agreed.

He called and through a phone interview, got me to share with him on why I chose the self-publishing route, the costs involved, whether I have sought traditional publishers before and so on. All this information I gave, and more, thinking to help him get a better feel for a new writer’s challenges, the new avenues I am exploring so as to increase the options to writers and readers. I told him it was a personal milestone to get the book to print as I wanted to experience the whole process first-hand so as to know what it takes for a publisher to push out a piece of work.

He asked for the costs I’ve incurred todate, the number of print runs I’ve had and so on. For the first question, I shared about how I used the Print-on-Demand route and hence have little upfront cost. For the second question, I said that it was confidential. On hindsight, I should have linked the two questions up. For POD, there are no print runs as it is printed to order.

To be fair to him, he wrote a very well-balanced article stacking up self-publishers with those traditionalists. He used the information I readily gave and I know the facts and numbers made his research much easier. Friendliness and openness was my modus operandi.

After a day of eager anticipation, I finally got to see the article in the papers dated 8th February. After reading it twice over, I turned to my husband and just alternated between saying,”I’m so angry” and “I’m so stupid.”

That feeling stayed with me the whole day, making me think of scathing remarks  to say to him. What a smiling tiger! A double-headed snake. Cold censurous words were a good alternative.

But, as always, God is good. He sent someone to make me see light. This person is a recent acquaintance I met in the course of my new job and I had bumped into her in church just that Sunday before. So, while waiting for the train, she happened to appear at the same time and we got to talk.

This lady works in our communications department. She handles our dealings with the media including press and magazines etc. Through the train ride, she shared with me the things they normally do when prepping someone to be interviewed. She shared with me what type of media training was conducted so as to get someone ready to be interviewed. It was like light bulbs the way the synapses hit my brain. And I realized I deserved what I got in the papers today.

Here are the key lessons learned:

1) Not all publicity is good publicity. Find out the angle the article will take before agreeing to participate. Is it something you want to be associated with? Will it do any good to your image that you want to portray? Will it further your cause? Dig out more information from the journalist at that point in time because you haven’t got any skin in it and they need you. You’re in the position for negotiation. In this case, I did ask and the answer was that it would be on self-publishing. A small warning did come up in my mind on hearing it. But, the lust – yes, no other word is more accurate – for publicity made me squelch that uneasiness and press on. I have only myself to blame. My only saving grace is that my photo did not get featured in this article. The harm done would be quite terrible.

2) Prepare a list of key messages that you want to convey to the world – via the press. When the interview questions come, answer in such a way that these messages are delivered. So, in my case, I should have included, among other things, information such as experimenting new grounds, introducing first-time ever audio book trailer, using POD to preserve trees and lessen the upfront budget, reaching a wider audience through e-chats and so on. These are key messages because I wanted to project myself not as a loser who couldn’t make the grade in the traditional arena but instead, a mature, pragmatic person seeking to break new ground.

3) Never let your guard down. The media will never be bought. Being friendly and helpful must always be tempered with a mental wariness that whatever you say can be used against you. So, always remember the key messages and stick to them. Do  not divulge more wherever possible. The media will never be bought on friendliness or a free lunch. I learnt this the hard way. My guard was down. I rattled away happily and helped him understand the writing world. That is the wrong mental position to have used, and now I know it.

4) Be prepared. What media training included is anticipating all the possible questions and getting the answers ready. And, as said earlier, the answers must always reinforce the image you want to project to the world and the key messages to home in on. Get someone to do several dry runs with you, pursuing the questions in a logical fashion and letting you practice your answers, always with your guard up.

5) Don’t be rushed into an interview. In other words, don’t entertain impromptu interviews. They work against you. Besides being unprepared, you may find yourself with little time to react to the draft sent for your review before it goes to print. In my case, the interview came without any forwarning, a call one day later to clarify some points and then the revelation that the article will be out the next day. To my credit, I did ask to see the draft. However, I had to finish my normal work and only managed to log in to check the draft at ten that evening. It was too late for any revision. See how you’ve worked yourself into a corner?

So, God is good. In that dark, angry moment, He sent someone to illumine me. Can you see the wonder of His way here? In one short train ride, I have gleaned the learning points on handling media and pursuing publicity. He had answered my questions about whether pursuing publicity might be detrimental to my job by working it such that Tan Su Yin is a faceless, almost unrecognizable author in the way my name is spelt with a hyphen. I am thankful that the only two in the office I told about this are one, my close friend, and two, my manager who is also from the same church as me. If my photo had appeared in the papers, would my colleageues and management be wondering, after all the glamor and attention is gone, that I have shirked my official duty to steal time to write. God is good and all is right with my world again.

In ending, I say this. I will not write to this journalist about the damage he could have done. On hindsight, I know now that his intentions were actually good, as shown in the draft. It was the editor who had a preconceived notion of self-publishers and repositioned his article to put down self-publishers … of which I am one.

Su Yin


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