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Voices on Writing: Kim Dower

By Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

Kim Dower has got to be one of the nicest publicists to deal with that I know. She's cute, she's sweet and she wears fun clothes. And she's insistent. I've known her since I began doing my radio show seven years ago. She calls, sends me books and encourages me to book her authors without ever being the sort of publicist you wish would just disappear.

She is co-author of Life is a Series of Presentations: Eight Ways to Inspire, Inform, and Influence Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, with Tony Jeary and J.E. Fishman (Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster, 2004) and is known throughout the publishing and publicity world as Kim-from-L.A., the name of the company she founded in 1985. She also specializes in media training and coaching authors, speakers, and experts of all kinds on how to best present themselves to the media.

She has been the West Coast publicist for Addison-Wesley (which later became Perseus Books) and the West Coast publicist for Hyperion. She currently handles all West Coast publicity for Warner Books.

BDB: Talk about becoming a book publicist. How did this happen; don't you have a background in poetry?

KD: I do have a poetry background -- studied creative writing at Emerson College in Boston and taught Intro to Creative Writing/Poetry there for two years. That was a long time ago. William Carlos Williams said that poetry is the most concise form of language and I've carried that idea straight into my professional life as a publicist and media trainer. Press releases and pitches have to be concise, too, and I learned how to edit and get to the heart of thought. Also to talk in pictures; show, don't tell. I came out to L.A. to write, like a million other people, and got a wonderful job working for Jeremy P. Tarcher, a local publisher. I loved doing the publicity for his books. I thought that getting paid to talk on the phone and convince people to do things was the best job in the world. I worked for him for five years, learned tons and started my own company. I figured if I wasn't going to write books or poetry, the next best thing would be to make people read other people's books and poetry!

BDB: Why author publicity as opposed to publicity in general?

KD: Because I love books and ideas and writers and I'm not interested in just promoting a product. I'm interested in promoting ideas and different points of view. I love helping people to express themselves -- to get inside their own work and learn how to discuss it.

BDB: How do your author clients find you?

KD: Everyone hears about me. If you're a writer looking for a publicist, my name will come up. Agents know me, publishers know me, other writers know me. I've been doing this for 20 years and I have a great reputation. I don't take on anything I don't believe I can do a good job with. And, I finally have a Web site! It's www.kimfromla.com.

BDB: How far in advance do you recommend authors contact publicists and get a plan underway?

KD: They should contact me six months in advance to see if I'm interested in the project. Then, we'd need to begin the work three to four months in advance.

BDB: Should all authors plan to do their own publicity -- even if the publisher plans to give them a little attention?

KD: It would be great if they could. As wonderful as a publisher can be, it's always a good idea for an author to at least think about taking some of the work on him or herself. Carolyn See has the most wonderful advice: She says when you start to write a book you should open a savings account as if for a new baby and each month put something aside. This is your special “promotion fund.” When the baby is born -- i.e. when that book is published, you'll have some money to hire a publicist with if need be.

BDB: Should an author hire a publicist for different areas of the country or for different things they want done? Or do all publicists ideally have great radio contacts, great magazine contacts, etc.?

KD: An author should interview a publicist and find out what they can offer. Some of us “do” the whole country; some of us specialize. I do it all, but sometimes I'm only available for the West Coast. All publicists ideally have great contacts, but an author should interview them and talk to people who have used them before making a decision.

BDB: What questions should authors ask before they sign with a publicist?

KD: What books do you like to work on? What have been some of your successes? Do you have a feel for my material? I get annoyed (I must admit!) when an author asks me if I have time to take on their project. If I didn't have the time, I wouldn't be considering it. It's an insulting question. If an author feels like the publicist sounds busy, that's a good thing. A publicist who has time to sit and chat on the phone for an hour is a publicist who has no work!

BDB: What sort of money should an author plan on spending?

KD: Anywhere from $5000 to $50,000.

BDB: If you have a tiny bit of money to spend on publicity, what might get the most bang for the buck?

KD: Your local area. Start with where you live and get the word out as big as possible.

BDB: In your opinion, do reviews sell books? Do ads?

KD: Yes. Reviews and ads are very important. Reviews are more important. Especially a good review in the New York Times.

BDB: Does each individual book call for a different plan? Would you market a narrative nonfiction book differently than you would a how-to, differently than you would a novel?

KD: Absolutely! But it's always variations on a theme The theme is to sell the book. Be interesting as an author, entice people to pick it up in the store. How-to may be more conducive to a radio phoner campaign with early morning talk shows across the country, while narrative nonfiction might be better suited for NPR local shows and reviews. A blockbuster, glitzy novel won't get a spot on your local “literary” show, but it might get a spot on an afternoon television show.

BDB: How important is an author's platform? Different for nonfiction than fiction?

KD: Well, the reason why publishers want an author to have a platform is to be assured they will continue to have exposure and keep the word out beyond what the publisher is doing for them. I, for example, will speak to groups and do workshops on presentations throughout the year for Life is a Series of Presentations. This means I will try to sell my book and keep the interest up even after my publisher is no longer concentrating on promoting my title. A platform means continued sales. It also means a built-in audience, name recognition, notoriety, connections. Platforms are all good.

BDB: What about media training?

KD: Every author should have media training before they go out to sell their books. We teach you how to discuss your book in an interesting way. Writers need to be removed from their material and then get reacquainted and excited by it. I love to do the media training because I help writers to see in their material those things that readers will want to know about. I help demystify the whole media process. This is the most important thing an author should do, and it should be done a month or less before going out. If an author can afford it, the process should even begin earlier to help them formulate their “pitch” and help them get into the fun. Kim-from-L.A. offers both the media training and the publicity, and they can be separate services.

BDB: I've heard getting on NPR can be great for book sales. But so much is going on on NPR -- commentaries, interview shows. If an author were to focus on NPR, which aspect should they focus on?

KD: Definitely concentrate on getting an interview show. The commentaries are next to impossible to get on the air. They need to be written and spoken in a certain way and they are very picky. The interview shows are hard to get also, but at least one has the chance to talk about one's book and direct the interview to focus on the issues important to them.

BDB: What about local radio -- non-syndicated shows -- are these good for authors to do?

KD: Anything and everything is good. There's nothing that's not good except for not doing anything. In other words, publicity is great and even if it's a local radio show or a print interview or a TV segment, it all helps to move the information and get the word out. Not everything will necessarily sell books, but we all know one thing for certain: Doing nothing does not sell books.

BARBARA DEMARCO-BARRETT, editor of The ASJA Monthly, is Southern California chapter president. She hosts Writers on Writing, a weekly show on KUCI-FM and on the Web at www.kuci.org and is author of Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within (Harcourt/Harvest, October 2004). Visit her Web site at http://www.penonfire.com/

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