Secret Diary of a Sports Publisher #4 Publicity

In the fourth in the series, Martin BackPage breaks down the company’s approach to publicity and insists that a book is for life, not just for Christmas!


If you were to draw a graph representing the traditional publicity model for books, it would show a flatline in the lead-up to publication, a skyscraper-like spike around release date, then back to a flatline. This is flawed. We explain our alternative approach to every writer. We call it  ‘A book is for life not just for Christmas’ *

The whole point of a book is that it has a permanency beyond other forms of expression. Some writers will have a hardcore following – their equivalent of 1000 true fans – who instantly buy everything they publish. The vast majority of readers, however, arrive at books in their own time. The traditional book-buying spike comes in the lead-up to Christmas, but the summer holiday period is a popular time, as is Father’s Day.  

So how should a writer / publisher approach publicity? Make no mistake, the launch period IS very important. We have used different strategies for launch. One example: for Andrea Pirlo: I Think Therefore I Play, we gave free extracts to every national newspaper.

In total, this amounted to 6000-7000 words entering the public domain on publication day. I Think Therefore I Play is only 38,000 words. So, we gave away nearly 20%. For free. Why? Well, we could have accepted a serial fee from just one newspaper, but the value of any deal was far outweighed by the awareness generated through hitting multiple titles. 

The counter-argument is that people may read all the extracts and decide they have consumed enough without buying the book. That’s possible. But we would argue that those people are far outweighed by others who pick up on bits of the coverage and have their interest piqued. It is not about press-ganging readers into instant purchases. It is about creating awareness, particularly in the early phase.  

For our first book, In Search of Alan Gilzean, we trailed out short extracts in advance of publication… so, by the time release date came along, many readers were aware of its existence and, hopefully, more ready to part with their money.

As for authors…  they must dominate conversations that are happening in their niches. This does not mean spending their lives on Twitter, though social media is a vital awareness tool. It is being the first port of call, the expert voice, the conversation-leaders in their field. This long-term, more holistic commitment to their subject matter generates the most valuable type of publicity – word-of-mouth recommendations.

One of our books: Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World is being made into a film and another Sean: Fallon: Celtic’s Iron Man is the basis for a forthcoming documentary, to be screened on BT Sport this summer. In both cases, the authors are producing partners. That is testament not only to the quality of the titles but the authors’ commitment to their subjects way beyond publication of their books.

Martin BackPage

  *We’ve NEVER actually called it that!