What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book


DSC01857(originally posted 5/12/2016 @ fhbookfest.wordpress.com)

You’ve finally done it.  You opened up a vein and somewhere between a year and twenty years later, you finished a book.  Whether that book is poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or just an old scrapbook of family pictures, congratulations!  By actually seeing your book through to completion — and yes, completion includes revision and professional edits, just as a finished diamond requires final cuts and polish — you’ve gotten farther than 95 percent of the people who say they are “thinking” about writing a book. F or the record, that’s 81 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 200 million people.

Publishing a book is an incredible accomplishment, and without ever having met you, I can see you opening that first box, breathing in that fresh-from-the-printer smell of ink ethers and binding glue.  Don’t try to deny it.  I know it as surely as I know that you read that published book cover to cover looking for typos and flaws, even though you knew it was too late to fix anything.  It’s a rite of passage, like a new parent counting a baby’s fingers and toes, getting to know its geography.  It’s your baby.  It’s finally here. And it’s beautiful.

Like any parent, you know that your baby is the prettiest, smartest, and most adorable baby there ever was and that everybody else might as well stop having babies because you have done it to perfection.

Everybody wants their baby to thrive.  You want it to have all the advantages.  You want it to get into all the good schools, and maybe even become President.  In your heart, you know there will be disappointments.  You know it’s a dangerous world and that, despite your best efforts your baby is going to get teased, bullied, and rejected.  But that future has yet to be written, and you’re willing to do everything in your power to raise a happy, healthy and successful child.

What does that look like?  As an author, what should you expect, now that you’re expecting?

Expect to work.  Books, like babies, take TLC.  We know it takes years for a baby to find its way in the world, but it’s surprising how many authors expect the world to show up at their stable with Frankincense and Myrrh.

Expect to market yourself.  Booking a venue is just the “where” in a value proposition that also includes: who, what, why and how.  People can only be in one place at any given time.  In this event-planning equivalent of Tinder, you have to give people a reason to swipe right.

Expect mixed results.  Every author has had the nightmare, and experienced the reality of showing up at a bookstore only to be met with the sound of silverfish gnawing on slow-moving inventory.  With luck, you’ll also experience the joy of eager readers lining up for your signature.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Treat these two imposters just the same.”

Expect to have fun.  We haven’t talked here about money.  That’s a discussion for another day.  But, really, who has kids for financial gain?  The joy here is in the journey.  It’s about the places you’ll go that you may not have otherwise gone.  It’s about making new friends — both readers and other authors, the other “parents” you may never have come to know except through your offspring.  It’s about hearing and celebrating their stories and raising your “kids” together.

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  My wife the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Friday, Sept. 16th, at 10 a.m.  The session is called “Bookstores and Beyond: Marketing in the age of Amazon,” and we’re hoping you’ll come. Expect a lively discussion.

Brad Kuhn’s first book was I Hate My Banker, a business book published in 1997.  He is a founder of the Jack Kerouac Writers in Residence Project of Orlando and Shady Lane Press.  He and his wife, the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, have ghostwritten several books, and own and operate Brad Kuhn & Associates, LLC, a PR and marketing firm with author and publisher clients. 

Real-World Marketing: Berlin Goes Bananas


“selbst fotografiert”. Licensed under Creative Commons

On a recent trip to Berlin, I sat in on a panel where two men from East and West Germany shared their lives and experiences before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany the following year. The gentleman from West Berlin, Dr. Lorenz Wilkens, was a distinguished protestant minister. But it was the man from the East who stole the show.

Roman Shamov, a 46-year-old musician/performance artist and founder of the duo Meystersinger, was born in East Berlin approximately 23 years after World War II; he was 21 years old when he was first allowed to visit West Berlin 25 years ago. His life is a triptych of modern Germany.   So what does this have to do with marketing, you ask? I’m getting to that.

Imagine a creative soul growing up in a sealed Tupperware bowl, “protected,” in the Communist vernacular, from the decadence and decay of the Capitalist west. It has been estimated that at the time the wall fell, one in five citizens of the German Democratic Republic (including, by some accounts, current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, although she has denied any connection) was working, officially or unofficially, for the Ministry for State Security — The Stasi — once one of the world’s most effective and repressive intelligence services (See the award-winning movie: The Lives of Others).

Before the wall came down, conditions in East Berlin resembled a banana republic — except that there were no bananas, or practically none (You could only buy them once or twice a year, and each family was limited to one — that’s one banana, not one bunch). Houses were heated with coal. The air was foul and it was not unusual to have to wait years to purchase a car — which came in one variety: the 18-horsepower Trabant.

In 1987, hundreds of East German youth were beaten and arrested by police for crowding too close to the wall at the iconic Brandenburg Gate to hear The Eurythmics, David Bowie, Genesis and others playing a concert on the lawn of the Reichstag. Shamov was among the crowd, drawn by the opportunity to hear some of his musical idols performing live. He was also in attendance at the Radrennbahn Weißensee when Bruce Springsteen played in October 1988 for a crowd of 300,000, in what the East German government intended as a gesture to mollify growing social unrest. That event backfired and is heralded by pop historians as akin to, and perhaps more even more significant within East Berlin, than Ronald Reagan’s historic appeal at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” which was not widely publicized in the East.

On November 9, 1989, Shamov was listening to the radio, when he heard Günter Schabowski, an official with the ruling Socialist Unity Party, announce at a press conference that East Germans, with proper permission, would be allowed to cross into West Germany.

To understand how significant this was, you need to know that the Berlin Wall had been dividing East and West Berlin since before Shamov was born. The wall was not merely a wall, but two walls, topped with barbed wire and separated by a “death zone” as wide as a football field, and full of all sorts of nasties, including motion-activated machine guns.

Shamov could hardly believe his ears. He and thousands of others gathered the required papers and began walking to the nearest gate. With a shaking hand, he presented his papers to a border guard who looked at him indifferently.

“I’d like to . . . um, I’d like to cross,” Shamov stammered.

To which the guard replied: “You’re not the first.”

And then, without another word, the guard stamped his papers and sent him on his way — into the death zone. Shamov said it was the longest walk of his life. He had no frame of reference. Had he tried this a day earlier, he might have been shot or arrested. He had been authorized to leave, but he had no idea whether he’d be allowed to come back. No-one knew how long this new freedom would last.

When he got to the other side, he said, his eyes dazzled with all the colors. Even the air, unburdened by coal smoke, smelled better. Advertisements everywhere promised a cornucopia of goods and services.   “Even the buses were different than our buses,” he said. “I thought they were art.”

He spent his first day in West Berlin riding around, free of charge, on a city bus, just taking it all in. He held no currency and was totally at the mercy of strangers, who would later come to resent the influx of refugees, but that day embraced him like a lost brother.   In the market, he found all manner of fruits and vegetables in unimaginable variety and volume. Bananas, yes, as many as he could carry. The sensory overload of such things after a lifetime of material deprivation threw Shamov into awed silence.

Over the course of the following year, as the leaders of East and West Germany met to work out a reunification plan, there was talk of creating some kind of hybrid government combining the best intentions of socialism with the economic success of capitalism. As time went by, however, such talk faded, and today, Germany is unabashedly capitalist.

Dr. Wilkens, who met and married an East German girl after the fall of the wall, lamented the abandonment of a hybrid government as a lost opportunity to create something truly great.

To Shamov, now a successful musician and entrepreneur in Berlin, it was inevitable that East Germans would abandon their old ways after a life of material deprivation. Asked why, he offers up a one-word answer that should resonate with every marketer trying to tap that primal ache in the consumer’s soul: “bananas.”

PR Powertools: Remember Who You Are

pick your nicheContrarian that I am, I’ve always found Friday the 13th to be lucky—although I wouldn’t have sworn to it on that Friday, a few years back, when I was recalled from vacation to learn that my department at a large global investment organization was being downsized and that my job was being eliminated.

It was in the depths of the Great Recession. There weren’t many corporate communications executive positions to be had. It didn’t help that I wasn’t willing to relocate. For the first time since college, I found myself unemployed, with no clear prospects for the future. And, unlike college, this time I had a mortgage and a teenage daughter in private school. I was scared to death.

Failure was not an option. I had to eat. I had to feed my family. I had to keep a roof over our heads. I was willing to do anything.

I strafed the market, machine-gunning inquiries and resumes out to anyone and everyone familiar with my work. Wolf at the door, I took every job that came along—including construction. I taught myself new skills: web design, blogging, grant-writing, drywall, and nonprofit management. I read books. I registered with online jobsites. I went on interviews. And I started asking questions.

Time and again, I heard the same advice: Figure out what you are really good at, and focus on that. It seemed so trite at the time—a silly aphorism at a time when I needed actionable advice.

Necessity dictated that I take the work that was available to me, and by the end of my first year, I had cobbled together my own agency—again on the advice of a former boss, who had suggested that if no-one could afford to hire me full-time at my previous salary, I might want to consider offering my services part-time to multiple companies. It turned out to be brilliant advice, and by the end of my first year, I found myself saying, in the middle of a late-stage interview for a lucrative corporate communications position: “I think the worst is behind me. Thank you for your consideration, but I think I’m going to try to make it on my own. If I don’t do this now, I’m not sure I’ll have the courage or opportunity to do it again.”

Almost five years down the road, and with the luxury of hindsight, I can tell you that it was a good call. The client relationships that have stuck—the ones that have become the bedrock of my agency—have been those based on my oldest and deepest skills as a communicator. These are the clients that have come to me on referral.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t constantly be trying to expand your skillset. My forays into web design helped hone my SEO skills, providing me with a new platform and helping me to serve my clients better. My work in layout and graphic design taught me to “think visually,” opening up a whole new world of video storytelling.

The process has also taught me what I am not. I am not a programmer, for example. Nor am I cut out to paint houses, roof houses, or run nonprofits.

What goes around comes around, and now I often find myself on the receiving end of probing questions from friends and displaced former coworkers, looking for a new way forward. I try not to leave them hanging. I know how that feels. I offer up details about what I tried—what worked and what didn’t.

But I know, deep in my heart, that when it comes right down to it, I’m really telling them what everyone told me: “Figure out what you are really good at, and focus on that.”

Top Marketing Challenge: Finding the Signal Amid the Noise

poltergeist-originalThere’s a famous scene in the movie Poltergeist, where a little girl kneels, transfixed by a static-emitting television. As spirits emerge from the static, she sing-songs: “They’re he-ere.” It was a critical plot development, the inflection point between what came before and what was to come. It was, quite literally, the signal amid the noise.

In marketing, it’s easy to get lost in the noise and spend a lot of time staring into the static, overwhelmed by the volume and variety of information coming at us from all directions. Customers want, and deserve, metrics. Too often, however, I think there’s a tendency to elevate form over function—checking the box without really analyzing the results for relevancy and actionable information.

In public relations, for example, it is still common practice for agencies to report “ad equivalency,” toting up the value of earned media coverage based on the advertising rates of the publications where the stories appeared and multiplying by the number of column inches, typically with a multiplier, on the assumption that credible editorial is worth more than an equivalent amount of paid advertising—that, despite the fact that the Public Relations Society of America has repudiated the practice. (The good news here is that many PR awards judges now summarily reject applications that still use this particular campaign performance metric).

So too, as digital marketing has evolved, many have come to recognize the limited value of impressions and clicks, as opposed to conversions and engagement.

Finding fault is much easier than finding solutions—particularly affordable solutions—the Grail quest on which I find myself now. The sheer volume of information out there is daunting, and the challenge of attaining new knowledge in addition to the responsibilities of running a fast-growing agency, is, at times, crazy-making.

Witness the new Oracle Marketing Suite, a superextrahetradyne marketing analytics tool that costs thousands of dollars a month and is about as intuitive as Oracle’s technically elegant but user-intimidating Creative Cloud products.

The truth is out there, and I know I’ll find my answer—just as I recently found a free and extremely easy path to foreign language fluency through the duoLingo mobile app after years of slogging through academically-derived Berlitz tapes, books, and CDs. It’s just a matter of time and persistence.

International (Public) Relations

International PRAs I write this, I just finished a global survey for one client and am preparing to moderate a webinar on global electronic invoicing mandates for another, trying to pull together experts from Denmark, Germany, and the United States to talk about a movement currently being led by Latin America. It’s an important story, with global impact, and yet, it’s a story that has been hard for me to sell to the mainstream financial press.

Six of my clients are global, three actually have “International” in their name. One of my local clients, I met in Ireland. Another client, a startup, recently got photoshop help from a designer in Serbia, who outbid an eLance rival in Jakarta.

Welcome to the networked economy, where even the smallest local business has to think and act globally.

In public relations, thinking globally can be as simple as keeping track of the time difference between the United States and Europe, or making sure that you have your client’s Skype phone data before they get on a plane for Africa or China.

It also means keeping abreast of world news, via Al Jazeera, the BBC World Service, CNN, or Reuters.

On the other hand, sometimes International Public Relations can mean helping global companies acculturate to the U.S. market. Such was the case with a client that had to reboot its marketing message after decades of sticking to its Euro-centric marketing playbook resulted in minimal market penetration—despite market-leading technology.

Whatever business your client is in, they are, no doubt, part of a global supply chain or sourcing network. I can remember, back in 1984, having to learn about Belize, because of a freeze in Florida that resulted in Minute Maid, a division of Coca Cola, moving much of it’s citrus acreage to the warmer climate. I’m sure many of you can share similar stories.

As PR and marketing specialists, it is our job to professionally increase our clients’ visibility. We typically do so locally, regionally, or perhaps nationally. International PR and marketing ability is today’s “It” factor.

So what are the necessary skills? The easy answer is the one you often read, or hear about in business schools: understanding cultures, global issues and maintaining ethics within cross-cultural communication.

That’s easy to say, but much harder to apply consistently in practice. This is an issue I’m struggling with myself. I’d love to start a conversation. What do you think?

Digital Marketing: Join the Click

social mediaDigital marketing and the use of social media, the Internet, and applications have changed the way that agencies and companies connect with their customers. What used to be a world of massive, generic campaigns has now changed to carefully crafted, personal messages. With tremendous options when it comes to spending their money, customers only pay attention to those brands they like and relate to. Marketers are left scrambling for ways to be seen as “that” brand.

The battle for customers has increased apace with shopping options. The “noise” is so great that advertisers have had to change the way they reach out to target audiences. Companies are realizing that the best way to “market” to their customers is to engage them through channels where they will not view the interaction as a sales pitch.

Digital marketing allows companies and brands to develop creative and unique ways to engage with customers. Facebook giveaways, Amazon’s “personalized” emails to customers, Starbucks’ app, executive blogging and companies responding to customer posts via Twitter. This is not to blindside the customer, but rather to communicate with them while they are not feeling the stress of everyday life.

With these interactions, brands are seeking to connect, to create memorable moments, and make it more likely that customers will remember them when it comes time to make a purchase.

My favorite digital marketing trend is the elevation of online advertising to entertainment. Witness the viral success of Dollar Shave Club, Poo-Pourri and Orabrush.

These are new products, but the concept holds true even for something as old-school as a book. At Brad Kuhn & Associates, we’ve been producing a lot of video book trailers lately for a small press looking for innovative ways to help new authors compete with the marketing efforts of bigger, better-funded publishers. Here is a recent example: View The River’s Memory Book Trailer.

The key to being successful in today’s market is being creative and interesting. In the words of marketing guru Paul Greenberg, “You have to have something interesting to bring to the table, otherwise you will be ignored.”

CEO Blogging: Moves Like Jagger, or Dad Dance?

bk april 2CEOs are gettin’ jiggy with it—social media marketing, that is. A 2012 study by Weber Shandwick found that executive use of social media soared to 66 percent in 2012, from 36 in 2010. That’s big news, if the numbers are accurate. A similar study by CEO.com, pegged the percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs online at closer to 32 percent, with more than half of those merely dipping a token toe in the social media waters by posting, or having someone post a LinkedIn profile on their behalf.

The payoff: Weber Shandwick reported that two-thirds of consumers judge a company by their perception of the CEO.

The risks: Like live television, it can be hard for a CEO to erase an online mistake. The cautionary tales are legion—the CEO who sparked a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry after blogging about a previously unreported pricing strategy, the racist rant, the heated retort heard round the world.

The reality: CEOs are a busy bunch. Given their typical hourly pay rate, it’s hard to justify spending critical working hours online pontificating. And honestly, it’s what they do when they’re not online that makes the biggest difference in their organization’s performance.

And yet . . . there is no denying the panache of Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, the reigning Social CEO Supreme, with more than 4 million Twitter followers, 4.5 million LinkedIn connections, 1.1 million Facebook friends, and a Klout score of 91 of a possible 100. Klout is a form of social media that assigns an “influence” score based on an individual’s social media reach. The average Klout score is 62. Mick Jagger, by the way, had a Klout score of 89, as of April 28th.

So how is it that some executives seem to find time in their busy schedules to tweet and greet? Some even manage to keep up with weekly or even daily blog posts. What’s their secret? Only their ghostwriter knows for sure. I’m not saying Richard Branson uses a ghostwriter. I’m just saying that for the past four years, I’ve played Cyrano to a number of online thought leaders and I can tell you there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for a normal human to keep up with the voracious appetite of the social media succubus—so, yeah, maybe I am calling Richard Branson out.

This shouldn’t come as any big shock—nothing like Milli Vanilli, or lip syncing at the SuperBowl. It’s just the way it’s done.

Social media, done right, requires consistence and persistence. And hiring an executive communications consultant to accelerate and sustain the flow of ideas is good business. It’s not unusual for me to turn a 15-minute monthly phone call with a CEO on the road into a weekly 500-word blog. The ideas are theirs. I just facilitate and accelerate the passage from thought to page.

Heartbleed Screed: OpenSSL goes AWOL

hb-blogAm I the only one surprised to learn that SSL, the bedrock upon which all these supposedly secure websites are built is an open-source code—meaning 66 percent of so-called “secure” sites on the web entrusted their customer and client data to a largely unsupervised volunteer workforce?

With the proliferation of WordPress, also open source, most creative agencies, including marketing and public relations firms, have added web design to their menu of services. SSL Certificates are sold, and installed, by all of the major web hosting companies.

The marketing pitch behind open source software is the Linus Law, named for Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, which states that the more eyes involved in reviewing and revising source code, the faster bugs can be found and fixed. That’s fine, in theory, but I’m not sure I’d trust my money to a bank that picked my pin number by committee. And, as we have learned, it took those many eyes more than two years to figure out that their super-secure encryption formula was so badly flawed that a savvy hacker could pick the data lock on all of those websites in, literally, a heartbeat.

What makes Heartbleed most alarming is that it can be virtually invisible, attaching itself to a verification signal called a heartbeat, a digital ping attesting that a website is secure, emptying the vault as it proclaims the impossibility of someone doing so. It kind of reminds me of the Martians in the cult classic “Mars Attacks,” blasting away with lasers while proclaiming: “Stop. Come back. We come in peace.”

Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and others have acknowledged that their sites were vulnerable but have since been repaired. Multiple large corporations have followed suit and recommended that users change their passwords to ensure no breach of their data.

Companies are running their software through a test that is supposed to check for the flaw, but the question remains: How do we know that the Internet is safe? Is online banking or online shopping really a smart move when even a so-called secure site can be so easily compromised?

The truth is we don’t know. The best way to protect yourself against Heartbleed is to change your passwords on the websites that have been affected — although, that’s really just window dressing until the security breach has been fixed. And, even then, we can only take someone else’s word for it.

As much as we have all come to rely on e-Commerce for everything from books to banking, the Heartbleed bug should remind us that we’re still living in the frontier days of the Internet. I’m not suggesting we turn back. But it’s important to know there are desperadoes out there. Proceed with caution.

Public Relations: A Rose, By Any Other Name . . .

Is “Public Relations” a proper title for what we do on a daily basis? Public Relations used to be a fairly narrow field, where the main goal was to protect the reputation and image of clients and gain exposure for them with the help of the media.

Now, an account executive’s role involves writing extensive content, marketing, and running social media channels/websites, in addition to pitching to the media. Suffice to say, we wear a lot of hats. So, is Public Relations a proper title?

Jeffrey Sharlach of JeffreyGroup brings up in this article from PR Week how PR is perceived outside of the industry. The sad truth is, for as much work as we in the industry are putting in, we only get credit for the “old PR” tasks. Multiple companies are making the change of branding themselves as a marketing or strategic communications firm to avoid the PR backlash.

Where do you think PR is headed as an industry? Will we be able to salvage the everyday opinions of the term, or will we be forced to coin our expertise with a new term?

Pitch Perfect PR: Stop Hunting Big Game With Birdshot

cabelasIn a recent Huffington Post post, The PR Problems with Public Relation’s Firms, author Carol Roth lobs a few brickbats at the PR profession, calling out those among our brethren who continue to carpetbomb the media landscape and count all hits as victories. You know what I’m talking about PRWeb? She chides those who pitch to outdated media lists (GASP! You mean you can’t trust Cision?), and those who solicit opinion writers.

A successful colleague, a recipient of a prestigious Silver Anvil from the PRSA, once explained the PR profession to me like this: “I’m selling magic,” he said. “Pixie dust. People pay me because they believe I possess some special knowledge, or relationships, that they don’t have. I have to do everything I can to preserve that mystique, because if they ever started to think they could do it as well or better themselves, they wouldn’t need me anymore.”

Isn’t that what it all boils down to? Public relations is an art, not a science. Our success depends on our ability to consistently deliver a product or service that delights our clients and exceeds their expectations. If it were simply a matter of posting a release on PRWeb, or querying a database and accepting what it says as gospel, anyone could do it.

That’s not to single out Cision and PRWeb—these are powerful tools and they have their place. Rather, Roth suggests, and I concur, that real PR is based on relationships. And while some may read this article and get defensive, I know many more who would agree. It’s old school. But that doesn’t mean it’s old-fashioned.

Sure it takes time and effort to get to develop your own personal media list. It takes time, and considerable effort to cultivate real relationships—two-way streets, where you know the reporters and what they are interested in and they hear from you regularly and not just when you’ve got something to pitch.

I’m not one to throw stones. I’ve sinned. We’ve all fallen victim to deadline pressures and unrealistic client pressures and expectations. But that kind of PR is not sustainable. I think Roth was right to call us out. The question now becomes: What are we going to do about it?