Thursday, April 2, 2009


By Earl Staggs, her biggest fan

Ask around the writing community who’s the go-to girl if you want to publicize your book and yourself, and you’re sure to hear the name PJ Nunn and her company, BreakThrough Promotions. Visit her website at and you’ll see many familiar names among her clients. When I invited her to be a guest blogger, she asked, “What should I talk about?” I suggested, “Why Earl Staggs is the most talented writer on the planet.” Instead, she decided to talk about how she got into the publicist business, how she goes about it, and passes on some great tips for authors. Even though she ignored my suggestion, I still love her to pieces and so will you.

And now, since she does such a great job telling you about herself, how she became a successful publicist and how she has helped so many authors become successful, the only introduction I have to make is. . .

. . .here’s PJ.


Fifteen years ago I’m not all that sure I’d even heard of a publicist. I’m sure I had no thoughts of becoming one. Some days I still wonder how I ended up here!

I started out in pre-med school, determined to get my MD. I got sidetracked and got the proverbial MRS degree instead and started a family. Five children later, after building a reasonably satisfying career as a high school teacher and then principal, I branched out into working with the local police department and serving on the County Child Welfare Board. From there, I decided to go back to college and a few years later, completed my Masters degree in counseling psychology. Some transition, eh?

After moving back to Dallas, I secured a position teaching on two campuses of the Dallas County Community College District and, in my off hours, completed my first mystery novel and plunged into the world of writing online where I made lots of good friends, including the incorrigible and ever-supportive Earl Staggs. If I remember correctly, we met for the first time in person at a Boston Market restaurant and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

When circumstances precipitated me pausing in my teaching career to stay home and care for one of my children, I needed to replace that teaching income so I started freelance writing. I love writing – always have – but didn’t like the constant querying and deadlines. I made pretty good money, but it always seemed like feast or famine.

One afternoon, a friend who was trying to arrange a book tour for her newly released novel expressed her discouragement at the response she kept getting when calling booksellers. I offered to try and set something up for her. One phone call was all it took. Thinking it must’ve been beginner’s luck, I tried again. Another call, another signing on the schedule. I found the whole concept fascinating!

A couple of months later, after a lot of research, I launched BreakThrough Promotions and the rest, as they say, is history. My first month open for business, I started with a single client, and ended the month with nine. I worked alone. Today, I have 87 active clients on my list, but the numbers change almost daily as we finish packages for some and begin new campaigns for others. And I definitely don’t work alone anymore!

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve had over the years is What can a publicist do for me that I can’t do for myself? My answer is pretty much the same as it’s always been.

There’s not a lot I can do for an author that a savvy author couldn’t do for himself. The difference is usually time and desire. In the ten plus years I’ve been doing this, I’ve built up an extensive database of contacts of all kinds all over the country and some that are out of the country. I have a working relationship with thousands, many of whom we’ve worked with for years. Because they know my name and recognize my email address, I’m less likely to wind up in the circular file or spam filters. Because I work in the industry every day, I know a lot of the ins and outs that many authors don’t know. Could they learn them? Sure. But it takes time.

And let’s face it, it’s easier to make a good presentation when you’re talking about someone else’s work. It just doesn’t come across the same if I tell you: "Hey, you should have me on your program because my book is great and I’d make a fabulous guest!" I’m much more readily received if I can call and say, "Hey, I represent Jane Doe and I think she’d be the perfect guest for your program!" I’m sure you get the drift.

I don’t do the same thing for every client, though. There are some authors who are great at setting up their own store and library events. Chester Campbell is one. He’s perfectly at ease doing that and does it well. Why pay me to do what he doesn’t mind doing? But there are other authors who are totally uncomfortable setting up signing events. They can use my help. Many have publishers who’ll set up store events but don’t have time to pursue media (it can be incredibly time consuming just to catch the right person on the phone). So they do the one and I do the other. Others are ok talking with broadcast media, but get frustrated trying to work with print journalists. Every area has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The important thing is to make sure you’re covering all the bases and that you staff your weaknesses. Do what comes easiest to you and get help for what doesn’t. A professional publicist can be a good thing, but maybe all you need is to hire a marketing student from your local community college. Or even a mature high school student to do your mailing and some light phone work. I love what I do and I’m good at it, but it’s not rocket science. And while I think there’s probably something I could do to help just about every author, I’m in it for the love of the game and am happy to help whenever and wherever I can.

A few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

• Every author needs a good, professional headshot. Too many make do with snapshots and it can cause some doors to be shut to them.
• If an author thinks he knows all he needs to know about promotion, he’s probably wrong.
• A professional website is vital to an author hoping to build a career.
• Many authors wait too late to get started promoting their new books. Twelve months before release is not too early to get started.
• There are many myths about book promotion that are prevalent in online venues.
• When in doubt, ask a professional. Or two or three.
• A background in product marketing or advertising doesn’t mean expertise in book promotion.
• If you can’t enjoy doing it, you’re probably not doing it as well as it should be done.
• What works for one doesn’t always work for another.
• Never judge success or failure from a single event; promotion is always a cumulative process.
• Media blitzes are not very effective in the long run. They happen fast and are soon forgotten for the next big splash. Slow and steady exposure is what creates name recognition.
• A campaign may be complete, but effective promotion never ends. There’s always another reader to entice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Best of luck to you in promoting your novels!

PJ Nunn 469-245-6202
BreakThrough Promotions
There's a Dead Guy blog
Criminal Pursuits


Morgan Mandel said...

Thanks for stopping at our blogspot today, PJ. Sounds like you've got some very helpful advice.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Hi, PJ:

Just checking in to say hello. Your tips for writers are excellent, especially the one about starting promotion a year ahead of time.

Wishing you continued success --

Pat Browning
Krill Press 2008

Neil Plakcy said...

Great ideas, PJ. I'm looking forward to working with you again for MAHU VICE.

Mark Troy said...

I like the advice to staff your weaknesses. Of course, I'd have to rent an office building to staff mine.

Alan Orloff said...

Those are some great tips, PJ.

In your opinion, what are some of the least cost-effective promotional techniques that you see authors using?

Chester Campbell said...

Good stuff, PJ. I'm flattered that you mentioned me, but I must add, folks, that I use PJ Nunn when I want a group of signings in a location far from home.

thewriterslife said...

Excellent your tips!

PJ Nunn said...

Thanks folks!

Alan, that's a tough question to answer in a small space - there are lots of money wasters out there. But if I had to pick one, I'd say for first time authors to send lots of ARCs to a long list of markets without checking with them first to see how receptive they are. Authors with a book or two already out may get a fair return on that investment, but with the price of printing and postage these days, it seems wise to make sure your recipients will at least take a look at the book when it arrives. I've done a lot of followup on those types of lists only to find many of the books never arrived due to address changes, changes in personnel, etc.

Beth Groundwater said...

A very informative post, PJ. I was interested in reading your background, and frankly, I think a degree in counseling psychology probably serves you well in dealing with us mystery authors!

I liked what you said about ARCs. Since my publisher gives me so few, I personally contact reviewers and make sure they're excited about getting one and have a good set of avenues for printing/posting their reviews before I send one. Also, I don't believe in press releases. I make personal emails and phone calls to the few local media folk that I know. All that's very time-consuming, but the only way to get results. I know from recommendations from fellow authors that PJ does that very well.