SPS-370: Priceless Publicity for Authors – with Halima Khatun
Public relations usually isn’t the first thing authors think about when marketing their books, but Halima Khatun shares with us how a new approach to PR can be beneficial for promoting an author’s brand and boosting book sales.
- Halima’s story from PR consultant to indie author
- How the business of PR works and why it matters for authors
- How to put together a press release as an author
- The benefits of local journalists and niche press outlets
- Halima’s book on PR and free guide for authors
Resources mentioned in this episode:
ADS FOR AUTHORS: OPEN NOW – FOR A LIMITED PERIOD
SPS LIVE: Get your tickets to the best self-publishing conference in Europe on 20-21 June, 2023.
NEW BLOG: Read about the 5 Publishing Misconceptions on the SPF Blog.
PRICELESS PUBLICITY: Read the book by Halima Khatun all about utilizing PR.
HALIMA’S PODCAST GIVEAWAY: Grab it here
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPS-370: Priceless Publicity for Authors - with Halima Khatun
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self Publishing Show.
Halima Khatun: I'm a bit crazy, like I say, publishing a book, my first one when I was nine months pregnant. But if I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it. And I think the same goes for lots of authors. It's just such a nice profession to be in.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello. It's The Self Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: I'm getting Catherine to print, if you're watching on YouTube, an inverted version of the sweatshirt for TikTok, because you can use one filter at a time and one filter would turn your book covers the right way up when you're-
Mark Dawson: So for those who are listening on the podcast, of course, which is most of our audience, James is wearing-
James Blatch: I did say, "If you're watching on YouTube."
Mark Dawson: Yes. But for those who aren't, and you're now talking about what you're wearing. So James is wearing the SPF hoodie, which I assume if you wore it on TikTok, it would look back to front.
James Blatch: Yes. Because on the front-facing camera, it inverts the image. And you can use a filter to flip it on TikTok, but you can only use one filter at a time. I use green screen to put a bookcase behind me.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: It'd be a rare thing. It'll be on Amazon briefly for me to order it for myself. I might keep it up there. If you're quick, you can get one that's inverted as well. And that'd be quite a cool thing to wear at the conference in June.
Mark Dawson: Yes, soon.
James Blatch: Talking of the conference in June, we have gone past the deadline for the early bird tickets, unfortunately, January 31st. They're still selling very well. However, after a couple of requests, and we didn't see any reason not to do this, we have created a payment plan option for people who find it a bit of a stretch to pay the £200 in one go. So if you go to the page now for the conference, which is-
Mark Dawson: I think it's SPS Live, I think.
James Blatch: Yeah, I think it is. selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. You'll see as an option to spread the payments over four times £50 just to make it a little bit easier for you, if you'd like to take advantage of that. I think we will probably sell out this conference this year and not a day goes by without us selling a few tickets. So it will ramp up as we get closer to the date. And obviously I do understand people leaving it for a bit to the last moment.
Mark Dawson: So I have just checked then, that is the right URL. So, selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. And it is worth noting because the way it's a monthly plan, in order to fit in the payment before the conference, you need to sign up before the 28th of February. So on the 20th of February, that will be withdrawn. So you need to get in there before then.
James Blatch: Yes. Otherwise, you'll be paying for it after the event, which should be a bit odd. 20th of February is the day, so you've got between now and then. So you've got the rest of this month, basically. This is going out on the 3rd of February. Also, we have a few days left of Mark Dawson's Ads for Authors course. We keep the courses up to date when things change. I can tell you, my sleeves have been rolled up this morning editing the TikTok for Authors course, bringing that up to date. TikTok is a platform that's changed faster than the others. But actually nothing particularly material. The two authors who've created the course, Jane and Lila sent all the stuff through and nothing's fundamental, but it's good just so that people don't look at a screen and think, oh, it's not what my screen looks like. So, we're making all those changes. I have to say, Facebook ads has been relative, oh, I shouldn't say this out loud, should I? It's been relatively unstable.
Mark Dawson: No, don't say anything.
James Blatch: A big thing comes through, a big change. So Ads for Authors is this course where you get TikTok for Authors, but Facebook Ads for Authors, Amazon Ads for Authors, BookBub, and many, many more, you will get that if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. And that is open until February the 8th, which is an auspicious day, February the 8th.
Mark Dawson: Is it?
James Blatch: It is.
Mark Dawson: Why is that?
James Blatch: It's my birthday.
Mark Dawson: Oh, I was going to say it's your birthday. Yes, absolutely.
James Blatch: I think, also, I'm going to the dentist.
Mark Dawson: Very good. 63, you look good.
James Blatch: 63. Rude. I am in my mid-50s, I have to admit to being mid-50s now, which is awful. There you go. Now we did have a webinar last night, which I should mention.
Mark Dawson: No, we didn't.
James Blatch: No, we didn't. I think it's the only time this has happened.
Mark Dawson: As we record this, it's the 27th of February. Sorry, 27th of January, even. See, 26th of January was our TikTok webinar and it didn't go well. Did it, James?
James Blatch: Technically, failed. Editorially, it was very sound. We were all there, but we just could not get the software to work. It just froze up on all of us. So we had to abandon it, which was a great shame because we had 700 people on the line at the time. They were all still joining as well. We could easily have got to a thousand, our limit, which was really annoying. But there you go. It's happened, and we'll work in the background to make sure that we don't have a repeat of that. That probably means changing our webinar provider. However, that does mean that we are going to try and get this out in a replay format. So we'll record it offline. It's a very, very good webinar. But-
Mark Dawson: I've just had an idea.
James Blatch: You've had an idea.
Mark Dawson: I have. Yeah. Let's discuss that off-podcast jazz. I have an idea how maybe we might be able to do this. Anyway, as this goes out in the future, this may be moot, but I think I have an idea to-
James Blatch: Yes. Well, I'm just going to say, keep an eye on your emails because it'll still be around as a replay to watch. And if you register for it, you'll be told anyway. Anyway, so that's that. Okay. Right. We have a blog post for you, the Top 5 Publishing Misconceptions. You'll get that at selfpublishingformula.com, as blog posts are always excellent value. And we've got some really good stuff coming up. We've got a podcast giveaway today. We haven't done that for a while. We actually have a little PDF to take away, some notes on how you can get started with public relations.
Now, public relations is a strange subject to deal with as authors, because it evokes images of people in offices in Soho or somewhere in London or New York charging you $5,000 a month to get you the odd TV interview. The reality is it's a developing industry for indie authors and it's much more down to you doing everything yourself and pointing that effort in the right direction that's going to sell your books, not simply get you some column mentions.
So that's what this conversation is about today. It's with Halima Khatun who is a bit like me, started in BBC Local Radio and local television, and knows the newsroom on the inside as an author, starting to put that skillset into practise, written a book on this and she's done a PDF giveaway. You can get that at selfpublishingformula.com/prguide, all one word, -prguide. And yeah, I think this is going to be something because we're always looking... We talk a lot about Facebook ads and paid ads drives our sales, but every little stone needs to be, I think turned over when you're an independent author. The margins are small and you can find there's profit in strange places. So this is definitely something to pay attention to. So here's Halima, and then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: So, Halima Khatun, have I said your surname right?
Halima Khatun: Yep.
James Blatch: Khatun. Thank you.
Halima Khatun: You have.
James Blatch: Thank goodness. This is a good start. Welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Good to have you here. We have a little bit in common. I started in BBC newsrooms as a regional journalist.
Halima Khatun: Did you?
James Blatch: I did, and I escaped as well. So, life after the BBC.
Halima Khatun: The dark side.
James Blatch: Yeah. You've done the same and, yeah, we used to call it the dark side PR, that's where you are now. But we're going to talk PR as much as anything else today, so why don't you give us a little bit of your background, Halima?
Halima Khatun: Okay. Well, you've introduced me a little bit, obviously. I always wanted to write, and the funny story is when I was 12, when most kids were playing, and I probably should have been, I wrote a children's book, 60,000 words, no joke. And I sent it to Penguin and all the major publishers I could find in the writers and artist yearbook at that age thinking I'd be the next J.K. Rowling. They all politely declined and I'm fine, no bitterness, it's fine. And as I grew up, I kind of got it in my head that being an author is not a viable career, as probably many people did. Didn't know anything about self-publishing, it probably wasn't a thing back then.
So I went into what I felt was the next best thing, which was journalism. And I did broadcast journalism. So after my degree in English, I studied broadcast journalism and I went into ITV and BBC freelancing radio and TV and some commercial radio. And I enjoyed it, but I found that there wasn't really the storytelling aspect. And I don't know if you had the same experience, but it was more about getting 100-word press release and cutting it to three sentences, getting the timings right. There could be a fire across the street, but I wouldn't be able to report on it because I was delivering half-hourly bulletins. So I was chained to my desk.
There was a moment, for me, crystallised that I want to leave journalism. And it was a young girl, a 14-year-old girl had been hit by a train and died. And being the journalist, you don't get to pick and choose, my job was to doorstep family, friends, anyone. Not very nice. And that's when I thought, I don't think this is what I went in for. It's not what I want to do. I want to do storytelling. Well, I went into, as you say, the dark side of PR, started in healthcare, public relations. And that was amazing. I loved it because I was talking to people who had cancer and they'd had this treatment and I was getting this story, how it changed their life. For example, they made a lifestyle change and lost a huge amount of weight. I was speaking to people from all walks of life, getting their story and then pitching it to journalists. So I got my kind of story fill through that.
So I did that for years. I freelanced as an independent consultant in 2015, thinking about children, I will have my own business and do stuff while children sleep. Ha-ha. My kids didn't sleep. So my career, I wouldn't say it fell off a cliff, but I got rid of a lot of clients because I didn't have the time. I was basically a full-time mom from about 2017. And that's when I revisited my love of writing. But I should mention, actually, the interesting thing before that was when I freelanced and I had my own consultancy, I was working with a lot of startups and small businesses and they had a lot of parallels with what I see now with authors because as an author and the thing that I learned quickly through the self-publishing community, to be honest, is you're a business owner whether you like it or not. When.
You're an author, you're running your own business. And I found that with these startups, a lot of them had, they tried PR, they'd maybe got a round of investment and they'd gone to the finest, slickest PR agency they could find, spent quite a lot of money, and found they weren't getting the return they wanted. And the crux of it was that if they figured out how to do it themselves, if they could find the time to know how to write press releases, to have the confidence to speak to journalists, they would do it themselves. They wouldn't necessarily be devoting full-time to it, they're running their business, but they would do it alongside running their business. So I started training and I started teaching people how to do PR and that's kind of what I got into alongside my private client work.
So then children came, I revisited my passion for writing and it was fiction. So I wrote what I call the Brown Bridget Jones. It was kind of a chick lit women's fiction novel. And it was about a British-Bangladeshi girl looking to get married and going through the whole process of online dating, meeting through friends and aunties introducing her and all the kind of cringe stuff because I didn't think there was anything out for that. So I wrote that and then... So I really got into it-
James Blatch: Sorry, is that The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage?
Halima Khatun: Yes, that's right. So I-
James Blatch: Good title, by the way.
Halima Khatun: Thank you. It breaks the self-publishing rules of a short, snappy title, but it does what it says on the tin.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Halima Khatun: So I wrote that book thinking... I was still figuring my way around self-publishing. That's when I came across the community. But one thing I was really keen on was I didn't really go down the trad route. I didn't really go down the agency route. I think I tried one and thought, this isn't my life. I'm not going to be shopping around for three years, giving it to different agents and hoping they snap it up. So I went down the self-publishing route. But one of the things I learned from the community is, A, you've got to do it like a business, and B, you want to be on par with the traditionally published authors. You want your cover to be on point, you want your blurb to be sharp, you want a professional ed to you. You want to do everything that a traditionally published author would do, except you're doing it yourself.
And one of the things that occurred to me was, well, I spent years getting great PR for other people and other businesses and corporates and then training startups. I should do some of that for myself to level myself up with the traditionally published authors. First you have that bit of imposter syndrome, which I'm sure a lot of people do. Partly I was mainly raising my children writing this book. But I parked that to one side and thought, I believe in the story. I think it's a great book. So why wouldn't the press be interested? So I reached out. I went to the local press, I went to some niche publications, some magazines, and I ended up getting a full-page spread in Good Housekeeping-
James Blatch: Oh, wow.
Halima Khatun: Which was a little bit of a game changer because I just thought, as soon as they think I'm self-published, they'll be like, "No, thank you." That was just a hangup I had. But it didn't bother them because they wanted the story about my authorgen and they loved the fact that I did my draught on iPhone Notes while I was cradling my then 1.5-year-old daughter.
My first novel came out when I was nine months pregnant with my second child, my son. It made sense at the time and I was doing the bubbling along, doing the PR around it. I'm not, because I've got two very small children, as prolific as probably a lot of people you have speaking here. But I was doing my thing, but I was also, I felt like I was levelling up. I was levelling up with traditionally published authors and also it was giving me gravitas I could put on my website as featured in. People went, "Oh, you were featured in here." I know sometimes a lot of people think, oh, PR doesn't equal sales. And I would be the first to say, no PR person with a soul would say, yes, you will get this number of sales from an article. It doesn't work like that. However, I had people commenting, even writing reviews of my book saying, "I saw this in Good Housekeeping or I picked this up here and I decided to impulse buy it."
So there's not necessarily the obvious correlation that you'd get with ads, but it was there and it's what I think Mark talks about, the seven touchpoints of marketing. It's one of them. So then I was writing that and I thought, authors, and this is the thing I picked up from the community, we are business people whether we like it or not. And marketing is such a big part. And you have so many things, don't you? You're doing your TikTok, you're doing your website, you're doing your adverts, and when you get a moment, you're trying to write the books. And PR sits quite nicely within that. And I thought, if only other authors knew that it doesn't have to be this huge expense. You don't have to pay two grand a month. It doesn't have to be something that takes your entire day and deflects from your writing. It can be something you do alongside. And actually journalists aren't these scary, hard to reach people. It's not this crazy... It's not this thing you can't do. It's doable if only people had the tools and the confidence.
And that's what inspired me to come full circle and marry my experience as an author with my experience in PR and realising, actually the two things go hand in hand because it is doable and it's possible to manage that around your author business. But an agent wouldn't necessarily tell you that, because they'd rather take you on as a client and have a retainer. That's what inspired me basically and why I'm sitting here today to write priceless publicity.
James Blatch: Well, let's talk about the actual business of PR then because, I mean, for a start we should probably explain what it is beyond... Our authors are familiar with running paid ads and marketing in that sense, social media. What is PR when we talk about it?
Halima Khatun: So PR, the boring term is, it's public relations and it's the idea of influencing opinion traditionally through the media, but now it's a lot of different things. This is me PR-ing my book, for example. I sneaked in there.
James Blatch: Yeah, nice.
Halima Khatun: That's the idea. And the difference between ads is, it's quite simple. So if you did a Facebook ad, for example, or you did an ad in the paper, you can sort of see a closing down sale for sofas. A reader knows you've paid for that. So you are going to say your book's great. You are going to say you've got the best shop in town. You are going to say, "My sofas have the best leather." It's paid for.
Public relations or PR coverage isn't so obvious, it sits within the other articles in a story. So if we're talking about a newspaper or a magazine... So I had a story about my son was born March 2020, so he's a pandemic baby. So my story was I gave birth in the midst of a pandemic and within that I got to mention my story and get publicity for my book. Now nobody's going to go, "Oh, she's got in there because of..." You don't read it that cynically. You're not going to say, "Oh, she's got in there because of that book or she's paid for that." If that makes sense, it sits quite naturally and organically.
James Blatch: It looks more organic. Well, that's interesting, the hook about you giving birth during the pandemic. When you put together a press release or your note, having those little hooks is important, do you think? Because I can think back to my early days in radio when I worked on the production side. When you skimmed through a press release, you're envisaging the interview in the afternoon show and if it's just, "I've written a book," but if you had added little things like, "Oh, by the way, I did this heavily pregnant and then giving birth," that's the sort of thing I can envisage this interview now.
Halima Khatun: A backstory is great. And I know that's tricky for some people,, because some people might write under a pen name. But it's finding that angle, what's the thing? And the thing to remember, James, and I think people should not dismiss it, even if you have a book out, yes, it's I've got a book out, but that's a new product. Therefore, that's a new story. And that's the thing. If you think about the mobile phone, I mean mobile phones have been around for decades and they're always bringing out new iterations, but that doesn't stop Apple or the other big guns bringing out a new phone and getting media coverage off the back of it. That can be a new story in itself. But you're absolutely right and what the book talks about is finding those little hooks, finding those angles. What's the point of difference?
Another thing could be, and it sounds really simple, but you're doing well in your author business, you're full-time, you've hired a PA, you might think, so what? That's business development, that's growth. It might be growth by one, but then you doubled your business growth. So actually it's not the.... You might think it's run of the mill for you, but it's very interesting. Another hook might be that you'd won an award. And I know awards can seem kind of arbitrary in the author world and they vary. But I got great publicity off the back of it and it added those touchstones of credibility of kind of, "Oh, she's done well." And that's ultimately what it is. You want your books to stand out there. So it's definitely finding the hooks, it's finding the point of difference. You might have an unusual story, you might have a Game of Thrones that's based in Norwich, I don't know. Or some kind of quite unusual element. But my belief is that as authors we're storytellers, but I also believe we have stories about our stories and it's finding them and unpicking them.
James Blatch: And it's the human element that always people are interested in, journalists are always interested in. That's what tells the story. And as you say, some people might be uncomfortable, authors traditionally are sort of uncomfortable about, well, it's not about me. But actually it is about you and that's the bit that... If you listen to an interview, an author on 5 Live in the afternoon, they're going to be talking about them and their background much more than they are the book.
Halima Khatun: Absolutely. But I would say-
James Blatch: But you have to be comfortable with that.
Halima Khatun: Well, there's different mediums. So I would say, for your... I was on the BBC Radio talking about The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage and there was a whole programme talking about the myths around it and the nuances and is it outdated, et cetera, because of the pitch I'd sent them. I had to be very comfortable, because they asked me about how I met my husband and even though it's not based on me, it's based on certain elements and things. So you have to be comfortable.
However, there is a place if you're not comfortable about that. And that is the other element. So, for example, like I say, a story in itself, the fact that you've published a book is a new story that the local media might be interested in. They might want to know whereabouts you're from, but they don't need to know that you breastfed while you were writing the draught. They don't need that element. The other side of it is that if you're a nonfiction author, or even if you're fiction for that matter, the business development side of things where you've grown your business, you've done really well, and that's a story.
So, for example, the business media, they don't care about your backstory as cold as that sounds. They want to know how the business has grown, where you're heading. And you might think, but why would I want to get in a business publication? I'm a fiction author. However, I'd say these things, they add up, they are on your website, it looks amazing on your social media, you add social proof. It depends on the publication. And you might be military REF, for example. There'll be niche publications that don't necessarily need to know about James's life story, but they'll want to know about the nuances within the book. So I would say, if you're comfortable with human interest and you're comfortable with talking about your story, of course, it gives you lots of little avenues. But it's not to say you can't get PR if you're not comfortable.
Another example I should mention, aside from writing books and doing PR, I have a lifestyle blog and a lot of the things I talk about started off makeup and beauty and very frivolous. And then 2017 I started talking a lot about being a mom and parenting and, I don't know, the best stroller to buy, that kind of thing. Now obviously when I went to the media they'd say, "Oh, can we have a picture of you with your children?" I have this rule where because they're not old enough, I don't like to put pictures of them in the media. They're not old enough to decide if that's what they want.
Yes, certain publications said, "Oh, we do really need you and the kids. But a lot of publications, for example, Mother and Baby where I talked about having a child during the pandemic, they were fine with the workaround, they were fine with a picture of me holding my baby, but you can't see their face or they were fine with a picture of just me. So there is other options, but definitely if you can talk about the human interest, the commercial things you're talking about like the BBC Radio would love to hear about that.
James Blatch: Yeah. So how do we put together a press release? What does that look and feel like, and who do we send it to?
Halima Khatun: Yeah. Obviously it's all in the book, but the simple thing is a press release I would say is no longer than a A4 sheet of paper. The important thing is the hook that you talk about. Put that straight upfront. Clients have done this a lot in the past where they've sent me the press release to look at and it's, we call it burying the lead. So it's kind of like you tell your life story, you talk war and peace and build it up, and then the main thing is at the bottom. And I think the thing to remember is the journalist, they just want to cut the story to fit. So what they will do is they will look at the story and go, "Right, I need a paragraph from this." They'll cut from the bottom up. So you need your main story.
Another thing is the beauty of being an author is we're all writers, so we should be fairly good at this. And we're writing copy for our ads and we're doing our blurbs. It's keeping it tight and concise. So where in our story we might be very descriptive and it's very emotive, you're not doing that. You're being quite factual. You're being to the point. For example, for me, it was mom of two Halima Khatun wrote her story on her iPhone Notes and it won a international award, that sort of thing. And that's the kind of story. You get your main information, your name, your age quite upfront, you get your book title quite upfront in the first or second paragraph because you would cry if you put it at the bottom and they cut from the bottom up. And it is really just about being tight and concise. So it's the who, the what, the when, the why.
But what I would say to authors is it's very difficult to explain how to write a press release upfront because there is a little bit of an art to it, there's a little bit of a formula. But what I would say is, for an author listening to this that hasn't had a go and feels nervous, probably I would say pitch first and a pitch would be basically your couple of sentences. So you're kind of high to the journalist name and they're quite easy to find. You're quite simply, and this is the thing journalists won't tell you, we often talk about subscribing to this very expensive directory, but Google is your friend and that's the truth. So look at the publication you want to be in.
The first thing is, do they cover stories like yours? Have they featured a backstory like yours? Have they featured a book? Because the number of times clients have said, "I want to be in the Financial Times." And I'll say, "Okay, have you seen businesses like yours?" And scarily they maybe haven't read it or they haven't. So that's the first thing. Have you seen stories like yours? Where does it fit before you do anything else? And then what I'd say is because a press release, there's a bit of an, it's not that necessarily there's an art to it, but like I say, there's a formula. But I would find the contact us details, which every publication, even if it's a newspaper, even if it's a magazine it is online now or they have an online version. Find the relevant contact. My advice would be, don't go for the editor or chief editor because they're often so busy that they have an overview of all the stories. Find the reporters.
So if it's the local media, it'll be the reporter with covering your catchment area. If it's a national publication, it'd just be one of the reporters. There might be a lifestyle reporter or a lifestyle editor. And again, it depends on what kind of books you're covering, what kind of niche or what kind of story you're thinking. And it's just a case of, a pitch to me would mean an email with two bullet points and then just a couple of sentences saying, "This is my story, I think you would be interested because... And this would fit in this section."
Another example is I wrote a piece that featured in the Metro. I pitched to them saying, "I've noticed you do a piece on first persons." There was various different first person stories. And I said mine was, I remember when I got engaged and one of my clients at the time said, "Do you love him?" It was a really strange story and it took me aback and it was kind of, there was a little bit of a misconception people had because they thought, "Oh, have you met him? Do you know..." That kind of thing. And it was well-meaning, but I decided to write about how that happens and how perhaps another person wouldn't have been asked the same question. I went to the Metro, I saw the section that covers it and I said, "This is my story." So you might be better off doing a couple of sentences or a paragraph at most summarising the reason they'd be interested, what's the hook, and taking it from there.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's really good advice. I did a bit of PR with my first book, but I'm feeling quite motivated in this chat, Halima, to do some more-
Halima Khatun: Please do.
James Blatch: Find a new one. But I remember one thing I did do, which was again, born of probably experience of being on the other end of these press releases is a couple of the specialist magazines. I did look through them and think, well, do they review books? None of them did. I couldn't see any book reviews in there, but they did do competition. So I sent out books, hardback versions of the book as competition prices, signed, and one of them did run a competition with them. So I just felt, well, it is exactly what you say is if they don't do what you want them to do, you can tailor your offer to what they do do. But now I'm thinking what I should have done, and I'll do this for book three, which is about to come out, is I should offer to write an article on the background of this book, which is right up their street, which is the history of the REF in the Middle East. That's what I should offer to do. I'm going to do that after this call.
Halima Khatun: That would be so interesting. And the thing is, that's exactly the point. If you think about straight book reviews, they're few and far between. And often the trad press syphon them six months in advance by going to the journalists months before. And obviously us indie publishers, we sort of know the month before, don't we, when our book's coming out. So we don't have that luxury.
James Blatch: And we should also say quite few of those are paid placements as well. They don't always say it in newspapers, but we know the book clubs and so on.
Halima Khatun: I think the book clubs, maybe. The stylist magazine, your sort of consumer magazines aren't paid for because they do have to say promotion.
James Blatch: Right. Okay.
Halima Khatun: There has to be a bit of transparency. So what I would say is none of my coverage has actually been a book review, because it's been the story around it. And I think if you look for book reviews, you might hit a bit of a brick wall just because, like I say, Penguin bagsy them months in advance and they'll have different relationships. Not to say you can't, but I would just say that exactly as you say, looking for the story behind the story, some of the factual information. And the thing that I really want to stress is it needn't take a lot of time. You can do it alongside running your business. Because I think the biggest pain points people have with PR is, like I say, it's too expensive. I can't afford an agent and I certainly haven't got time to do it myself.
Another thing that I really want to debunk in this chat is people think, nobody would be interested in my stories or I don't have a story. And that's simply not true because when you peel the layers, you've mentioned something about your books, there'll be lots of different things where you go, "Oh actually that would be interesting." For you, that's thought leadership. But what you're doing is you can then get in your book, as I mentioned, at the end.
James Blatch: Again, we always have to get over the imposter syndrome of thinking that we're not doing anything that people would be interested in. But that's simply not true. And often I think, I mean, I stand in a group of friends, lovely friends, all my friends, but a lot of them have boring jobs. I've got to be honest. And usually they want to talk to me about writing novels. This is the same when I worked for the BBC. They always wanted to talk to you about your job. So we shouldn't undersell ourselves as novelists. We do a job lots of people would love.
Halima Khatun: I think it's amazing. I mean, I pinch myself and, like I say, I'm a foundation winner from last year and I pinch myself and I do thank the SPF community a lot, because I probably wouldn't have been sitting here talking to you had I not stumbled across the idea of self-publishing because I was very entrenched in PR, which is fine. And I put the idea to bed about publishing a novel and I think I had imposter syndrome because I thought self-publishing, dare I say, is something you do and nobody wants your story. And I think a lot of us had that. And I think doing the PR made me think, and possibly you shouldn't think like this, but I did think my books do stand up with those in Waterstones.
I do have that kind of, I can sit up there and I think it's having that confidence and owning it. People are buying your books, so why would people not want to hear stories about your books? It's just adding another layer of promotion. It's not to replace Facebook ads or Amazon ads or stop you doing social media. It's to add to it. But it helps because if, for example, you've got your military story and publication out there, you've then got yourself a few TikTok posts to brag about off the back of it. You've got some content you can talk about.
James Blatch: You can leverage that to squeeze the blood out of it forever.
Halima Khatun: And that is half of the value of it that people forget to do. They get the coverage and go, "Oh, my phone's not ringing off the hook." It's like, no, you push it forward.
James Blatch: Yeah. And start using that in your adverts and so on. Yes. Well, I'm feeling quite motivated, Halima. So, thank you for that.
Halima Khatun: Good.
James Blatch: And you're right, you can pay a lot for this service. In fact, I think PR is a bit of an old-fashioned industry that's yet to really modernise. I'm sorry, in fact, I don't want to sound too critical, but we've used PR agencies before, paid them thousands a month for SPF and I've not really seen the value from it. And I've had conversations with them and I thought you're kind of 10 years behind in terms of your understanding of publishing. So I do think there's room probably within the indie circle for PR to modernise, become a little bit cheaper, more accessible, and more DIY focused.
Halima Khatun: With a book, for example, that talks all about how to do PR yourself.
James Blatch: Well, for instance, there you go.
Halima Khatun: If someone did that.
James Blatch: Well, that seems like a neat segue. Let's talk about the book.
Halima Khatun: That is the segue. Yeah. No, that's where I decided because exactly what you say, I'm not going to sit here and PR the PR industry because I know it's not perfect. I was with the biggest PR agency in Europe when I started out and it was great to cut my teeth in. We did charge high fees, but we were charging high fees to either, private healthcare clients or corporates who had the deep pockets. We indies don't and we are often our accountant. Well, actually no, I have an accountant. We are often our marketing person, our social media person, we are our everything. So I would never think of hawking my PR services to other authors. It just wouldn't occur to me because...
And also, I'm going to get in trouble to others saying this, you can't do it yourself. Because I think when you're an indie, you don't need to have billboards, you don't need to have the whole spread. You just want enough to get your word out there and build upon that. And it is learnable and that's what another PR agent won't tell you. And I'm going to get into so much trouble, but it is doable. There is a learning curve, like there is with Amazon ads and everything else, but it's not something that you have to go, right, I'm going to take a week off writing to learn. You can do it alongside.
First, like I say, you do a pitch to your local press. They're so receptive and they're so friendly and that's how you get about it. So with priceless publicity, it came together for me because I thought that is something that I felt was a little bit missing because as you say, and I've heard on other shows as well and I know that, like you say, PR agencies cost a lot of money. So there's a sense of, PR, let's just park that. It's not working, it's not worth it. Other things work.
So I thought there's books about newsletters, there's books about so many different things for authors. And I should mention my book isn't just for authors, it's for business owners because as an author you're a business owner. But because I'm very in this author space now, every section has a example for authors because my belief is, and again, this is something PR agents won't say, is if you know the basics and fundamentals of PR and how to write a press release, how to pitch to a journalist, how to address a journalist, you can PR any kind of business. And that I felt was even more compelling for authors, because quite often not all of us are in the luxury of being full-time. We might have another business, we might have another side hustle, we might be doing something else. So actually the book could help with that as well because it's teaching universal skills about publicity.
What I teach in the book is it's about the basics of what is PR, which I've touched upon, but in a huge amount of more detail. Then it talks about how different journalists work with examples from national journalists, regional journalists, trade journalists and online journalists. Then it talks about how to find a story in your business, which is the nitty-gritty. So how to find a story in your author business, the kind of stories that work. So things like research, which doesn't have to be huge research. Just for your novel, you might have done, I don't know, a survey among people in your audience. So you might have done something with some kind of research as you would do writing your book. That could be a story in itself, the findings.
Thought leadership, which is a great thing for nonfiction authors, but actually a great thing for fiction authors. Because my stuff around The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage, which is kind of debunking this mainstream viewpoint in the media, which can kind of shift the narrative a little bit, challenging the misconceptions is kind of thought leadership in a way as well as human interest. They kind of overlap. And then, of course, human interest and it's a story behind a story and awards. So I talk about all the different examples of stories that work. And then I have a lot of practical exercises because it's all great me writing war and peace about stories, but it's not going to work unless it's relatable to you. So there's questions about whether something's a new story or a non-story, which is something I used to challenge my PR students with. So kind of I'd go through it, I'd give them a headline and say, "Is it a news story or is it a non-story?"
Then I talk about how to find a story in your business. So the key questions to ask yourself, which I've got a free guide which I'll share with you to share to your listeners. And then I talk about, okay, now you've got a story, how do you go about it? So there's a whole section on pitching, there's a whole section on case studies, and there's a whole section on dissecting a press release with example press releases and a press release template because we're all busy. So a press release template where you can kind of add in your sections and the idea is that you'd have the confidence then. That's kind of like your PR agent in your pocket really. It's a manual that you can go back to and refer to and keep using throughout your author business as you get more books out.
James Blatch: What's the title and what author name have you used on the book?
Halima Khatun: It's Priceless Publicity. My author name is H. Khatun, just to separate it from my fiction.
James Blatch: Yes, I noticed that, because I couldn't find it looking under Halima. But H. Khatun, of course, that makes sense. Okay. All right, let's look that up. And you've got a little giveaway for us, I think as well.
Halima Khatun: I've got a little PDF for you, which is basically sort of a nine-pager, or maybe more, and it's how to find a story in your business just to get listeners started. So hopefully it will inspire listeners to just make that first step and ensure that it's doable.
James Blatch: Okay, that's brilliant. Well, let's give that away at the following URL, selfpublishingformula.com/prguide. That basically explains it, but as long as people remember that. Selfpublishingformula.com/prguide. I'll get that all set up in the background. John will do his thing there. I'm looking at the book now, Priceless Publicity, H. Khatun, and available at all good bookshops. Well, Amazon.
Halima Khatun: And other bookshops as well.
James Blatch: And other bookshops as well. It's wide there. Brilliant. Well, look, we love catching up with our foundation awardees. It's always a thrill to see that you are doing well and thriving. And I can see you've built on the origins of The Secrets of... What was it again, The Secrets of an Arranged Marriage?
Halima Khatun: The Secret Diary of Arranged Marriage.
James Blatch: The Secret Diary of Arranged Marriage. Brilliant.
Halima Khatun: It's all under series. It was only meant to be one book. And then look what happened.
James Blatch: There you go. Then the book, Bengali Bridezilla.
Halima Khatun: Bridezilla. Yeah.
James Blatch: Perfect. Okay. All right. And people can check you out at... So what's next for you, Halima? Are you going to focus more on the nonfiction, the PR stuff, or are you going to carry on with the fiction?
Halima Khatun: Carry on with the fiction. Book 4 is coming out, I'm working on it. My readers are kind of really pushing me and pushing me. Like I said, I've still got my two-year-old, who's downstairs with my husband and being very quiet, which is good.
James Blatch: Yes. Oh, I can see you're slightly anxious about that though.
Halima Khatun: Yeah. He's good, he's good. I don't hear any tortured screams, so that's always a good sign. On a personal point, he's going to be in nursery, emotional about that, in April. I should be more prolific, I hope. So. Book 4. And I'm thinking of doing a nonfiction book around messaging and branding as well. But that's going to be, yeah, that's in the pipeline. So yeah, focusing on fiction and hoping to do a side story that I'm nudging my husband about from the guy's perspective, side by side.
James Blatch: There you go.
Halima Khatun: Because you don't often hear about the male perspective in any of this kind of fiction really. It's very female centric, so I think that could be fun.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, I mean, you've been so prolific whilst also producing children and bringing them up. I can't imagine how prolific you're going to be when they're being looked after during the day by somebody else.
Halima Khatun: He's hoping. Yeah. No, I'm very excited. The thing is, people do think I'm a bit crazy, like I say, publishing a book, my first one when I was nine months pregnant. But if I didn't love it, I wouldn't do it. And I think the same goes for lots of authors. It's just such a nice profession to be in.
James Blatch: Also, it's very intense and I've been through it a few years ago now. But you have to keep yourself sane during parenthood, I think. And that's not a bad way of doing it.
Halima Khatun: You do. You do. And the little wins really help. And like I say, I think when I get a book... In the early days it was like one sale, it's like, it's not my mom or my sister, wow, who bought that from Australia.
James Blatch: Yes, great.
Halima Khatun: And you see it build and it's just amazing. Oh, I should mention the other thing is children's books, which is on the periphery. I've drafted a couple, but my God, I'll look up... That's a whole other game because I'm looking at illustrations and, yeah, in the pipeline.
James Blatch: Okay.Brilliant. How prolific. Thank you so much indeed, Halima, great to speak to you. We might catch up with you. I don't know if you're going to be at our conference in June.
Halima Khatun: I am, so it will be great to see you.
James Blatch: Excellent. Good. Well, we'll catch up over a drink there.
Halima Khatun: Amazing. Thanks so much, James.
Speaker 1: This is The Self Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There you go. Thanks to Halima Khatun for her wisdom. On that subject, a reminder that you can get the guide to get you started doing your own PR at selfpublishingformula.com/prguide. Good. Yeah, we've dabbled with PR, haven't we, over the years? I don't know if you're still using anyone, are you?. You did have someone.
Mark Dawson: No, not at the moment. I have done now and again, a couple of different people have helped over the years. But it's not really something that, I think personally from my experience, delivers great value for money. If money is no object, then it's something that you can do. But I think there's a bit of vanity involved in getting press and PR. As I've mentioned before, when I was on the TV on breakfast news arranged by a publicist in front of, I think 1.7 million people is the average at the time I was on, I didn't sell any books at all after that. Of course, we can check. It isn't like in the olden days where you'd been in a newspaper or you'd be on a tele or the radio and then you just kind of hope that that sold books. You can actually see in real time. And I did look in real time and didn't really notice any change. It's not something that I personally would rush out to do. But as always, it's horses for courses really.
James Blatch: But this is what we were talking about in the interview is you doing your own stuff, which, of course, is your time rather than thousands a month. And particularly depending on what you write, of course. You and I write fictional genres. But if you're writing nonfiction, even more important actually to turn to the paper and get your name known.
Okay, thank you again to Halima. A reminder that Ads for Authors is still open for a few more days until Wednesday the 8th of February. And you can find more information about that at selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. And if you want to come to the conference in June and you want to spread your payments $50 a month, £50 I should say, it's in GB Pounds, £50 a month, you can do that also at the time of signing up, which is selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. Please can we get a shorter URL? Can that be my birthday present?
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Unfortunately spf.com is gone. I don't know what it is. It might be some protection factor, I don't know. But we need to find something.
Mark Dawson: We do. Yeah. I think, yeah, SPF has probably been gone for some time. But we'll manage, we'll motor on.
James Blatch: It's a mouthful. Okay. Thank you to the team in the background who get this podcast up and out. And thank you very much indeed for listening. All that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Thanks.
James Blatch: All right. Bye.
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