In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy interview book publicist Jason Jones, who works with authors and publishers around the world, producers and editors at some of America’s major news outlets and hundreds of faith-based media outlets. Host of the Book Publicist podcast, he has led campaigns for 11 New York Times best-sellers. He shares insights on the changing face of book promotion, including the rise of social media and podcasts.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript,
or subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast player
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, writing and publishing blogger at smallbluedog.com, and Gracewriters founder
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Jason Jones, book publicist
Topics covered in this episode:
- Jason’s unexpected career progression into book publicity.
- How book publicity has changed in recent years – the rising importance of social media over traditional media and news outlets.
- Start very early with book promotion.
- Be prepared to do the work yourself and don’t expect your publisher to do all the marketing.
- Start small, start local.
- How the publicity cycle has changed in recent years – not all of it has to be at launch time.
- Promoting non-fiction vs fiction.
- Seasonal promotion at Christmas, and Christmas-themed books.
- The rising possibilities of being interviewed on podcasts.
- The value of perserverance.
Find Jason Jones online:
Jason’s literary publicity agency website: https://www.jonesliterary.com/
Jason’s website for those wishing to do their own publicity: https://localprtoolkit.com/
Please use the sharing buttons at top and bottom of this post to share on social media or directly with Christian writers you know.
Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, publicist and author, Jason Jones on writing, publishing and marketing Christmas-themed books.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and book coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. I blog for writers at smallbluedog.com and you can find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, my name is Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator with four adult children. Aside from writing, my other passion is photography and as part of the media team at my local church, I have the privilege of capturing God-moments both big and small. I write contemporary romance under the pen name, Alison Joy, and you can find out more about me at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years, I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and more recently, to inspire my urban-fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out more about me, my books, book covers and blog at donitabundy.com.
Jason Jones is the founder of Jones Literary working with authors and publishers around the world, producers and editors at some of America’s major news outlets and hundreds of faith-based media outlets. His experience in publishing includes six years with Thomas Nelson, one of the world’s largest and oldest Christian publishing houses where he led campaigns for 11 New York Times best selling titles. Jason is also host of the Book Publicist Podcast.
Welcome to Gracewriters, Jason, and Merry Christmas.
Jason Jones: Thank you, Donita. Merry Christmas to you!
Alison Joy: You’ve got such extensive experience in publishing and publicity. We’d love to know where it all began for you.
Jason Jones: Well, it all began for me 2007. I’d moved to Nashville from Memphis and started my career in publishing at Thomas Nelson, as you mentioned.
It was a circuitous route for me into the publishing world. A little bit messy. The way that I got here wasn’t necessarily even my plan. I had been out of school and college, at that point, by 11 or 12 years and had started down a little bit different path, still in PR.
Publishing was never something that was really in my sights but God had other plans and I ended up in publishing at Thomas Nelson and the rest is history.
I worked in professional baseball for six years and got married, started a family, figured out that baseball was not a career that lent itself to the best family life. A lot of time on the road and long, long hours wasn’t what I wanted.
So, I got out of baseball, worked in corporate PR for a couple of years and then made a really, really terrible career decision and decided I wanted to sell real estate and make a lot of money and chase after all the wrong things. And I did that for a very, very short time before I crashed and burned and it didn’t work out and found myself looking for work in 2007.
And that was when Thomas Nelson came onto my radar. Got that job and moved to Nashville. But a humbling experience, went back a few steps but found that it’s the best thing for us and it was never something I set out to do but it’s turned out to be a really wonderful thing.
Alison Joy: Do you think you would have gone into non-Christian media if the opportunity had been there, or it’s just because it was Christian media that’s the way you went?
Jason Jones: No. At that point in my life, I was looking for a PR job or a communications broadcasting job. Looking at a lot of different areas and not necessarily get back into sports because I had been there and done that and also, I had a great job as a PR director in Memphis with an agency that had a lot of great accounts I took care of there and was hoping to maybe find something else like that.
But, like I said, I had a three year old at home and my wife was pregnant with our second child and I found myself without a job and at that point, you can’t be too picky! Stumbled on the Thomas Nelson job listing and thought, “What the heck! I’m a believer, I read a lot of these books that it looks like I will be working on.”
This job in Nashville, I interviewed for it and I did and it changed my life. It’s been great. But no, it wasn’t my plan. I didn’t set out, after I graduated college, looking for a career in Christian publishing.
I can’t imagine doing anything else, right now, where I would be able to have the relationships that I have and make the impact that I do and just being able to get God’s Word and some of these authors works in front of people and it’s really important work.
I love to serve and I believe that what we’re doing is serving the Lord but also serving these authors that work for years sometimes putting together their life’s work and putting together this message that feels so, so important.
Belinda Pollard: I’m thinking, you’ve been in PR and publicity for quite a few years there and you would have seen a lot of changes because PR has changed enormously, hasn’t it?
For example, the virtual collapse of newspapers as a source. Everybody is reading their news online these days. How have you kept up with that and what tips can you offer to authors out there who are also trying to get their head around all of that?
Jason Jones: Honestly, I don’t know if I have kept up with it. We’re doing the best we can. I feel like my hair’s on fire! Hanging on by the skin of my teeth just figuring out what’s the newest and latest place for people to be.
When I first started at Thomas Nelson, I remember one of my first few days there, they sat me down and handed me four or five pieces of paper stapled together saying, “Get on the phone. Start calling these folks. These are your contacts. Here’s a fax machine.” This is only 2007, it’s not that long ago.
One of my first trips with the team from Nelson, I remember, we went to New York and we were sitting in the office of a producer at Fox News and I remember asking him if he was on Twitter. And he told me he felt that was the stupidest thing in the world. Why would he do that? What is there for me on Twitter? Soon after, we know what happened but it’s changed so, so, so much. It’s a completely different job, at this point.
You had that grace period when the newspaper won’t be out until tomorrow morning, there’s a certain number of hours to get this information in front of this person. But now, news breaks on Twitter or on X, on social media, and outlets, a lot of times, are following and chasing what they see on social. So, that’s where we end up breaking a lot of things.
One of the biggest problems we run into is authors that just don’t want to participate in that, and I understand and I don’t want to say you can’t succeed without it but it’s pretty tough to succeed without it. You’ve got to engage people and you’ve got to be in the stream, and you’ve got to know what’s happening and engaging with other authors and readers. So, it’s hard to succeed without it.
The job has changed so, so much. It’s the amount of content we’ve got to push out into the world. People are consuming so much information that if you don’t stay in front of them, they are just flooded with other information and other authors and content that are.
It sounds a little overwhelming and it is, and it can be exhausting but, at the end of the day, you can step out of that. If you’ve engaged long enough and in the right places and in the right ways, you create an audience for yourself, a certain number of followers, readers, people that are of like mind and now you’ve got an audience. A group of people, readers of your own, that you can engage or share.
So, it’s not something that you have to do, necessarily, forever.
Belinda Pollard: For a new writer, is there, like, a classic publicity process to go through? Is it different depending on the book and the situation?
Jason Jones: It is. Yes, it is different depending on the book or the situation but I think the biggest key is to not wait until your book’s a month from release before you start to think about all these things.
Ideally, you’re a year or two years out and you’re already following reviewers or journalists that you’re hoping to get in front of at some point. You’re engaging them on social. You’re watching and listening to those shows, putting together those lists and you’re starting to build that publicity and PR mechanism. You’re somebody that they’ve seen and heard from for a while. Much better chance that they’re going to buy your book.
Just getting out ahead of it, I think, is the biggest key. Most of the books that we work on are with publishing houses that will reach out to us and say, “Jason, we’ve got a book that’s releasing in four months. We’d love for you guys to jump in and help us with the release. Can you do that?” “Yes, we’ll start in 30 days.” We’ll work 90 to 120 days to do radio and TV and podcasts and get reviews on online outlets. And that’s kind of the cycle. And then every quarter, the publishing house is on to the next catalogue.
If you’re one of the authors being published by that house, you have to know that they’re going to do the best they can do but you’re one of 20 to 25, 30 authors on their list that quarter and so, you’re probably just going to skim the surface. They’re going to let their main list of outlets know, “Hey, here’s our 20 authors this quarter. Anybody that you see that you like?”
And if you really want to dig deeper, then that’s going to fall onto your shoulders or onto mine. That’s really the best chance you have to do a significant amount of radio or TV or podcast.
Belinda Pollard: Is that a bit of a shock for some authors? Are they expecting that the publisher will take care of it all?
Jason Jones: Oh, yeah. Absolutely! Some promises are sometimes made in the acquisition stage. “Hey, we’ll do this. We’ll take you here. We’ll introduce you to this person. We’ll get you on this show.” You get acquired and a year later your book’s hitting the shelves. Some of those people have moved on. Some of those promises aren’t kept. Things have been lost in the pile and it’s just not the case.
You’ve got to engage over a long period of time. You’ve got to start writing into some local outlets, some smaller stuff, smaller podcasts, get some seasoning, get your feet wet and use those smaller shows to pitch bigger shows.
You’ve got to keep your content relevant. Why does it matter? In terms of what’s happening in our culture today and what’s in the headlines, why does my message matter? You’ve got to stay out there. People are a bit dismayed and overwhelmed and surprised and expect a little more and, “Great, now what do I do? I thought the publisher was going to bring more to the table and they’re not and I’m frustrated. What do I do?”
And so that’s, sometimes, where we come in, too. Probably, 75-80% of our work is with publishing houses but we do have and work with some ministries and non-profits, as well, and we have some independent authors who we work with. Folks that may be better resourced, I guess you could say, as what we do is not cheap. I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s very, very time consuming work and so, we have to charge for it.
What I recommend is, again, starting smaller, starting local. You are always most relevant at home. Start local, do some interviews there, some podcasts, some local TV’s, some local radio and then just start working your way up that ladder.
The chances of you having your first interview be on the set of the Today Show are practically nothing – zero. And it wouldn’t want to be, because the thing is it’s not going to be your best interview. You want to do several interviews before you are on in that big spotlight because you’re going to be better.
The publishing industry has changed now, too. Release dates aren’t maybe what they used to be. Back when I started at Nelson, we planned all of our publicity so that all the big media hits were a week or two before or a week or two after the book hit shelves because we sold all those books into those brick and mortar bookstores and if they weren’t moving, they’d pack them up and send them back.
But now, most books are bought on Amazon and they’re available print on demand and get them whenever you want. It’s another way that the industry has changed. It’s trickle-down now. So, books are relevant for a long period of time so your window’s a little bit bigger.
Donita Bundy: You’ve given us some great advice about getting out there, using social media, starting local but is there somewhere or is there a tool kit somewhere that people can go to say, “I can do this myself. I have to do this myself. How do I do it?”
Jason Jones: We were approached by so many self-published authors, starting two or three years back, that we just couldn’t help. We didn’t have anything built out or put in place to help them.
Why don’t we just give you some of the tools that we use? Why don’t we give you our media list and why don’t I build you a press kit? Why don’t we give a few consult calls? I’ve got all these email scripts I can give you. The same email scripts that we use, really, to pitch media. I can hand all these things to you and you can do it yourself because the thing that I don’t have is time to work with 15 or 16 or 20 self-published authors every month.
And not to say that those folks have all the time in the world either, but if they have the tool and resources, they can, as they’re able, pitch media. So, yes, we’ve put together those tools and I don’t know if anybody else has done that, yet. I think at some point, probably really soon, other folks are going to catch up but right now, we’ve got those available.
It’s a lot of work but if you’re hitting the right people at the right time with the relevant information, compelling information and you’re persistent and professional in doing that, you stay in front, you will do some media.
Yes, those things are available on our website, localprtoolkit.com is the website. Full transparency, I’m not selling my entire media list but we do have a list of Christian media, podcasters, TV and radio personalities and then we also will build up a list of media in your local market. And you’ve also got everything you need, to help do PR for your second book, your third and your fourth.
Belinda Pollard: Does it work better for non-fiction authors, do you think?
Jason Jones: Yes. Honestly, it is a little easier for non-fiction authors. Yes, it is, because it’s so much easier to tie your content and your messaging back to the news cycle. Fiction can be tougher. There’s a list of reviewers, social media influencers and folks that we’ve put together and we have that available.
And your really savvy fiction author can take the research they’ve done to write their book or their particular expertise whether it’s tech or a sci-fi writer and they’ve spent years researching this particular technology or whatever it is, you can take that and apply it to what’s happening in the headlines today and position yourself as an expert in that way.
But, for the most part, fiction is still reviews and it’s still trade publications and those kind of things but we have help for those folks, too.
Alison Joy: So, Jason, we’re getting closer to Christmas, so we have to ask what about seasonal writing? Is there a way writers can tap into the seasonal market?
Jason Jones: You really need to be working, if you’re pitching, because if you haven’t got pitching media and getting coverage around the holidays, that’s something you need to start doing in June/July/August. Get ahead of the game because at this point you get into the holiday season and you’re way too late.
December, most media folks are out, they’re on vacation like the rest of us. They’re running their best-of shows and really the media blackout starts around Thanksgiving here in the States, anyway. It’s Black Friday and from there forward to the first of the year, it’s just a vacuum so you’ve really got to start thinking way back into early Fall.
And the other thing I would say, too, as you’re writing that kind of material, try not to date it. And there’s a lot of that kind of content out there, I guess, so, don’t be discouraged if this Christmas you don’t land the kind of coverage that you were hoping for or you don’t sell quite as many books because there’s an opportunity to maybe re-cover your book or start earlier next year and jump right back out there.
But the key to the whole thing is getting to the front of the line and starting early and then just journalling. Take notes this year, maybe, if you’ve got a book and you really wish that you’d done a better job marketing your book around the holidays, take note of where you’re seeing that coverage. Who is it out there on television/radio or podcasts that are doing that kind of programming? And take note of who they’re having on and follow those authors. What other shows are they doing? Just really set yourself up for success next year is the advice that I can give.
Alison Joy: Is it worthwhile to aim for that seasonal thing or are you better off focusing your attention on other cycles?
Jason Jones: Well, the great thing about holiday related content, same thing with Easter, it’s relevant every year. The message is never not going to be relevant. It’s never going to change. We look for that same kind of content every year. So, that’s the advantage, I think, absolutely it is.
There are books that we’ve all read every Christmas. They find themselves back in front of us. So, yes, absolutely, it’s worth it. But the media, they’re always looking for it and it’s usually a softer news cycle too. We are covering and writing about and broadcasting 24/7 all the atrocities and awful things happening around the world. We all kind of take a break from that for three or four weeks around the holidays.
So, it is a great time if you’ve got some softer kind of content to pitch and get yourself out there because it’s tough to break through that coverage of the economy or the war coverage or whatever it is throughout the rest of the year.
Belinda Pollard: It is the biggest time of year for book sales, isn’t it, the lead up to Christmas?
Jason Jones: Christmas, our work slows down a little bit but book sales don’t necessarily.
I’m already pitching books for January because I don’t have anything really that’s Christmas specific so I’m getting ahead of the game for January. I’m going ahead and gettin my folks front of the line so everyone gets back from vacation, January third or fourth, and they’ve got this stack of books on their desk. My folks are already scheduled. So, I’m not going to sit back and mope about not being able to get coverage during Christmas, I’m just going to go ahead and circle around and then start work on January.
Belinda Pollard: One of the things I’m wondering about because, as you say, you’re not going to get on the Today Show as a new author but there’s a million podcasts and those podcasts are hungry for good, interesting people to interview on whatever their topic and theme is.
Do podcast appearances sell books? Should we be looking for that?
Jason Jones: Yes. Yes, absolutely. You’re better off, honestly, not always, but doing podcasts. You’re better off doing a podcast, the right podcast than you are doing the Today Show. Those podcast listeners are loyal listeners. That host recommends a book, they’re clicking over. So, yes, absolutely.
And podcasts have a long shelf life, easily shared. It’s absolutely the best way to go. Everybody wants to do the big national TV stuff. And it does credential you and it’s great to have on your resume and it’s great to have on your press kit and it’s good experience. And yes, you can move some books but podcasts are the way to go.
Absolutely, because you get on a podcast, it’s a longer form of interview. You get on the Today Show and you’ve probably got three minutes and a podcast can give you an hour. They can have you back next week. They can have you back regularly. It’s just an opportunity because they’re a real relationship and that’s what this whole business is really about, too.
Those people are the ones that are out there sharing your book, too.
Belinda Pollard: A couple of tips, maybe, for how people should find the best podcast to be on?
Is it just trial and error and doing a lot of dismal interviews before you get the ones that are really going to work?
Jason Jones: We have a podcast database, we can do all that research but it’s expensive and not just everybody can do that. You’re just going to have to grind it out and jump into Apple podcasts and find podcasts that you like and listen to and there are lists for you. What are other similar shows? Listen to those shows and you’re just going to have to dig for it.
But the idea is, too, that if you get yourself out there and you do some shows and people start to talk and circulate you and your book, your name around, all of a sudden people start looking for you and the idea is to flip that dynamic, that paradigm, so that I’m not always pushing myself out, pushing myself out.
We’ve had a few authors over the years that have gotten enough publicity and have become mainstream enough that we don’t have to pitch them anymore. Now, I’m just fielding requests and that’s the ultimate objective.
It’s tough. It’s a slog. It’s not easy work to get in there and dig through but, again, circle all the way back. That’s why you’ve got to start ahead of time because you’re just not going to get it done in a couple of week.
Donita Bundy: So, Jason, we’re hearing a message that it’s hard work, it’s a bit of a slog and it’s going to take time so, we get that and that’s good. And that’s whether you’re with a publicist, whether you’re a traditionally published or you’re self-published. We’re hearing the same message and so, that’s good. We’re not differentiating and not playing favourites here. It’s tough for everyone.
Would you have any advice or encouragement for the Gracewriters who are listening to this podcast when they are trying and they’re just beginning to work their way into the system to get their gracenotes into the market, including the secular market, not just the Christian market?
Jason Jones: Yes. I didn’t want to ever be a discouragement. This is really important work that you’re doing writing these books and just know that.
First of all, remember why you’re doing this. I have a lot of people that come to me and say, “I didn’t do this to make a lot of money. I hope we sell some books but I really did it because I felt called to do it and I felt it was important this message got out there. God will do with it what He will.” And I think that’s true. We have to remember that. Why are we doing this?
So, we can slow down, we can relax. If we sell a million books, that’s great but be obedient, do the work, do what you can, walk it out, put it out there and just trust that God will do with it what He will. And that’s all we can do.
But it’s about engagement and just stay in the game. You’re going to outlast a lot of people if you do. A lot of other people are going to give up but if you’re in this for the right reasons and you really do want to engage people and change lives and put important, impactful, meaningful content in front of people, do that. Do it on your social feed and just keep having conversations and just stay in the game and it will happen for you.
I’ve got kids that are in the entertainment industry and they’re talented and they work hard but there’s a lot of people that are talented and work hard. Just stick with it. Keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going and don’t get discouraged and just keep going and you will outlast a lot of people and it will happen.
And it won’t take forever and I don’t mean to sound like it’s going to take years and years and years. Good content finds its way. It really does. There may be a million books out there but there’s not a million good books out there. And you sell enough books to the right people and your content is really changing people’s hearts and they’re going to share that. So, just keep going. Remember why you do it and just keep going and just trust.
It grows us as authors, too, that “having to trust every day”. Did I do all this for nothing? Is anybody ever going to read this book? Just trusting that, yes, yes, they will. God will do what He will with this book. Just do my part. Walk it out and it happens.
Donita Bundy: What more can we do than trust and as the saying goes, obey. Yes, thank you.
Jason, the Gracewriters’ slogan is Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture; what are your thoughts on this?
Jason Jones: It has to be why we’re in this, right? Going back to what we just said, I think it’s absolutely gets right to the point. I love it. If we’re not into changing that culture, then why are we doing this?
Culture’s tough on us Christians these days but it really is meaningful work. I think it’s right on the nose.
Belinda Pollard: Jason, where can our listeners find you online and get some more information?
I hope I didn’t make this seem like an impossible task because it really is not. It’s hard work but anything worth doing is a little bit difficult sometimes. We can do this.
Belinda Pollard: I think it’s actually really valuable what you said: it’s the one who stays in the game. You can’t win the game if you don’t stay in the game.
Jason Jones: Correct.
Belinda Pollard: Maybe some people, they might go into writing just for a season and for a particular project and God’s not calling them to stay in it long term, perhaps. But for those of us for whom it is really central to our heart and soul and vision and purpose, we just keep on slogging even though what the world calls success may or may not come.
Jason Jones: There’s only three or four big national morning television shows, right? You can move through those pretty quick and then what? You can do all four or five of them but then what?
There’s a million podcasts out there. You can stay busy doing podcasts and staying in front of people forever. So, get busy.
Belinda Pollard: And as you say, those TV shows, you’re on it for three minutes and then it’s gone and people are thinking, “What was the name of that book?” Whereas if you’re on a podcast, it’s just downloadable, it’s out there for years. A quite different situation. Excellent.
Thank you, Jason. Really appreciate all that you’ve brought for us today and lots to think about going forward.
But how about I pray for you and the Gracewriters as we finish up?
Jason Jones: That would be wonderful, thank you so much.
Belinda Pollard: Heavenly Father, we thank you for Jason. We thank you for the circuitous route via which you brought him to publishing because we know that along the way you were doing things. Those were not mistakes. Those were things that you were using in different ways to equip him to help authors and to increase the spread of your message and your Kingdom through the work of various writers.
I pray that you will bless and encourage and inspire him and lead him to doors that open, to help keep getting your message, your gracenotes in all their different forms out into the world.
And I do pray, too, for all the authors out there who are listening, who are wanting to find some solutions to publicity and media appearances and stuff for their books. I pray that you will give them inspiration and, particularly with the podcast ideas, that you will lead them to things they hadn’t thought of before and open the way forward. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jason Jones: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Jason Jones, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
Gracewriters is run by volunteers and we’re incredibly grateful to those who have contributed financially to help keep this ministry running. Thank you so very much.
If you have enjoyed this podcast and you’d like to help, please go to gracewriters.com and look for DONATE in the menu.
Continue today’s conversation in our free online forum and find useful articles, links and resources at gracewriters.com