If you’re part of the Chicago literary scene, you might already know Dana Kaye. You definitely know her clients, because that’s Kaye’s job—to make sure her stable of young adult, thriller/mystery, fiction, and nonfiction authors are right on the tip of your tongue.
But what’s this? The tables, as they say, are now turned. With the September 20 publication of Your Book, Your Brand from Diversion Publishing, Dana Kaye is the author, on the topic near and dear to her heart and business: How do authors better promote themselves and their work?
I recently spoke with Dana Kaye about her business, her book, and her own author brand.
Lori Rader-Day: You didn’t come to book publicity through the public relations door. Tell us your origin story?
Dana Kaye: I went to Columbia College for fiction writing, and when I was a student in Joe Meno’s class, he gave me the opportunity to write a review for (the now defunct) Punk Planet. I still remember the book, Choir Boy by Charlie Jane Anders. From there, I went on to freelance for a number of publications and secured a regular gig reviewing books for the Chicago Sun-Times and Time Out Chicago.
After graduation, I continued freelancing, writing everything from feature articles to website copy. I liked working in my pajamas and telling stories for a living, but my true passion was telling people what to read. I began researching publicity and marketing jobs at the Big 5, but I really didn’t want to move to New York. So, when I was at a conference and a writer friend (Jamie Freveletti) was telling me she was thinking of hiring an outside publicist, I told her I thought I could help her out. We started with a few small projects, which quickly grew into a bigger campaign. Then I teamed up with other author friends, Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, and by the end of the year, Kaye Publicity had 30 clients.
Lori Rader-Day: So, what’s your author brand, now that you’re an author yourself?
Dana Kaye: I should be prepared for that one, shouldn’t I?! I think my Twitter tagline serves as a solid author brand: Publicist, triathlete, and all-around hustler.
Lori Rader-Day: If you could tell authors one thing about building their brands, what would it be?
Dana Kaye: The day you sign a book contract, you become a public figure. Everything you say, tweet, and publish should be done with thought and scrutiny.
Lori Rader-Day: If an artist is figuring out his or her brand, what kinds of questions do they need to ask themselves?
Dana Kaye: Brand consists of two parts: who the author is and what the author writes. I recommend authors make a list of things about themselves (past jobs, degrees, research they’ve done, hobbies) and then identify ones that relate to the book. For the book portion, authors should write down a list of primary themes, secondary themes, one line about their protagonist, and their genre category. From there, they can identify the primary hooks and create a tagline that’s on brand.
Using a few of our clients as examples, Gregg Hurwitz writes page-turning thrillers, often with flawed protagonists, and does crazy things in the name of research. Denise Grover Swank is a single-mother of 6 who began writing in 2009 as a means to support her family, and has since published more than 40 books and sold two million copies.
Lori Rader-Day: Early in Your Book, Your Brand you caution writers still working on their first book to put down your book and go back to their manuscript. Interesting marketing right there: “put down this book.” I totally agree with you. Can you talk a bit about why it was important to you to say that and when it’s appropriate advice?
Dana Kaye: Authors LOVE distractions. They’ll take any excuse not to write. I talk to so many authors who are so focused on marketing and publicizing their product that they lose sight of actually creating that product. Sure, social media and publicity are important. But if you don’t have a product to sell, there’s really no point.
Lori Rader-Day: Your book is for authors who want to be smarter about their sales efforts on their own terms, but you also give advice for when they might want to hire a professional to help out. How can you tell when you need professional help with promotions?
Dana Kaye: Whether or not to hire a professional depends on three factors: expertise, time, and budget. If you worked in PR and now write full time, don’t have kids or other responsibilities, then it may make sense for you to handle the work yourself. If you work in finance and have 4 kids, you don’t have time to execute a PR campaign, you probably don’t have all the expertise, and most likely, you have the budget to afford it.
I use the cleaning person example. I suck at cleaning. I have limited time to clean. So I hire a cleaner. But if I didn’t have the budget to afford a cleaner, then I’d roll up my sleeves and do it myself.
Interested in learning more?
Dana Kaye’s Chicago Launch Party for Your Book, Your Brand:
Thursday, 9/22/16, 6:00-9:00pm
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago
Your Book, Your Brand Talk/Signing
Wednesday, 10/26/16, 6:00-8:00pm
Wilmette Public Library, 1242 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette
Dana Kaye Your Book, Your Brand Workshop for Mystery Writers of America, Midwest
Sunday, 1/29/17, 12:00-1:00 pm
Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St., Forest Park
Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye
Published September 20, 2016
Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar® Award-nominated (and multi-award-winning) author of The Death of Us, Death at Greenway, The Lucky One, Under a Dark Sky, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she co-chairs the mystery readers' event Midwest Mystery Conference and teaches creative writing for Northwestern University's School of Professional Studies.