How to secure publicity for potentially divisive books

January this year saw the launch of our new series of books on gender diversity. From first-person memoirs to children’s storybooks, many of these books are written by trans and non-binary people and consider the particular challenges that this group faces.

We expected some negative press on the launch of this list – the topics explored are not new, but certainly divisive. And while you can never predict the media’s reaction to potentially contentious new books, I’ve found a couple of things to be key in steering publicity in the right direction.

Having an arsenal of ‘expert’ authors has been invaluable. Not only are our trans and non-binary authors best placed to describe the highs and lows of being gender-diverse, they are sensitive to the experiences of other individuals in this community. They also have a much clearer awareness of ongoing debates and issues. Knowing when, as the publisher, to step back and let the author drive the conversation is really important.

Earlier this year, one of our ‘controversial’ new books received some criticism in a national paper. Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity? helps young readers to understand the transition process and can be used by teachers in the classroom – an idea that regularly divides public opinion. I pitched author CJ Atkinson, who identifies as trans and queer, to The Guardian, for their first national interview and the chance to respond to the misinformed claims made about the book. The interview lead to CJ’s appearance on Good Morning Britain, further boosting the profile of the book and the message it conveys.

Without the initial furore over the book, this opportunity may not have arisen. It opened a dialogue, to which CJ could contribute their argument, informed by personal experience and a deeper understanding of the debate around teaching trans issues in schools. It’s a tired adage, but it really is true when they say that any publicity is good publicity! And it certainly helps if your authors know this too and are ready to use it to their advantage.

Working with authors to reach audiences through their own platforms has also been particularly helpful for raising awareness of our gender diversity books. One of our authors, Fox Fisher, was recently invited onto Good Morning Britain with his partner Owl, to discuss what it means to be non-binary. Off the back of their heated debate with Piers Morgan, the couple started the #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike campaign, and we’ve since been able to use their appearance and their large social network as a vehicle to promote Fox’s book, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?

So, to sum up – three points to remember when seeking publicity for potentially divisive books:

  • Know when to step back and let your expert authors drive the conversation
  • Use any publicity to your advantage
  • Use your authors’ social networks to reach an already engaged audience

Lily Bowden is the Publicity and Marketing Executive at JKP. She started in her role in April 2016 and loves working with books that cover such important and diverse topics, from mental health and autism through to gender identity and spirituality.

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