Publicity campaign case study – How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Freelance Book Publicist

Claire Maxwell is a freelance publicist, former journalist and a member of BookMachine Works. She’s worked in the communications department of various publishing companies in the UK including Canongate Books and Icon Books, managing huge campaigns and securing national and regional publicity for a number of authors.

There are so many variables to a good publicity campaign, so I must preface this article by saying that no size fits all. Every single publicist will work a little bit differently to one another and one of the main things I’ve learned through my time working in publishing is that that’s okay. It’s what gives us all a niche, an area of expertise, and more often than not, there’s multiple ways of doing an amazing job.

Finding a focus

When I was working on the campaign for Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time at Canongate, we wanted to keep the quality of the novel at the centre of the campaign. This was the author’s first novel since The Humans four years previously and since then he has become hugely well-known for his non-fiction title on his depression, Reasons to Stay Alive and his children’s series which started with A Boy Called Christmas. We didn’t want to shy away from the fact that he is such a diverse writer but we also wanted to build a buzz around the novel itself.

The keys to success

Starting early was key. As were proofs. Even more so with fiction than with non-fiction, bound proofs are so important to the success of the campaign. If you can get the book in the hands of the literary editor/producer/journalist I believe you will have a much better chance of conveying your passion for the project as well as the quality of what is inside.

Of course, as well as this, identifying your key objectives from the outset is important. For this campaign BBC Radio 2 Simon Mayo Book Club and BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime were among ours, as well as a television interview, widespread review coverage and plenty of profile interviews.

Touring and events

Events aren’t obligatory for every campaign, but for a highly anticipated novel with an author who already has a huge following, they were a big part of our strategy. We carefully plotted a book tour that took into account the needs of the author, ensured ongoing book sales and a spread across all the retailers. It was incredibly successful with multiple sell-out events, including an official launch on publication at Foyles Charing Cross Road chaired by Bryony Gordon.

Because the author was going to be touring on and off during July we wanted to make sure the bulk of interviews and written pieces were wrapped up before then. We secured first interview with Guardian Review to run the weekend before publication and managed to negotiate second interview with Daily Telegraph to run three days later. We secured a slot on BBC Radio 2 Graham Norton, which the author pre-recorded and then was released on the Saturday before publication, and we were delighted to secure an interview with Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio 4 Open Book which aired on publication day.

Impact of the campaign – and planning for the future

How to Stop Time came out on 6th July with a veritable bang. It shot to number two in the Sunday Times Bestsellers list and it then went on to stay in the list for nine weeks.

Finally, we wanted to keep the campaign going long after publication, setting up the paperback in the best way possible. For months we had been trying to find the right angle for BBC Breakfast, regularly talking to the producer and we finally confirmed our spot. We then created another focus a couple of months after publication with written pieces in Guardian, Observer Magazine ‘Inner Life’ and Telegraph Magazine ‘Life & Times’.

It was an utter privilege to work on such an incredible book, one that deserved the recognition it received. As I said at the beginning, no campaign is the same and no plan will work for every book, but with a product you and your colleagues truly believe in and a whole lot of hard work, it’s got to be the most satisfying thing in the world to see said product in that Sunday Times bestseller list.

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