By Kathleen Schmidt
May 1st, 2013
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Should I hire a book publicist?” Whether I am speaking at a conference or tweeting about the state of book publishing, writers are often fickle when it comes to the hows and whys of the publicity for their book. I can’t say I blame them—it seems like there is a new “platform” every five minutes along with articles about the death of newspapers. Though it may seem difficult, there are some things one should know before working with a publicist.
Understand the basics of what a publicist does.
While my job is a bit tough to describe to my five-year-old, it is not shrouded in mystery. Publicists are the individuals who help craft a pitch for your book; we are audience curators, media connectors, news junkies, blog researchers, idea think tanks, and most importantly, we are readers.
Write a list of goals you would like to achieve by hiring a publicist.
One of the first questions I ask potential clients is, “What are your goals for yourself/your book?” If you are thinking about hiring a publicist, you must first know why you want to hire one. Is it to help with review coverage? Place op-eds? Consult with you about your online presence? My suggestion is to make two lists—the first should be an absolute wish list. Write down the biggest and best things you would like to see happen for your book. The second list should be the nuts and bolts of what you envision for your publicity campaign. Think it through: based on what you know about book-review sections, do you think your book has a shot at getting reviewed in print? Can you write something topical that a publicist can place as an op-ed? Are you willing to spend some time learning how to use Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit (among others) to promote your book? These are just a few considerations to keep in mind.
Know that you will have to spend money.
After I have an initial phone consultation with an author and she requests a proposal from me, I make sure I create a plan that is comprehensive and customized for her, which includes the fee I will charge for my work. This is where things get tricky. While I understand authors have limited budgets (doesn’t everyone?), I also want to point out the economics of being a freelance publicist: If we are paid well, we do not have to take on loads of projects to make up income. If we start lowering our fees to accommodate everyone’s budgetary limits, we have to take on a lot of extra work. The scenario an author should want is the one where a publicist is paid well for the work and can put a lot of focus on his project. If you shortchange your publicist, you are shortchanging yourself.
Part of a good publicist’s job is to have honest conversations with clients. If a campaign isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to change the focus. For instance, if print editors are not reacting to pitches, maybe it’s time to move on and think of other ways to make people aware of the book. There are loads of books published every year, and only a fraction of them are reviewed. Of those books reviewed, most, if not all, are released by major publishing houses. If you are a self-published author, your chances of being reviewed by the New York Times are pretty slim. This does not mean all is lost; it just means the strategy for promoting your book needs to be fluid. The best author-publicist relationships are partnerships where each party has a vested interested in the outcome of the campaign and can openly discuss what may or may not be working.
A day in the life of a publicist.
When I compile status reports for my clients, I include information about what has been done on their behalf—not only contacting the media, but making copies, stuffing envelopes, lugging packages to the UPS Store. Mundane? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. What most authors don’t realize is that while it may seem like a publicist is being too quiet, it doesn’t mean we are not working. We are always working. The fact is, most pitching is done via e-mail these days, and that is pretty time consuming. A publicist can send out between fifty and one hundred e-mails pitching people and maybe, if they are lucky, get a handful of replies. If it sounds dreadful, it is. No publicist worth her salt will guarantee results—she will, however, guarantee a herculean effort to get people to pay attention to your book.
We’ve earned your business, now trust us.
If you hire a publicist who has quite a few years of experience under his belt, you should take stock in the counsel he gives you when it comes to press materials, following up with contacts, book events, format, pricing, etc. I am a firm believer in author-publicist communication, but there is a point when you have to let us do our job. We will always respect your opinion on how you think your book should be pitched, but we also know the people to whom we are pitching. What you may think is a great Today show pitch might be an absolute stinker to the producer there. A good publicist knows what to pitch where—and what their contacts are looking for in regards to guests, interviews, reviews, and content.
Publicists don’t ever set out for a book to fail, but we are often on the receiving end of much blame when things don’t go exactly as the author had planned. It does count that we follow-up a dozen times with our contacts even when they don’t respond. It also counts that we advise authors on various aspects of the publication process. We are therapists, assistants, travel agents, and media mavens all wrapped up in one package. And that is worth every penny.