Authors often ask me, “Should I hire a book publicist?”
My first response is usually, “Can you afford to hire a book publicist?”
Authors are usually shocked when I tell them what an experienced book publicist charges (see below).
They’re surprised again when I tell them that the fees come with no guarantees. And yet, as a former publicist, I’m a big fan of them — the good ones, that is! (And there are lots of good ones out there.) A good book publicist can take you places you’re afraid to go on your own.
Not everyone is clear on what they can and can’t expect from a book publicist, though. Here’s what you need to know about working with a book publicist.
What does a book publicist do?
Sandra Poirier Smith, president of Smith Publicity, Inc., says a publicist’s job is to help make a book and its author newsworthy.
“To do this, we start with in-depth conversations with the author about their goals, work, and ideal audiences. From here, we are able to create strategies to reach targeted media—magazine, newspaper, television, radio, podcast, digital, and/or blog outlets,” she says.
The end result is typically “book reviews, recommendations and excerpts, feature stories, Q&As, print and broadcast interviews, expert commentary, bylined articles, op-ed pieces, and so on,” she says.
What doesn’t a publicist do?
A publicist’s job is to get news media attention for the book and/or its author.
It’s not a book publicist’s job to:
- Manage advertising, on Amazon, Facebook, or anywhere else
- Identify, schedule, and coordinate speaking appearances
- Contribute to the publication process, whether that’s by finding an agent or publisher, editing the manuscript, or getting the book into distribution
Other types of consultants might provide these types of services, but a book publicist is focused on getting your book in the news.
Working with a book publicist
Now that you understand what a book publicist does and doesn’t do, it’s important to know what to expect before contacting one for help. Here are seven things you will want to know as you consider hiring a publicist for your book.
1. Experienced book publicists charge from $3,000 to $5,000 a month.
They also require at least a three-month commitment so that they can build, and then take advantage of, momentum. Ideally, you’ll begin working together before your book is released.
2. There are no guarantees.
If a publicist offers guarantees, walk away.
Advertising consultants can make promises that publicists can’t. With advertising, you control the message, what it looks like, and when it appears because you’re paying for that.
With publicity — that priceless news media exposure that you can’t buy — you are at the mercy of the media gatekeepers.
“While we wish we were the ones making decisions on which books to feature, that is the job of producers, editors, and reviewers at media outlets,” says Smith.
A good publicist, though, knows how and what to pitch, and how to get results.
3. Many book publicists don’t work with self-published authors.
This is partly because so many self-published books don’t meet traditional publishing standards. It’s the same reason why media outlets say they don’t review self-published books. (For more on that, read “How to get around the ‘we don’t review self-published books’ roadblock.”)
Yeah, yeah, Donny and Marie Osmond sang about how “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl,” but with books, it’s often more than one piece of rotten fruit.
4. Publicists do not work on commission.
Nobody who is any good will work for a percentage of sales, so don’t even think about it.
Do the math. How much do you make in royalties on each book sold? How many books do you have to sell to generate $9,000 to $15,000 for three months of work? The royalties are too small to fund a publicist.
In addition, it’s difficult to link book sales to specific tactics. Unless you’re a highly sophisticated marketer, you won’t know if sales were generated by smart email marketing or the article you were interviewed for in USA Today.
5. Publicists typically work within two business models.
There’s the traditional fee-based approach that I favor. The firm tells you what it will do and charges a fee based on the time involved to execute the plan.
The other approach uses a pay-for-performance model. The firm charges a set-up fee to get things rolling, then you pay on a per-placement basis. High-prestige placements like an interview in Parents magazine cost more, for example, than an interview with a radio station in your hometown.
6. Many will collaborate with the author/client to save money by sharing the load.
Let your publicist provide the social media strategy that you execute while she focuses her efforts on getting national media attention.
Or, write the book announcement press release yourself so you aren’t paying him to do it. After all, who knows your book better than you?
7. A local publicist charged with generating just local publicity should cost less.
A lot less, for two reasons.
First, getting local publicity is much easier than getting national exposure. Second, there are fewer media outlets.
A few words on finding and hiring someone you can trust
Just this week, I saw this image shared on social media by a book publicist. This firm was promoting its services alongside it’s client’s book. Unless this firm gave the author a substantial discount for the right to co-promote — which is highly unlikely — this is wrong.
Stay away from companies that are more interested in promoting their businesses than your books.
To learn how to avoid making costly hiring mistakes, read, “How one author got ripped off and how you can avoid it.”
To decide if you should hire a book publicist, read, “Should you hire a book publicist?”
Do it yourself
Can’t afford a pro? Learn how to do do it yourself. I offer a very affordable home study course, “Book Marketing 101: How to Build Book Buzz” in two versions — one for fiction authors, the other for nonfiction writers. Each will help you learn how to publicize your book, and much, more more.
As with so much else, knowledge is power. The more you know about how this works, the better able you will be to spend your marketing dollars wisely.
If you’ve hired a publicist, please share your experience here. What worked . . . what didn’t?
(Editor’s note: This article was first published in July 2012. It has been updated and expanded.)
Tip of the Month
This month, it’s the Ultimate Children’s Writing Cheat Sheet from my friends at Children’s Book Insider. You’ll get:
- Word counts and age groups for every kidlit category
- FAQs, glossaries, and reading lists
- Category-specific tips, from picture books through young adult novels
- Five easy ways to improve your manuscript
We’re all cooped up indefinitely. There’s never been a better time to use free resources like this to learn more about your craft.
Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!