Who should hire a book publicist? Who shouldn't? Should you be your own publicist? Here are the options for you, your book, and your career.
At least once a week, an author asks me, “Should I hire a book publicist?”
Are you wondering about this, too?
Before offering advice, I need to know an author’s long-term goals, the book’s quality and publicity potential, and the individual’s financial situation.
I also want to make sure any author considering this investment understands:
- Why they’re considering hiring a book publicist — what do they hope a publicist will do for their career?
- What a publicist can and can’t accomplish for an author and their book.
- There are no guarantees with book publicity — a publicist can’t promise anything (and if they do, it means they’re using your money to pay the media outlet…we call that “advertising”).
- A publicist is a significant financial investment.
The financial investment
Authors accustomed to marketing emails proclaiming, “We’ll promote your book for $99!” are often surprised when they learn what experienced book publicists charge for their time, skill, and know-how.
So let’s start there. It will help to know if you can afford it before you think about the other specifics we’ll talk about here.
A good, experienced book publicist charges $3,000 to $5,000 a month and needs at least three or four months to work on your book — often six.
If you can’t afford that, stop reading now.
Yes, yes, you can probably hire somebody for less than that. But that’s the going rate for experienced specialists.
And before you pull out the calculator to figure out how many books you’ll need to sell to break even, understand that you probably won’t earn back your publicist fees in book royalties or sales alone.
Who should hire a book publicist?
So who can afford to take that kind of risk on behalf of their book? Someone who can afford to invest in their career.
Authors who can afford a publicist typically fall into nine categories.Authors who can afford a publicist typically fall into nine categories. Do you fit into one of them?Click to tweet
1. Traditional publishing contract authors with a large enough advance against royalties to fund an outside publicist.
I coached a first-time author with a six-figure advance who invested some of it in media training and two publicists, each with a different specialty.
2. Successful, well-compensated entrepreneurs or executives.
These people often hire a ghostwriter for their book, too.
3. Consultants, coaches, and professional speakers who wrote a book to help build their career, generate higher fees, or build a client base.
Publicity for a book that is essentially a large business card can help generate enough income to cover the publicist’s fee.
4. Career authors who know that the size of their next advance depends on how well their most recent book sold.
They want to make sure they sell enough copies of this one to get a solid advance for their next manuscript.
5. Self-published experts who have written books on trending topics and have invested in a quality book that rivals anything published by a traditional book publisher.
This means they’ve paid for professional cover design, editing, and proofreading; and have enlisted objective beta readers to provide constructive feedback on the manuscript. The result is a darned good book.
6. Individuals looking to build a platform for their first or subsequent books.
Publishers prefer authors with a solid platform. Media exposure is a platform component that can enhance the marketing section of the author’s book proposal and improve the odds of landing a publishing contract.Media exposure is a platform component that can enhance the marketing section of the author's book proposal and improve the odds of landing a publishing contract.Click to tweet
7. Authors who can afford to spend the money without worrying about whether they will earn the money back.
They’re investing in their career, but won’t suffer financially if the publicity campaign doesn’t meet the publicist’s expectations.
8. Authors with a top-quality, self-published book who want to leverage high-profile publicity to help get their books into bookstores and libraries.
Retailers and libraries look for reader demand. Publicity both generates and demonstrates interest.
9. People who are independently wealthy.
They often pay for an expensive publishing package and corresponding marketing because it’s the easiest path to a finished book … and because they can. These individuals often have high expectations for book publicity.
Publicity can generate an income boost
When a campaign is successful, savvy authors leverage the media exposure to secure:
- More and better paying speaking engagements
- Higher consulting fees
- More coaching and consulting clients
- A larger platform for related products that can include online courses, companion workbooks, and coaching programs
- A larger advance for their next book
This is a snapshot of the potential; it’s not a guarantee.
Who shouldn’t hire a book publicist?
A good publicist will tell you what they think they can accomplish for your book, but they can’t promise any of that. That’s because there’s a gatekeeper between the publicist and the results you want, whether it’s an appearance on “The Daily Show” or an interview about your book’s topic in the Chicago Tribune.A good publicist will tell you what they think they can accomplish for your book, but they can't promise any of that.Click to tweet
The gatekeeper is a producer, editor, writer, or reporter. They are the people who decide which sources get interviews and which products get featured.
With that in mind, I don’t recommend contracting wtih a book publicist if:
- You think a publicist should work for a percentage of book sales. It doesn’t work that way. (And I’m not going to argue about why it should.)
- You have to borrow money for the fee.
- You can’t afford to spend the money without being certain that you will get tangible results. Because you might not.
Extra credit homework
If you think it makes sense to hire a publicist, please read two articles on this site first:
- “7 things you need to know about working with a book publicist” offers insights into how it works and what to expect (and not expect).
- “How one author got ripped off and how you can avoid it” gives you seven questions to ask as you work through the outside consultant selection process.
Ask authors who have hired a book publicist to talk to you about their experiences, too. What results did they get? Were they satisfied? Would they do it again?
Do it yourself instead
Because of the expense and risk associated with a publicist, many authors decide to do it themselves. If you’ve got more money than time, hire a pro. More time than money? Do it yourself.
But learn how first.
Be sure to read my article, “How to be your own book publicist.” Search online. Take a course. Read a book. (Consider looking outside the “for authors” book genre to publicity how-to books for small business owners and entrepreneurs, too.)
Whether you hire a book publicist or decide to do it yourself, do your homework first (I offer one-on-one book marketing coaching that can help). The more you know first, the more likely you are to be satisfied with your decision.
If you’re hired a book publicist, please tell us in a comment how you found the person you hired.
(Editor’s note: This article was first published in July 2017. It has been updated and expanded.)
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