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Should you hire a book publicist? Here’s everything you need to know

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.

 

via GIPHY

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.

hire a publicist 2

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?

book publicist 2If you don’t fall into one of those nine categories above, be very, very cautious if you still want to hire a publicist. Remember, there are no guarantees.

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:

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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20 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your honest and well-thoughtout article. Over the years, we have dealt with many individual authors, publishers, and book publicists. Our impression has been that when working to help promote a book, individual authors are the most dedicated, focused, energetic, and appreciative. We always enjoy working with individual authors to help them obtain student book reviews that they can use to promote their titles. Thank you for this article. I plan to share it with our staff.
    Gary Cassel
    LitPick Student Book Reviews

  2. This is really great… now, next question is, where can I find a reliable book publicist? I’ve been looking for one, but I’m leery since there are so many scam artists out there preying upon would-be writers. I’ve been down several rabbit holes, I’ve been steered towards DIY programs over and over.

    I just want to throw money at a pro with a good rolodex, who understands the historical fiction market, and get some traction because I just don’t have the bandwidth to write more novels and sell them once they’re done, and do all the things that I’ve been advised to do.

    1. Jeanette, the best way to find someone reliable is to start with your network. Do you have an agent? Agents can often recommend trustworthy pros. How about other authors in your genre? Are you in online groups for historical fiction authors? Ask for recommendations there. Check the acknowledgements of books by successful historical fiction authors. If that doesn’t yield anyone you can investigate, try a Google search, then speak to authors they represent.

      Regarding being leery, I get it! Here are tips for making sure you don’t get ripped off:
      https://buildbookbuzz.com/how-one-author-got-ripped-off/

      Sandy

  3. Hi Sandra, This was an excellent article and so well written. I also liked the threaded ring of honesty in the whole thing. You’re right on point. This gives me the idea to go to non-fiction chat rooms and/or non-fiction physical books and see what I can find. I did it all myself for my first book and know the work. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about putting myself through it again but I’ll see. Great! article.

    1. Thanks, Sora! Regarding honesty…a good, reputable publicist approaches the “should I work with this author?” decision the same way a good literary agent does. They ask themselves, “Can I deliver results?” They know that getting paid for a lot of work that yields little isn’t good for their reputation. Plus, they truly want their author clients to succeed!

      You’ve got a big advantage here for your next book — you know how to do it! I hope your hard work pays off. Good luck!

      Sandy

  4. Thanks for your helpful, real-world take on Publicists. They are obviously out of the reach of most writers, especially indie fiction writers like myself. So my question is this: assuming the writer has more than a few dollars to spend on book promotion (in other words, on advertising), what approach makes the most sense?

    1. Barry, I’m curious about why you presume advertising is the only option. There are so many other ways to spend promotion dollars.

      Sandy

  5. I hired a publicist for my debut and was pleased with the results. I knew going in that a first book in the women’s fiction genre and published through a small press would need help getting noticed. I also did it for the “ego boost” that appearing in Writer’s Digest, Crime Reads, Marie Claire, Pop Sugar, and top podcasts gave me. I strongly believe in the adage “no one will buy a book they don’t know about” – As you correctly point out, the ROI for PR can’t be easily measured – awareness will not sell your book (the work itself has to do that) but it can make people aware of your book. Be clear on your goals and expect to be an equal partner with your publicist for the best experience.

    1. I love this feedback from one who has been there/done that, Maggie. Thank you! You clearly saw this as a career investment, and it’s one you could afford to make. Plus, you connected with a good publicist. I’m glad to hear it!

      Sandy

  6. I really appreciate you spelling out whether or not authors should spend money on a publicist. I get emails and LinkedIn messages from publicists every time one of my books is released, and the price ranges they quote are always well beyond what I could expect to make back in a timely manner. Others call and tell me that my book has been “selected” for their “program,” a clear scam of some sort—and then to read of the terrible experience your friend had (how heartbreaking!). It’s good to read once again that I am not in the subset of authors who can afford this, so I am not tempted to try it. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Randi. You’re doing well enough on your own! Even so, most of your books are niche enough that a publicist might cost less than the fees I quoted because your audience is so targeted.

      That aside, the only publicists who should be contacting you are those that specialize in your types of books (and you DO have a type!). I suspect that the ones you hear from don’t fit that description. And the best and the brightest don’t need to look for prospects on LinkedIn, right? They get a lot of referral business from satisfied publishers and authors.

      Those phone calls? Total scammers. Despicable. I think I’ll need to write a post about how to spot the scammers soon because that’s a very big problem.

      Thanks for weighing in!

      Sandy

  7. Excellent, eye-opening article! It will spare many authors from going down the wrong path. Your candid approach confirmed my belief that hiring a publicist was not the right decision for me.

    If funds are tight, networking is a powerful way to get yourself out there, too. When people know and love you and your work, they will introduce you to their network and recommend your products. It’s been my most rewarding strategy so far.

    Thanks for sharing y our wisdom.

    1. That’s excellent advice, Sonia! Thanks! I’ll enhance it by saying give before you take. I estimate that every 5th LinkedIn connection request I accept is followed by a direct message telling me what that person wants me to do for them. (And yet, I’m continually surprised when it happens…you’d think I’d catch on! ; – ) )

      Thank you!

      Sandy

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