After they’ve signed with a publisher, most authors are surprised to learn that they have to spend their own money to publicize their book. For authors, hiring a publicist has become more the rule than the exception because publishers can’t be counted on to publicize their books. And book publicity is a bottomless pit—you can never get enough!
Hiring a publicist can be a costly and risky venture. You may get great publicity that doesn’t translate into enormous book sales. But if publicity brings you fame rather than fortune, it could still be beneficial to you as an author. The point is, publicity may not be beneficial to you or your book, and if it is, the rewards may not always be immediate and clear.
Sometimes, you just can’t publicize your book by yourself; it takes too much time and work. Deep down, you may also feel that you don’t know enough about publicity to get the results you want because every time you try, your publicity campaign sputters and doesn’t get off the ground.
Often, it’s smarter and more cost effective to call in a professional to help with all or parts of your campaign. If you hire a publicist, you can concentrate on your business, what you really do best, while the pro keeps your campaign humming.
Now that you understand more about publicizing books, it should be easier for you to find the right publicist for you and for you to work with them. You have a better understanding of the language, your options, and what a publicity campaign involves. You may even have ideas on how you should proceed and be able to make valuable contributions that could make your publicity campaign go much smoother.
One word of warning: When you hire a publicist, even for just part of a campaign, stay involved! Publicists, including the best of us, are not miracle workers, and we usually can’t get the best results with uninvolved clients. We need cooperative clients, clients who become our partners by giving us information, insights, and help in achieving their objectives. However, don’t interfere, disrupt, or try to micromanage your publicist. Don’t make your publicist dread your constant calls.
When you want to publicize your book, you have three basic options: Hiring a PR firm, hiring a consultant, or doing it yourself. Let’s look at some of the pluses and minuses of each.
PR firms are one option. If they’re large and well established, you probably will be paying top dollar, which will include sums for their overhead and reputation. However, they may also have great know-how and fabulous contacts, which could make them well worth the price. Smaller firms may cost less, have lower overhead, and provide more personal service.
The key when hiring any firm is to evaluate its client list, determine its level of understanding of your book, and see if you are a good fit. Size does not matter; we’ve seen small, well-connected firms make a book soar across the media; we’ve also seen large firms with offices across the world network do zilch. Smaller firms are often run by experienced pros who have worked for bigger firms or corporations. Make sure to understand the firm; find out who will do the daily work on your account and what contacts, skills, and services they will provide. PR firms usually work on monthly retainers, but may agree to run your campaign for a project price. The culture of each PR firm is as different as the results that can be achieved, so get involved up front, during the hiring process—that’s the time to find out what you can expect.
Hire a firm that’s rich in your niche. Since book publicity is such a specialized field, look for PR firms that specialize in or have extensive experience publicizing books and consider hiring those that know and have experience in your topic. Usually, they will provide better, more targeted results. Most experienced book publicists have vast knowledge and close contacts that they’ve developed over the years. Often, they can accomplish more with one well-placed phone call than non-book specialists can achieve in weeks—if at all.
Overall, book publicity specialists tend to be creative and open to new ideas and approaches; they know firsthand that the most off-beat promotions can work wonders, so they love to devise and try the unusual in the hope of creating big hits. Professional publicists also are aware that they’re in the relationship business, so they’re normally easy to work with.
Avoid agencies that do publicity on the side or it’s not their main focus; they rarely promote books well. Examples of these agencies are advertising or branding firms that also offer PR services. Chances are that they haven’t successfully promoted many books. Naturally, exceptions to the rule exist, but working with a firm that focuses on authors and books usually produces the best results.
Usually, it’s preferable to hire experienced book publicists, but don’t discount those who have never dealt with books, because they can contribute brilliantly to your campaign. Although they may not have the best book publicity contacts, they may have fabulous, inventive, and innovative ideas. A foray into books may rejuvenate them and stimulate their enthusiasm, drive, and creative flair. They may import ideas or tactics that are foreign to book promoters and bring a new vision that sees what others might have missed or were too close to see.
When you truly believe in a publicist, go with him or her. When you find yourself being swept up by an individual’s vision, energy, or excitement, follow it through. Publicity is a business of sparks; lots of little sparks can ignite a campaign, send it roaring, soaring, and doing wonders for you and your book.
These freelancers usually work on their own, without staffs. Most worked for PR agencies or businesses before they decided to go it alone, so their experience and abilities will vary. Check their backgrounds and credentials thoroughly.
Consultants may not be any less expensive than agencies, but they usually have less overhead. They may be more flexible in what they charge and agreeable to working for a stated fee to promote your book. Consultants usually have networks that they use to perform specialized tasks, so you may have to incur additional costs.
If you hire consultants, make sure that they are experienced in promoting books. Before you pay them a dime, find out exactly what books they promoted, what each campaign involved, and the results it achieved. Ask to see the promotion plans for those campaigns and documentation of the results they produced.Since publicity is a contact sport, the most hardworking, dedicated, and personable publicist may not know which buttons to press to get the right people on the line. Ask prospective publicists whom they have as close media contacts and listen for familiar names.
Being Your Own Publicist
Okay. Although we’ve advised you to beware of running your own book publicity campaign, we would be remiss not to mention that option. Regardless of whether they hire professionals, all authors must be their own books’ publicists. They must roll up their sleeves and go to work. The best authors are involved authors. Some authors excel at representing themselves; they have fabulous contacts and the time, inclination, and energy to tirelessly promote their books. They may also have media savvy. If this sounds like you, you could pull it off.
When authors decide to publicize their own books, few have the same contacts and knowledge as PR firms or consultants. Even so, there is much they can do themselves. Should you decide to be your book’s publicist, build your contact and knowledge base.
If you go it alone and discover you’re lost or barely making a dent, you obviously need some help. If you still want to be hands on, consider breaking down the effort into smaller chunks and hiring a professional to handle matters in which they excel and/or in which you may be weak.