How to Hire a Publicist
by Kate Siegel Bandos
If you love talking on the telephone and surfing the Web . . . love talking about yourself, your new book, your subject area . . . love writing and coming up with different angles for book promotion . . . and don’t mind when someone tells you they don’t care about you, your book, your point of view . . . you may want to do all your book publicity.
Of course, you also need to be media savvy, watch a lot of TV, listen to the radio a lot, read a lot of magazines and newspapers, and do a lot of Web surfing, to best pinpoint just where you, your new book, and your message are a good match.
These are just a few of the criteria you can use to decide whether to do book publicity yourself.
The other option is hiring a publicist or publicity firm to try to get you, your book, and your message written about and talked about in the media. Susan Foster, author and publisher of Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler, quips, “I don’t cut my own hair and I don’t do my own publicity. I know when a professional will do a better job than I can.” If you are treating your publishing endeavor as a real business, you may want to consider hiring a professional publicist to do all or some of the work.
What a publicist should bring to the project is an in-depth understanding of the publishing world (PR people who usually handle PR for banks, shopping centers, and sports teams will be baffled by how the publishing world works). A publicist should also have good working relationships with a wide range of media people and special strengths in your specific market area (political books, fiction, children’s books, travel guides, whatever).
Every day I hear stories of authors and publishers who think they spent too much with a publicist who only got them coverage in a few newspapers and interviews on a dozen or so radio shows. I also know authors and publishers who would be thrilled with that much coverage. Understanding the reality of today’s media and having realistic expectations is key to getting the help and coverage you and your book(s) deserve.
What You’ll Want to Know
Here are 10 questions you should ask any publicist or publicity firm you are considering hiring:
1. What is your experience working with [my kind of] books? What coverage did you get for your most recent title in this genre [or subject area]?
2. What media contacts do you have, and do you maintain your own list or use a master database service? (Find out about both local media contacts and national media contacts. If you like, you can note some of the names mentioned, and try to reach a few of these people to see what they think of the publicist you are considering.)
3. What do you see as your strengths? (Some might say print; others might say radio or Internet; or they might claim they are strong in all these areas. Know which areas will be best for your message.)
4. Who will work with me? (The person you are talking to? Someone else? Can you talk with that person before making a decision?)
5. How are your fees set up? A monthly retainer? Per task? Per interview or placement?
6. Will I get a detailed contract, outlining exactly what I can expect and when?
7. Will I have a chance to review and approve all materials (letters, releases, flyers) before they are sent out, and be able to use them afterward? (Find out whether you will have the right to post this material on your Web site and use it for other kinds of book promotion. It’s a good idea to request three letters and releases the publicist did for other clients as samples.)
8. How often will reports be sent to me, and how detailed will they be?
9. How will we communicate? Via email? Phone? Can I contact you after hours and on weekends?
10. How do you judge whether a campaign has been successful?
What They’ll Want to Know
A good publicist will also have a lot of questions for you, designed to get a sense of how well you might do on radio or TV or dealing with a journalist. Some might ask how willing you are to do interviews at all hours of the day and night. We once worked with a doctor who didn’t want to do late night/early morning interviews even though his book was about sleep disorders. We finally convinced him that these were exactly the times people with sleep problems might be listening to the radio.
A publicist might also ask how quickly you will respond to news of a lead. We know one author who did an interview wearing nothing but a towel when a radio show wanted to do an immediate spot and the author had just stepped out of the shower! Instant availability makes any author an easier sell for a publicist.
Making the Decision
When your face-to-face meeting or (more likely) your phone interview with a prospective publicist is over, review it in your mind. Did you feel comfortable? Did you sense real excitement on the publicist’s part? Did the publicist start tossing out ideas that sounded right-on to you?
Of course, you must ask for references from clients and thoroughly check them out to determine when the clients worked with the publicist, whether they found the publicist easy to work with, and whether they were pleased with the results. Ask each reference for an example of a time the publicist went above and beyond what was expected.
Many elements go into a great team effort in book publicity, but passion for the book’s message and excitement about the book’s potential are the ones you should require. Don’t settle for less. The publicist should love the book just as much as you do. One who doesn’t is probably not the right choice for you and this project.
Kate Bandos has worked with hundreds of publishers and authors and dealt with a wide array of media people during her more than 35 years in publishing. Since the formation of KSB Promotions in 1988, she has primarily helped independent publishers of general lifestyle nonfiction and children’s books garner media exposure. For more information, go to ksbpromotions.com.