Working with an Outside Publicist
by Cynthia Shannon
Hiring an outside publicist to work on a book is a big investment, so when an author wants to do that, it’s important that the author know what to look for. Since being a book publicist requires no formal certification or training, a lot of people consider themselves book publicists despite having little experience or knowledge. Often, they are hired by authors who have even less experience or knowledge of book publicity, leading to an inevitably disastrous outcome.
I urge authors to ask their publishers for recommendations. And to help them make their relationships with outside publicists work well, publishers can provide an overview and a performance checklist.
● When you’re considering publicists to hire, find out whether each candidate has worked on successful books similar to yours. A publicist’s work and level of success on similar books will indicate whether this publicist can connect with relevant media. You might also go one step further and ask if the authors of those similar books are willing to endorse the publicist.
● Any outside publicist your hire reports to you, unlike the in-house publicist, who works for the publisher. The outside publicist is supposed to add value to the campaign, to enhance the in-house publicist’s efforts by generating more media attention for your book than an in-house publicist could generate alone. You are the client, and the publicist should make you happy—after all, every publicist hopes for both repeat business and referrals.
● At the beginning of each season, publishers’ marketing departments decide how much money they are going to invest in promoting each book and in what ways they’ll be spending that money. As part of that process, marketing departments sort books by publicity potential, deciding, for example, whether mainstream media or niche outlets are more likely to recommend a particular title. Decisions are generally based on years of working on similar titles, and also on authors’ established platforms and whether an author will be contributing financially to the overall marketing campaign.
● Publicity campaigns can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000, depending on how long they run and how extensive they are. Authors on a budget might consider hiring a publicist to focus on only one kind of publicity—for example, generating radio interviews or online media hits, both of which are best done within a short time frame around publication date and both of which cost significantly less than a comprehensive campaign.
● Generally, it works best to hire a publicist for a full campaign—from just before the galley stage until about two months after publication date. That gives the publicist time to reach out to long-lead media and trade publications, as well as to TV and radio producers and people involved with Websites, who work with shorter lead times.
● Publicity campaigns for books usually include creating media lists for galleys and for the final book, creating letters to go out with galleys and press releases that go with the books, and following up on all media contacts. Good publicists send some books with personal notes to their best contacts. Generally, publishers absorb the labor and out-of-pocket costs for sending review copies and other promotional materials.
Once a publicist is on board, it’s important to monitor performance. Here are six ways to check that you’re in good hands:
1. Your outside publicist reads your book before creating the proposal for working on it. If you get a template proposal, you don’t know whether the publicist understands your message and the nuances of your book. A good publicist will always tailor even an initial proposal to reflect the book’s content and marketplace.
2. Your publicist takes the time to talk with you about your goals for the campaign. For instance, you may want to promote your company along with your book; you may want the publicity to increase your speaking fees, and/or you may want to sell a lot of books.
3. Your publicist listens to what you want and sets reasonable expectations in the proposal. Not every book is “perfect for Oprah/Jon Stewart/Good Morning America”! Knowing where to find the audience that will most likely buy a particular book is what matters most, not promising to contact a bunch of top-tier publications and shows.
4. Your publicist works closely with your in-house publicist. This means coordinating strategy and being very clear about which media people the outside publicist plans to contact. There are only so many relevant media contacts for any given book, and the two publicists may have many contacts in common, so figuring out who has the better relationship with a potential media outlet before reaching out is key to an effective campaign.
5. Your publicist regularly reports on activities and progress, both to you and to your in-house publicist. You have the right to know what stage the book is at in various media outlets, and what the plans for proceeding are. Your outside publicist should also communicate confirmed media hits to your in-house publicist so the information can be shared with and used by the publisher’s sales team.
6. At the end of a campaign, the publicist reports results that match up well with the goals delineated in the proposal. If the final publicity report does match the initial proposal, you know you had a successful campaign, and you might even want to extend it.
Cynthia Shannon, formerly communications manager at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, is now author marketing coordinator at Goodreads (firstname.lastname@example.org). To learn more, follow her on Twitter @cincindypat.