By Colleen Devine Ellis
As a book publicist, my job is sometimes as much about educating authors about publishing and bookselling as it is about getting media attention for their book. Long ago, before the internet became the dominate avenue for promotion and communication, there were certain tried-and-true paths to book publicity that every publicist traveled. Newspaper book sections, NPR, and publications devoted to book coverage were the most significant media for books, and so these outlets were what most publicists pursued.
Nowadays everything hasn’t just changed, it continues to evolve constantly. New social media platforms develop, blogs appear and disappear, and established media sources update and transform according to audience feedback. Although there are fewer newspapers and even fewer book sections, there are many, many more reviewers and media outlets that cover books. The routes to effective book promotion have expanded exponentially, so much so that it can be challenging for writers and publicists alike to determine the best path for their books.
The huge array of media opportunities available to anyone with an internet connection may overwhelm you. There are almost unlimited resources available online to educate authors about best practices to promote their books to specific audiences and to the media. Many authors use these and their own experience to create effective and interesting publicity plans that result in sales and a higher author profile. Others find the effort to learn and implement good publicity for their books take away valuable writing time or they just don’t enjoy the promotional part of publishing a book.
So, should you be your own publicist or do you need a professional book publicist?
There is not right or wrong answer to this question and it will vary depending on who asks it. Publicity is earned (or ‘free’) exposure vs. marketing which is usually exposure like advertising that is paid for by the publisher or author. You need to think about your expectations and if a freelance publicist can help you to better achieve them than you can on your own or with the resources that your publisher is providing.
Knowing your personal goals before answering this question is important. A publicist’s assistance may cost thousands of dollars and provide services for several months or longer. The author is also working during this time and using a publicist will probably make you busier than you were without one. The publicist takes care of planning the interviews, appearances, book clubs, etc. but the author has to actually make these events happen.
If you are self-publishing or your publisher doesn’t have many resources for promotion, hiring a publicist can also be an educational experience, enough that you learn from them and can take over publicity on your own after the initial push.
Questions to ask yourself before you decide whether or not to hire a book publicist:
How much do you already know about publicity and marketing?
How much time do you want to put into learning and will you gain this knowledge within a time frame that allows you to use it to your book’s best advantage?
How much time do you want to spend on publicity tasks like sending out review copies contacting media, arranging events, etc.?
When does the financial investment become worth it (prominent media placement; trackable sales linked to publicity outreach; a specific number of media interviews; significant increase in social media followers, etc.)?
If you have a publisher, talk with the publicist or marketing manager well in advance of your book’s publication date to find out their publicity and marketing plans. This will be helpful in designing your own publicity plan, whether you create it with a personal publicist or on your own. Also ask how they prefer to work with freelance publicists – some will hand over the reins, others may prefer to keep efforts completely separate. There is no longer a presumption about what marketing and publicity efforts a publisher will do for a book so asking for specifics is essential in determining if you will need freelance help.
If you interview potential publicists, find out if they will regularly update you on their progress and provide you with information such as review lists, a schedule of publicity outreach, follow-up results, and any other outreach they may do for you. An experienced book publicist can be a valuable, effective partner to educate you, provide direction and increase your book’s visibility in a very crowded, clamorous media world. You need to determine if the financial cost is worth the investment before you make a decision to hire a professional.
For more in this series, see:
- 6 Questions to Ask Before Publicizing Your Book
- Setting Expectations Before You Publish Your Book
- Making Book Promotion Work: The Author/Publisher Relationship
- What Is Your Book Community?
- Creating and Finding Media Opportunities for Your Book
- An Author’s Best Friends: Booksellers and Librarians
Colleen Devine Ellis, a former publicity manager for Barnes & Noble and the University of Texas Press, runs literary consultant and runs Devine Literary Publicity and Marketing in Austin, Texas.