Book publicists – why yes, I speak Sell

The Book Publicity Blog has a good post about why authors shouldn’t contact journalists directly. The main reason is that publicists have spent years grooming relationships with members of the media and are fluent in Sell. They speak the language of those who are always on the hunt for a good story. That means they know how to pitch your book to a producer in a mouth-watering fifteen nanosecond soundbite that will leave said producer leaping through the hallways like a frog on crack.

That fluency transfers beyond the media. It opens doors to all kinds of venues that you, Jane and Joe Author may have never thought about. There are many times when I pitch a book to a publicist and give them my promo ideas. I’ve discovered that my ideas are a mere launching point as I listen to them shoot idea after idea out like a machine gun. Often I feel like Jan Brady – “Gee, I never thought of it that way…” as I lean my head to one side with a deer-in-the-headlights expression.

In reality, I shouldn’t feel so silly because thinking up possibilities is what they do for a living. After all, they don’t try to tell me how to edit a book…

Do I need a publicist?

Good question. Only you can answer that. What are your goals? Most small publishers don’t have a publicity department. The large guys do, but they are also handling dozens of other authors so it’s not like you’re going to have your hand held and your entire promotion handled through them. Even many of the Big Authors have their own publicists. If you want individualized attention, then this may be a good option for you.

What kind of book did you write?

Novel – If you write fiction like fantasy or romance, it’s probable that a publicist will be able to do little in terms of publicity. This goes for most fiction. It’s hard to flabber media’s gast over a novel because, well, it’s made up. A publicist doesn’t have a lot to work with when dealing with someone’s made-up world.

The places where a publicist can be of help is if your book has an “issue” they can pull out and showcase with the media. For example, let’s say the plot for your medical fiction surrounds a strong character who mixes integrative healing methods with mainstream medicine. A publicist can concentrate on that element and make an “issue” of it by asking, “Does integrative medicine have a place beside mainstream medicine? Can it drive down medical costs?” Face it, our healthcare is a huge, hot issue right now. If you have a platform, meaning you’re in the medical field or have a ton of research under your belt, your publicist will brand you as an expert.

Nonfiction: Most publicists have narrowed their field and concentrate on nonfiction because these are “issue” books of one sort or another. They’re easier to promote because the author invariably has a platform in which to showcase their book’s subject matter.

Intent

The first question in deciding whether you need a publicist is to consider your intent. Do you want to achieve the maximum amount of exposure of you and your book, or are you happy just getting your book on the store shelves? Keep in mind that a publisher can get a book on the shelf, but without promotion, few will know of its existence and it could come right on back to the publisher via returns.

You might have an excellent book that has all kinds of huge potential, so do you want tepid sales, or do you want to make a difference?

The Publisher’s Publicist

“Yabut, Pricey, I’ d rather let my publisher’s publicist take care of me.”

I can sympathize with this thinking because, hey, it’s free. But again, you need to think about the intent you have for your book and decide whether the publisher’s efforts are enough.

Most publishers in the US don’t have the budget for a full-scale promotion assault that will get you on TV or in the newspapers and magazines unless you’re one of their top of the list authors. The big guys employ publicists who do a great job at setting up a few author events. But keep in mind they are dealing with all the other new releases as well, so you aren’t going to get their full-time attention.

Additionally, the publicity department isn’t consistent. I’ve talked to authors who received no help whatsoever from their publisher’s publicity dept. and were left to their own devices. I’ve also talked with others who got quite a bit of attention with author events.

Smaller publishers don’t employ in-house publicists and definitely don’t have the budget or industry pull to get authors the kind of media attention their books may demand. They can definitely get the books shelved and nationally distributed. They can get the books reviewed, send ARCs out to media, all to create demand for the book. But they can’t pay for book tours, launch parties, contact TV producers, magazine editors, newspaper journalists for the same reasons the big guys don’t  – time. The smaller publishers have lots of authors they’re publishing as well, and they don’t have as many people on staff [or the budget] to give that kind of individualized attention.

Budget

And speaking of budget, yes, ’tis true; these guys aren’t free. They are all over the board in terms of price. Most use their advance toward a publicist. That’s why it’s so important to analyze your intentions for your book. Do NOT go into the poor house over a publicist. While it may cost four grand for a publicist, if you don’t have it, don’t spend it because, as with everything in publishing, there are no guarantees the efforts will yield large enough sales to pay for the publicist.

What do you want them to do?

I’ve often wished for a fairy godmother who swooped down and made my life a place where angels sing the minute I open my eyes, and flowers sprout at my every step. Birds make my bed, and cute little squirrels pick out my daily wear. My hair always looks perfect, my makeup is applied by the most talented artisans, and Antonio Banderas is my personal secretary. My reality is that I awaken to the beagle snoring in my face and spends her days sleeping on three contracts she has yet to file.

Publicists can be a lot like my fairy godmother, provided you know exactly what you want them to do. Do you need someone to organize your national book tour? Are you looking for someone who has the pants to get media events like TV, radio, or newspapers/magazines? Or are you looking for someone who can get you great book reviews?

Yah, yah, I know – you’re looking for someone who can wear all those shoes, and this is where fantasy and reality often collide. The truth is,  you may need two publicists. This is for BIG books and BIG platforms and BIG money.

Book reviews: there are publicists who specialize in getting fabo book reviews by all the trade magazines. It’s usually because they’ve been in the biz for years and everyone knows them.

Social Networking: there is a new brand of publicist who works the online social networking thing by blogging, twittering, and whatever else may come along. This is a personal opinion of mine, but I’m not a fan of this option. It’s a popular choice because they tend to charge less than a publicist who has media contacts.

However, I’ve worked with internet publicists and was vastly underwhelmed. They hit up the online review sites and did the blog book tours – all which yielded a big, fat zero in sales. Face it, the internet is a vast, vacuous entity where bajillions of voices are struggling to be heard. It takes a long time to create an online presence, many times years, and it’s rare anyone can burst on to the online scene with a new book in only a few months.

I say this all the time, and I will continue to bleat like a goat on crack:  The one thing that consistently sells books is when the author’s face is out there – in the real world – showing their pretty faces.

I do think that the internet is a fabulous way of networking, but it’s only one portion of the promotion arsenal – and one I feel you should learn to do on your own.

Reality check

Authors need to analyze whether they need a publicist. This can be accomplished by asking a few questions:

  • Does my book have a strong message that can impact people’s lives or perspective? If your book is about how you saved your dryer lint to make quilts, this isn’t a strong issue that will impact lives. However, if you adopt the message that you’re helping people in these tough economic times, then you may have an audience – unless your ideas are just too “out there.”
  • Do I have a big enough platform? Ah, the ever-important platform. You can write a book about the current state of medicine, but if you’re a housewife from Blythe, then no one is going to take you seriously. You’re not an expert. Rather, you’re merely someone with an opinion and little more than your research and beliefs to back you up. That is not a platform.
  • Do I have a wide audience? You may have a great book, but if there isn’t a real large readership, or it’s too elusive to define, or it’s heavily impacted [like surviving divorce], a publicist will pass because they know the media won’t bite.
  • Do I have the energy to do what it takes to publicize my book? Seems a silly question, but promotion is hard work. I have a couple authors who’ve discovered it’s nearly a full-time job because their publicists have struck gold and the media is clamoring for interviews. Promotion is hard work. You may be giving interviews two, three times a week, writing guest posts on blogs, and writing articles for magazines.

How can I recognize a good publicist from a meatball?

I’ve met a few meatballs, and they are so un-fun to deal with because they see their clients as a paycheck and have no emotional investment in the book. They also don’t have the media contacts they profess to have. There are a lot of meatballs out there, so the first thing you MUST do, is ask around. The all-powerful “What have you heard?” is the most effective tool in weeding out the meatballs.

  • They’re a good listener – they listen to your expectations and tell you honestly if they can deliver.
  • They’re proactive – they have a go-getter attitude that screams, “let’s blow the doors off the marketplace, shall we?” They don’t sit back and wait for your direction, they’ll tell you what they’re doing and direct you. Nothing bugs me more than a publicist who sits on their thumbs. They need to be out there making contacts and doing the follow-up work.
  • They’ll tell you what’s realistic and what’s pie-in-the-sky – You may have visions of being on the morning TV shows and a major review in the NY Times. It’s publicist’s job to bring you down to earth and analyze exactly what types of promotion are appropriate for your book. Not everyone is going to be on the morning TV news shows, but that doesn’t spell doom because there are tons of ways to get in front of an audience without being on TV. They’ll tell you exactly what kind of audience they intend on targeting and the likelihood they can pull it off.
  • They’ll lay out a full promo plan for you that gives specifics – a good publicist will write up a detailed plan of attack.
  • They are connected – They’ll tell you something like, “I know the producer of show XYZ and got Joe and Jane Author on that show.” Or they’ll say, “I’ve known the editors of Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist for many years and they’ve always reviewed my clients.” They will also be happy to give you a list of those they repped so you can check them out.
  • They don’t make promises – I’ve met up with some pretty high-powered publicists, and even they can’t accomplish everything they set out for, nor do they promise that they can. Best they’ll say is, “I know that producer, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed.” Mind you, they hit far more than they strike out. Any publicist who says, “I guarantee that you can get on radio, TV, newspapers, etc.,” is feeding you a line of bull. They do have a general feel for where you’ll fit in the grand media scheme, but there are no guarantees.

Interview

Lastly, interview prospective publicists. It’s important to get a good cross section of interviews so you get a feel for how they work. It’s vital that you feel your personalities mesh well. The more in tune you are with each other, the more successful you’ll be because they share your passion.

Whether you decide to hire a publicist for your next book is up to you and your wallet. I know plenty authors who can accomplish their own promotion because they understood their marketplace and had the time to leave no stone unturned. So you need to ask yourself whether you’ve mastered the language of Sell and have the ability to squeeze your way into the big time. It’s absolutely not impossible at all. It just takes time, a ton of research, and a damn good book.

10 Responses to Book publicists – why yes, I speak Sell

  1. HarryMarkov says:

    Bugger, I write fiction [the SFF genres] and I guess I cannot get much use of a publicist. Not that I need one at the moment, but it would have been good to know that I could use one [as a helpful tool that justifies expenses].

    Fantastic post, by the way. Publicists are busy as heck, is what I can say.

  2. GutsyWriter says:

    Thanks Lynn, for giving us a clear view on every aspect of the publicity/promotion debate.
    I was interested to find out if you’ve worked with an author who started his/her own publicity with local media, and then succeeded in getting national coverage, without hiring a publicist? How helpful is it to form relationships with local journalists?

  3. Gutsy, I have an author, Kim Petersen, Charting the Unknown, who managed to get snare herself a rather nice catch on a show called The Balancing Act that airs on Lifetime channel.

    It was one of those prophetic flukes that her husband stumbled upon and took the initiative. The producers were so taken with their story that they decided to feature them and her book on the show.

    I think it’s always great to formulate relationships with anyone who’s in a position to feature you and your story. I’ve heard of cases where local promotion blew up and it went viral. But each author has to decide what they can afford, their intent, and their gumption. If an author can make an impact nationally out of the shoot, rather than just sticking to local promotion, the book has a much better chance of catching fire.

    An example of that is our author Julie Genovese – Nothing Short of Joy – who hired a wonderful publicist who got her all sorts of TV interviews, and we can’t keep the book in stock. It’s only been out since mid-February, and we’ve already shot through 2500 books. That’s what a publicist AND THE RIGHT BOOK can do.

  4. Okay, as a publicist, I have to weigh in here: the clients for whom I’ve been able to garner the most publicity are novelists, especially those who write genre fiction. My biggest selling clients are mystery, romance, YA, and sci fi authors. Why? Because they have a built-in market for what they write and their books are much easier to pitch to booksellers and bloggers who are hungry for that type of fiction. Because their genres are popular, they get more book signings, and I can use those appearances as selling points to pitch them to the local media. I like to approach radio and TV producers a few weeks before each signing appearance to help drive attendance. So far, my fiction authors have done well with their book tours if we structure them this way.

    It’s true that platform is everything, especially for non-fiction writers. But fiction writers can certainly benefit from working with a publicist, especially if they’re focusing on book tours. As you say, they’ve got to be willing to commit to travel and get their pretty faces out there. But once they do, it’s worth it.

  5. Paula, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I find it fascinating that you love novels. That hasn’t been my normal experience, so yay for you!

  6. You’re welcome, and thank you for taking the time to discuss the importance of publicity.

    I completely agree, by the way, with your comments about blog tours — they’re time-consuming to set up and, unless an author’s developed a huge Internet following, they don’t always translate into sales.

    Interestingly, I’ve found the same thing to be true for TV and radio appearances. They’re great for creating awareness about the author and the book. But, as you point out (I will bleat along with you on this one), the best way to generate word-of-mouth and sales opportunities is to appear face-to-face in bookstores or at events like conferences or festivals, where readers get to see/hear the author firsthand and the books are available for purchase.

  7. I’ve heard that TV doesn’t always result in sales. As with everything, it depends on the book. Our author, Julie Genovese has been on TV quite a bit, and the happy result is that we can’t keep the book in stock. So in her case, TV has been bloody mahvelous.

  8. Pelotard says:

    I’m late to the party, but I just wanted to say that the checklist for separating a good publicist from a meatball can be used in most business contexts, sometimes with slight adaptations 🙂

  9. This is a really old post, but I think it is still super relevant. Thanks for reminding me to save my money. (I can’t yet tell the difference between a good publicist and a meatball…)

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