Many years ago, I was working as a “temp” while I made time to pursue a career in acting and musical theater. I believe the man I worked for took pity on me and was compelled to offer me a full-time job with benefits (I had none at the time). Deep down, I knew that I wanted a bit of security.
That job was at Disney Publishing and I eventually made my way to become Assistant to the Associate Publisher of Hyperion Books for Children. After a couple of months he said, “I need someone to publicize the launch of a new imprint called Jump at the Sun.” And I thought, What is that and how do I do it?
One of the things I learned early on as a novice publicist is a formula that consists of the following:
- Read the book.
- Write a press release.
- Put together a media list of book reviewers, journalists, producers in radio and television, and online news sites.
- Send copies of the book to people on the media list.
- Call to follow up and try to schedule reviews and/or interviews for the author.
At the very least, this is what a publicist can do for you and your book, regardless of how it’s published. But there is more to the job than making a few phone calls and setting up an itinerary. A publicist needs to know how to tell your/your book’s story well enough to attract the attention of as many people as possible through media placements, outreach to groups and organizations, online communities, and through social media. This is true no matter how your book is published, but whichever path you choose, there are a few differences between how you and your book may be received in the world. To make it simple, I’ll break things down into what you can expect from a publicist whether your book is traditionally or independently published.
- To be traditionally published means you have signed a contract with a full-service publishing house which will perform the editing, production, marketing and promotion of your title. There are many levels of “houses” from the big six to the smaller literary places like Unbridled or Bellevue. If this is your path, here are some things that you can generally expect from a publicist:Being introduced approximately six months ahead of publication.
- Discussing with your publicist your book, background, credentials, personal contacts, previous media history, and anything else that might help the campaign.
- A press kit is written and approved. This may include a press release, Q&A with you, bio, pictures, praise sheets, etc.
- He will set up tour appearances if you are going on a book tour.
- He will put together a media list. A local area media list based on where you currently live, where you grew up, where you went to college, where you got married, etc., will be culled as well. He will also coordinate with the online marketing person to discuss what blogs and websites she might be working with to promote you.
- Books will be sent and pitching will start, and hopefully reviews and interviews will be scheduled for you.
The majority of the work will take place ahead of publication and will last about a month or six weeks into the book’s release depending on the book and how successful sales are.In recent years more and more authors are hiring their own publicists because they want someone who is reporting to them directly who may be able to accomplish more or supplement the work of their assigned person. In fact, an editor I had lunch with recently recommends that many of his authors consider doing so. The reality is an “in-house” publicist is only going to devote the amount of time and expertise that she can based on what other projects she has going on at the time; whether or not your title is a lead for the list; and her level of experience. All of the checklist items should be accomplished, but will this person research every possible angle? Online community? Niche media outlet? Event venue? How about after the month runs out and you still want to work on promotion. Will she be given the time to continue?
Keep in mind that a traditional house is very bottom-line oriented ; when deciding where to spend its publishing dollars, it must consider all of the other titles on its list. A smaller, independent publishing house may have more time to devote to you (because their list is smaller). The caveat here is that part of the success of any campaign will be about how well the publisher is recognized in the media, how well you are known in the outside world as an author or expert, and how good the book is!
What I’ve listed above is also applicable for self-published books in terms of the actual “to do” items, but the media strategy is a bit different. Having said that, here is what your publicist can arrange for you:
- Blog and website reviews.
- Online radio and video interviews.
- Terrestrial (or traditional) radio and TV appearances, if there is a news hook.
- Social media that maximizes your Twitter; Facebook; Linked In; Pinterest; and/or Tumblr platforms and followers.
- Content marketing where your original essay or blog is pitched to different websites that appreciate the subject of your book and can post for their audience.
Now, I’ve learned from experience that self-published books will almost never be reviewed in traditional print outlets, so you may have to let go of the fantasy of your cover appearing in the New York Times Book Review. But I promise you there are other ways to reach your audience. My advice to every author is to write your book, because that is the first and hardest thing to do. Without your story, there is nothing any of us publicists can do.
As for how to go about hiring a publicist…well, that is a post for another day.