Someone recently sent me an article by Philippa Rees that comes up on the ALLi site as “the failure of a publicist” though the title is “Why PR Firms Should Embrace Self-Publishing.” I feel the need to respond banging my drum a bit on the subject of what a publicist does as well as what’s been changing in the marketplace.
Things have not just changed, they are constantly changing when it comes to publicity and promotion. If you read PR Daily (which I do) there are many articles about the way our jobs are changing as promoters. For my part, I am consistently tweaking the services I offer and training my staff so that we are able to take advantage of all the tools there are these days that can be used to market and publicize a book and author.
Book reviews for as long as I’ve been in publishing (almost 20 years) have been dicey. About seven years ago a book my department worked on was featured as the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Did it boost sales? Nope. Here’s the secret to print reviews&emdash;there have to be a ton of them to really make an impact.
When I worked for Putnam Publishing, which at that time published Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Ram Dass, TD Jakes, and others, all of the publicists had a required “hit list.” So the expectation was on EVERY book you would strive to get reviews in Time, Newsweek, People, the New York Times (daily and book review), the New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, LA Times, Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. These were the biggest papers with the biggest book review sections. If you didn’t get attention for your books in these places, then you were supposed to get feedback as to why not.
Putnam was the best training I ever received as a publicist, and this list was made for a reason. Because these publications could reach a HUGE amount of eyeballs—people who wouldn’t necessarily read the reviews, but they would see the book title and author in a very important paper.
Things work the same online and a PR firm that has done its homework is going to find the best outlets to pitch that will reach the biggest audience.
Ms. Rees’s Article
There is a lot more I could say about ways in which we can work on self-published titles to make them work in the media, but it would make for too long of a post. In terms of Ms. Rees’s article there are some warning signs or red flags that I see in her telling of the story.
One concern in Ms. Rees’s article highlights on the publicist not wanting to say the book was self-published. Personally, I don’t feel the need to underline whether a book is traditionally or self-published. I just list the publisher like I would on any release. I do encourage my self-published clients to form a “company” versus just putting their own names on the spine, because it is important to deliver a professional product. It shows that you care as much about your writing as we should.
The other subject is the “two-month campaign.” There is no such thing. I wouldn’t even sell this idea to an author. My minimum contract is three months but this also depends on the scope of work and the kind of book. Some books may need more time. I tell authors upfront what I want to do and what I expect to have happen in a given time frame. When I don’t know something, I tell them that as well.
So Ms. Rees is correct that a “two-month” campaign at the beginning of the publication wasn’t going to be effective. Also, the whole concept of “launch” really needs to be kept tied to boats and not books. It creates a misconception about the amount of fanfare that is going to occur at publication.
A longer view which Ms. Rees also discusses is what has happened since the publication. It is possible that the publicist’s outreach garnered a bit of attention from other outlets. Not everything is about confirmed media at first; sowing the seeds and spreading some word of mouth is necessary. Also, there were a couple of interviews, albeit not successful ones.
I can definitely see what was frustrating about this experience, but generalizing or lumping publicists into one bag here may be premature. I have definitely heard many different stories from my client’s about their conversations with other PR professionals before they found my team, and a lot of times they are turned down right away if self-published.
If you are looking for a publicist, look for one who has worked with self-published titles. Ask what kind of success she/he has had. Also find out what kinds of books she/he actually likes to work on, and finally, what specifically are the reasonable goals within a given time frame.