Many writers hear through the grapevine that they must get an outside publicist. They’re told that publishing houses are overburdened. That most of the marketing dollars go to the already established authors. And, even worse, that as budding authors they may only get one shot to establish their track record. The result can be a lot of anxiety: how can a first-time author hit a home run out of the gate, especially if they aren’t their publisher’s top priority? Should they pay for outside help? Is outside help the only way to guarantee a book’s success?
Outside publicists can be expensive. They can also be a good investment. Some are terrific. Others disappoint.
As always, you must consider what is right for you and your book. The best way to avoid a sub-optimal result is to be very clear on what you want out of the process, communicate those goals clearly, decide who can best deliver what you need, and, yes, determine what that help is worth to you.
To start, ask yourself some basic questions:
What skills or opportunities would you like to improve? Are you a social media standout but lack experience public speaking? Or maybe you’re comfortable lecturing to groups, but you’re Twitter-averse. Many nonfiction authors are subject-experts but have never had to discuss their personal narrative. Most first-time authors lack personal contacts in the media and/or have never had to offer broadcast media soundbites. An outside publicist can help you fill your personal gaps.
What kinds of promotion are you interested in? I’ll delve into two big categories–media training and traditional promotion/marketing–below.
What does your agent and publishing house recommend? Are they encouraging you to get outside help? And what kind of help do they think will benefit you the most? Each house has its own strengths and weaknesses. Outside assistance should usefully supplement a house’s existing efforts, not create unnecessary overlap. You also want to ensure that everyone can play nicely in the sandbox. So ask your in-house team about people they like to work with. And consult with the team about any recommendations you get from outside sources.
How much are you willing to pay? As with most things in life, good help is expensive. Figure out a realistic budget and let others know so they can steer you accordingly.
Now that you’ve asked yourself some basic questions, let’s define your specific goals.
Generally, your marketing and publicity goals should be to:
Develop a message about the book. By the time your book is published, you, your editor, the in-house marketing and publicity team, and your publisher should have developed a straightforward pitch for the book. That message will turn up in your jacket copy, in the sales catalog, in the press release and in other documents. When these are sent to you for review, study them carefully. This is a key opportunity to process and contribute to the framing of your message. For more on a book’s “pitch,” see my blog post on creating a hook for your book.
Develop your personal message. You aren’t just selling your book. You’re also selling yourself. Like it or not, all authors get asked about themselves. To respond effectively, you want to find and hone the elements of your personal and professional story. Why were you the only person who could write this book? Interviewers want to know more than just your credentials; they also want to know who you are and your personal connection to the work. This is also known as personal branding. Even if you hate the term, as I do, the reality is you need to be able to communicate a succinct personal and professional narrative. An expert can help you shape your story .
Connect you and your book to national and local press. It’s crucial to have a PR person with great connections to the national media, local media, and media groups specific to your project. A good publicist has a recent track and is abreast of who in the press is looking for what. It’s going to be hard to find the person who has their finger in every niche appropriate to your book. There are a lot of niches to tap and no one person can know it all. You’ll need to figure out the best person overall for you and your project. On their part, the consultant should also be evaluating client fit. Finally, look at other projects the publicist has worked on. And don’t be afraid to ask a publicist’s previous clients about their experiences with him/her.
With those overall marketing and publicity goals in mind, let’s look at two different types of PR help: media training/brand consulting and a more traditional book PR route.
Media training focuses on prepping you for public speaking engagements and media interviews. It will help you to develop a way of communicating about your book, your writing, and your personal storyline that’s clear, effective, gets to the point quickly, and stays on point. You may already have some public speaking skills. Maybe you’ve even done some local media: podcasts, talks, local radio etc. But you still may not be ready for prime time. National and local media are two very different beasts. Your average guest on a national TV or radio segment has very little time to communicate their thoughts. These outlets want people who already know how to deliver their message clearly, quickly, and effectively. Media training can help you hone your speaking skills both generally and specific to the project you currently want to promote.
Traditional book promotion and marketing will focus more on developing and disseminating the book’s message. These publicists may offer additional mailings and reach out to their personal press contacts. They will also help you set up webinars, blog tours, and in-store events. All these efforts should supplement rather than replace in-house efforts and expertise.
A consultant who specializes in book promotion may also offer media training. Ask up front. The more information you have, the better.
What’s important to you? Both media training and traditional promotion help can get expensive. How do you decide what’s worth paying for? Again, it depends on your goals. Are you an expert in your field and/or budding celebrity looking to develop your national brand and expand your national audience? Do you want to do more personal messaging/branding/training? Or is your focus purely on selling the book?
Note that if the latter is the case, I recommend a costs vs. benefits talk with your agent/house. Do they think hiring outside help will truly boost sales of the work? As above, the house will do a fair amount of the messaging and disseminating already.
Bottom line: there are a lot of options. Figure out what your personal goals are. Consult with your agent and publisher on what options they would suggest and who they work effectively with. Build your team the same way you would in any business: find the best people who can all play nicely together. Ask for written plans and prices from any outside help you are considering hiring. Then only spend on the help that will contribute what will be valuable to you.