Many writers hear through the grapevine that they must get an outside publicist. Houses are overburdened. Budding authors can’t afford to screw up their one, possibly only, shot. Is outside help the only way to guarantee your book’s success?
Yes and no.
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. What are you bringing to the table? What skills or opportunities do you lack? What kinds of promotion are you interested in? The best way to avoid a sub-optimal result is to be very clear on your goals.
First step is to consult with your agent and publishing house: what do they 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 strengths and weaknesses. You want to be sure you are plugging the holes specific to the plans they’ve already drawn up for your book. Hired help should usefully supplement existing efforts, not create unnecessary overlap. You also want to ensure that everyone can play nicely in the sandbox. So ask your existing team about people they like to work with. And consult about recommendations you get from an outside source.
Next and most important is to define YOUR goals. First and foremost, you want to address the unique puzzle that is you. Then look for the person who can help you in your quest.
Generally, your publicity goals should be to:
a) Develop a message about the book.
b) Find and hone the elements of your personal story and platform that others will find intriguing. This is also known as personal branding, a term some people hate, others embrace. Even if you don’t call it your brand (my preference), you still need a personal narrative. A professional can help you see your own story and shape it in a way that’s hard to do yourself.
c) Connect the personal and project messages to appropriate 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 successful, recent track record of booking authors and placing pieces. They are abreast of who in the media 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 out there. That’s one reason you may be going for outside help in the first place. No one person can know or do it all. Look for the best fit OVERALL for you and your project. On their part, the consultant should also be evaluating client fit.
Note that there’s a difference between media training/brand consulting and a more traditional book promotion 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. The average guest on national TV or radio gets 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 message on the book at hand (see a and c above). From webinars to blog tours to in-store events, these efforts tend to supplement in-house efforts and expertise.
If you’re working with a good PR person, you may be able to get a bit of everything: media training and traditional marketing. But you need to ask.
How you want to balance all this again 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 definitely recommend having a hard costs vs. benefits talk with your agent/house. Do you really need outside help? What will they be doing that will go above and beyond what the house is already doing and that will truly boost sales of the work?)
Bottom line: there are a lot of options. Figure out what YOUR goals are. Then consult with your agent and publisher on what options they would suggest and who they work effectively with. Then have a conversation with your PR candidates and make sure you’re all on the same page. Build your team the same way you would in any business: find the best people who can all play nicely together. Then only spend on the help that will contribute what will be valuable to YOU.