Hiring your own Publicist

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last Tuesday, one of our readers asked a question about hiring an independent publicist in addition to the in-house publisher that is often allocated to publicize an author’s latest release. My first thought was a background check similar to those found at www.clearstar.net would definitely be in order. As someone who initially relied on my in-house publicist (basically, because I didn’t know any better!) and then hired my own independent publicist to help plug the gaps and get further media, here’s my advice to approaching the issue…

  • First, make sure you know exactly what your publisher is proposing to do in terms of in-house sponsored publicity. Are they sending you on a book tour? If so, where? Where are they sending your ARCs? What media, if any, are they arranging?…These are all critical questions that you need to have answered before you consider hiring your own publicist. In my experience, it can be difficult to get the level of details you want from your publisher so you might have to probe and push to get the information you need. I was given a publicity/marketing plan so I did have an overall sense of what my publisher was and was not going to do (though my publisher was still reticient about giving me specific details regarding media/other event contacts made). For The Serpent and The Scorpion, I was fortunate my publisher sent me on a book tour and that my in-house publicist was willing to work with my independent publicist on media opportunities and events in parallel to what she was organizing.
  • Outline your own publicity plan, identifying what you can do on your own – this will help you identify publicity needs that an independent publicist can fill. There are many things you can do on your own – it’s just a question of time and identifying the appropriate contacts – but you need to ask yourself how much time you are willing to devote to setting up media events etc. and whether you feel comfortable doing this on your own.
  • Next, you need to seriously consider what opportunities exist that an independent publicist can assist you with. Fiction can be a hard sell publicity- wise, so you need to consider what angle(s) a publicist may be able to take advantage of – and you need to be realistic in terms of your expectations. Just because you hired an independent publicist does not mean you’ll be appearing on Oprah…
  • You need to also consider what you are willing to do – and what strengths/weaknesses you have. For instance, are you willing to do radio? Do you enjoy public speaking? Are you an introvert who would simply die if you had to address more than 10 people at an event? It’s important that you play to your strengths and are honest about your own abilities…
  • When you have decided that an independent publicist could add value to your publicity campaign, then you need to think long and hard about that dreaded word – budget. You need to consider what are you willing to pay and what results you expect for the money you plan on plopping down. Remember there are additional things that you will have to pay for as part of the hiring process like a national crime check…which leads to my final point…
  • Negotiate so you set expectations up-front and so you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Many publicists work on retainer and make no promises as to outcomes – this can be frustrating if you find yourself doling out the money and getting little in return. Other publicists work on a ‘per-gig’ basis so you only pay for the radio interviews/TV appearances/reviews/events they actually set up. In my opinion, the latter is the better way to go but you must still be up-front in terms of your expectations. There’s no point you envisaging an appearance on the ‘Today’ show when your publicist can only get you a community cable TV spot…that’s just a recipe for disaster!

So what other tips do you have in terms of hiring an independent publicist? Any horror stories to share? Any insights that might help your fellow authors in making this decision? If you’re looking to hire new staff, make sure you include a berke assessment in the process.

6 thoughts on “Hiring your own Publicist

  1. I think you have to consider the cost, among other factors. I have heard that some publishers expect their authors to spend the majority of their advances on publicity, but I’ve never heard that from my publisher. The old axiom in advertising is “Advertising works, good advertising works better.”

    The rule of thumb used to be (It’s been twenty-plus years since I was in the business) was that it took 9 impressions for someone to act on an ad. That was for people who were open to the product. We are subjected to thousands of advert messages daily and our brains filter those so that we are aware only of those signs, ads, etc that we have an interest in. You see tire ads daily, but when we know we have the need for a tire, our brains start opening up to those ads. Nine impressions is a lot. So figure how to get the fact of your book to people open to that product and you begin to see how daunting a task marketing is and how expensive it can be. Unless you are COKE, and can afford to spend according to your expectations, you have to be smarter. Just my 2 cents worth for what it’s worth. Hopefully it’s worth about 2 cents.

  2. Who are some of the most widely-regarded publicists for writers, does anyone know?

  3. Publicity’s a tricky business. When NATHAN’S RUN came out in 1996 HarperCollins spent over $200K in publicity. That book was reviewed everywhere–including People Magazine, Redbook and Entertainment Weekly. Thing is, the reviews all hit two weeks before there were any books in the stores.

    I’ve come to believe that book tours are a waste of time and money. Because I travel a lot for my big-boy job, I think I can accomplish as much just by dropping into a store and introducing myself to the manager as I can by parking in his vestibule for a couple of hours hoping to sell a few books.

    I do use independent publicists for my books now, but what I want from them are review placement and speaking gigs, whether at a library or on a radio show. If I can connect with a group, I can sell a lot of books.

    Is it worth the money? There’s no way to know. I certainly hope so.

    John Gilstrap

  4. John – I’ve never heard that from my publisher either but cost is an important factor. Nine impressions is a lot – you’re right it is daunting! Anon – I’m not sure – anyone else want to weigh in on this???

  5. Yes, but if you don’t try to get nine impressions you have none made. It is daunting, but doing nothing at all doesn’t work for certain. I know I’ve tried. I too think signings are a waste of time and energy and expenses for the signing. The soundtrack for my first 17 city tour was crickets chirping in huge BOM bookstores. I sat surrounded by hundreds of unsold, but signed, copies of THE LAST FAMILY. Occasionally someone would wonder by and ask where the cookbooks were, or someone would look at my book and ask me to tell them the plot. I have spoken to two people seated in an ocean of empty chairs, and I’ve spoken to 2,000 once. If you want to meet people run for office or work for the Census.

    What we do is in the shadows, but it is up to us to figure out how to turn on a light where and when we can. As I’ve said before, people read books they hear about or are fans of the author already. Some of us (Gilstrap will testify) have to figure out the ropes for ourselves. Erica Spindler sends out a great newsletter and works hard to stay in touch with her readers and make them feel appreciated. And Erica really cares about her readers and they know it. Robert Gregory Browne has a mailing e-list and he uses it very effectively. Use the net. It’s cheap and effective if you use it rightly.

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