Publicists in the New Digital Age

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

As I am still virtually ‘in communicado‘ after my father’s knee replacement surgery (still on ‘duty’ helping my folks out before I fly back to Australia tomorrow), I haven’t got any meaty blog post for today. I do, however, have a question about publicity in the new ‘digital age’ of publishing. I was musing over it just this morning, wondering whether the traditional ‘publicist’ is, in many ways, redundant for authors now. With the ever increasing use of online and social media for book publicity, I have to wonder how much value an independent publicist can offer these days.

So what do you think? Would you bother to hire a publicist if you had a book coming out now and, if so, what would you expect them to do for you?

PS: Thank you all for your good wishes. My Dad is doing great!

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 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.