Authors have heard the same advice from their agents, fellow author friends, and even publishers time and again: if they want readers to know about their books, they should hire independent publicists to supplement publishers’ publicity campaigns. The new normal is this: independent presses and major publishers alike expect many authors to do the lion’s share of their own publicity.
This means that authors must own or share functions ranging from providing publishers with media contacts; promoting their work via their (hopefully robust) social media channels; scheduling book talks; writing supplemental press materials; and pursuing local or niche media. In-house publicists do fantastic work and are ardent believers in the printed word, but belief is not enough. In an age when the publishing industry is largely consolidated under a handful of corporate umbrellas, in-house publicists are often juggling several book campaigns at a time. They seldom have the bandwidth to conduct comprehensive research and follow up with publicity avenues that are off their beaten paths.
The average author may not have the time, either, but an independent publicist can step in and supplement an author and publisher’s plans. But to get the most out of an independent publicist, an author needs to bring someone on as early as possible, since the main window of media opportunity occurs within a month or two of publication date. Here are a few tips to help authors get started.
● Plan ahead: Ideally you should begin working with a publicist six months before publication date.
● Get recommendations: Book publicity is a special beast, so it’s smart to hire a freelancer with publishing experience. Book reviewers and other literary media have specific calendars and particular protocols. Ask your publisher, agent, and colleagues for suggestions.
● Do your homework: Publishing Trends publishes a freelance publicist contact sheet every year that “includes several firms and individuals specializing in a wide range of genres and approaches,” which is a great place to start. Next, research and review publicists’ websites to see which have worked with books in the same genre as yours and what each specializes in.
● Listen to word of mouth: When you’ve found a potential candidate, speak with other authors to get their views on working with that firm or publicist.
● Evaluate your options: Schedule interviews by phone, Skype, or in person. Before meetings, send sample chapters, a list of your publicity goals, information about your publisher’s publicity campaign, and your budget.
● Be upfront: Ask about services and fees, find out what the publicist considers to be a successful campaign, and ask for a proposal.
● Caveat lector: Be suspicious of publicists who make guarantees. When you’re working with the media, interviews may be bumped by breaking news stories and reviews can be postponed or canceled.
Once a publicist is hired, what can authors expect—and how should they manage the relationship for maximum effect?
● An experienced publicist will not step on your publisher’s toes and will develop a complementary campaign to fit your needs and budget. Publicists are part of a team that includes you and your publisher. Make sure everyone is open to working together.
● Ask for a timeline so you know the overall plan.
● A publicist should use pitches tailored to fit each audience. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
● Follow-up is key. If your publicist is just sending emails without any kind of follow-up, the pitch will probably be lost.
Hiring independent publicists to supplement publishers’ plans is an excellent way for authors to find and connect with their readers. A publicist is an author’s sounding board, marketing advisor, and navigator of the publishing process.
Rachel Tarlow Gul and Jennifer Richards are the owners of Over the River Public Relations, a publicity firm specializing in cross-channel marketing, media, and word-of-mouth campaigns for books and authors.