Finding and Working With a Book Publicist: Oh, the Stories
I’ve heard a lot of nightmare stories from authors who were working with a book publicist and didn’t get what they wanted out of the relationship or investment. Sometimes I think that happens because of misaligned expectations, or even a misunderstanding of what working with a book publicist can achieve or accomplish.
Put another way: When it comes to book marketing and sales, it’s not always easy to say “Effort A led to Outcome B, ” especially if book sales gain momentum from word of mouth (that’s still often the case), and authors don’t have access to precise sales analytics. You can’t always figure out how or why someone decided to visit Amazon or their local bookstore to buy your book.
A publicist is often seen primarily as a key to mainstream media coverage, but they also have tremendous value outside of that. They can cover marketing and promotion activities that you could do yourself, but they can often do it better, more efficiently or more knowledgeably. Their professional finesse may lead to a better impression and more sales in the long term, and leave you time to focus on other high-value activities. They can also help you avoid marketing tactics or campaigns that they know are problematic, or point you toward new, useful tools they’ve discovered. This is one of the key values pointed out by bestselling author Jamie Freveletti when I interviewed her for this piece on book marketing; her publicist provides her with savvy guidance—and a person to bounce ideas off of—in a confusing and ever-evolving digital marketing age.
But let’s go back to the beginning: why are nightmare stories about publicists so easy to find? Quite simply, because authors are expecting something that’s not delivered. Here are some tips to avoid that situation.
Tips on Effectively Finding and Working With a Publicist
1. Make a list, in writing, of the specific outcomes you’re looking for the publicist to achieve, and how that connects to what you are doing and what your publisher is doing. Share this with each publicist you might hire and ask for a proposal (along with their fees)
2. Before hiring a publicist, research other campaigns they’ve worked on. Have they achieved the kind of results you’re looking for? Talk to their past clients if at all possible
3. After the publicity campaign starts, you and the publicist will find that some aspects of the campaign are not working. This is common and a sign that refocusing is necessary. Talk it over with your publicist. Even better, have pre-determined check-in dates to talk about progress, what’s working and what’s not
If you’re having a difficult time finding a quality publicist, check out these firms…
1. Dana Kaye at Kaye Publicity. I interviewed Kaye for my Scratch articles on book marketing (see below), and she’s the real deal
2. At a recent panel of journalist entrepreneurs I attended, Hustle Labs and Distill were called out as valuable marketing and publicity firms. Hustle focuses specifically on nonprofits and progressives. (This speaks to the benefit of finding a firm or publicist who has specific knowledge of the communities, niches, or audiences you want to reach.)
3. February Partners was recently cited by author Jeff Chu as being an invaluable part of his campaign: “It turned out to be one of the best investments I made.”
For more reading on how to find and work with a publicist, I recommend
1. What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Hire a Publicist by Kathleen Schmidt
2. The Age of the Algorithm, my piece on the evolution of book marketing
3. Book Marketing: The Basics, my piece on the ground rules for launching a book
Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by Jane Friedman, who you can work with as part of our Poets and Writers Career Package
You might also find these surprising tips helpful: How to Host a Successful Book Launch
- How to Write a Powerful Book Proposal that Sells - June 2, 2014
- Author Platform: Where to Start - February 11, 2014
- Writing Workshops: How to Powerfully Build Your Author Platform - November 30, 2013
Shirley Hershey Showalter says
I’m so glad my publisher provided services from @KellyHughes. She has avoided all the pitfalls above, and I told her I wanted to be a dream client.
I highly recommend Kelly.
PJ Nunn says
Concise and well said. It’s so frustrating as a publicist to find a client with unrealistic expectations and no clear goals or plans. It’s hard to hit a target you can’t see. This is a simple article but should be widely read!
Sandra Beckwith says
This is excellent advice!
There are so many misconceptions about book publicists — including the expectation that they will work for a percentage of royalties — that I wrote “7 things you need to know abut working with book publicists,” at http://buildbookbuzz.com/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-working-with-a-book-publicist/. You might find it helpful.
Thanks for a great article.
Westley Overcash says
Excellent tips. Having worked with book launches I agree it’s really about bringing the expectations of both parties into alignment.
And anyone looking to make a splash with their book should have a meaningful digital platform. For that I recommend getting in touch with Tim Grahl over at Out:think Group.
Claire Burge says
Jane, very valuable thoughts considering I am in the middle of this process right now.
A few questions:
1. When looking for a publicist, I was amazed at the variance in prices quoted (and I went to each with a very specific list of deliverables and outcomes). What is a reasonable cost to expect, in exchange for a certain set of outcomes?
2. Are some publicists better at author branding and others better at book sales strategies or should a good publicist be capable of both?
3. It is interesting to me that none of the companies you mention, come up in primary Google search results when searching for key terms like book marketing, book publicity, book publicist etc. How important is a good ranking indicative of a digitally savvy publicist? (and I am fully aware that I am in Ireland which could be skewing the rankings or results I am seeing).
4. What do you mean by progressives in your article?
Look forward to hearing your thoughts …
Jane Friedman says
1. I would expect to spend at minimum $2,000-$3,000 for a publicist, but more like double or triple that, depending on how long you are retaining them and how much time they’re spending on your campaign. If you’re working on a tight budget, consider consulting with a publicist instead, to gather professional insight on your plans. You could probably do this on an hourly rate and pay not more than a couple hundred.
If you’re quoted a very low rate, that may reflect something about the nature of the work the publicist expects to perform — e.g., something more along the lines of administrative coordinator and assistant. An experienced and in-demand publicist will definitely cost thousands.
2. Yes, publicists have different strengths and specialities. Be especially cognizant of those who are great at pitching media and getting mass-media coverage vs. those who focus on long-term branding.
3. I wouldn’t take Google search results as indicative of a publicist’s capability, unless you’re searching specifically for their name (rather than “book publicity”). Google results for broad topics tend to be based on new content (blogging), incoming links, and other newsy indicators that may give you someone who’s spending a lot of time and energy on their own image and/or producing content for a mass audience. You want someone who focuses on their clients. (That’s not to say highly ranking publicists in a broad Google search are bad, however.)
If you want to know if a publicist is digitally savvy, I’d look closely at their website, as well as their testimonials and campaign results—including any social media efforts—more than their Google search ranking.
4. Progressives: Think “Mother Jones.” 🙂
Tracking digital campaigns: This is something essential to discuss with your publicist. How will you measure results? What looks like success? I’m glad you brought this up, because it should be part of the conversation before you hire someone. Measurability shouldn’t be an afterthought, but built into the effort.
Keep in mind that publishers “cooperate” differently; while you want them as a partner, and they’re likely to be a partner in your publicity efforts, the reality is that you may not have 100% insight unless they’re willing to share what they’re seeing. And sometimes what they see isn’t that clear either. For example, Amazon will never give you data on how people land on your book’s page there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see how many times people clicked on a link to visit Amazon. (Which reminds me: Make sure you sign up for your Amazon Author page, which gives you access to Bookscan numbers — your book sales figures through most physical bookstore channels!)
Claire Burge says
lol on mother jones! i get you now 🙂
great responses and just to clarify, would the 2-3K mark or triple that be a monthly cost or a campaign cost?
Claire Burge says
also, how does one access bookscan numbers? i was not aware that you could do that through author central?
Jane Friedman says
I’d say 2-3K for 1 month only (as a not unreasonable rate), with the rate on a per month basis dropping as you add more months. They can charge you less per month the longer you engage them for reasons that are familiar to most business people (eg, less churn, more time to focus).
Yes, you should be able to access Bookscan numbers for your titles only as long as you’re the author of record on the ISBN.
Claire Burge says
And also, another thought that I had as I hit submit was:
Because we move in a digital age, it is beyond important that an author has access to their stats. Numbers are everything in digital marketing. If authors, working through a publisher, have no way of accessing download numbers on a daily basis, trying to track digital campaigns becomes a groping-around-in-the-dark exercise.
So it is vital that the relationship not only be between the author and the agent or publicist but that the publisher be part of it as well because the author website stats are simply not enough to track campaigns as the funnel only ends on the book selling site’s side.
Your thoughts on that and tracking sales in general?
As someone who used to work in PR and who now works with a publicist it’s also important to note the two different focuses of the client and the publicist when evaluating success. The client measures the success of the campaign against output. I don’t care whether it took 100 calls or 1 call to get a major piece up, all I want is that major piece. But the publicist is focused on input… how hard they worked for you. Yes outcomes matter but to a lesser extent. If they worked the phones for days and got nothing they still expect to be thanked for their hard work and, of course paid. And that’s where there can be major friction between client and publicist.
As always, this advice is excellent. My background is in Branding & PR and while I’ve focused on companies instead of books, this sound advice about expectations applies smartly to anyone seeking communications counsel to promote their literary masterpiece. When I finish and launch my book towards the end of next year, collaborating with a book PR expert is an essential part of that marketing strategy. Thanks for all of the insight you continue to share with us!