Should you hire a publicist?

BY HANNAH GUY • June 18, 2019

Should you hire a publicist?

One of the most overlooked aspects of publishing is publicity. After having completed the herculean task of writing a book, many authors consider their work finished. Even if they know they need help generating excitement for their book, most writers don’t have a lot of experience with marketing, so they feel lost or intimidated trying to figure out where to start. And, much like for editing and book cover design, there are a dizzying number of book publicity professionals and agencies willing to step in and help authors with the nitty-gritty details.

What are your goals for the release of your book, and will your budget allow you to seek the help of a publicist? It’s important to carefully consider those two questions for yourself, because publicity isn’t a onetime investment. An effective publicity campaign takes time and effort, and though it can have a huge impact on the success of your book, it will cost you.

To help you make a decision, we’ve gathered some basic information about hiring a publicist.

What can a publicist do for me?

An experienced book publicist has the media contacts, communication skills, and experience to both plan and execute an organized publicity campaign. Properly done, publicity is a carefully coordinated dance that involves timing, promotion, and attention. It often increases exposure for both you and your book—boosting your author brand and creating buzz around your publication.

The key to understanding publicity is this distinction: while a campaign may result in book sales, it is truly designed to increase an author’s visibility. A successful publicity campaign generates media attention, speaking engagements, invitations for appearances, and more … and these are the things that boost your book sales.

Access to the media

Publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. Book promotion isn’t something that happens overnight—or even in just a few weeks. It tends to be a methodical, thorough process that involves persistence and a significant time investment. By hiring a publicist, not only do you benefit from their considerable experience—they will have a better idea of where to invest time and energy for maximum effect—but you also are working with someone who has an extensive network of media and marketing contacts. Because publicists have established relationships with industry influencers, they know how to effectively pitch them in such a way as to increase your chances of coverage, whether that be reviews, articles, interviews, TV appearances, or more.

Smart positioning

Part of a publicist’s skill comes from recognizing how to best position a book when introducing it to the world and to the media, then finding opportunities to maximize that hook. For example, if you’ve written a book about the American fascination with the British monarchy, a publicist would see the president’s trip to England to meet with the queen as a perfect opportunity to reach out to the press and discuss your book or offer interviews with you as an expert.

Event planning

A publicist can also help you with planning and managing a book tour and other appearances that increase public awareness. Whether you’d like to go on tour for your book or just set up individual readings in your area, a publicist can assist you in identifying the best places to visit and then reach out to the media in those areas in advance of your event. It’s frustrating for authors to take the time to set up an event only to find themselves reading to a sea of empty chairs, but your publicist’s efforts can help you avoid that.

Why might I consider hiring a publicist?

Unlike the other steps in your publishing journey, which had definite start and finish dates, publicity is ongoing. It’s about creating momentum and keeping it, ensuring that both book and author stay in the public eye. That's a lot of work. For most authors—especially those who are self-publishing—there is no publicity team in place to support your book’s release. In fact, even authors who are publishing through well-known publishing houses are now expected to make an effort to promote their books on their own.

Hiring a publicist to assist you is an option if are unable or unwilling to promote your book yourself. Perhaps you don’t have the time to research media contacts, send out review copies and information about your book, and then track the outcomes. You may also feel unsure about how to brand and position yourself or your book. Or perhaps you have in-house support from your publisher, but you want to boost their publicity efforts. (If your publishing house has assigned you a publicist and you still want to hire your own, you will need to put them in contact with each other so they can coordinate efforts and ensure good communication. You don’t want your team duplicating efforts.)

What would a publicist expect from me?

Once you’ve hired a professional, think of the relationship as a collaboration rather than a delegation. The more you work with your publicist, the more effective he or she will be.

In preparation for working with a publicist, make sure you have these pieces in place:

  1. A published book that is well-written and edited, with a quality cover and jacket copy. All the publicity in the world cannot help a poorly written or edited book with an unattractive or amateurish-looking cover. Before you spend money on a publicist, the quality of your book needs to be the very best it can be.
  2. A strong sense of who your audience is. What group or groups of readers did you write your book for? Knowing your audience can help your publicist position your book with maximum effect. It’s also important to make sure your target audience is large enough to warrant hiring a publicist.
  3. A website and any necessary social media accounts. Even before you’ve hired a publicist, you should be building the foundations for a social media following. Coordinating your engagement efforts with your publicist’s media outreach campaigns can give both efforts a huge boost.
  4. Your own email/mailing list. Make a list of any contacts or personal connections you already have (for example, with the staff of your local independent bookstore or library) and share them with your publicist so no time is wasted duplicating effort. This list also gives your publicist a place to start. Unless you have the budget to retain a publicist for years, it’s great to begin establishing your own network and contacts for the future when you’re doing your own publicity. Once the publicist stops working for you, their contact list goes with them—so don’t slack on creating your own list!
  5. A healthy budget. Publicists can be expensive. Whether they bill at an hourly consulting fee (just to give you guidance and advice) or you sign a six-month contract, a good publicist won’t come cheap. Take a look at your budget and see what you can afford. Do not bank on future sales of your book based on hiring a publicist.
  6. Time. Publicists will likely start reaching out to reviewers and the media up to six months before your publication date. If you think you want to hire one, the earlier you do, the better.

When is hiring a publicist a bad idea?

Any additional exposure for your book is helpful, so hiring a publicist can’t do anything but help your book. But it’s a bad idea to invest money in publicity if your budget can’t support it and if you’re expecting an immediate financial return. As we mentioned above, hiring a reputable book publicist can be prohibitively expensive for many authors. (We’ve heard of fees of up to five figures for six-month contracts.) Even if you hire a publicist for consulting on an hourly basis, most will require a minimum number of hours they’ll want you to commit to. (Ten seems to be par for the course.) Remember that publicity is really about visibility and exposure; it’s an investment for the growth of your brand and platform rather than a quick fix to generate sales.

If you don’t have the budget for this, there are aspects of a publicist’s job that you may be willing to do yourself. Then you can focus on the one or two specific tasks where the publicist’s contacts and experience outshine your own. For example, having a publicist focus on pitching reviewers and media is one area that can benefit authors the most.

Avoiding scammers

There are, unfortunately, a lot of scam publicists and agencies out there, waiting to prey on your inexperience. Avoid any advertisement you see for a publicist or agency. Good publicists rarely attract clients in this way; much of their business comes from referrals. We also recommend avoiding any publicist who guarantees you … well, anything. There are no guarantees with publicity. So if someone is trying to guarantee you a spot on a bestseller list or a certain number of sales, tighten your shoelaces and run.

Authors who are interested in hiring a publicist are better off checking references, researching the publicist’s book publicity background, and asking fellow authors and writing groups for recommendations.

Managing your expectations

Publicists aren’t miracle workers. They’re simply professionals who have the contacts to help you and your book be seen and heard. Even the most experienced publicist can’t always control the outcome. Promotion is about timing and opportunity, and publicists cannot predict—or guarantee—whether their efforts (and yours) will have the effect you hope for. It’s a process, so keep an open mind. And though it can take time to build momentum, once you have it, it can propel your career forward.

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