What your publicist should do (and how to pick one)

The job of a book publicist is to get your book written or talked about.

Here’s a list of traditional publicist tasks:

  • Develop a publicity strategy.
  • Attempt to get you featured on podcasts.
  • Attempt to get you featured on TV or radio programs.
  • Attempt to get you or your book written about in media (print and online).
  • Help you secure opportunities to publish contributed (bylined) articles in newspapers (op-eds), trade magazine sites, and other sites.
  • Get people to review your book.
  • Get excerpts of your book published in news sites.
  • Get you featured in other places
  • Write pitches for all of the above; follow up on all those pitches.

You need to know a few things about all of this.

First, you might think your publisher will do this. Unless you are very famous, they won’t do much. (Of all the hundreds of authors I know, only one has ever said their publisher did a great job with publicity.) Publishers will send review copies of the book out to the usual media outlets and secure a few placements. They may also help with bookstore marketing. On my most recent book, the publisher (Harper Business) got one excerpt published, secured placement for one bylined article, and obtained one review. Publishers’ publicists are skilled, but generally have too many books to work on to focus on yours for very long. So you’re better off hiring a book publicist.

Yes, this also applies to hybrid publishers. They’ll charge you for publicity work, but you’re better off with a professional publicist.

Second, all of this is most effective if it takes places within weeks before the book is published or a few months afterwards. Publicity builds because it generates multiple impressions in a short period of time. If the publicist is good and the book is promotable, you are going to be very busy. So plan for that.

And third, note the “attempt” in so many of those bullets. Publicists pitch. They don’t always get hits. That has as much to do with how promotable your book is as it does with how hard they work. Your book on butterfly collecting may just not appeal to that many news organizations.

This is not the sum total of all your marketing work. The publicist may also help you do any of the following:

  • Ghostwrite (or hire a ghostwriter to write) bylined articles.
  • Help you create shareable content, such as videos, infographics, or blog posts.
  • Coach you on how best to do appearances.
  • Help you develop a “social media posse” of friends and fans who will promote your book on social media.
  • Get your readers to post reviews on Amazon or elsewhere.

This is not a complete list. People are always coming up with new ideas of how to promote books.

How to pick a publicist

This is going to cost you several thousand dollars per month. So you want to be diligent in picking a publicist.

It’s best to match the skills of the publicist to the things you need. Some are better at strategy, others at writing. Some are scrappy and less expensive.

Most important is a recommendation from another author you work with. If a publicist has succeeded with someone you know and they provide an enthusiastic reference, that’s worth a lot.

I have either worked with or heard about successful nonfiction book launches with the following publicists:

I’d feel comfortable recommending any of these. (And they’re doubtless going to complain I positioned them wrong. Add your own comments, my friends.)

If you’ve worked with an agency not listed here, add your experience and the name of your publicity agency in the comments.

How not to find a publicist — a cautionary tale

I recently heard from a book publicity company that purported to be based in Maine, my home state. Publicists don’t normally solicit business, so I was curious. I accepted a telephone meeting with the principal and he explained their process. He also guaranteed me 20 podcast interviews from podcasts with at least 30,000 downloads each for $1,500. That seemed like an excellent deal, compared to the prices I’d heard from other publicists.

I was ready to sign up, but I decided to Google him first. Here’s what I found:

  • The top result for the name of his agency on Google is not his site, but a site that is a hub for complaints about him from authors.
  • His listing on Google includes five 1-star reviews and one 5-star review. The 1-star reviews include tales from authors who say he ripped them off, did very little work, and delivered insult-filled tirades when they complained.
  • An extensive and detailed list of complaints about him is on the site of the Better Business Bureau. There are also seven 1-star reviews with detailed complaints.

Here’s a typical complaint:

We hired [redacted name of agency] to do a publicity campaign for our book [redacted book title]. We paid $3658 for press and radio publicity and $1600 for publicity in the San Francisco Bay area. He did some minor work (a few radio interviews on small stations) for the $3658 and no work at all for the $1600. When we asked for our money back, he launched into a twenty minute tirade and a stream of insults. He is a very nasty person.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good about the guaranteed podcasts. I’ll gladly scurry back to Carlton PR & Marketing, because I know they do good work, even if they can’t “guarantee” podcast placement. (Any agency that guarantees placements is suspect — those decisions are up to journalists and podcasters, not the agency.)

Friends, if I, a veteran of 45 book projects, can almost get sucked in, you could, too. Pick someone from the list above, or work with someone who comes recommended by another author that you trust.

And don’t bother cleverly searching and linking to the guy I just described — I’d rather avoid any legal action.

Be careful out there.

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