Special thanks to Sandy Poirier Smith, president of Smith Publicity, for this guest post!
Finding the right book publicist can be tricky. You need a to find a match with the right skill set for your genre, personality, and budget. Because promoting a book is a highly specialized skill, ideally, you want a publicist/agency that specializes in books and authors, rather than a general publicity or public relations professional.
It’s essential to find a team that has cultivated contacts for your genre, has experience in pitching print (magazine and newspaper), broadcast (television, radio and podcast) and/or online and blog outlets to make an author and book newsworthy. Plus, it’s also important to find a team with the personality, passion, and communication style that fits your needs. It’s not an easy task! While book publicists cannot guarantee book sales or getting you on the cover of national magazine, they should be able to guarantee a consistent effort, clear strategy, and regular communication plan with you.
The time to start researching, if possible, is even before your publication date is set. You ideally want to have your marketing plan in place months before implementation. Below are eight questions to ask when hiring a book publicist.
You can Google “Book Publicity” or “Book Marketing,” to start your search, but asking authors, publishers, and publishing industry experts for recommendations is a good place to start. Once you have a list, begin your research by researching:
1. How long has the company/individual been in business? There are many companies and individuals claiming expertise and offering often outrageous promises to authors. Be wary of websites without staff members, years of experience noted, and client testimonials, or those with offers too good to be true. Hint: if no individuals are listed on the website, move along! The book publicity process is a personal one—you want to see real people!
2. Do they publicize books in your genre? Look beyond fiction vs. non-fiction to see experience specifically with your topic. Christian fiction, business leadership, children’s middle grade chapter books, poetry, health/wellness, sci-fi novel, self-help, high end coffee table art books, etc. … each require very different strategies. Hint: if they don’t have experience in your genre, you don’t want to be the experiment test case. It is essential you find a match with contacts and experience in your genre.
Understand Service Options, Staff, and Personality
Once you determine a publicist/firm are reputable, and have the experience you need, then find out:
3. What are their book publicity service options, and timelines? Some book publicists work on six-month only campaigns starting months ahead of publication date, others are more flexible ranging from six weeks to four months, or after publication. Ask what they recommend for your book and why. If your project has galleys/advance reader copies, ask how they will incorporate this important element into the strategy and timeline. Ask about fees. If the fees do not match your budget, share your budget and see what they recommend. Hint: they should be asking you detailed questions about what makes your book different, your background, your short term and long-term goals, and target audience.
4. Who will my publicist be and who else is involved? Whether they offer a team of publicists with many levels of support or a dedicated lead publicist, careful consideration should be given to match an author to a publicist who has both the right experience and personality fit. Some authors want crisp, short email communication, while others are looking for weekly brainstorming style telephone conversations. Hint: if it is a one-person shop, while they could be a perfect fit, also know these people wear many hats and have to spend time away from publicity activities for other tasks including attracting new clients. If they are sick or have a family emergency, we’ve seen book launches come to a grinding halt.
5. Tell me your ideas to promote my book? They should be able to tell you what excites them about your project, and share examples of specific angles and ideas they think will interest the media, along with the challenges they’ve faced promoting this topic/genre. They should also share advice on what you should do in advance to prepare for media attention, including update website/blog/social media platforms, etc. Ask for a tailored proposal detailing their plan, price points, and timeline. Hint: if it is available, they should ask to read through your book or book proposal as part of this process.
Evaluate Work Ethic, Communication, and Wrapping Up
If their price point, background/experience, and ideas for your book look good, then ask:
6. Describe a typical week’s activity? Ask how the publicist breaks up the work week. Most importantly, you don’t want to feel the publicist is going through the motions and checking off a “to do” list. Each book is unique and deserves a tailored and exciting strategy. There are thousands of book published each day, and you need to know they are putting in the effort to separate you from the crowd. Going through the motions simply won’t do it. Ask about management support and how they evaluate results. You also want to understand what they are going to do, the timeline, and the strategy. For example, are they pitching long lead media (magazines), for national television opportunities, or are they setting up a book blog tour? If so, what is the strategy, what angles will they lead with? Is submitting your book for a potential review part of the strategy? If so, what are the outlets? Hint: If a book is already available for sale, they should tell you book trade opportunities (like Publishers Weekly) are slim as these outlets require books for consideration months before the publication date.
7. How will you communicate with me? Find out how, and how often, they will communicate with you, and how accessible your publicist will be for calls and questions. You should have consistent and genuinely informative updates detailing activities, results, and future plans. Hint: get a concrete answer on communication. We’ve heard from many authors who have told us, “I hired a publicist and never heard back from them—I had to keep asking what was going on.”
8. What happens at the end? At the end of working together, whether it is weeks or months after starting, there should be pending or outstanding media interest in you and your book. Ask what they do with these opportunities, including what happens when they hear from media after your campaign is over. Hint: there should be a wrap up conversation or formal report so you can continue the work they started.
In the end, selecting a publicist comes down to personality and fit, and to some degree, your “gut” feeling or instincts. Your book is your baby and you need to feel you’ve found a partner who is excited and will be vested in the success of your launch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Read testimonials or talk with past clients and ask about results, but also ask about the effort, support, and communication they received along the way. While book publicists are not in control of book sales and can't guarantee specific media results, they are in control of a proactive, strategic and tailored book launch. And that is exactly what you and your book deserve.
Sandra (Sandy) Poirier Smith is president of Smith Publicity, Inc., an international book promotion company dedicated to helping authors and publishers create awareness about their books and expertise through media coverage. Smith Publicity has promoted thousands of books since 1997—from household brand New York Times best sellers to first time, independently published titles. Smith Publicity authors have appeared on media outlets worldwide including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Atlantic, AARP, O, The Oprah Magazine, Forbes, INC, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Parents, People, TIME, Publishers Weekly, The Today Show, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Toronto Star, Huffington Post. Sandy works with clients to create and execute creative and tailored book promotion strategies. She regularly writes about and speaks at book industry events on the topic of book marketing and author/expert promotion. She earned a BS in Art and an MBA from Northeastern University.