Having a book publicist may sound like something that happens once an author cracks the New York Times bestseller list and starts bathing in mare’s milk, but authors are often surprised to learn that a book publicist does their work well in advance of the book release (often five months–or more!–in advance of your book release).
An in-house book publicist is someone who works on behalf of a traditional publishing company. Most who are employed at big houses work with a large number of authors at a time and provide little personal support to the author, but instead work on how to pitch the book to around 50 or so, larger publications (reviewers at newspapers, magazines, etc). Authors at big houses sometimes benefit from an independent publicist joining the team in order to get the most comprehensive level of coverage, but even in the changing world of publishing, authors have long been expected to provide some of their own media coverage, particularly in non-fiction.
Most small and medium presses don’t have an official in-house publicity department and small publishers often wear several hats, providing various publicity and marketing services as well as publishing services (or they ask that the author provide some or all of this). Authors at small and medium presses, as well as indie authors, benefit from a professional book publicist who can position the book release to a more professional level, thereby getting it seen by influential media reviewers, industry reviewers, and independent reviewers.
An independent book publicist is one that works on behalf of the author, while working in a team with the rest of the people working on the author’s book, like the designers and editors or the in-house publisher.
I often hear the same couple of things from first-time authors regarding promotion of their books. Most common: “I just want to get my book out there,” as if the book were a letter in a bottle and the success is someone finding it on the opposite coast! The second most frequent sentiment is that, in a cold sweat, an author suddenly realizes how impossible it will be to complete the pre-release checklist they’ve researched.
One huge benefit to being an indie author is flexibility. The difficult part is the self-restraint. I get it: You’ve been writing and editing and designing and you want to be done. However, giving yourself five months after you print advanced review copies (ARCs) to do publicity will give your book the opportunity to meet more people than the note in the bottle that gets picked up on the other side of the lake. Bonus points if you have an IndieReader (or other, professional) review on the back of your ARC and final version. Objective reviews from known outlets make a big difference in whether or not a reviewer will take a chance on your book when being pitched by your publicist.
What are your expectations for your book? A good publicist will only take on a book for which they think will get a receptive audience, but books from the Big 5 flop all the time, so no publicist should be giving you promises on a set number of impartial reviews. Without publicity, however, it’s quite difficult to push past your family and friends’ group (because on average, indie authors sell between 25 and 100 books in a lifetime).
Outcome also depends on your book’s genre. Some publicists focus on business, self-help and prescriptive non-fiction. These publicists are able to develop lists of talk radio shows and podcasts devoted to non-fiction and business genres. An author can expect to have a number of these interviews while working with a business specific book publicist.
For publicity companies who specialize in fiction and CNF (such as memoir), like mine, publicists need to get creative. We research comparable books from the last three years, where they were reviewed, and who liked them. We work on story generation for pitches about authors, about geographical locations, topical events, sub-genre material, themes and more. We go for all sorts of interviews, written and broadcast. We coordinate with social media to develop relationships with critical reviewers before pitching. It’s a holistic puzzle more akin to rolling a snowball than the proverbial, “seeing what sticks to the wall”.
Sometimes a book release campaign will hit it out of the park and sometimes it’s a struggle to get a couple of reviews. Each campaign is completely different, but it’s one of the primary things you can do to give your indie book a shot at being read by people you don’t know while growing your influence as an author.
Here’s an example of what you need to do (or have a publicist do) five months (or more) in advance of your book release.
Book Publicity Campaign Timeline:
The point of a publicity campaign is to garner media and reviewer attention. Your publicist will help you through the timeline and may offer help with social media, events, blurb acquisition, award submissions and other extras.
- Press kits, one-sheets and media lists should be researched, written and build by about 5 months in advance of release (though media lists evolve with the campaign).
- Industry reviewer ARCs and purchased reviews should be sent out at least 4.5 months in advance of release.
- Two to five months before release, pitch the media list and send out ARCs.
- At release, your publicist will compile a list of how many people requested the book, the number of publicity hits (with links), blurbs and other earned media.
In summary, why should an indie author hire a publicist? Because, publicists are an essential part of an author’s ability to be widely read, regardless of how a book is published.
Jessie Glenn, longtime director of Mindbuck Media Book Publicity, specializes in fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction and now audiobooks. Jessie has taught book marketing and publicity for Portland State University’s Masters in Publishing degree. Highlighted for publicity work in Poets & Writers Magazine, Annie Jenning’s EliteWire, AWP, and numerous “Ask the Expert” articles, Jessie has judged for several writing awards, and is also a writer with essays in New York Times, Salon, WaPo, Cleaver and elsewhere.