You Need What King, Grisham and Roberts Have!

If your name isn't Stephen King or John Grisham or Nora Roberts you've probably already figured out that you need a publicist. That publicist can be you or someone else, but somebody's got to do it if you want your book to sell. Your publisher won't spend much, if any, time or money on your publicity (except in the above three cases, of course!)

I have a publicist friend who is also an author. He rightfully claims that he could never find a PR person who would do the same kind of job he does, including the time he spends on his own PR. How could anyone argue with that? We all are our own best publicists, even if we hire someone else.

But what if we don't have the time or expertise?

We can learn to do it ourselves. After all, we are writers. We should be able to grasp the knack of how to write a release.

But the best way to do it is to learn a lot about the marketing of books and then partner with expert publicists or people who can help you with specific projects like online book tour specialists. (I suggest resources for these specialists in The Frugal Book Promoter.) If you decide to do that here are some starter recommendations:

1. Join an organization for publishers and authors. That could be Small Publishers Association of North America or IBPA. Yes, even if you are not self-published or subsidy published. Attend their seminars—online and off. You'll learn more about promotion and your own industry than you can possibly imagine. Not only that, but you'll get over your natural reticence to promote yourself and your book. After all, if you don't believe enough in yourself and your book to do a good job of it, who will?

2. Subscribe to my favorite publicity guru's newsletter. Her name is Joan Stewart; her letter is called The Publicity Hound. She does a print version and a free web version. Contact her at or go to her site: Tell her I sent you.

3. Take a class in Public Relations. The only way I know how to avoid drastic mistakes in choosing a class is to patronize your local college.

But what if you decide to hire a publicist? You should know that even if you hire one, you’ll need to know some of this stuff to partner well with her.

Here is the one most important rule for finding a good one:

When you hire a publicist, you are buying her Rolodex; and I'm not talking about a list she gleaned from a directory. You could get that at the library from Barron's Directory for less than what it costs to hire a publicist for one month

What I'm talking about is a Rolodex of personal, working relationships with editors, hosts, etc. Those relationships must be—to a great extent—contacts who might have an interest in a project like yours. A book publicist who has had mostly experience with mystery writers, deals mostly with books stores that dedicate themselves to stories about crime, and has a huge file of names of reviewers interested in psycho/thrillers probably won't be able to do you much good if you write literary novels. And if you write mysteries, well! The people she will put you in contact with will be a Trojan horse for you well into an entire career of writing.

Am I speaking from experience? You betcha. And lukewarm results were not the fault of my publicist. She did a great job with what she had. She just didn't have what I needed!

You may wonder why I selected her. The price was right and I thought that with my PR background and a reasonable amount of time at my disposal (until I figured out the plot for my next novel) that I could supplement her efforts effectively. It didn't work out that way. First of all, I didn't have a lot of effective contacts in the book world (it was my first book) and the same rules apply to me, as an author cum PR partner. You gotta know some people.

If you're considering hiring a pro this is one way to go about finding Mr. or Ms. Right:

1. Join a list-serve of authors who write in your genre. Pick their brains.

2. Do a Google search on "book publicists + lists." Keep varying those search keywords until you find something that seems to fit your needs.

3. Then check out what you find with your new friends at the list-serv or organization you just joined. Or your social network. Or your critique partners. Or your writing teachers.

Contacts, contacts, contacts. Contacts can't be warmed up overnight; it takes lots of sincere tact, warmth, and effort. But it’s a skill you will use long after you’ve published your book and after you’ve hired a publicist.

To hire or not to hire is not an easy decision. It isn't an easy process to find the right publicist if you decide to go that route. Warning! Steep learning curve ahead! But the ride will be fun.


Anne Duguid Knol said...

Brilliant post Carolyn--second time today you have produced just the information my authors have been asking for. Many thanks.

Aileen said...

Superb advice! Thank you, Carolyn!

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, great information as usual. Marketing is so much work, and as you mention, learning, that most of us probably feel we need the help of a professional at one point or another. Finding the 'right' match is the key.

Even with simple virtual book tours you need to ask around to find a touring service that knows what its doing and 'has those connections.'

Heidiwriter said...

Excellent, Carolyn, thank you!

Magdalena Ball said...

As always Carolyn this is a great post full of valuable advice. Publicity is a job that requires both time and skills and is one of the key differences between a successful and unsuccessful book launch.

Dr John Yeoman said...

As an old-time PR man - I used to run a fair-sized consultancy - I have to agree that no hired publicist can invest a fraction of the time in promoting a client that a client could do for themselves. The problem is, as you say, clients don't the time - or expertise.

However, I'd qualify your thoughts about the value of contacts. Every time I took on a new client I had to develop new contacts, because every client traded in a slightly different niche. That said, once you have contacts, they're money in the bank. A PR veteran's contact book is worth more than their entire worldly wealth...

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Thanks Carolyn, excellent advice. I'm amazed how many writers I know, who will get a book out there but not think about publicity. That's why for many people, hiring a professional is the key.

VS Grenier said...

Carolyn you always know how to put it simply. Well done.

Debbie A Byrne said...

I subscribe to Joan too. Good post!

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks for your recommendations Carolyn. I don't subscribe to Joan, but think I'm about to. :-)

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