Should you hire an independent publicist for your book launch without a guaranteed ROI?
To spend money or not to spend money, that is the question. (Plus, the three kinds of publicists you'll meet out there in lit land.)
Here it is, the post that I have successfully avoided writing for five years but can avoid no longer because so many of you have asked me to write about this question: Should you, a hardworking writer, spend your hard-earned money to hire an independent publicist to help you get the word out about your book, even though they can’t guarantee you a return on your investment and you don’t have money (or time) to burn?
Let’s birds-eye view this question before diving for the weeds. In a perfect world, when you get a book deal, you enter into an agreement with a publishing house who supplies you with an editor, a copyeditor, and a publicist. The publicist’s job (again, in a perfect world scenario) is to help generate buzz and interest in your title in the 6 months leading up to your publication. This can look like a lot of things, but bare minimum it would be:
Publicist bare minimum efforts:
Submitting your book on time to the trade publications (Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist) so they can get their reviews in.
Submitting your book on time to Indie Next (which publishes an influential catalogue showcasing the top 25 picks for books each month chosen by independent booksellers).
Pitching your book to the major national outlets that still offer review coverage.
If you’ve got a dynamo of a publicist who has the time and energy to go beyond these efforts, they might help you with the following:
Publicist extra credit efforts:
Brainstorming with you on angles you yourself can pitch for “off the book” essays that dance with the topic of your book.
Helping you come up with a social media campaign.
Pitching/submitting you for prizes.
Pitching/submitting you for celebrity book clubs and subscription book clubs.
Pitching national publications to profile you/your book.
Pitching you to “best of” lists (like Amazon and iTunes).
Talking you off the ledge when you get a bad review.
Sharing their Rolodex so you have contacts you can pitch articles to.1
Getting in touch with ideas that could help you find leverage in the marketplace (this could be emailing you about someone they think you should get in touch with, it could be sending you an article that you could write a response to in a newspaper, things of this nature.)
Helping you craft (and contact) a “Big Mouth” list of people that you’d like to get your book to.
Pitching you to podcasts, radio shows, TV shows and other media outlets.
With the assistance of the marketing team, delivering branded visual assets that you can use on your social media (graphically designed pull quotes, social sharing squares with excerpts from the book, blurbs…)
Pitching you for book festivals and helping you coordinate travel to events.
Managing your book tour travel details.
What else? Share in the comments things that your publicists have helped you with!
All of the above examples are best case scenarios, because there exists a world (often at academic presses or at micro presses) where you’re not given a publicist. There is also a world in which you are given a publicist and:
1) You have a challenging work relationship and/or
2) You have the impression they’re not doing a good job.
All these scenarios result in the same thing: you panicking because you don’t think your book is being given a fair shake. Should you hire a freelance publicist to boost your book’s profile? Or are you being paranoid? Outside publicists cost a lot of money, and they can’t guarantee you media hits or book sales. Will you regret it if you hire someone? Will you regret it if you don’t?
Let’s use my own experience working with an outside publicist to explore what can work—and what can bomb—with this approach.