What does a book publicist actually do?
The disruption of the publishing industry has sparked a rise in ‘experts’ coming out of the woodwork offering services at various points of the publishing pipeline. To a first-time author seeking publication, with no previous experience of putting together a publishing team and negotiating the rules of the industry (many of which are unspoken) it can be expensive and challenging.
There is talk of scams and failings but there are also many professionals out there who are reliable, resourceful and effective. Did you know that one book is launched every 20 minutes in this country? What sets your book apart? What must you do to build a name for yourself as an author? How can you even begin to get noticed?
Book publicists have long existed in some form or another. Typically sitting within the major publishing house HQ, publicists’ duties include escorting big names on book tours around the world, organising interviews and managing the distribution and follow-up of review copies. As budgets have been cut and the publishing industry has changed, book publicity is now often performed outside of the publishing house. A traditional publishing deal no longer equates to full marketing, sales and publicity support. Authors are being asked by their publishing houses to cough up for their own publicity, to charge forward their own promotion machine via social media, and engage (and fund) a publicist to liaise with the press.
Several years ago I exhibited at the London Book Fair for the first time as a freelance book publicist. I was met by old-school publishing executives with confusion, scepticism, and even blatant disregard. Yet, despite the fact my stand was the smallest at the LBF, it was also the busiest in the area and it’s been the same every year since. Authors were open and welcoming to me, they had many questions and, failing to find answers elsewhere, spent a lot of time chatting.
This eye-opening experience inspired the creation of a publicity agency that is inclusive, creative and responsive to authors from all walks of life, as well as the establishment of The Author School (co-founded with YA author Abiola Bello in 2015), which provides workshops and support for authors who are stepping into the publishing world (or discovering they need to know more!).
It was clear that there was a huge gap in the market for a publicity agency that did more than just churn out press releases to a standard list and send out unsolicited review copies; an agency that worked on the side of the author. Literally PR opened in 2012 with services for authors starting at £50. Our Full Works Package is currently £3,899 and includes more than three months of support and a whole host of services and there are plenty of other packages across the spectrum from £50 to our top package that work for authors.
We’ve worked with more than 200 authors, we have connections in Australia, Europe and the US for authors seeking international representation, we’ve worked with household names through to first-time writers, and we’ve loved almost every minute of it!
Our selection process (we receive around 20 manuscripts for consideration each week) is based on the potential for publicity. We read a section of the book to check for quality, but the primary assessment is based around our experience of working with the press – knowing which categories are open to the author and the book (online, radio, trade, women’s, parenting, history etc), what is currently popular, what has worked in the past, who we know who would consider an interview, review or editorial commission, etc. Public relations and book publicity are gradual processes but the momentum builds with time. We work with monthly magazines and quarterly journals that look ahead three to six months, hence the phrase ‘Christmas in July’ within the press world.
Once we’ve signed up a new client the work begins quickly. You won’t necessarily be ‘put out there’ until all the press materials are prepared but once everything is signed off we often get review copy requests, interview calls and editorial commissions almost immediately because we target our campaigns to the right people at the right time. Sometimes authors are surprised by the change in gear and it is important that they are prepared for the amount of work that comes from a successful campaign, and are able to turn around responses, make time for interviews and be available as much as possible.
The most successful campaigns work when the author is fully on board and collaborating with the publicist. Many of the authors we work with also have a full-time job, some are in different time zones, but we always make it work if the author is aware of the need to be as flexible as possible to press responses.
We have no control over what the press write, much the same as authors have no control over who reviews their book on Amazon and how much of the storyline they give away. We can influence but we cannot control – if you want full control then advertising is a better route for you.
10 tips for finding the right book publicist
1. Seek word of mouth recommendations. Don’t know any authors? Join a Facebook forums or a writers’ group and ask. Put a shout out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Look at who seems to be driving publicity for other authors.
2. Create a list of possible contacts and go through them slowly. Don’t just go with the first person who replies – the email may have just gone through at the right time, but the right person may not be available until the next day.
3. Try to meet, even by Skype. It's important to build a strong relationship from the start if you’re going to be working with someone for three to nine months.
4. Look at their other clients. Have they worked with authors similar to you? Contact a few of their former clients and check what their experiences were.
5. Discuss your expectations. It’s important to aim high so we chase your ‘dream’ coverage, but we also manage expectations. A publicist cannot force a journalist to write about an author, or to review a book kindly. A publicist can only try their best – creatively – to put their client in front of the right people at the right time.
6. Understand what is required of you. Make it clear when you won’t be available (holidays, particular days of the week, etc).
7. Keep in contact but don’t inundate your publicist. You’ll be taking them away from the work they’re doing for you.
8. Be realistic. Publicists won’t work on your account every day – the finances don’t work like that. But they will be dealing with the press daily and whenever possible they’ll be pushing your book as much as the next one.
9. Be proactive. Two heads are better than one! You can do plenty on social media (blogging, guest blogging, focusing on Twitter and building up a strong following, branching out into another such as LinkedIn, Pinterest or Tumblr depending on your audience).
10. Keep in touch. Even after our time with a client ends we still send on opportunities, support former clients via social media and where relevant introduce them to the press long after we’ve finished working together. You never know when you might need them again so it’s good to stay friends.