Most Authors don’t need a book publicist.
That’s not to say that having a book publicist won’t bring some benefit. But book publicists aren’t cheap, and publicity isn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (which is what many Authors think).
Let’s say you hit the jackpot and made it onto Good Morning America or into the New York Times. Where would that really get you?
You need a really clear sense of how you’re going to leverage that publicity to meet your larger goals. What are you trying to achieve with the publicity that you get?
Unless you’re just in it for your ego, publicity shouldn’t be an end in itself. And in truth, most nonfiction Authors can meet their goals without hiring an expensive PR firm.
This post will help you decide whether you want or need publicity services, what a book publicist’s role is (and isn’t), and how to choose and work with one. I’ll also cover the typical costs of a publicity firm and how to evaluate if those costs are worth it.
What Is a Book Publicist?
Book publicists use their connections and relationships to help you get publicity for your book— especially publicity that would be hard for you to get on your own.
A book publicist is also useful as an extra pair of hands to reach out for book publicity when you have a lot on your plate (because you’ll be extraordinarily busy around the time you publish your book).
For your book launch, you’ll need to reach out to your email list, stay on top of social media, create your Amazon Author page, promote your book on Amazon, contact media outlets and bloggers, and create press releases.
It helps when you have someone else to take on some of that public relations work.
But be forewarned: publicists are not there to tell you who your audience should be or how to reach that audience. You should already have figured that out when you came up with your book positioning.
Also, don’t hire a publicist unless you already have a book marketing plan. You are much better off if you go in knowing what you want them to do for you.
What Do Book Publicists Do?
Traditionally, book publicists organized book signings and public events.
Those aren’t as relevant anymore.
Most people aren’t shopping from brick-and-mortar bookstores. They’re shopping online (ESPECIALLY in the post-COVID era).
Today, book publicity is more about digital marketing and media. Book promotion focuses mostly on reaching out to social media, email lists, and digital media outlets.
A publicist can help you coordinate book tours and get information to booksellers to assist their purchasing choices.
But the bulk of what they do is media placement. They help you get media coverage in print and online publications, podcast interviews, and local radio or TV shows.
All these promotional efforts are effective and helpful for people with an established audience.
But here’s the thing: if you don’t already have an established following, don’t try to go from zero to sixty, or you’ll be disappointed with the results.
A publicist isn’t going to help you magically amplify your following.
If you want to grow your audience, it’s not impossible. You can work with a publicist to first develop interest and then transition into some of these larger events.
But be realistic.
Can’t a Publicist Help Me Plan My Strategy?
Yes and no.
If you hire a PR firm before you start your book, and work with them on the positioning, then they can help you with the overall strategy, of course.
But if you do not do that, and you just go to them when your book is done, they aren’t going to be able to help you develop an overall marketing strategy.
Publicists have lists of media contacts they can use to help you get media coverage. But you have to tell them what you want and need.
If you hire a publicity firm and expect them to help you come up with a game plan, you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll probably waste a lot of money because you won’t have a clear vision for your publicist to help implement.
Publicists don’t usually collaborate with you. You need to point them in a direction, and they’ll try to make it happen.
Whether that direction is actually going to be helpful for you—that’s not really their call.
Whether you’re speaking to the right audience? Also not their call.
Many Authors need more of a partner or collaborator than a publicist. They need someone to keep them in check and ask, “What are your ultimate goals?”
A partner can help you stay on track and make sure you’re setting your sights on media coverage that will actually improve your career.
A publicist’s job is to help you attain the connections and opportunities you ask for.
Do You Need a Book Publicist?
Probably not. But it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your book.
For most Authors, writing a nonfiction book is a way to support their larger business objectives. A book is a tool they can leverage to get out into their industry and demonstrate their expertise.
Most of the time, it makes sense to start small with your marketing efforts and gradually increase them.
Turn up the volume on any promotional efforts you already have, particularly if you have a limited budget. Focus on your niche audience. Then let your book spread through word of mouth.
Whether you should hire a book publicist boils down to 2 things:
- How much help you’re willing to pay.
- How much help you need reaching out to media.
We’ll talk about each of these below.
How Much Does a Book Publicist Cost?
It’s hard to talk about typical costs because it depends on the media campaign.
At a typical PR firm, individuals could probably find representation for a $5,000 monthly retainer, possibly lower. But at the very least, you’re looking at four figures every month, just in publicity costs.
There are some publicity firms that focus specifically on books and run on a typical agency model. That means, to make a profit, they have to work on a larger scale. In other words, each PR person is saddled with a lot of Authors.
This often leaves Authors feeling like they’ve been sold a bill of goods. There can be a disconnect between the way their publicists talk about strategy and how they actually execute the work.
It’s not because the publicists are bad at their jobs. It’s just the nature of the industry.
When you have more clients than you can handle and you’re in a frantic atmosphere, you’re running on adrenaline. Balls get dropped. Wires get crossed. Mistakes are bound to happen.
So, if you’re shopping for a book publicist, don’t just be budget-conscious. If you’re going to nickel-and-dime over your publicity money, don’t do it. You’re just setting yourself up for resentment and frustration.
Look at the overall history of the agency and the individual you’d be working with, and make sure that you are very clear about the cost versus benefit, and whether it’s worth it for you.
When Is That Cost Worth It?
The cost may be worth it if you really want a lot of media coverage (because it’s very time consuming).
It’s also worth it when the publicist’s connections will help you get in the door with media that will realistically help you meet your goals.
A publicist can make it easier to connect to specific outlets, but you can discover a lot of those resources on your own if you decide not to hire a publicist.
The cost may also be worth it if you have large goals.
By “large” I mean 2 things:
- You want to break into new markets, either geographically or in adjacent industries.
- If the book has some kind of national interest or broader appeal.
Here’s the catch: most Authors feel like their book has national interest or broader appeal when it doesn’t.
That’s not an insult. Some of the most successful books were written for niche audiences.
When Authors write for a broad audience, they often water down their knowledge so much that it’s useless to people in their industry.
If a nonfiction book does become a bestseller, it’s not necessarily because it was written for a national audience. It’s because it was so helpful that people couldn’t stop talking about it. They recommended it to everyone they knew, and the book gained traction.
Be honest with yourself. Is your book really destined for USA Today? Or, are your goals better met with smaller-scale, more niche-focused coverage?
If you’re planning to hire a publicist, know why you want one, have clear goals, and set your sights on reasonably appropriate media.
That’s the only way it’s going to pay off.
How to Hire a Book Publicist (and Develop a Publicity Strategy for Your Book)
1. Identify Your Target Audience
This should be easy.
You should have figured out who your target audience was before you even wrote your book.
Your audience is the single group of people whose problem your book solves. The more specific your audience is, the better.
There are a million books on business. But if you’ve written the only book that’s about why business owners should garden, you’re going to have a lot less competition. And it’s more likely that your book will really help the people who read it.
Most people read nonfiction books because they think they’ll get something from them. So, what is your book providing, and who is it providing for?
Before you go on a podcast, write a promotional article, or appear on TV, you have to know who you want to reach.
2. Decide What Results You Want
When you hire an agent, you’ll have two sets of goals.
The first centers on what you want the results of your publicity to be. What are your objectives?
Do you want more clients? Do you want to make money? What does a home run look like?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say this again: be realistic.
We actually have a conversation about realistic goals with every Scribe Author before we write their books.
We ask these 3 basic questions:
- How do you want your book to serve your readers, and what will they get out of it?
- Imagine it’s a few years after your book has been published. What has the book helped you accomplish that made the effort worthwhile?
- What’s the single event that will happen because of the book that will cause you to say, “This was all worth it!”?
If you’ve set reasonable expectations, your answers won’t have anything to do with selling a million copies or hitting a national bestseller list. You won’t say, “Being famous,” or “hanging out with Oprah.”
Realistic goals are more concrete and attainable, like gaining X-number of new clients or getting X-number of paid speaking gigs, or getting coverage in an industry-specific publication.
You can be ambitious, but you should always be honest.
3. Decide What You Want a Publicist to Do
Once you’ve got your personal goals, then you can figure out your second set of goals. These are all about what you want the publicist to do to actually advance your book.
What goals do you have for the agency? Do you want to do podcast interviews, be featured in print media, get book reviews, or appear in certain publications?
What media coverage is going to help you reach your personal objectives?
Contrary to what many Authors think, big-name media isn’t always the best way forward.
Just because your book hits the Wall Street Journal or CNN, that doesn’t mean you’ve got it made. Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss aren’t the only podcasters on the planet.
Those big outlets may not be the ones that will help you the most.
If your goal is to get new clients in your geographical region, national media won’t help.
If your goal is to show your industry what an expert you are, speaking to a broad audience won’t help.
If you’re having trouble figuring out realistic publicity goals, find a similar Author—maybe someone with a similar book in a different industry or someone with a similar platform.
Look at what media they’ve received. This will give you something realistic to aspire to.
Start this process as soon as you finish your rough draft. It takes a lot of time.
Plus, the process of thinking through these steps might help as you make revisions.
4. Evaluate Your Options
Once you’ve done those first 3 things, step back and evaluate. Do you really need a publicist?
You might find that your publicity goals are attainable enough for you to achieve on your own.
If you are going forward with a publicist, at least now you’ll have a clear idea of why you need one.
You can always give it a shot on your own. If you find it too difficult or intimidating, you can always reach out to a publicist a little further down the line. The publicity for your book should actually begin before the book is finished.
Ideally, you should start shopping for a publicist when your first draft is finished. Depending on how long your revisions take, a lot of time can go by between shopping publicists and actually moving forward.
You’ll have plenty of time to evaluate your options. But make sure you decide on a publicist before your book is ready to launch.
5. Interview at Least 3 Different Publicists
Talk to at least 3 different agencies. Set up a pitch or interview process where you get answers to the following questions:
- What’s their philosophy?
- How do they work?
- Who have they worked with before?
- What’s their track record with media coverage like?
- Do they know anything specifically about the publishing industry?
- What contacts do they have for the specific media you want to be in?
- What do they expect they can get you in terms of placements?
Do your due diligence. Reach out to former clients and listen to their experiences.
Get quantifiable proof that they can help you with the right media placement for your book.
You’re paying for your publicist’s relationships, so make sure they exist.
You might end up with a publicist who’s great on paper. But if they don’t have connections with the right media, they’re not going to be useful to you.
Before you hire anyone, make sure they fully understand your book and objectives.
You can be open to discussion, but you can’t just hand over the keys. You have to tell them where you want the car to go and make sure they can steer.
How to Work with a Publicist
The world of publicity is bananas. PR firms are working on multiple projects at once, and they have a lot of balls in the air.
The more organized you are as an Author, the more return you’ll get on your investment. Here are some tips for working with a publicist once you hire one.
1. Get a Plan in Writing
You need to know what your publicist’s objectives are and how they’re going to approach them.
What publications are they going to pitch? How many different outlets are they going to send your press release to? Which contacts are they going to approach first?
You don’t need to micromanage their work. After all, you’re paying for their expertise.
But it’s helpful to have a high-level view of what they’re up to.
2. Expect Weekly Updates
Most agencies provide weekly updates.
They let you know who they’ve contacted, who they’ve heard back from, and what the results were.
Again, don’t micromanage—but if your publicist doesn’t send you regular updates, it’s okay to check in.
3. Make Sure You Have What They Need
When you hire a publicist, they’ll tell you what they need from you. The following materials are the most common:
If you have other materials, like a video trailer, give them that too.
Give your publicist all the marketing materials you have, so they know what they have to work with. All of these materials should be locked and ready to go before your publicist starts promoting your book. The sooner you have them ready, the better.
You can start marketing pre-sales of your book and get some media coverage before your book launch.
But at the very least, make sure your publicist has everything several weeks before your book is published.
4. Practice Talking About Your Book
Don’t leave everything to your publicist. Do your part to be prepared.
Practice discussing the book. Have your elevator pitch down pat.
If you’re using the book to promote your business, be prepared to rattle off your website and other contact information.
Select the high points of your argument and some of the most interesting anecdotes from your book.
You don’t need to script anything, but be prepared for the types of questions that will come your way.
You can also prepare by listening to podcasts. How would you respond to certain questions?
Think through some succinct talking points so you can be collected and give the best interview possible.