The other night, Garth Stein spoke at a meeting of The Seattle Freelances, a professional writer’s organization. His talk was about grass-roots book marketing. At one point, when talking about hiring a publicist, he said “All Writers Should Hire a Publicist,” which I thought was very sage advice and promptly tweeted it, quoting him. Later he tweeted back “Don’t parse me! My next sentence was, “Or hire yourself as a publicist if you can’t pay one.” Publicists are such a mystery to me, that I couldn’t fathom doing my own publicity which is probably why the second part of his sentence was lost on me.
When I was published in Canada, a publicist came along with the deal. She booked me radio shows and readings and TV spots. There was even a person who shuttled me from one event to another. Of course, being published in the US was a very different story. When I finally realized that there was no magic publicity fairy, I was way behind the eight ball. Plus I didn’t know where to begin. I wound up doing little more than hiding behind my desk all day writing my blog.
Publicists are fantastical people with huge rolodexes (or databases) of connections to mainstream media and who are savvy about how to pitch a story about your book to those different media outlets. They help writers get media coverage, speaking engagements and endorsements. They can reach channels that the average person cannot.
“The job of a publicist is to not only to tout some person or object to the world but also to “position” the client in the world, establishing that individual’s or thing’s uniqueness. To Shannon Wilkinson, getting a lot of attention earns a person a “buzz,” and other people think it “cool” to be around that individual or what the person creates.”
That’s a big job. It takes magical people. Are authors really expected to do this themselves? Grant goes on to talk about publicists who charge $25,000 per month retaining fees. Uh… Right. So yes, maybe out of necessity, we do need to be our own publicists. For whatever reason, when I heard Garth speak, I had almost made up my mind that I needed to hire a publicist, pronto. But $25,000 retainers? Might not quite be in the budget.
So is there a right time to hire a publicist? Here are some things to consider:
1. Do you already have an established, solid brand and platform?
This means that you have an up-to-date blog, a Twitter following of more that 1,000 followers, a Facebook page and a Google Plus page. You should be posting VERY regularly across these outlets. A publicist’s time would be wasted if you don’t have these things in place since the new audience being generated would have no where to go to check you out and buy your books.
2. Is your book coming out within the next three months or will it be part of a series?
If your book has already been out for a while, or won’t be coming out for more than three months, the timing may not be right. If you plan to publish more than one book, then this timing can be more flexible and you can amortize the cost of a publicist across the entire series. As we’ve learned from many indie published authors, series sell.
3. Do you have a clear goal of what you want your publicist to do for you?
Perhaps you want to establish yourself as a speaker on your topic with X speaking gigs within the next year; or you need to generate buzz about you and your topic, resulting in X new twitter followers, TV interviews, reviews (or whatever metric you decide); Maybe you want expand your reach across national or international markets (again, establish a concrete metric for this); create a list of services you need, such as write press releases, TV and radio appearances, book readings, launch parties and figure out which ones you can do yourself and which ones you need help with.
4. Are you being realistic about what a publicist can do for you?
If you are expecting your publicist to get you on Oprah or The Today Show, you might be dreaming. Depending on the extent of your existing platform, a publicist may be overkill. You may only need to pay for a publicist to do a few specific tasks on your behalf, such as a write a press releases and send it to a few choice media outlets.
Before you assume (like me) that it’s a given that you need to hire a publicist and drop a $25,000 retainer (or even a $250 one), plan carefully. When you do, it will become clear what you can do yourself and what you need to pay someone to do for you. You may just save yourself a few bucks.
Oh, and thanks Garth for the correction on my tweet! You’ve definitely saved me some moula. I probably owe you a beer.
Abigail Carter is the Seattle-based author of The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation and Co-Founder of Writer.ly, an online marketplace where writers can find the people they need to publish successfully. She can be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@abigailcarter) and on her blog, abigailcarter.com