The truth about breaking through with your book publicity perhaps isn’t always what authors want to hear. Yes there are some small tips to DIY your way through a book launch, but the reality is that great publicity, the kind that moves your career forward and opens doors, is a big undertaking.
Instead of providing sugar-coated half truths about how an author can bootstrap to get a couple of feature pieces, we wanted to break down the honest recipe for successful book PR.
You Have to Hire a Sharp Publicist
This isn’t always the advice authors want to hear. They want to know that they can manage it all alone and that at some point things will just take off. But the no-holds-barred truth is that really great book PR starts with a really great publicist.
It takes work to find that person/agency though. A few things to look for to be sure you get started off right:
- Consistent and recent national media book coverage. A publicist who has gotten a client in People Magazine one time in 10 years, is not someone who is going to deliver major results to you. If you’re looking to really move the needle on your publicity, you need someone who can show they’ve delivered results over and over.
- Experience in your genre. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, if your publicist doesn’t have a solid client list of authors in your genre, steer clear. Book publicity is a practiced art and it takes time to nurture. You need to find someone with a history in your book’s theme and market.
- Track record for repeat clients. A newer publicist can have a decent list of clients, but a seasoned one will be able to show you that authors consistently return to them book after book. This shows that they not only have delivered in the past, but that they are able to offer a valuable service over the course of an author’s career.
Is this a budget-friendly option? No, not typically. It is, however, the most effective means for getting your book and your career on the right publicity track.
Book Publicity Has to be Consistent Over and Over
There may be a notion floating around that you can hire a publicist for your debut, get a good boost, and take things over from there. While we agree that some publicity is better than no publicity, we have found over the years that our clients who come back, book after book, see the best results.
Take Taylor Jenkins Reid for an example. She is now on her fifth book and it’s her fourth working with us. We saw great results out of her original campaign, but the momentum has only built from there.
This year, we were able to break down the door of one of her dream media outlets and get a book cover reveal in Entertainment Weekly. This happened not just because Taylor got lucky, but because an aggressive team of publicists worked for years to build her platform and expand her reach.
Your Publicist Has to Be Aggressive
This is a difficult characteristic to measure. It can be hard to determine before you start working together, but it is an important element.
To discover if you have an aggressive publicist or an email spammer on your hands, you can take a couple of steps.
- Ask your potential publicist about a time they had to fight for coverage. Can they name a time when they called an editor every Friday for a year? Do you they have a story about being up until 2:00am, working with a reporter? Any publicist with her salt will have a story.
- Ask for references. Yes, the reference system is somewhat tainted by the fact that the PR company will give you the names of happy clients, but talk to that client about their experience. Were they in contact every few days or did weeks pass with nothing happening? Did they feel their publicist fought to get them coverage or did they get a basic package that was agreeable to them? Listen to your reference’s tone. Are they happy or raving?
If you’ve never been a publicist, it’s hard to explain just how intensive a job it is. Someone who sends out a couple pitches and hopes for the best, isn’t a publicist, they’re a virtual assistant. A real PR pro will be coming up with fresh ideas, getting on the phone with contacts and reaching out to you frequently.
Come Ready to Work
When authors hire a service like publicity, it is very easy and natural to say, “Okay, publicity is handled, I’m off to write my next book.” We understand the tendency to want to wash your hands clean once you hire a professional, but the reality of PR is that it is a collaboration between the author and the agency.
Authors who want no involvement in the “PR side of things” are typically the ones who get less impressive results. The public relations team should certainly have their own contacts, ideas and plan, but as the client, your job is to enrich that process.
Recently we worked with debut author Georgia Clark. She could have come to the table saying “I’m new to do this, just do what you think is best,” but that’s not what happened at all.
- Her own contacts to reach out to.
- Her own ideas about how her book and her brand could be promoted.
- Dozens of pieces of content, ready to be published.
Because of her desire to be involved and the effort she put forth, we were able to work in tandem to achieve amazing results. Her book was on these lists, just to name a few:
- Redbook Best of the Year Pick
- PopSugar’s Best Books of the Year
- Teen Vogue’s Best Books of the Year
And even Jessica Biel Instagrammed a photo of The Regulars!
So even if your introvert writer self wants to take a back seat, get up and get involved, it makes a massive difference.
Stay Plugged In
Great PR is all about having the right product, with the right messaging at the exact right time. An agency/publicist will do everything in their power to stay in tune with all the current news and how that could tie into your book, but no one is going to be as alert to relevant topics as you are.
If you have written a book about breast cancer and the invasive treatment you underwent to survive it, your publicist is likely already going to come up with ideas around Breast Cancer Awareness month. But, perhaps Angelina Jolie just released news of her mastectomy within days of your publication date. Now you have a real connection to trending news. Don’t expect that your publicist saw that and made the immediate connection between you two.
Instead, write a compelling, unique piece about the everyday person’s experience with cancer treatment, versus the celebrity/tabloid version of treatment. Then give that piece to your publicist to send everywhere they think is best. Better yet, send them a few places where you saw similar content running and see if they can find those editors.
Great publicity happens when everyone involved works together. PR is a pretty even combination of hard work, timing and luck, so don’t miss out on opportunities because you didn’t want to be involved.
Branding, Messaging and Your USP
Here comes the part where most authors flinch. We know you hate marketing and websites and social media and headshots. So when we talk branding and messaging and unique selling points, authors tend to go a little cross-eyed and slump a little lower in their seats, but the importance can not be neglected.
When a publicist is working for you, they are selling you and your product. They are telling “X” editor that you are a talented writer who has written a book worthy of rising above the slush pile. When an editor takes the bait and decides to further look into this notion, what are they going to find?
- Are they going to find a polished and professional website?
- Are they going to find timely and articulate tweets?
- Will they see a neat and clean photo, worthy of landing on their pages?
Whether you got into this to be a writer for life or stumble in by accident, the moment you hire a publicist, your image and all the surrounding assets matter.
When we work with authors, we build expertly designed media kits and press releases. We send polished, typo-free emails, we highlight the best attributes your work and your brand have to offer. You need to also play a role in ensuring that what people find is exactly (and only) what you want them to see. We can lead the (editor)horse to water, but your brand and product will be what makes them decide to drink. Before even hiring a publicist, make sure your platform is ready for an audience with a scrutinizing eye.