Hiring a Publicist
But where to begin? Easy enough: start with what you know, or who you know, as the case may be. I emailed grad school friends, esteemed author friends, the director of my old MFA program, a few writers I met at residencies, colleagues from various teaching gigs, and even a copyeditor I considered hiring this fall who expressed interest in my work (even though I didn’t end up hiring her). All totaled, I sent out about 20 emails. Most responses came within 48 hours, though a few are still trickling in, and of course each response demanded more of my time.
Folks recommended everyone from themselves to high-end agencies to powerhouse LA famous-makers to friend-of-a-friend design gurus to so-and-so-freelancers. I followed links, read reviews, sought out testimonials, emailed for additional information, and waited for more replies. In they came, and off I went, narrowing down my choices. When you hire publicists, you hire them for their contacts. Which publicists had gotten authors onto NPR? O’s Book Club? The New York Times Book Review? Or more realistically for me: The Christian Science Monitor? The Library Journal? Insane amounts of blog reviews and radio interviews?
When hiring a publicist, you also want to look for the right personality fit. For me, that meant a publicist that responded quickly, understood (and could tolerate) my brain dumps of information and attend to that information with meticulous detail, was willing to educate me on things I didn’t know about (book distribution? Uh…), and who believed in my work. Most of the time, you can tell if you “click” with someone, or, more importantly, if you don’t. Some people replied to emails with my name spelled incorrectly, others took five days to reply, a few others replied with more questions than answers (off-putting of you’re already an over-taxed writer). In the end, the publicist I chose has a sense of humor and replies to email and phone nearly instantaneously. She’s got contacts that are hard to beat, she’s got a team of talented folks to back her up, and selling-point-of-all-selling-points: she has a timeline on her website of the 6-month plan for marketing and publicity.
Once I’d found her, I felt in my gut I wanted to hire her but I still had a few strong leads to follow as well. While I sent out emails to check her references (which came back glowing, if not also helpful and specific about what those writers wish they had known before beginning), I interviewed a few other folks. In the end, I was able to isolate one freelance publicist whose enthusiasm for organizing book tours was hard to beat. I could practically see her light up over the phone when she spoke about the delight she feels organizing readings for people. (Yes, please!) While it seems counter-intuitive to hire two different people for the same job, what I learned these past two weeks of research is that publicity and marketing aren’t just “one job.” The tasks are endless, from sending out review copies to following up with bookstores to negotiating calendars to organizing an Amazon author page and then some. And when it comes to the book tour…well…that’s an entirely different animal. Most publicity happens leading up to and for 3 weeks following the book’s release. And then the tour kicks off.
So now I’ve got a publicist and her agency on my side, and a freelance promoter to help schedule my tour. None of it is cheap, but I’ve known all along that my first book was going to cost me some money. And you know what? It’s an investment I’m happy to make. It’s an investment in my career, in my future, in laying the foundation for many more writing life years yet to come. When it’s all said and done, if the math doesn’t show me breaking even I’m perfectly ok with that. I have a book I’m proud of. I want it to make a splash and, in this industry, without a major NY house to back me up or a fairy tale to send me to the top of the charts, there’s only one way to do that: hire help from the pros! Onward! And thanks to all the friends who helped steer me toward the right folks to get the job done!
**Other things I asked when hiring a publicist: Can she (and will she) communicate with my publisher and work with him regarding distribution? Does she have specific ideas pertinent to my book (and its theme) that will help me reach the audiences I most need to reach? Has she ever lead a book campaign that totally flopped (and, if so, why did that happen)? Will she work with my existing contacts and help me utilize them fully? Will she take over my Twitter account for a little while (help, please!) and help me build up the right audience for my book’s content?