5 Thing to Know about Publicity Before You’re Published
Whether you’re a debut author about to launch a book (congrats!) or a writer trying to get published (good luck! I hope you do!) or a sophomore or seasoned author who’s thinking of biting the publicity bullet (yes, you should!), there are things to know about publicity in advance.
I love the phone calls and emails I get from authors and writers who are thinking about publicity. I love that they are taking initiative and getting answers, they are preparing to give their book the best chance and they are eager and full of questions about publicity – what is a publicist? what do you do? will it sell books? can you make me a bestseller?
Inevitably, there are similar questions that pop up – and I’ve addressed those here – in case these help you understand what publicity is, what it isn’t and what it can and can’t do for you as an author.
5 Things You Should Know About Publicity Before You’re Published or Before You Hire a Publicist
#1 Publicity is Awareness but not Sales & Marketing
Many authors admit they know nothing, or almost nothing, about publicity – except that they know they need to do it. More often than not, publicity is confused with sales and marketing. Publicity is not sales. Publicity is not marketing. Yes, they go hand in hand. Yes, they can (and should) be synergetic. But publicity (also known as PR) does not guarantee sales. Is there a correlation between when a media hit (book reveiw/feature/blog mention) happens and sales? Yes. Usually. Almost always. But, publicity is about creating awareness and chatter about your book. Sales and marketing is about moving that sales needle. Everything from the book cover design, language on the book, colors on the cover, genre, endorsements – and much more – are well researched by sales and marketing teams to motivate people to buy that book. Publicity is about getting the media and audiences talking about a book, creating visibility for a book – and thus will generate awareness of the book and the author, and also traffic to find more out about the book either to bookstores, the author’s website, or booksellers online. And, hopefully, once there, the sales and marketing of the book (the cover, the colors, the language, the endoresements!) and what the consumer sees when they arrive at that site, will make them purchase it. So…. publicity is not sales and marketing. They are completely different animals – but both very necessary.
#2 Publicity doesn’t happen overnight
Publicity doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s a very long-term and strategic process. When you open up the newspaper or pick up your favorite magazine and read an article, or even see a segment on the Today show, chances are that story has been in the works for months and involves a lot of people – including a publicist spearheading it – and a lot of moving pieces and parts that take up time. Even book features and book reviews are the same way – and moreso in some cases because book space is limited and reviewers are getting pitched hundreds of books a day. There are two types of media: short lead (online, broadcast and newspaper) and long lead (print magazines/print media). Yes, short lead media allows for the feature to be published quicker, but both take a lot of back and forth and advance planning. A solid publicity campaign takes six to 12 months to execute. Be patient! Be persistent! Be realistic! In order to give your book the best chance, realize that publicity is a long term strategy.
#3 Publicity is an investment
There’s a terrible catch 22 when it comes to publicity – you gotta spend money to make money, and even then, there’s no guarantee. Often times, authors know they need publicity and they know it’s going to cost money but they need the money from the book sales in order to pay for the publicity. Yet, they need the publicity in order to create awareness of the book so people will be motivated to check it out and consider buying it. It’s a terrible conundrum. Legitimate publicists do not work on commission – I’ve been asked more than once if I would consider working off a model where I make money if and only if the author makes money. Again, see #1. Publicity is not sales. It’s like starting a business – it’s an investment. You’re paying a publicist for the effort and the work done on the publicity campaign, not on sales success. Try and find a budget that’s reasonable for you – and know it’s an investment in your book and in your long-term career.
#4 Relationships matter…and they don’t
Many times authors will ask me what kinds of relationships I have with media. There are lots of people in the industry who will say you need a publicist who has relationships because that’s the only way to get coverage. Is this true? No. Is it important to have media relationships? Yes (it’s a sign of a good publicist for sure). Is it the only way to get coverage? No. You should definitely ask this question when interviewing a prospective publicist, but don’t let people get you down that you can only get coverage if you’re on a first name basis with an editor in chief. What relationships get you is this: when I pitch media that I’ve worked with for a long time and have relationships with, I know they are going to open my emails and thoughtfully read and consider my pitch. Are they going to guarantee me coverage because I have a relationship with them? No. But, because they know me and my work, they will open it and respond and consider my angle because they know I bring them stories that matter, stories that are relevent to their audience and stories that are well thought out and comprehensive. A good publicist has relationships, builds them over time, doesn’t abuse them, and gets coverage for clients in media even when they don’t have an in or a relationship – that’s the sign that they pitched a really good story, so good that the editor bought it whether they have a relatinship or not. So yes, ask a publicist what kind of relationships they have, but more importantly ask them what kind of results they have.
#5 Buyer beware
Last, a word of warning because I have seen this happen more than once – be careful of scams. There are a ton of publicists and publicity firms out there. If it feels like a sham, if your gut is telling you it’s a scam, if it’s too good to be true, it likely is. There’s no guarantee in publicity. If someone is guaranteeing you XXX amount of media hits and interviews and agreeing to reward your money back if you’re not completely satisfied, then that’s not a legitimate or professional publicity route. If they’re promising to blast out your book to thousands of media – that’s a pitch machine and not a personal, professional publicist working to get you the best, most appropriate and targeted opportunities and exposure for your book. If you’re allowed to pay with a credit card or required to pay in full all up front – that’s not legitimate and you could very well lose all that money. I’ve seen it happen. So, interview, ask questions, ask for references and to talk with clients, follow up on those references and talk to real people. Be smart and take your time – you want a PR partner who you feel can passionately stand behind you and your book, don’t get fooled or scammed by shiny promises.
Crystal Patriarche is founder of Sparks PR Agency, a full-service boutique agency that provides strategic public relations to business clients through its BizSparksPR division and book publicity and consulting to authors through its literary BookSparksPR division. She’s also a journalist whose articles on books, entertainment, beauty, health, motherhood and careers have appeared in many national magazines, newspapers and websites. For more, visit