Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Question: spending money on a publicist

A friend of mine is about to sign their first ever book deal with a small press.  I am overjoyed for them and they are, quite obviously, over the moon.  Question/Problem I have is this: Their agent just suggested that they spend over $10K on a publicist to promote the book.  I suspect the advance on this deal will be well south of that amount and that expected sales will probably not generate enough sales to cover that cost.  I could be wrong and the publicist could be what pushes them up the bestseller lists.  I just worry.

So, thoughts? 

First you (and the author) need to understand that what pushes a book onto the bestseller list is not publicity, it's sales. Number of copies ordered, number of copies shipped, number of copies across the cash register in a given day/week/month. (Each list has a different measuring standard.)

You can have GREAT publicity but if people can't buy the book, it's all for naught.

So, the first question your pal needs to ask the publisher: who's going to sell my book? And by this I don't mean bookstores.  I mean who is going to introduce the book to the people who order stock for bookstores.  Is there a sales team at the publisher? Is there a sales staff at all?  Is it one of the (many) hats the publisher wears?

My guess is the latter since small publishers tend not to have sales departments.  

The next question to ask is how many books the publisher intends to print in the initial print run.  If the book is going to be print on demand, that means they're going to print the books to satisfy orders. No running inventory.  This is a perfectly acceptable business practice but it means that publicity is almost useless. 

If the publisher is going to print for inventory, ask how many.  Any number UNDER five thousand means the best seller lists are largely out of reach. The ones that are in reach are local stores best seller lists. If you do a signing, and sell 700 copies, you're going to be on that week's store best seller list.  But you're not going to be on PW's. Or the NYT's.

Publishers Weekly actually prints the number of copies sold in a given week of the 20 top selling books on each of their lists (hardcover, ppbk in both fiction and non-fiction)  If you don't subscribe to PW, your library sure does, and they'll let you read back issues. Take a look to see some real numbers.

Here's an example:

Instead of spending money on publicity, your friend should spend money on marketing advice. There are lots of good ways to market a book from a small press, and many of them can be done by the author.

If your friend is determined to hire a publicist, they should spend their money on consulting with one, not hiring a publicist to address envelopes and mail books to radio stations.  A good publicist can help you spit polish your web presences, shore up your social media, and give you ten ideas about effective ways to promote yourself to readers. 

Here at The Reef, we have a publicist on retainer who does that for all my clients. It's damn useful let me tell you. She doesn't do the work, she more of a stern taskmaster who reminds you that tweeting cute baby shark pictures is all well and good, but it's not actually accomplishing what we want our twitter feed to do.



Kitty said...

hiring a publicist to address envelopes and mail books to radio stations

I know they used to send demos of songs to radio stations. I'm flashing on the movie Coal Miner's Daughter when Doo sent out demos of Loretta's Honky Tonk Girl to the radio stations in Kentucky & Tennessee. Do people actually send books to radio stations to promote them these days?

This was a great lesson on the business end of writing.

Colin Smith said...

Another extremely useful article Ms. Shark. Thanks!

Question: If this PW chart is based on weekly sales, what is the NYT Bestseller list based on? Sales total since publication? Or do they have some other criteria that makes it uniquely "NYT"?

Karen McCoy said...

I'm wondering about units and how they relate to YTD (which I assume is year-to-date). Does a unit refer to one book? Or is a unit a measurement of something else?

Great post, as always.

Elissa M said...

@Karen McCoy: My assumption is units are the number of books sold that week and YTD is how many since publication for that year. The rankings shown are for the week, and the until numbers are clearly ranked largest to smallest. Each title new to the list has only slightly larger YTD numbers, while those occupying the list multiple weeks show much larger YTD numbers.

Angie Brooksby said...

Thanks to whoever asked this question. And thanks to the shark for this advice .

Best blog out there, we surfers should nominate Janet's blog for the Golden Blog awards. What do you think?

BTW I don't write crime and writing my memoires doesn't appeal to me...

But I love her blog, it's like reading a book that you can't put down.

Dana Kaye said...

Great post, Janet. And you're right, unless that cute baby shark is reading your book and or your book is a photo collection of cute baby sharks, it's probably not going to help :)

Janet Reid said...

Colin, the NYT list based on orders, not sales. And they don't reveal their guidelines, so it's somewhat of a mystery.

Karen, a unit is an ISBN. Thus a book with several editions can appear in several places. At one point there were three editions of DIVERGENT on various lists.

Christina Seine said...

This is so, so, so useful - thank you! I don't know of anywhere else you can go for simple, straight facts about the publishing industry. I have a BA in creative writing, am halfway through an MFA, and have attended several writing workshops at conferences and have never, ever had the straight info regarding book sales, best-seller lists, and publicity explained so well. Why don't people teach these things? Readers of this blog should receive a diploma from Shark University.

DLM said...

Ausgezeignet, and thank you.

... now. What if I want to publish a coffee table book of impossibly squee-inducing photos of cute baby sharks?

Will I make the publishing industry just 'splode right there? Because: greatness and colossal sales volume right there, huh? Right?

BonnieShaljean said...

Ten thousand bucks???

I'm a little worried by that five-figure sum. Isn't this an excessive amount to ask any writer to spend towards marketing their book? It doesn't feel fair that they should even have to consider making such a substantial payment in aid of the commercial side. One reason so many of us are not financially well off is that we work only part time, in order to be able to write - hence a smaller paypacket.

Words of wisdom from today's sharkly Facebook gospel:

Money buys time and time is all a writer has to create.

$10k would fund a LOT of writing hours.

Lance said...

All great information that is as rare as jellyfish teeth, but more valuable. I expected some comment about an agent recommending a writer spend $10K on anything, much less a publicist.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

See, see, Christina Seine, nailed it, Shark U.


I will be captain of the cheerleading squad. Although me in, no, no. I'll dress as the mascot. Do they make shark-spanx.

Seriously though, I made a copy of today's post because I am hoping I may need to refer to said-info in relation to one of my own projects...someday.

James Ticknor said...

I was actually about to drop a couple grand on this until you spoke up. Well, in all honesty, I was going to do it after I attend the James River's Writer's Conference next month and learned some marketing tips...

Speaking of that (wonderful) conference, here's what I learned in the past year that I'd like to share with my fellow writing friends. Don't just target conferences that have panels, one-on-ones, and agents who will be entertaining queries. Go to a conference or two with only one goal in mind- "network". The more people you meet and befriend, the better. Agents are always good to get to know, but don't strike out the many authors who outnumber them. Many of them have publishing credits and, if you're genuine with them, won't mind referring you if your genre matches up with their agents list.

Don't aim for just the people that are published either. Aim for the novices who are aspiring for great things. Writing is a long-distance run, and the more people you know and support, the better. More importantly, maintain those relations and keep interest in what they are doing. Networking means nothing if you hit a person up every few years just to ask for something.

MNye said...

Publicist, marketing and bears, oh my.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Great advice. The reality is, even if it were a big publisher, the author would still have to do most of the heavy lifting to get the word out. But finding out the initial press run of the book is obviously vital. If you're making a buck a book and they're only printing, say, 3,000, there's no way spending 10 grand on a publicist makes any sense at all – unless you're independently wealthy. Which reminds me, I've gotta go check the Power Ball numbers.

Liz Crowe said...

really great stuff. As an indie with 20+ books seeking to bump my sales and exposure I have seriously considered this. Consider me a blog follower now. This is the kind of advice I can use!

Kalli said...

I would be very leery if my agent asked me to invest ANY money in publicity for my novel. Time, yes, but any expenditure my agent decides to make in the interest of selling my novel is her financial burden, surely? Money flows to the writer...

Janet Reid said...

Kalli, I think you've gotten the wrong idea here. The agent suggested the author hire publicist. That's NEVER the agent's actual job. Some agents (like me) do work with publicists but it's a bonus, not on the actual job description.

Agents make suggestions of ways to promote books all the time.

This question was merely about whether this was an effective use of resources, not whether the agent had overstepped.

More clear? Less clear?

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Very, very interesting. Thanks, QOTKU

Liz Mallory said...

This has got to be one of your most useful posts! (Said the writer who follows all your advice religiously.) Thank you!

Janet Ursel said...

I would suggest following @bookgal and @timgrahl on Twitter instead. Really good advice on building a following to last a career.

Kalli said...

Janet, thanks for the clarification. I obviously got the wrong end of the stick, as I thought the agent was suggesting the author give them money to hire a publicist. This struck me as all kinds of wrong, as an author should never be paying their agent. However I'm still pretty sure that suggesting they spend $10k on a publicist is bad advice, for all the reasons you pointed out, so... still a bit leery, to be honest :-)

Elyse Salpeter said...

Thank you for this article. I have been pushing my social media platform and growing it for a very long time and have solid numbers, but have wondered if a publicist was my next avenue - and I see it isn't. But, I could always use marketing advice. Thank you again.