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.
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.