Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Bringing in an outside publicist

 I have a novel coming out in September from a big publisher. On your recommendation, I purchased Dana Kaye's book YOUR BOOK, YOUR BRAND. A great deal of her advice is about how to contact media (traditional and online). She talks about how her publicity company works hand-in-hand with publisher's publicity departments. My question is: wouldn't the publisher's publicity department feel slighted if an author brought in a third party to help with publicity? I know publicity people are overworked & underpaid and could probably use some help. But I'm also certain that a publisher's publicity team has very specific ways of doing things and they wouldn't be happy outsourcing these things to a third party. Would hiring a third-party publicist (or doing a lot of the legwork Dana Kaye suggests on my own) be wise?

Publicists prioritize what they work on. If your book got a gazillion dollar advance and they're going to be calling the Today Show to pitch your book, that's terrific.

Except that means they're NOT going to be doing some other things, like sending ARCs to bloggers you are friends with. Resources are finite, as is their time.

A publicist working for you does the stuff the in-house publicity folks can't or won't because they need to prioritize.
The savvy author talks to his/her in-house publicist about bringing in an outside publicist as early as possible, and asks them to coordinate.

You bring in outside help by asking first what the in-house PR folks reasonably expect to do, and promise you're not going to get in a snit over things that don't happen. Then you say you're bringing in some help to cover the things they don't expect to get to.

Most publicists are fully aware of how much they can't do. It gnaws on them too.

But on a larger note the idea that the publicity department might not be happy shouldn't even factor into your thinking. So what if they are? This is YOUR book, and YOUR career, and when Publicity moves on to Winter 18 books, you're still going to have a Fall 17 book that needs attention.

If your book tanks nothing happens to the publicity department. Your career might very well be over.


44 comments:

AJ Blythe said...

Okey dokey. Now I just need Colin... you there, Colin? Be a dear and please add this to our Treasure Chest (which I seem to have momentarily lost - I'm sure it can't be far away). Lovely. Thank you =)

Theresa said...

Thanks so much for this answer. It's something I'd been thinking about, too, and will probably invest in a publicist for my next book. Not that in-house publicity people aren't good at what they do, but they have soooo many books to work with. Plus I'm not the most outgoing person.

Amy Johnson said...

I've been thinking about this too. And I especially appreciate "The savvy author" [does things this way] elements to posts. So helpful! Ah, to be savvy and sharkly! Thank you, Janet.

Karen McCoy said...

This reminds me of the comments on yesterday's post about seizing the right opportunities. I'm sure publicists have to make this choice all the time. Sometimes, that might mean declining some opportunities in favor of others.

Recently, I contacted the publicist of an author I've gotten to know, asking if I could interview this author on my blog. The publicist said, sorry, no can do, but would you like a free book instead?

Was I mad? Of course not! Free book! Plus, this author is a great writer, a great person, and her book is already selling like gangbusters.

This publicist is with this author's publisher, and, in my opinion, is doing a great job.

But, not all publicists will be this conscientious. Janet's advice is sound. Congrats on your success with a big publisher, Opie. I hope I'll be hearing about your book soon!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yep, Colin, add this to the Treasure trove. You are such a dear.

So, just to clarify, say you get stupid big advance from mega big publisher, are you provided with what the publisher will do as far as publicity? Or must you contact them? And if you have an agent who secured your mighty big advance, do you go through agent for this stage?

I love Dana Kaye's book, but I feel most insecure about the whole marketing and publicity bit of the process. Which is another reason I don't find self-publishing remotely appealing. This part of the game baffles me.

Colin Smith said...

Sounds like communication is key, once again. Talk to the publisher, find out their intentions and their limitations, ask if it's okay to bring in outside help to cover the limitations. Whether or not they like bringing people in, if it's discussed openly and honestly, that should avoid feathers being ruffled and feelings being hurt. Wearing a Stetson and an unbuttoned shirt should help, too (see yesterday's post). ;)

AJ: I can add a "Publicity" page to the chest (Treasure, not the aforementioned cowboy's) and include this there if that would be helpful to people. :)

Karen McCoy said...

Colin: Yes, please!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I got nothin', not because I don't have an opinion, (lord knows I've got plenty of those), or dreams, (I've racked up a life's worth of those too) but comments related to the ins and outs of publicizing my work, like I said, I got nothin'.

Oh wait a minute, I do have something to say.

In my line of work, in order to get out there into the stratosphere, called viral, I have to take my strict word count into another dimension. I have to sting people's brains with something so heart rendering, so moving, so outrageously well done, social media explodes with it.

"Write' now, like I said, I got nothin' but I'm working on it. Maybe I should pray to the publicity department upstairs. You know who I mean, the big guy, the one with lightning bolts in his hair. (Not trump you dummies.) I'm talkin' about God - and her name is Janet.
Hahahaha.
Amen

Have a nice day

Donnaeve said...

I can only speak from my own experience, but I'm really (make that REALLY) happy with how things turned out working with the publicists at Kensington. They did an amazing job - and continue to do so, even though the "campaign," for DIXIE is essentially over. Requests are still filtering through - and publicity will ask if I'll do it, and I always say yes!

I think that's something that's important too...that authors be willing to go the extra mile (literally sometimes) in order to make an event work out.

That said, I like the idea of having an outside publicist as the ace in my back pocket, just in case.

Claire AB. said...

I'm thinking if an author has a great agent (say, someone like Janet!), he/she might also get some helpful advice about whether or not to hire an outside publicist.

Maybe Janet can answer this... Do most of your authors hire an outsider or do they fill in their own gaps? I'm wondering if it's also a financial decision -- I imagine it costs a lot to hire a publicist, but maybe I'm wrong...

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm not a big name author with one of the big houses, but I have experienced the release of three traditionally published books. And that's when the confetti falls and all the hoopla happens: at the release. Regardless of who you're published with. After that, it's mostly up to you, the author, to keep the wings of your book flapping.

And that includes hiring a publicist, if you have the funds (I never did...fifty-plus horses to feed, ya know). But every single author I network with, both real-life personal friends and online, all have publicists. And they hired them before the release of their breakout books during the phase the publisher was planning said release.

When you think about it... why wouldn't a publisher want their authors to hire a publicist? Sell boatloads of books and everyone makes boatloads of money.

To me, every aspect of becoming a published and successful author requires dedication and hard work, as everyone here knows. Beyond that: Believe in yourself-you're worthy. Find joy in the journey. Never stop learning, never stop growing. Seek advice from those who've been down this road, accept criticism with an open mind, but follow your heart. Your enthusiasm will wax and wane, you can still be creative if you embrace the ups and downs. In the meantime - while all that stuff is going on - the first thing you need to do is sit down and write the book. Onward!

AAGreene said...

This is a great reminder that as a writer, you're running a small business. Not many people are going to look out for your business - you have to be in charge of it yourself.

Karen McCoy said...

Melanie, you inspire me! Onward indeed!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Congrats Opie, what a wonderful place to be.

And, my brain appears to be working today as I answered the question almost the same way Janet did. First time for that! Except Janet goes into the exploratory details that are so helpful. Thank you.

And yes. Thank you, Colin, for that wonderful Treasure Chest that you keep updating for us.

Claire Bobrow said...

Whew - no pussy-footing around with that answer!

I appreciate the no bs advice: "...the idea that the publicity department might not be happy shouldn't even factor into your thinking...This is YOUR book, and YOUR career...If your book tanks nothing happens to the publicity department. Your career might very well be over."

Dena Pawling said...


With my luck I'd hire a publicist like Wayne Knight in Space Jam.

On the other hand, Pawling is alphabetically close to Rowling, so maybe shelf placement would clinch the deal. One can always hope.

smoketree said...

As someone who works for a small publisher, I have to quibble slightly with the last point. We have quite an active and dedicated marketing team and we have had relationships with authors irreparably damaged when they decided to "go rogue" in the publicity department, harassing media contacts online, trying to book events with venues that have already turned us down, and generally laying waste to our contacts and making both us and themselves look incredibly unprofessional and disorganised. We generally do not sign with these authors again. Of course I doubt that an experienced publicist would act like this, and I understand that our marketing department is the exception rather than the norm in how hands-on it is, but please do listen to your marketing team and assume they know what they are doing unless you have reason to believe otherwise.

Colin Smith said...

smoketree: I think your point only serves to underscore how important it is for authors and publishers to communicate. I don't think Janet intended to encourage authors to "go rogue," but rather consult with their publisher on ways they can help with the publicity campaign, up to and including hiring outside help. Good point, though.

Sherry Howard said...

Since there are no dumb questions, how does one even "vet" a publicist. Or, at least vet one they can afford. I guess it's the usual ask your tribe of writers for recommendations.

OT: Donnaeve, your mention of Kensington reminded me to tell you how much I love the specific design of Dixie. There's something about the rugged edges that fits the topic, and gives the book a special place with me. I enjoyed reading your amazing words, and I enjoyed the artistry of the book design. I've been so pleased to watch your successes!

Susan said...

Melanie, beautifully said!

I'm currently making my way through this book and finding it to be a great resource. It's uncomfortable, especially as an introvert, to publicize your own work. But it's one of those necessary things. And the more you talk about it and reach out to people, the easier it gets. Having someone to do that for you--whether a publicist or an outspoken friend--can help take some of the pressure off, but this is a good reminder that your book's success starts with you.

One of the things I've learned this year is to not be afraid to ask for what you want--the worst people can say is "no," and they're usually polite about it when they do. More often than not, however, people are ready and willing to say yes, and that's when the opportunities can start to snowball. Sometimes, you just have to take that first step forward yourself.

I don't know if anything I've written the past few days has made any sense, as I'm currently in bed with a 101 fever and the flu. I think there are points I want to make here, but I don't know if I'm making them. Ah, well.

John Davis Frain said...

I know there are more important things in the world, and more important things under today's topic. Still, I gotta admit, some things just crack me up. Sometimes to an embarrassing level when I laugh loud enough that a family member wanders into my office wondering what's going on. So, thanks Colin:

"I can add a "Publicity" page to the chest (Treasure, not the aforementioned cowboy's) :)"

Maybe it's the curse of imagination, but my image of that cowboy looking down at his chest as Colin slaps the publicity page on it! I'm laughing again! Please excuse me...

Colin Smith said...

John: Glad to be of service. :D And since we're talking about publicity, let me remind you that I posted a review of Susan's book on my blog this past Monday... ;) I hope you feel better soon, Susan, though now, thanks to your book, I better appreciate what you're going through. :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm waiting on buying Kaye's book until I at least have a draft finished, but publicity is a frightening topic for me. I like the idea of living in a cave, munching on carrot sticks, and occasionally throwing a manuscript out into the void.

Unfortunately, the world is sadly lacking in readers who wait outside of caves for tossed-out novels, so I'll have to shelve that dream for a while.

smoketree - Yikes! I think it just goes to show that the basics are necessary no matter what - be professional, be polite. There's a huge difference between working alongside your marketing team and working against it!

Beth said...

Good advice. I'm in the same boat as OP, and I'm at the stage where I need to get the scheduling down. Thanks for the reminder that it's my book and ultimately my responsibility to sell it.

Jessica Lamb said...

I work as a publicist for a division of the Big 5. I want to reiterate what's already been said: communication with us is key! The earlier you mention your desire to hire an outside publicist,the better. We'll talk with an outside person to be sure we aren't duplicating our efforts with media contacts so that everyone can focus on what they do best. If you are considerate in your approach, and can communicate your desire to finance an additional resource as opposed to trying to suggest we are incompetent, why would we raise a fuss?

I do have to echo smoketree here, though. Please have conversations with your marketing and publicity team about what we are planning for your books and what you are personally planning to do. At the end of the day, you need to do what you feel is best for your book, but I've spent a lot of time cleaning up after rogue authors that could have been spent focused on securing publicity.

Sherry Howard : Depending on your relationship with the publisher, you might ask your publicist if they have anyone they recommend. I know when we are particularly understaffed, or someone goes on maternity leave, we often hire freelance publicists. Maybe they aren't a great fit, but it might be a good starting point to your search!

Claire Bobrow said...

smoketree and Jessica - thanks for chiming in. Very helpful to hear about this topic from your perspective, too.

Craig F said...

It seems like something to add to the list of questions you need to ask at every step along the road to being rich and famous.

If you get a publisher, ask them their thoughts on hiring a publicist. It will not only help you in your relationship but could save money.

A large part of the cost of a publicist is devising a strategy. If they can pick up and carry on after you publisher has to move to the next, next big thing (the one after yours)you can bypass those strategy sessions.

OT: Colin, when is Donna's ROAD TO BITTERSWEET going onto the reiders publication list?

Colin Smith said...

Jessica: Thanks for chiming in! I'm always surprised (but shouldn't be) at who's reading this blog--especially the comments! No more talk of bare-chested cowboys, then? :)

Craig: That depends on when it's at least available to pre-order. Donna...? There are probably other Reider works I need to add to the list. Let me know, folks!

Lennon Faris said...

Great post & info in the comments. Thanks, Janet & all!

BJ Muntain said...

I've had a couple friends published with smaller houses, and both of them were expected to do a lot of publicity themselves, arranging blog tours, paying for tables at events, and so forth. It might be reasonable to assume that the smaller the advance, the more publicity you're going to have to do yourself... though it's probably better to assume that you're going to have to do a lot of it yourself, anyway, and be prepared for that.

I don't know why an author wouldn't communicate with her publisher's publicity department - as long as the publicity department communicates with authors. Not all do, unfortunately. But it seems common sense to me for both to be working together, so neither is duplicating the other's work and they can do more and spread the publicity farther.

Steve Stubbs said...

You wrote: “If your book tanks ,,, Your career might very well be over.”

Great post. I always heard the thing in business is to keep a very tight rein on expenses. I have a high regard for publicists and assume they charge an appropriate (i.e., princely) sum for their services. If it is true that most writers’ “careers” consist of one failed book, a fiery horse, a cloud of dust, and a hearty “Adios, amigo!” hiring a high price professional might be a chancy investment. Unless the title of the book is, HOW I WON THE LOTTO - TWICE - AND HOW YOU CAN TOO. Subtitled, QUIT YOUR JOB TODAY AND LIVE OFF THE FLAB OF THE LAND. In that case money might not be a problem. That would also be true if the book title was, HOW EASY IT WAS FOR ME TO INHERIT TEN MILLION DOLLARS, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN IDLE TRUST FUND KID.

For people who have limited means, being very prudent with the ice cream money would seem to be the wisest choice.

Donnaeve said...

Sherry Thank you. Words like that always make my day! I too, love the book's overall look and design. While reading some of the reviews, (yeah, not supposed to, but that's like telling me not to breath) I've seen comments that the cover was deceiving. Hmph. To me the cover represents hope. It's beautiful.

Craig/Colin THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET publishes in Jan 2018. I'm thinking pre-orders would start in May - although I'll likely have my eyes peeled starting in April - no need for a certain SHARK to be breathing down my neck regarding promo. :)

Wow, ya just never know who's reading the blog! Glad we're usually on our bestest behavior!

Eileen said...

I can give some insight to this because I worked with Dana when my last book, WITH MALICE, came out. We had a few meetings as a team (in-house publicity, Dana, my agent and myself.) The in house publicity would talk about what they had planned and then Dana would chime in with what she could do to value add- or to reach out to a group where she had stronger contacts. It was a really collaborative experience where I got the best from my investment with Dana by expanding what the publisher could provide and the feedback from the team at the publisher was that they loved having her involved.

it's been my experience is that there is always so much to be done, being able to divide and conquer makes it far more manageable. There was what I could do, what the publisher could do and what I could invest in Dana to do.

Jessica Lamb said...

Colin Smith Proud to be one of Carkoon's Most Wanted! I usually don't have much to add to the conversation so I stay quiet :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Dook said...

I might have a skewed perspective on things, but personally, I think that if an author has to invest their own money into publicizing a book that the publisher will primarily profit off... I think that is just incredibly unfair. Maybe if the publisher and author negotiated a higher royalty for the author to reflect their increased financial investment in the book.

But otherwise, seems sort of like taking a pay cut at your job to help your boss make more money.

Colin Smith said...

Jessica: So you are! You're on the list! Sorry--you're so quiet over there... ;)

Alex: I don't think the issue is publishers not doing anything to promote a novel. It's the fact that there's only so much a publisher can do effectively. They're already investing a lot of time and money into your project (cover design, printing, ebook coding, etc.) on top of what publicity they are able to do. Fact is, these days the author is able to help. Whether that's via their social media circle, or through hiring outside assistance. Either way, the author and the publisher work together as a team for their mutual financial benefit. It's not all on the author to keep the industry liquor cabinet stocked. :)

Alex Dook said...

Colin: Apologies if I implied that publishers do nothing to promote the novels. That's not what I meant. But the author having to fork out money for extra publicity when the publisher takes the bigger cut? Just sounds blanket wrong to me. Exploiting an author's social media presence is one thing, but paying money? I would have a lot of trouble swallowing that.

I have read many, many times (on this blog included) that in trade publishing, money should flow towards the writer. An author paying their own money to bolster the publicity department of a "big publisher" sounds like the complete opposite. It sounds more like the publisher outsourcing a portion of the financial risk to the author, while still being able to reap most of the rewards if the book succeeds.

Colin Smith said...

Alex: Don't forget, though, publicity is just one area of investment the publisher makes in the author's work. While increasing the chatter is an important part, it's not the only part. And from what's been said even today, how the publisher and the author divide the publicity task might change from book to book, depending on available resources, industry chatter, etc. And again, the profits are shared. Ultimately, if you'd rather do all the publicity (and pay for an editor, and pay for the cover design, and work out the ebook formatting, and figure out film and international rights, and negotiate the contract with Amazon or whoever is actually printing the book, and so on) and reap all the rewards, you can self-publish. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, I remember why I came back... the Treasure Chest has been updated with a "Publicity" document. So far it just has today's article, but I will gladly add to it should there be other posts on the topic. I'm certain this isn't the only time Janet's talked about publicity, so if you come across other articles in your wanderings through the archive, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.

Alex Dook said...

Colin: Yet as Janet quite rightly points out: "If your book tanks nothing happens to the publicity department. Your career might very well be over."

As it happens, I do prefer self publishing (not sure where you got the point about negotiating contracts with Amazon). Fundamentally, it doesn't make sense (to me) to pay money to promote a product for a billion dollar corporation. You're right. I'd rather take all the risk and reap all the rewards (and keep my rights so I can grow my own career instead of being dropped because the publisher didn't think sales were enough). That's just me though!

Colin Smith said...

Alex: And that's your choice. Some of us don't mind letting an agent and publisher take a share of the rewards in exchange for taking care of a lot of (not all of) the business of publishing the book. Some of us don't have the time, money, patience, skill set, or interest to be that involved in the details of getting a book published. If you do, then obviously self-publishing will be a more attractive option for you. Again, it's a choice, and you have to do what you believe is right for your work and your career. No right or wrong answer. :)

Colin Smith said...

Alex: I knew there was something else. Yes, there are risks. Sure, the publisher might drop the author for whatever reason. Indeed, if the book tanks, the author could be out of a career. But there are risks to self-publishing too. Unless you're willing to pay for help, you're on your own sorting through the business and making sure you don't get screwed. Some people love that, but not everyone does. Also, there's a chance you invest all this time and money into publishing your book, and it tanks. No-one buys it. You lose everything, which for some may be demoralizing enough to finish their writing career. I know a lot of people at least earn some extra play money through self-publishing, and a fair few are able to earn enough to write full time. My point is, there are as many risks, and some of those risks are as great as with traditional publishing.

Alex Dook said...

Colin: Indeed, there are risks. I certainly don't want to come across as a self publishing evangelical. I look at it as a small business. There have been many small businesses that have failed, many that have made their owners fabulously wealthy, and everything in between. The ones that succeed have a mix of talent, hard work, and of course luck.

Although, as Janet has noted on this blog, it's harder to get your second book traditionally published than your first because of the sales pressure on the first novel. One undeniable benefit of self publishing is an author can spend time building their brand slowly. There is less reliance on the random success. Although of course if you're building your own brand then you shoulder the risk of that. But at least you can give it the chance.

To be honest, my aversion to having to hire a publicist to promote a traditionally published book is one of principle. If the author is not getting some significant royalties, then they shouldn't have to shoulder the financial burden of publicity. It honestly makes the whole arrangement seem like way less of a partnership, and more the publisher wanting to take the benefits of success without investing as much of the risk. And if it is indeed harder to get the second book published than the first, then it seems clear to me that going down this avenue is not the ideal way to build a writing career.

Seems to me for a writing career to flourish, it needs dedicated attention. If the publisher is not willing to shoulder all the financial risk, then I don't think they're willing to dedicate enough attention to that author. I'm sure they'd be happy to if they were a guaranteed success, but no debut author is in that position. If I'm going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms after I've tried *everything* and worked as hard as possible. I don't want to fail because the publisher's publicity wasn't able to give the book enough attention.

Anyway, that's my view of the matter. My views are my own, and I don't think anyone else should change what they're doing just because I say so.