Hiring a book publicist can be a worthwhile expenditure if you need help building your book’s platform, or if you’d like to supplement your existing marketing efforts or those of your publisher’s publicity team. While you might be able to do marketing for yourself, hiring help will give you more time to write new books and focus on the most high-impact marketing activities.
Publicists also have media connections you might not have yourself and resources to run creative campaigns you wouldn’t have the time to pull off. Additionally, their experience running campaigns for many different books and authors lends them insight into new useful marketing tools they’ll be able to recommend. Savvy publicists will also help you avoid outdated or over-hyped publicity tactics.
Hiring a publicist isn’t for everyone — if you have a marketing background, have time to dedicate toward promotions, or if you lack the budget, you may not want to consider hiring a publicist yet. But if you do decide to hire one, you should ask the right questions to make sure they’re a good fit for you and your book’s genre. Here are a few key questions you should ask when interviewing a potential book publicist.
1. What experience do you have promoting books similar to mine?
It’s important to get a sense of the publicist’s track record in your genre. Once you’ve identified a target market for your book, you may want to hire a publicist who has experience marketing to that niche. Those publicists will have media contacts they already know are interested in books like yours, and they’ll know what publicity copy readers respond to best and what marketing tactics resonate with your audience.
If they don’t have experience in your genre, they should be willing to do research and become familiar with your genre’s target audience so they know how to convey your book’s premise and make your book stand out.
2. Can you share a few case studies of promotions you’ve run?
Look for publicists who can prove they’ve yielded a positive return on investment for their clients. Garnering good results is never a guarantee, but you want to be confident in your publicist’s abilities to run effective campaigns and that the money you’re spending won’t go to waste.
Ask them to provide examples of media they’ve secured for their existing clients, and the results of that attention. While they can anonymize their case studies, they should be able to provide concrete examples of their success. Case studies including numbers and detailed analysis are a great sign that the publicist is thorough and effective.
One of our clients was a business consultant writing her first book on the topics of leadership and work/life balance. One year before publication, she began a Twitter, newsletter, blog, video, and media outreach strategy. Specifically, she:
- Created a series of short “how to” videos.
- Blogged three times each week.
- Started conversations on key influencers’ blogs.
- Captured email addresses for her monthly newsletter.
- Followed key media on Twitter and engaged in authentic exchanges.
When advance reader copies became available five months before the book’s publication, we sent them to a highly targeted list of book review editors and long lead magazine editors (those working on stories four to six months out), along with other pre-launch media outreach initiatives. We worked with her for several months after the publication date as well to reach additional print, broadcast, and online media.
- Her newsletter list grew from 1,500 names to 25,000 names, her Twitter follower count increased from 250 to 4,500 (18 months later, she has almost 23,000 followers). This gave her thousands of targeted consumers to share the news of her book’s release.
- A small sampling of our media placements included Publishers Weekly, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, Women in Business, and The Huffington Post. This gave her additional content to share on social media, enabling her to further build her credibility with fans and followers.
- We were able to direct media, potential book buyers, and potential clients to informative blog posts, videos, and newsletter articles. We could also pitch her as an expert and thought leader who offers consistent, relevant, and valuable information.
- She became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Her business and speaking career are thriving.
This case study is a great example of what you want to see from a publicist you’re interviewing.
3. What are a few promotions you’d envision running for my book?
Before asking this question, have a good sense of what you want help with. Are you completely strapped for time, and don’t have the bandwidth for simple online promotional efforts? Or maybe you have the basics covered, but you’re looking for help with wider-reaching promotions than you’re capable of putting together on your own.
While you shouldn’t expect a publicist to have a fully fleshed-out plan for how they’ll promote your book — that’s what you’ll be paying them to do! — it’s good to get a sense of what they initially have in mind. If they only propose activities you could easily do yourself, e.g. submitting your book to BookBub, setting up a blog tour, crafting tweets, etc., the publicist might not be the best fit. If they suggest setting up TV and radio interviews, pitching your books to print journalists, recruiting street teams to distribute unique swag — or any creative campaign you wouldn’t have the time or resources to pull off yourself — that might be more in-line with what you’re looking for.
Of course, this all depends on what you need help with, but make sure the publicist has the capabilities to do whatever you’re hoping for!
4. Can I see examples of publicity material you’ve provided to other clients?
This question might seem obvious, but in your enthusiasm to hire help, you might be tempted to rush into an agreement with the first publicist one of your friends refers you to. Don’t do this. Make sure you have the chance to review the publicist’s work — both things they’ve written and designed — so you can see if you even like the promotional assets they’ve created before. For example, ask them to share press releases, media pitch emails, print advertisements, banner ads, or social media campaign creative they’ve created for other clients.
5. Would I have the chance to review publicity material before it’s shared with the media?
Depending on how hands-on you want to be, you may want to ensure you’ll have some say in the promotional material. You’re hiring the publicist, and they should be willing to at least be open to incorporating your feedback into their promotional material — if that’s the sort of thing you care about.
Also, if you are traditionally published, ask how closely the publicist will work with your publisher. Will they also ask for the publisher’s input on the materials? Will they align the assets they create with your publishers’ marketing material?
6. What media contacts do you have that would be interested in my book?
Similar to how you’d ask a literary agent about the contacts she has at the major publishing houses, try to get a sense of the relationships a publicist has with the media — particularly media that would be good outlets for your book and its genre. Do research ahead of time and put together a short list of publications, television programs, radio programs, etc. where you’d love to see your book promoted. Feel free to ask the publicist if they have contacts at these specific places.
7. What are your fees and payment structure?
Publicists’ fees will vary based on the services offered and the size of the firm you hire. Some publicity firms will offer “a la carte” services, while others exclusively provide holistic public relations campaigns that would cover everything from TV interviews to Facebook page management. Some firms will either have you pay by project or pay a retainer on a monthly basis.
There is no one-size-fits-all pricing model for publicists. Depending on what you want help with, you could pay thousands of dollars — some authors even pay six figures for their publicists. Be sure to specify up front exactly what services you will need and have them provide a detailed quote and payment plan.
If you’re on a tight budget, decide what marketing tactics you can take on yourself. Let the publicist focus on what you don’t have the resources to accomplish on your own.
8. How will you report on results?
If you’re paying a publicist to run promotions for you, you’re entitled to full disclosure of the results they’ve garnered for you on a regular basis. Whether they agree to send you a monthly PowerPoint deck showcasing their efforts and results, or a book-by-book breakdown via an Excel spreadsheet, make sure you’re happy with how they intend to inform you of their progress.
9. What is your communication style?
Just like if you’re working with any other publishing professional (an agent, an editor, etc.), it’s important to set your communication expectations up front. Do they communicate best via phone or email? How long do they typically take to update you on promotional efforts?
While it may not be realistic to expect anyone to respond to your email within five minutes, 48-hour response times is a reasonable request to make. You might also want your publicist to be proactive in letting you know if they will be unavailable for an extended period of time, whether for vacation, a conference, etc. These are all things you should talk about up front so there aren’t panicked moments or resentment along the way.
10. Can I speak with a few references?
Even if the publicist has a testimonials page on their website and has provided you with case studies, you should speak to or exchange emails with a few of the publicist’s clients. This will give you a much better sense of what to expect from the working relationship. Here are a few ideas for questions you should ask their references:
- What kinds of promotions did the publicist run for you?
- What ideas did they contribute (as opposed to the author giving them exact directions)?
- What were their results and were you happy with those?
- Were they open to your feedback and input into the publicity campaigns?
- Did they meet their deadlines?
- What’s their communication style like?
- What is the biggest challenge in working with them?
- How long have you been working with them and will you continue to do so?
Hiring a publicist is a big investment, so make sure to do your due diligence before signing any contracts.
What questions would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!
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