Oscar Wilde is famous for saying, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." If your book isn't being talked about, it's probably not selling either. One of the perks of signing with a traditional publisher is working with an in-house publicist whose job is to make certain your book is talked about. In-house publicists are responsible for creating ads, setting up book signings, sending materials to author events, arranging blog tours, sending press releases, crafting bookmarks, making ARCs available to reviewers, and much, much more. Your publicist may not do all of these tasks. A publicist's job description varies from publisher to publisher. But no matter where you're published—or hope to be published—your publicist is your partner in getting the word out about your book. How can you make sure you're making the most of what is essentially a free service your publisher offers you?
Forging a Relationship
When I signed my first contract, I knew nothing about publicists. I thought they were the people who issued statements for errant movie stars. To be fair, I didn't ask a lot of questions, either. I had a dozen other clueless questions for my editor. The publicity questions seemed self-serving and premature.
Pam Spengler-Jaffee, Senior Publicity Director at Avon/Morrow, is used to working with newbie authors. She says authors often don't know the difference between a publicist and someone who works in marketing. Just as a side note, I'm still not sure I know the difference, but I do know enough now to ask! In fact, Pam suggests a new author contact her editor and ask to be connected with a publicist. Once the connection has been made, the author should ask the publicist what he or she will do to support the author's book.
This advice was echoed by all of the authors I interviewed. Historical author of the House of Brady series, Kieran Kramer, advises, "Set up a phone call to get to know your publicist! The sooner the better." Spengler-Jaffee suggests touching base at least six months in advance, but in my opinion, it's never too soon to blip on a publicist's radar. And, in fact, Spengler-Jaffee says that her publicity team makes plans for an upcoming book up to a year in advance. Bestselling author Julie Ann Walker, who writes the Black Knights, Inc. series, recommends authors "take the initiative" with a publicist by asking lots of questions "like, what advice does he/she have for how to launch your book, expand your brand, reach a new or wider audience. Ask what has and hasn't worked for other authors in your genre. Set up a time to brainstorm, either via email or over the phone."
Senior Publicist at Sourcebooks, Danielle Jackson, knows those initial meetings and brainstorming sessions can be overwhelming. She tells debut and authors new to Sourcebooks to "be ready for a lot of information right off the bat—and take time to read through it carefully. If you have any questions, try to keep them in one email!" I'm certainly guilty of mass emails to my publicist, all with the subject line: One More Question. It's important to remember that in-house publicists work with dozens of authors. Try to be respectful of their time and resources. And let them know if you have ideas or plans of their own, so the publicist doesn't duplicate your efforts. Spengler-Jaffee wants to know her authors' ideas, and if an author is already covering one area, like a blog tour, then that frees her to put her resources elsewhere.
Finally, Gerry Bartlett, author of the Real Vampires series, cautions that authors "may not be assigned a publicist automatically. Ask your editor if you will be assigned one. If not, ask who you can work with and reach out yourself." I think this is particularly important for authors who write for Harlequin. One Harlequin author I spoke with, who asked not to be credited, recommended authors "talk to the in-house person. Ask how you can help her, or if there are any ideas she has for the book, or if you have any ideas for promotion, can you run them past her." At Harlequin, and at other houses as well, "everything comes through your editor...And there are so many people there...you never really know who does what."
The take-away tip is to ask. This lesson applies to publicity requests as well. I've made requests of my publicists that were firmly, but politely, denied. And I've made requests I thought would be refused but were embraced wholeheartedly. Your publicist may not be able to get you on NPR, but she may be more than willing to send you extra bookmarks or a couple of ARCs. Which begs the question, exactly what do publicists do?
The Publicist's Role
Jackson sees her role as two-fold. "Number one: Build author awareness." If you're a debut author, a publicist will want to get the word out about you. If you've published before, a publicist will try to add to and expand your fan base. The second part of Jackson's job is to "find the niche market perfect for an author's book. Once you find that core base of loyal readers, going to the next step...is a little easier." Similarly, Spengler-Jaffee sees herself as a cheerleader, someone who is "trumpeting the news about a book."
Every author's experience is different, but I asked a few what their publicists do for them. Sara Humphreys, who writes the Amoveo Legend series, reports her publicist "organizes blog tours, gets gorgeous bookmarks made up for industry conventions, and when I told her about my street team, she got me an additional 2500 bookmarks for them to distribute." Walker adds that her publicist also "contacts book bloggers and reviewers in the months preceding a launch, getting advanced reader copies into their hands...runs giveaways on Goodreads...she's my go-to gal when I need things like extra book copies for reader/writer events." Publicists also set up TV and radio interviews, monitor reviews of newly released books, provide materials and support at booksignings, and work with authors on developing a brand.
The most valuable thing my publicist does for me is to set up my blog tour and to mail out all of the books given away—even for the blog stops I arrange. Kramer appreciates how her publicist reps her when she's too busy to "deal directly with requests for interviews of ARCs from various outlets." As Kramer points out, in a sticky situation or when you are overwhelmed, it can be a relief to say, "Please check with my publicist."
The Author's Role
So if the publicist is doing all this work, what's the author supposed to do? An author can go all out—sending press releases, scheduling events, signing stock at every store within a 100-mile radius—but Spengler-Jaffee says what authors really need to do in today's market is to "be out there." Authors need to engage readers on social media, in particular Facebook or on a blog. Authors and publicists are "dealing with a new type of reader," one who wants to connect with the author on a personal level. The author's role is to nurture that two-way relationship.
Jackson cautions that "making sure you are personable and fun is great, but being professional is just as important. Luckily for romance writers, part of 'being professional' in this industry is having fun and celebrating happily ever after—you guys are writing about falling in love, after all!"
If an author is "out there," it makes it much easier for a publicist to promote her. If an author isn't on Twitter and her publicist is choosing authors for a special promotion that relies on retweets or votes via Twitter, the authors who aren't on Twitter won't be chosen. Likewise, if a publicist sends an author additional ARCs and she sticks them in her closet, the publicist isn't going to jump to send more for the next book. Let your publicist know what you are doing and ask what she's planning. Walker says her publicist "tells me what she's doing to promote the book so I can spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, and my website. Likewise, if I'm doing my own promotion, she's right there tweeting, texting, and posting about it."
Since in-house publicists do have so many authors to work with, if you have ideas for publicity or need advice, don't be afraid to approach your publicist. Humphreys wanted to start a street team to promote her Amoveo series. Her publicist was "a big supporter of that effort with supplying bookmarks and crafting gorgeous emails for my list. She also had some good insights about different blogs and what posts would work best for them."
Kramer notes that sometimes plans go awry, and this is another time when an in-house publicist is invaluable. Kramer says of her publicist, "we don't brainstorm together...but we do problem solve together—if I want something to happen and there's a glitch she can help with, she will."
And don't forget about conferences. Bartlett plans to attend the Romantic Times convention in May and wants to work with her publicist to push her books at a special vampire event. I've met with my publicist at conferences to brainstorm branding, book launches, and even social media strategies. If your publisher has a presence at a conference, don't just set up a meeting with your editor. Schedule fifteen minutes to chat with your publicist or someone from the publicity team.
Do You Need an Independent Publicist?
None of the authors I spoke with for this article had hired an independent publicist. Kramer has worked with an independent blog coordinator, but she hasn't hired an independent publicist yet. "I've talked to several. I love the idea of having my own! But it's a huge financial investment." Other authors felt an independent publicist was unnecessary because they already have a handle on what works and doesn't. Humphreys has a background in marketing, and Bartlett has done a lot of networking to find out what's working for other authors. However, Bartlett does mention a problem she's heard among the authors she knows, namely, "publicists in major publishing houses come and go. It would be nice to have a good publicist stay and keep that relationship going." This is certainly one advantage to hiring an independent publicist.
In-house publicists welcome the addition of independent publicists, with a few caveats. Jackson suggests setting up "an email chain or call with everyone involved, so everyone is on the same page. When I've worked with an outside publicist, we split the responsibilities of promoting—someone worked on radio and women's magazine, someone else worked on blogger outreach and local print." Spengler-Jaffee also advocates a "divide and conquer strategy," but she suggests an author talk with her publicist and editor before hiring an independent publicist to walk through all the options and possibilities. In-house publicists, like those on Spengler-Jaffee's team at Avon/Morrow, oversee so many imprints and books each year that even if a specific publicist doesn't have a contact, it's likely another member on the team does.
Jackson notes that as an in-house publicist, she has "created and cultivated relationships with media contacts—everyone from trade publications to magazine and book bloggers—and these outlets know me and my colleagues as publicists for a publisher." However, Jackson does concede "some authors want that one-on-one attention that an outside publicist offers." If that's the case, the author's job is to work as a liaison, making certain the independent publicist and in-house publicist do not duplicate efforts.
The Good, the Bad, and the Particularly Memorable
The publicists I spoke to had tips for authors and also a few pieces of advice. Jackson says the mistake she often sees authors making is "starting something and not following through...an out of date website or stale Facebook page is a big turn off!" Spengler-Jaffee's number one piece of advice for authors is not to react to a bad review. She tells her authors not to engage. All author interactions should be positive. Jackson agrees. "Just don't do it. Send me your response/rant if you need to send it to someone!" Spengler-Jaffee suggests an author ask her street team to step in and post comments. The bottom line is that in romance, the author is often her own brand. Don't tarnish your brand with negativity, and don't, as Jackson cautions, "cause trouble...my rule for this, even for myself is if I feel like I'm getting defensive or anxious I need to take a step back and come back to something later."What would in-house publicists really like to see from their authors? Spengler-Jaffee has these suggestions.
At the end of our conversations, I asked both publicists to talk about a publicity event or idea that worked really well. Jackson mentioned the "Elven Realm Blogger Hop" she and author Kathryne Kennedy worked on last summer. In Kennedy's books there are "7 elven realms, each with a distinct theme—fire, jewels, water, etc.—and we worked with seven bloggers who are some of Kathryne's biggest fans to create a blogger hop through the realms...We also did giveaways of cute items related to the realms (candles for fire, jewelry for jewels, a small fountain of water)."
Spengler-Jaffee loves to think out of the box and admits her team "doesn't mind letting the crazy out." She paired with Smart Bitches Trashy Books to give away a mattress to promote Tracy Anne Warren's Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed. It was a unique giveaway that got the attention of readers and media outlets. Another unique giveaway came from Jeaniene Frost. She gave away a fire pit to promote a book where the heroine was a fire starter. And there are often ways to pair book launches with current events. Spengler-Jaffee worked on an Avon Impulse release with a royal wedding theme, making sure to do fun tie-ins to William and Kate's real royal wedding.
Think of your publicist as another member of your team, another person working behind-the-scenes to make sure your book is a success. In the end, that's what everyone wants. Danielle Jackson said it best: "I think it is so much fun to see hard work pay off—be it from a reader finding an author at a signing and telling the author she saw her interview in the paper, or an author who has been writing a long time and finally hits the bestseller lists...Being an author, of course, comes down to writing your best possible book—everything else is supplemental."
© Shana Galen