The Publicity Puzzle
By Marika Flatt —
Seventeen years ago, after graduating from college, I began my job search in the communications field. I accepted a job as an assistant publicist with a literary publicity firm in Austin, Texas. Inevitably, family and friends would ask, “Where are you working?” The next question was always, “What do you do as a book publicist?” I have always had to explain what I do as a literary publicist.
It’s true…most people do not grow up saying they want to become a book publicist. Mainly because no one knows what one does! However, this wonderfully exciting job is where the heart lies for someone like me who has a passion for books, coupled with a passion for the media. I now own my own publicity firm, PR by the Book, and believe I have the best job in the world!
I often speak to authors and publishers at conferences and discuss how to create a stellar publicity campaign for a book. I am no longer amazed at how many questions folks have about book promotion. I thrive on being able to unlock the mystery of publicity for them. I am easily excited by uncovering one more piece of the book puzzle in their quest for bestseller stardom.
I will now attempt to walk you through the book process in a very simplified version. Writer completes manuscript. Writer finds agent to sell manuscript to publisher. Publisher agrees to publish book. Publisher edits copy, coordinates cover design, organizes production of galleys (advanced review copies/ ARCs) and actual book, coordinates distribution to bookstores and other booksellers and then the publicist takes over.
The best time to secure a literary publicist is four to six months before the publish date, in order to allow for maximum amount of time to organize the campaign. However, many authors find a publicist about the same time that their book hits bookshelves. A typical campaign lasts four to six months and is orchestrated in a systemized manner. We spend the first month developing strategy and press materials, building media lists and pitching our wishlist media. Book industry publications require that you send them a book four to six months pre-publication. We also begin to contact magazines with the longest lead times. Magazines requires a three-nine month lead-time.
The publicist then begins contacting appropriate editors of daily newspapers and radio and television producers. Online media is typically the last segment of media to be contacted because they move at Internet speed and require little-to-no lead-time. After all appropriate media has been contacted, follow up begins. Follow up is absolutely essential for a publicity campaign. Most media receive hundreds of pitches a day and, typically, following up is the only way to get yours noticed. We make sure that we leave no stone unturned.
Alongside a traditional and online publicity campaign, now we also recommend a comprehensive social media campaign. An author needs to build an audience on social media before they have something important to say.
There are many benefits to hiring a publicist. To name a few:
1. A publicist has the media contacts and relationships needed to secure interviews/ reviews.
2. A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the media and how each journalist likes to be contacted.
3. Most writers do not have the time to devote to a publicity campaign. It is a full-time job.
4. When an author is pitching his own book, it is typically viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist is seen as a third party and most journalists are more receptive to discussing a book with a publicist rather than the author.
A publicist’s main job is media relations: scheduling interviews, book reviews and feature stories for a client. Occasionally, other services are offered, such as book tour coordination and event planning, media training and development of marketing materials. However, a publicist does not typically find agents, publishers or distributors for the book, schedule speaking engagements or coordinate travel arrangements for a book tour.
Publishers often out-source books to independent publicity firms, such as PR by the Book. Due to the heavy volume of books that a publisher’s in-house publicity staff has to promote, by hiring an outside publicist, more time and energy can be devoted to individual titles.
As I said before, the job of a literary publicist is ideal for someone who loves the written word and has the desire to help writers have their story told. Publicity is an integral step for any book that does not want to remain on the bookshelf. A publicist lets the world know that the book exists and why they need it. Not every book can be a bestseller, but we believe that every book we promote has an audience who needs to know about it.
Just remember, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. We tell authors, “You didn’t write your book overnight and you won’t become famous overnight either.” The process takes time. I hope I have helped solve the mystery of what a literary publicist actually does. Although I didn’t dream of being a publicist when I was growing up, I am very glad I found my calling!
About the Author: Marika launched PR by the Book, LLC in 2002, combining her love of the media, public relations and books. Prior to that, Marika spent seven years leading the publicity team of an Austin-based book publicity firm. She received a Gold Bulldog Award for a publicity campaign that resulted in exposure in over 700 media outlets. Marika is a past-president of Women Communicators of Austin, serves as an Expert for IBPA, is listed on Twitter’s Women in Publishing (#womeninpublishing) and serves on the selection committee for the Texas Book Festival. As a hobby, Marika has been a freelance travel writer for over a decade and serves as the Travel Editor for Austin Lifestyle magazine.