Publicists in the Author’s Journey

Today’s post takes a look at publicists — a tricky topic, in some ways, and one we won’t have space to address completely. Instead, we’ll take a wide-angle look at the topic, with the understanding that author’s circumstances vary widely.

Publicity isn’t “one size fits all” – and no one can tell you, for certain, what will or won’t work to market a novel. However, over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about publicity, marketing, and the interaction between authors and publishers in that context.

Today, we’re looking at in-house publicists and publicity. In the weeks to come, we’ll look at author publicity options and break down the options even more.

Authors who publish with large (or some mid-sized) presses may be assigned an in-house publicist from the publisher’s marketing team. Authors may or may not also receive a marketing manager. Although titles differ from publisher to publisher, a “publicist” usually handles the author’s appearances, while the marketing manager publicizes the book itself.

Smaller publishers may not have in-house publicists, or may have a publicist who works with titles rather than authors. In this case, the author’s book may receive advertising as part of the publisher’s catalog rather than individualized attention for the author himself or herself.

That said, most publishers don’t have significant publicity budgets for debut or unknown authors. Even authors who receive a publicist or publicity team may not see national-level advertising, “co-op” placement, or other expensive marketing efforts.

Here are some things an author’s in-house publicist may do:

1. Set up author appearances and signings. Authors can help by providing a list of stores where the author knows people or can draw a crowd. Signings don’t always sell many books – so for new authors, it’s best to go where you’re known. We’ll return to this topic in the weeks to come.

2. Set up blog interviews and guest posts. Publicists often have connections with bloggers, industry websites, and other online venues to promote an author’s work. Publicists can often help authors schedule interviews and guest appearances for online publicity efforts. Authors can help here, too, by providing lists of contacts and reaching out to online friends for added support. This is where an author’s online footprint helps – yet another reason to establish a blog and a presence early.

3. Arrange for advertising, to the extent the publisher has a budget OR if the author requests ad design. Even publishers who don’t have an advertising budget may have ad design resources if the author is buying ads for the book. Be sure to ask!

4. Distribute ARCs (review copies) to reviewers and contests. Some publishers run contests through Goodreads. Most publishers distribute review copies to reviewers – including both bloggers and national reviews. The publicist (or marketing manager) is responsible for this task. The publicity department may also submit the author’s work for consideration for awards like RITAs or Edgars.

Publicists do other things, too, depending on the publisher.

Many authors feel that publishers should do more to publicize every author’s book. The issue, however, is one of economic returns. The publisher allocates advertising dollars on a “best return” basis. It’s impossible to tell exactly which books will sell best through advertising, but remember: unless the advertising sells enough books to recoup the advertising cost, ads merely increase the costs of publication.

Statistically speaking, readers respond more to ads for books by authors they already know, and less well to books by authors they’ve never heard about.

The key, for new authors, is “becoming known” to readers – a topic we’ll examine more closely in the next few weeks.

As publishing changes, the costs and benefits of marketing are changing too. Savvy authors take an active role in marketing — and they should. The days of authors who write and expect the publisher to do all the marketing work are over. That’s not a successful business model any more, unless you’re already on the A list (in which case, you’re likely not reading this blog).

Instead of vilifying the publisher, however, smart authors jump into marketing and platform building with energy and a positive attitude. Understand that this is a business – YOUR business – and like any smart business owner, you need to work to build it.

In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about how smart authors can do just that.