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Should I get a publicist?

Written By: Eddie Snipes - Aug• 02•11

Can a publicist meet a new author’s needs?

Let me take a few minutes to share with you. When I share posts like this, I inevitably get angry emails from people who feel like their investment was a good value. For some, it may be. My goal is not to knock down publicists, but to give authors enough information to make good decisions with their money. For some, a publicist may be a perfect match for their marketing strategy. But this is my story.

As a new author, I see the need to put the extra effort in getting my book Publicistbefore a reading audience. Since I’m mostly unknown outside of my circles of influence, no one is going to come looking for my book. It’s the challenge of every author.

The truth about publishing is that most books flop. This is also true for good books. When I look at the rankings of many of my writing friends, it can get discouraging. Very well written books are ranked in the millions. Which means no one is buying them. The publishing world is a sea of information. Literally millions of books are in this flood of literature. Someone happening to find your book is like painting a coin, mixing it into a pile of a million other coins, and sending a blindfolded man into the mix with the hope he will find your coin. It’s not going to happen – not without something to guide him.

When I see friends whose books are ranked in the millions, it reminds me that good writing doesn’t sell books. Good marketing sells books.

My Publicist experience.

A few months back, I followed the advice of hiring a publicist. I got several recommendations and settled on an expert that several people spoke highly of. Indeed, if I knew nothing about marketing, this person may have been a good value. However, I quickly realized I had made a mistake when the publicist began doing what I had already done.

I had assumed that my publicist had a network of people who would help promote the book. Instead, I discovered that I had a stronger network than what I was paying for. The Facebook marketing strategy of my publicist produced nothing. I knew it wouldn’t. I had just launched my book and everyone in my network already knew about it. Any who didn’t probably doesn’t follow my posts. In essence, I paid the publicist to create an author page on Facebook. That’s something I could easily do myself.

The next step was a blog tour. Once again, I felt my money evaporating when I realized the publicist had the same network of contacts that I had – plus or minus a few. Some of the blogs were people I already knew and had planned on reaching out to after this campaign was done. The new sales produced by this campaign will be nothing compared to what I paid.

There is no sweeter lesson than to learn from someone else’s mistake. So I’m going to give you a free lesson that could save you hundreds of dollars or more.

The Sweetest Advice is Free

Build your network. Do this with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and through organizations. Authors like to help authors. That’s because of two reasons. One. We help each other as a professional courtesy, knowing other authors will extend themselves when we are ready to market. I know, it sounds a little selfish, but it really isn’t. It’s a business relationship. Hopefully, our relationships will grow beyond the mutual benefits and extend into friendships, but at a minimum, it is an opportunity to meet each other’s needs.

Second, many of us have been where the next new author now stands. When I’ve struggled and felt the pain, I can empathize with those who are now feeling the same pain. Publishing is a hard world. Writing is a solo endeavor, but publishing is a social venture. Start now. Connect with as many writers as you can through the social networks.

Join a strong writing community. I’m a member of The Christian Authors Guild, Atlanta Writers Club, and ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). By participating on forums and email loops, there is an opportunity to connect with thousands of writers. Most writers are bloggers. A publicist can connect you with 20-30 bloggers for a fee, but you can reach countless more for only the cost of membership. What’s more, over half the bloggers on my paid tour are occasional posters. This means they have little or no readership.

One blogger even posted all the reasons why she hated my book. It didn’t fit her interest, but she stated that since she agreed to do the tour, she felt obligated to read a book that didn’t interest her. Not everyone can be pleased by every book. My goal of paying for publicity isn’t to force-feed a book to a blogger that doesn’t enjoy my genre. And it sure isn’t to get negative reviews. Thankfully, my rating shows that readers in my genre love the book. For this reason, targeted marketing is much more effective.

Even dedicated bloggers won’t put you on the NY Times best seller list, but it keeps your book in the sight of readers. As I said earlier, connecting with quality blogs is something you can do yourself. It takes time and some blogs are booked months in advance. If you’re going to do it right, start connecting months before the book is to be released.

Advertising by engaging the reader.

Gratuitous advertisements don’t work. People ignore blatant ads. Interviews do have an impact. Each time an interview or relevant article shows up in front of readers, they are directed to your book. Only a fraction will buy, but that’s the nature of advertising. The key is to capture a reader’s attention. “Buy my book,” doesn’t capture people’s attention. An interesting interview or article does.

Most interviews are bland, so do something that captures the reader. Here is the average interview:

I started writing when I was twelve. I love reading historical romance. I write every day. Blah blah…

Doesn’t that just make you want to buy the book? Don’t put readers to sleep in an interview. Come up with anecdotes that are interesting, witty, or unusual. Engage the reader.

With just a little effort on your part, you can do more for yourself than a publisher can do. Build your readership with relevant articles and then use Facebook, Google+, and Twitter to alert readers to your work. Use hashtags to make your tweet visible to conversations of interest.

Use Humor, practical advice, and other things that draw people to your site. Then plug your book. A plug is not selfish advertising. If I’ve given something to the reader that took my own time and effort, and I provided that for free, it’s not presumptuous to share my book as well. Marketing for authors is a relationship with the reader. The attitude is: I’ve given, and if you see the value, feel free to give back to me. Then I will also have given to the reader through my book, and some readers will give back as they see the need. Readers give back by telling others about the book, emailing the author, posting a review, etc.

Blogging as a marketing tool.

Developing a healthy blog following is one of the best marketing tools for new writers. Blogging only works if you have the time to dedicate yourself to producing relevant articles. Visitors come back when they know content is being updated. The best thing about blogging is that you are targeting people who are interested in what you are writing. By default, it becomes target marketing. When I make a new post, I can see my book sales respond. It won’t make me rich, but it does draw in new readers as others share articles with their networks.

On my ‘paid for blog tour’, I watched my sales and saw very little response to any of the blogs that hosted me. There were exceptions, but for most blogs, I wondered if anyone knew the blog existed. The truth is that some may have high readership, but not the type of readers that are interested in my book. The blogs that did generate a response were the blogs that I would already consider as being in my extended network. By extended network I’m referring to bloggers that are connected to organizations where I can already connect with them. A blog outside of my extended network probably won’t benefit my book sales. A Christian fiction book won’t appeal to readers of blogs not related to this genre.

Here’s a valuable tip to evaluate your blogging. Connect your blog to either Google Analytics, or Woopra. Both are free tracking tools. It helps to evaluate reader interest in the types of articles you are posting. If you’re posting articles that people aren’t reading, it may be something to re-evaluate. Making posts that are focused on updating close friends and family are fine, but the blog won’t become a tool for drawing in readers. Experiment and find the voice of your blog. Find something that focuses on your interest and appeals to readers. If you have tracking, you can identify articles that people are responding to. Then you can shape your blog into a theme that is both relevant to readers, and interesting to you. Readers who like your voice in the blogging world will probably like the voice found in your books.  Then you are targeting the right kinds of readers without blasting them with shameless self-promotion.

The best dollar you’ll spend this year.

I hope this is something that will save you money. A publicist can be costly. Do the work yourself and use some of these ideas to move your personal marketing ahead.

Now that I’ve saved you $800 or more, feel free to donate .99 cents. In return, I’ll donate a book to your kindle titled, I Called Him Dancer. It’s also available on Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other e-reader formats.

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16 Comments

  1. Dave Pardoe says:

    Good article. Glad to know I am started on the right path for marketing when I get my children’s book published. I joined a writer’s website and participate in their forum and even joined the blog chain. I post 2 times a week on my blog to keep it active, one time with a recipe from my files and one time with an article about whatever. they both draw in the same amount of readers. I will add you to a circle on +

  2. Linda Yezak says:

    So, you got the publicist, I paid for ads on Goodreads and Facebook. We both have the same thing to tell those who want to know how we did: Save your money. Really. Nothing beats having a cyberpresence and a cast of friends with active blogs who don’t mind hosting you.

    Thanks for posting this. I was considering a publicist, and now . . . I’m not.

  3. Bernard says:

    Thanks Eddie for sharing. I’m following most of what you have written here.

  4. Tracy Krauss says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent! aND I was happy to see that your book is also available at Chapters Indigo. I like buying my books there and its also compatible with my Sony e-reader. See … you just made a sale!

  5. Kama says:

    It’s a good idea to ask a publicist to see summaries of similar campaigns he/she has done in the past, as well as a written proposal. Obviously, if what they are proposing and their sample campaign updates look a lot like what you have the time and contacts to do on your own, your money is better spent elsewhere.

    I wonder Eddie, did you consider having the publicist focus on media that you don’t have connections with (i.e. mainstream media)?

  6. I agree with Kama. I’ve never hired a publicist – but the books I’ve had published are category romance and that’s a bit of a different animal in terms of promotion.

    Before hiring a publicist, I’d ask what, exactly, they’re going to do before I hand over my money.

    Since I run a Christian Fiction review blog, I get contacted by publicists frequently. I consider them “cold calls” since they obviously found my blog through a Google search. Whenever they do this, I always say to myself: the author could’ve done the same thing for free.

    Great blog post, BTW. Gives me something to think about, especially since I was asking about publicists on the ACFW loop awhile back.

  7. Having felt your pain of dumping money into a bottomless pit, I approached my next experience with the same caution and investigation I would use to hire a sitter. Since, of course, my books are my babies.

    Though this may seem like semantics, I hired a publishing consultant (and former agent), not a publicist. The difference being she wasn’t just focused on this one title, her focus was how could she better help me help myself. I completed an extensive questionnaire, and she returned an equally extensive (13 pages) plan. While waiting for my responses to the questions she posed, she evaluated my blog, my social networks, tracked my sales on Novel Rank…So, the proposal that she returned was specifically designed for me and targeted to areas I needed to pay attention to.

    We worked on a budget as in, what can you do for $___, and we decided together the best way to allocate the money in terms of what she could do and what I wanted/needed her to do. Our time together is over, as in having used the funds I had, but I’ve yet to complete even half of the ideas she suggested for me.

    I’ll be happy to pass on her name and speak to you personally about my experience. I’m not on a retainer! Just sharing my experience, and to let you know that I’d been there, done that, and was thrilled to be doing something differently!

  8. I’m in this place right now of ‘do I need a publicist?’
    I’ve contacted and spoken to a few over the phone and had lunch with one last week. UNTIL that lunch I wasn’t even sure what a publicist could do for me. As we talked she seemed surprised that I had already in place many of the things she would have done for me. At some point, she recommend hiring someone but for now she didn’t see a need.

    She wanted to know how I got to this place on my own. I belong to Amercian Christian Fiction Writers http://www.acfw.com and Christian Author Network http://christianauthorsnetwork.com/ both of these groups have given me fantastic connections. Like, Edie I recommend getting involved, post and share your audience by reviewing, interviewing or tweeting blogs and before you know it you’ll have your own support base when the time comes.
    Diana
    http://www.werenotblended.com

    • Thank you for your feedback. I have been doing my own marketing. How can I judge my performance? How many books sold would be considered good, fair or poor. I’ve had 12 book discussions and signings in five months. I sell to 50% of the attendance. I’ve had one TV taping to be aired in January, four news paper articles written about my book. One by a famous columnist, and next week I have a radio interview, by the same person. How am I doing and what groups would I join and how do I find them. My book is my struggle as I’m slowing losing my sight from an inherited eye disease.Thanks for your help.

  9. Penny Zeller says:

    This is great advice! I, too, was wondering about a publicist and this really helped to clarify things for me. That online presence is so important and that is something we can do ourselves and with the aid of other writers/bloggers and social media. You are right, Eddie, connecting and networking with other authors is invaluable.

  10. My first book is done and I’ve wondered about what to do next. Not sure I want to write another one and wonder about a publicist.

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