Thursday, February 13, 2014

Should I Hire a Publicist?

As the September 2014 release date for my debut novel nears, I’ve been asking myself that question a lot.

There might have been a time, a generation or two ago, when authors didn’t have to seek the assistance of a paid external publicist to market their books. But if that idyllic time ever did exist (and I’m not entirely sure it did), it exists no longer. For the great majority of us, whether self-published or traditionally published, indie or Big Six (Five?), marketing budgets simply aren’t adequate to make us stand out in an increasingly crowded field. I checked recently, and there are at least three comparable YA titles coming out the same day as Survival Colony Nine (and one of them, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi like my own, is written by a much better established author than yours truly). I hope those birthday-buddy books do well, of course, but I also want people to notice the one I wrote. How to do it?

One way is to employ the services of an external publicist (or “freelance publicist,” as they’re also called). Over the past several weeks, I’ve been researching them diligently, talking to them (interviewing them, I guess), getting proposals from them. It helps to have friends who’ve done this before; they gave me some great leads. And it’s worth noting that I’m doing all this while I’m still seven months from publication; if you’re going to use a freelancer, they’ll want to launch your campaign at least a couple months in advance of your release, which means they’ll need a couple months before then to prepare. I spoke to one freelancer who told me about an author (no names named) who contacted her a week before release date. Her answer to that author: “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

If you still have plenty of lead time and are debating whether to retain the services of a freelancer, here are three factors to consider:
  1. Need. If you’re with a publisher, however big or small, they might provide a range of marketing services for you. They might host a launch party, conduct an author tour (physical and/or virtual), prepare promotional materials; they will almost certainly send out copies for review (though they might not always follow up to make sure the reviewers are reviewing). Then again, they might do none of the above. Whatever the case, you should try to find out what their publicity plan is, and (if you do use a freelancer to supplement the in-house PR) make sure the two communicate early and often. If you’re self-pubbed, none of the above applies. But it does lead to point #2…
  2. Style and Circumstance. Some of us write full-time. Others have day jobs. Some of us are technical whizzes and social butterflies. Others aren’t. Me, I’m a full-time teacher and dad who just celebrated a birthday that puts me in an age bracket I will simply characterize as “not young.” I have neither the time, the capability, nor the personality to be out there hustling as much as I’d like to. “Know thyself” is good advice in any endeavor, and it applies here too. As does the final factor…
  3. Cost. Freelancers don’t come cheap. Most work on a monthly retainer, with a price tag (depending on the services offered) of around $1500 to $3500 per month for a three-to-six-month campaign. If you’ve got that kind of money to spare, that’s great. If you were fortunate enough to land a sizable advance, you can apply some of it to publicity (and you might be able to claim it as a deduction at tax time). But you have to be realistic. No publicist can guarantee results. Like everything else in this business, hiring a freelancer is a gamble, and you need to assess in a clear-headed way how much you’re willing to risk.
So do your homework. Talk to your agent or editor if you have one. Ask friends for referrals. If you find a freelancer you like, Google recent titles they’ve represented, and see if those titles are making a splash. Save your creativity for writing. Use the logical part of your brain for decisions like this.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.


  1. Fantastic post. I've been researching publicists, too, after it turns out the one I *thought* I really liked doesn't do the basics (like answer my emails). With a background in advertising and marketing, I'm fully aware of the value of a good publicist, but as you said, using a publicist's services is a gamble. As with any kind of business relationship, it's a partnership, and you need to check in with them periodically to not only find out what they're doing but to find out what you can do to help them. And never forget that when you hire a publicist, *you* are the client--he/she works for *you*.