Publicists: A View from the Other Side

hunger-413685_640 pixabayMelissa Pearl’s post about her experiences working with a publicist got me thinking about the publicist experience from my end. I’m contacted by publicists on behalf of authors quite often. Those interactions can be both good and not so good, both in what I experience and, at least from my limited perspective, how well the publicist accomplishes the author’s goal in hiring them.

I’ll start with the proviso that a publicist might not be a publicist. Depending on what kind of publicity you want, there are other terms that might apply. I’ve been approached by publicists for the obvious things such as writing a story about or interviewing the author, to the less obvious like an offer of a guest post or soliciting reviews, sometimes as part of a blog tour. A blog tour operator is an example of a publicist with a very specific focus. The same could be said of someone at a small press who wears multiple hats, including that of publicist. Some authors hire personal assistants who, as part or all of their duties, function as publicists and marketers. Keep this in mind, not only in considering my post, but in evaluating whether a publicist makes sense for you and, if so, how.

Melissa’s post made a good case for when an author could benefit from a publicist. It comes down to whether or not investing in hiring help to do something you could possibly do yourself will provide an adequate return, either in what the publicist accomplishes on your behalf or in freeing time for you to do something that will provide more value. That might be writing your next book which is something most authors should be better at than the activities a publicist does. Ideally it will pay off both ways.

There are some things a publicist can potentially accomplish where you might not be as successful on your own. This is because they should have contacts that you don’t. If the publicist has worked with several authors, they’ve built up contacts and have established relationships with the various venues where you might get publicity in some form. They also have experience in how to tailor their approach to a venue they haven’t worked with before. For example, they may not have ever approached your local small-town newspaper about doing a story, but if that’s the kind of thing they do, they’ve surely approached many other papers and should know what normally works best.

There are a few publicists and equivalents who I work with often, doing interviews at The IndieView or blog tours (a review, guest post, or both). The vast majority of queries from publicists, at least in my case, get filed in the “not bothering with this” file. Why? For the same reason as an author approaching on their own behalf would get the same treatment.

A publicist is acting on your behalf and those who will be most successful are the ones who are going to approach the job the way you (or at least the most successful of the collective you) would go about doing the job yourself. A mass email starting “Dear Blogger” isn’t going to do the trick and is probably going to end up in the inbox of a lot of sites that would be a bad fit for what you hope to accomplish. Anything the publicist does in your name has the potential to make you look good or tarnish your brand.

As with any kind of selling, which is what a publicist is doing, selling you in some way, it’s a numbers game. Judging how well they did for you and deciding whether to use them in the future requires you to look at the numbers that matter. The number of venues the publicist contacted is immaterial. Instead, look at the number of these venues where you received some kind of publicity. Are they venues where your target readers will be found? What is the readership? Last, as Melissa did, look at your sales numbers during the period. Did they increase enough to justify the cost? That’s the acid test.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage.
During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

10 thoughts on “Publicists: A View from the Other Side”

  1. This is so very true. We (here at IU) get “drive-by” spam from publicists all the time. We receive press releases pasted into the contact form even though it specifically requests people NOT do that. We also get “be a part of our blog tour” and “host our cover reveal” when it’s pretty evident to anyone who even bothers to take a quick look at the site that we just don’t do those things.

    My favorite is the publicist for someone famous who queries, stating “big-time author Mr. X is a huge fan of your site! He’s been following you on social media and sharing your posts forever!” Um, guess what? We can check his Twitter and Facebook accounts and see that there have been no shares, and that he’s not even following us. Wow. Liar. That’s just ridiculous.

    As they SHOULD for any service provider, authors need to do their research before hiring a publicist. I would suggest someone who specializes in their genre as they would have the best chance of dealing with people who reach the right audience. They should also be willing to give references. I’ll get down off my gruel box now. 😉

    1. PS. I get the “I’ve been following your site for a long time” more from authors than publicists. I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt, but especially from those who want to do something I never do. Cover reveals are a good example of one of those things for me, too.

      1. We get it a lot from authors, too. What’s kind of sad about that is that we have run free features for many of them, and the questions they ask afterwards make it abundantly clear that they’ve basically promoted and run. That’s a little disheartening when you do a lot of work for someone for free.

  2. Publicists are a great target for all sorts of people. Some of the criticism publicists receive is justified because many of them are less interested in their clients’ image than their own.
    On the other hand, some publicists do a really good job, because they know what they are doing. They understand how the media works, they respect deadlines, they know how to present facts, they can write clearly and succinctly, they know how to talk to editors and journalists. In short, good publicists make life as easy as possible for the media and don’t waste their time which is a valuable commodity in short supply.
    Good publicists will be able to stir up interest, maintain it and generate coverage.
    An author may be able to write good books but probably hasn’t the faintest notion of how to publicise their work. To each his own – if you wanted a new bath installed you wouldn’t contract an accountant, would you? You can try the DIY option but it is unlikely to be successful, take several times longer than using a specialist plumber and also carry the risk you could get it wrong and flood your house.
    If you want a good publicist go to one of the professional bodies that list their members and will do a match-making service for you, then check their websites for client testimonials and evidence of the coverage they have achieved. Ring for a chat – a good publicist will tell you the truth that either they are experienced in the field or not.
    In other words, check out your publicist as carefully as you would any other contractor so you can concentrate on your own speciality – writing good books.

    1. “In other words, check out your publicist as carefully as you would any other contractor so you can concentrate on your own speciality – writing good books.”

      Absolutely, Ian. Thanks for the comment.

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