Helen Lewis gives an insider’s view of how it works when an author engages a publicist.
Book publicity is evolving as fast as book publishing. Authors are taking control of the publication process, propelling the indie author market forward. More books are being published than ever before and greater responsibility is being placed on the author to take charge of the promotion, publicity, marketing and even sales of their books. The disruption of the publishing process has opened opportunities for specialists and experts along the publishing pipeline.
Almost five years ago I attended the London Book Fair as an exhibitor—in my capacity as a freelance book publicist—for the first time. I was met with confusion, scepticism, and even blatant disregard—by the old school publishing executives. Yet, despite the fact my stand was the smallest at the LBF, it was also the busiest in the area. There were queues of people waiting to talk to me and I didn’t get a break for the duration of the show (I wasn’t complaining!). Authors—as opposed to those in the traditional publishing sector—were very open and welcoming to me, they had many questions and failing to find answers elsewhere, spent a lot of time chatting with me. This eye-opening experience inspired the creation of a publicity agency that is open, creative and responsive to authors from all walks of life, as well as the establishment of The Author School (co-founded with YA author Abiola Bello in 2015), which provides workshops and support for authors who are stepping into the publishing world (or discovering they need to know more!).
Now, at Literally PR, I work directly with authors who have been published traditionally, collaboratively, independently or have self published. We work with household names and international publishing houses through to first-time writers via CreateSpace. No matter how the book is published it is imperative that the author seeks publicity support—not just because of our extensive contacts list but because self-promotion rarely fails to have the same impact as from a third party professional.
Our selection process (we receive around 20 manuscripts for consideration each week) is based on the potential for publicity. We read a section of the book to check for the quality of writing, but the primary assessment is based around our experience of working with the press—knowing which categories would be most open to the author and the book (online, radio, trade, women’s, parenting, history, etc.), what is currently popular in the press, what has worked in the past, who we know who would consider an interview, review or editorial commission, etc.
Once we’ve signed up a new client we are firmly on the side of the author. We are on your team. The work begins quickly—but you won’t necessarily be ‘put out there’ until all the press materials are prepared. Once the documents are signed off and distributed it’s often the case that we’ll get review copy requests, interview calls and editorial commissions almost immediately—this is because we target our campaigns to the right people at the right time. Sometimes authors are surprised by the change in gear and it is important that they are prepared for the amount of work that comes from a successful campaign, and are able to turn around responses, make time for interviews and be available as much as possible. The most successful campaigns work when the author is fully on board and collaborating with the publicist. Many of the authors we work with also have a full-time job, some are in different time zones (Australia, United States, Germany, France, Italy and Australia, to name a few), but we always make it work if the author is aware of the need to be as flexible as possible to press responses.
Public relations and book publicity are gradual processes, it can feel like a slow burner but the momentum builds with time. We work with long lead publications such as monthly magazines and quarterly journals that look ahead three to six months, hence the phrase ‘Christmas in July’ within the press world.
Many book editors and critics are still accustomed to traditional publisher timelines—working almost one year ahead of themselves. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the finished product three to six months before launch, as long as we’ve got plenty of other information to offer the press such as editorial angles, cover images, author photos, examples of your writing, a press pack, Advance Information Sheet (AIS), etc. All these materials are vital and should be readily available to the press. They need to be written in a style suitable for the press, and that’s where it helps to work with a publicist who has also been a journalist and can spot a good story (two out of three of our team are—I still write for various titles).
My top tips for engaging a book publicist
- Initially contact a few and see what they come back with. Don’t just go with the first person who replies—the email may have just gone through at the right time, but the right person may not be available until the next day.
- Try to meet (even if just by Skype) so that you can build a strong relationship from the start. It’s always better to ‘know’ the person you’re working with and if you’re going to be working together for three to nine months it’s worth taking the time to chat over a coffee.
- Look at the other clients they’ve worked with—have they experience working with authors in your genre/similar to you? Email four or five of their former clients and check what their experiences were.
- Discuss your expectations. We believe it’s important to aim high and we chase your ‘dream’ coverage, but we also regularly have to manage expectations. A publicist cannot force a journalist to write about an author, or to review a book kindly. A publicist can only try their best—creatively—to put their client in front of the right people at the right time.
- Understand what is required of you and make it clear when you won’t be available (holidays, particular days of the week, etc).
- Keep in regular contact but don’t inundate them with requests for calls and emails too much or you’ll be taking them away from the work they’re doing for you.
- Remember most publicists won’t be working on your account every day—the finances don’t really work like that. But they will be dealing with the press daily and whenever possible they’ll be pushing your book as much as the next—depending on who they’re talking to. I try to tailor many of my conversations with the press to include at least a couple of books at a time.
- Be proactive while you’re investing in publicity—two heads are better than one! You can do plenty on social media (blogging, guest blogging, focusing on Twitter and building up a strong following, branching out into another, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest or Tumblr, depending on your audience).
- Keep in touch with your publicist even after your time together ends. We still send on opportunities, support former clients via social media and where relevant introduce them to the press long after we’ve finished working together. You never know when you might need them again so it’s good to stay friends.
Helen Lewis is the director of Literally PR book publicity agency. She is regularly asked to talk at author and publishing events, and continues to write for magazines (consumer and trade) as a freelance journalist. After leaving university in 2001 with a journalism degree and lots of debt, she feels she owes it to her 20-year old self to continue! For more information about Literally PR please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.literallypr.com.