Thursday, September 14, 2017

Working With a Freelance Publicist

Authors who love doing marketing raise your hands? Anyone? Anyone??

I feel like a lot of my posts here at Across the Board are about marketing/publicity -- and about what NOT to do. But today I'm taking a slightly different turn and talking about outsourcing marketing/publicity. Yep, it's a thing. And while it may not be the answer to all of your prayers, it can help a lot. 

When I was preparing to launch The Castle Calder series, I decided to work with a publicist to help me maximize the exposure on the release of my new series. I got the marketing all wrong with the release of The Truth Series the first time around (hence a recent rebrand and relaunch, but that's another story altogether), but I didn't know how to do it right. So...I did what anyone else would do. I asked author friends for recommendations, reviewed websites and set up interviews with three different publicists.

(For the record, I ended up working with Linda Russell from Foreword PR (formerly Sassy, Savvy Fabulous) and she is, in fact, sassy, savvy AND fabulous. She specializes in new adult, contemporary and erotic romantic fiction and she's helped me a lot. So much that I've stuck with her through three releases and my rebranding.)

I see you over there shaking your head. You interviewed publicists? What on earth did you ask? Lots of things, the most important of which I'm going to list out here. Remember, you're hiring this person. You're going to pay them (we'll talk more about that in a minute). Pretend it's for something less personal You'd ask questions of the guy who's going to renovate your bathroom, right? When you're hiring a cover designer, you want to see samples of his/her work. Same with a publicist. Some "standard" questions I ask:

  1. How far in advance of release date do you prefer to start working with an author?
  2. Do you have a different monthly rate for release month vs. pre-/post-release? What is the difference in level of "service"? What is the minimum term you'll contract for?
  3. Can you give any data on how your efforts have worked in the past?
  4. Will you handle ARC sign up and distribution? How many ARCs will you try to give out before release? 
  5. What big blogs do you specifically target?
  6. Is any graphics/branding work included in the monthly fee? If not, is this something that can be arranged separately and at what cost?
  7. What is your preferred method of publicity? Facebook, newsletters, etc.
  8. How far in advance of release date do you need material from me for this to be most effective?
  9. Will I have access to the contacts and data related to my release?
  10. How do you prefer to be contacted and what should I expect from you in terms of level of contact? (If your publicist never checks email, but is on FB messenger like it's her job, you want to know that!)
I've seen people lament, "I hired a publicist, but this last book just tanked." There may be reasons for that (Hello, natural disasters and world politics) that have nothing to do with your publicist. Or it may be that your expectations aren't quite realistic. So, about that...
  1. You're going to have to work just as hard as your publicist to get the word out about your book. Working with a publicist is a team effort. She/he will guide you, but at the end of the day it's not a hall pass to escape marketing altogether.
  2. If you're not sure what to do that works, ask your publicist. She/he probably has tons of ideas about what you as an author can do to promote your release.
  3. The more prepared you are before you start working with a publicist, the better.
  4. It takes time to build an audience. Everyone wants to have that magic unicorn book that will hit a list and gain all the buzz, but most of us aren't magic unicorns.
  5. You're not your publicist's only client. Emailing ten times/day "just to check in" is distracting. Or annoying. Or probably both.
There ARE some horror stories out there and big, waving red flags. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I'd think twice (or six times) about:
  1. Companies that ask you for a large lump-sum deposit upfront. Paying for a month in advance is expected. Paying for a year? Not so much.
  2. Companies who don't have experience promoting in your genre. Linda, for example, is amazing, but if you write horror, she's probably not the right fit for you.
  3. Companies that contact you post-release after seeing your book mentioned somewhere. Their interest may be legitimate and it may be a great fit, but poaching a client from someone else doesn't feel like the right way to do business. If you DO go this route, at least make sure to do the above due diligence.
  4. Companies who won't/can't give you a written plan with measurable outcomes tied to your goals. If you don't have it in writing, you have no recourse. And if you don't have measurable outcomes (e.g., distribute 50 ARCs, increase Facebook author page likes by x%) that you're both working towards, you have no recourse if things go badly.
Is your head spinning yet? One of the reasons I've made each list progressively shorter is because it's a lot to take in. Working with a publicist is a big decision and an investment, so it's best approached like the revolving sushi counter -- with eyes open and chopsticks out so no one sticks any unagi on your plate when you're not looking.

Has anyone here worked with a publicist? Additional recommendations for any of the above or things we haven't covered here? I'd love to hear them all in the comments!


Unknown said...

Your questions are spot on! I work with a publicist full time and I couldn't imagine promoting my books without her. But I was lucky. I knew her before I approached her about representing my books, and had met her at a conference where I mutual friend introduced us.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Dynamite post! Every author should know this.

Brenda St John Brown said...

Meeting in person is so awesome. Technology makes the distance easier, but nothing can compare to being in the same room together and being able to brainstorm.

Brenda St John Brown said...

Thank you! It's a big investment, so it's important to have some pointers on how to approach it.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thank you Brenda for this excellent post! Wow, I'm printing this off and keeping a hard copy. I'm not quite in a place with my writing that I need a publicist but it is my intention to need one in the coming year. This was really helpful and I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and experience on this topic. Priceless...

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