Chip MacGregor

May 16, 2014

Should I hire an outside marketing specialist?


I’ve had a number of write to me and ask when I’ll get back to writing about marketing books, and several have wanted to know, “When should I consider spending my own money on having an outside marketing person work with me?”

The answer is probably, “When you feel the marketing people at your publishing house aren’t doing enough,” except that NO author ever really believes the marketing types are doing enough for their book. (It’s true. I’ve seen bestselling authors who are getting full page ads whine about the lack of effort from the marketing staff.) I suppose all of us would like to see the marketing department try harder, do more, be more creative, and get away from doing the same things that don’t work, all for no cost. But the publishers are all trying to do their best. One young publicist might simply have 20 or 30 books she’s working on, so you might not get a ton of attention. And though no one seems to admit it, you might just get a copycat version of everybody else’s marketing plan. (It’s still a mystery to me why publishers bother doing the same thing time after time when the plan has failed with previous books. Seems like it would be obvious that “this isn’t working” — but it’s not, apparently. I’m probably missing something.) So let’s just work on the assumption that YOU are in charge of the marketing. Anything your publisher does is great, and by all means you should express your appreciation for them sending out review copies or setting you up on some blogs to talk about your book. Hey, at least they’re doing SOMETHING. But yes, it’s possible your book may need an outside person doing the publicity if it’s really going to grab some attention.

The bad news is that, in most cases, that “outside” person is you. It bears repeating: YOU are in charge of marketing your book. You. Not the publisher, who will help, and will try hard, but probably won’t do all that much unless you’re a proven bestseller. So it’s you. Nobody else knows your message as well; nobody else is as committed to your story as you are. Nobody else has as much riding on your book as you do. So just assume you’re going to take charge of your marketing. You’ll appreciate everything your publisher does, and will be glad they can reach some folks you can’t, but you’re the one who has the most at stake and will lead the effort. That means you’re going to have to educate yourself. I have recommended some basic marketing books in some previous posts, but good books specifically targeted to book marketing include David Cole’s COMPLETE GUIDE TO BOOK MARKETING, Steve Weber’s PLUG YOUR BOOK, Jay Conrad Levinson’s GUERRILLA MARKETING (there’s a special one for writers), Penny Sansevieri’s RED HOT INTERNET PUBLICITY, Chris Murray’s MARKETING GURUS, David Scott’s NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR, Lissa Warren’s THE SAVVY AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO PUBLICITY, Shel Horowitz’s GRASSROOTS MARKETING FOR AUTHORS, John Kremer’s 1001 WAYS TO MARKET YOUR BOOK, Tim Berry’s ON TARGET, and the books by David Rising. Consider spending a couple hundred dollars to educate yourself first. You can also think about purchasing a used copy of something easy like MARKETING FOR DUMMIES and SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING FOR DUMMIES. That will get you started.

Next, you need to actually think about creating a marketing plan, asking yourself, “What could I realistically do in order to help promote my book?” I have plenty of authors tell me they’ll set up a cool web site, but you’ve got to promote that web site somehow — you can’t just post it and hope somebody discovers it. You can certainly set up your own blog tour. I notice that specialists are charging between $750 and $3000 for that, but it’s not rocket science — you contact blogs, offer to send them a book, and talk with them about being interviewed or writing something for their site. However, I’m not convinced blog tours are selling a lot of books, since so many authors seem to be going to the same sites. (Looking for some other sites might be a better alternative.) The key to marketing is simple: find out where your potential readers are, then go get in front of them. So do some research first. And as long as I’m talking about the web, let me mention the notion of doing articles online — writing about something you know about, then posting the article, has proven to be one method some authors have been able to use effectively.

But then we usually run out of steam. Aside from the obvious, what else can we do to market out new title? Do a lot of speaking. Show up at bookstores. Call bookstore owners and thank them for carrying your book. All those have some value… but at some point we start thinking this thought: “If somebody outside the publisher needs to be marketing my book, I wonder if it would be best for me to hire a professional, who might have better media contacts, and thereby free myself to write more.” Yeah, the way you say it may change, but those are the basic thoughts. There’s been some discussion on author sites that publishers dislike working with outsiders, or that the outside PR person creates confusion for authors — don’t believe it. Sure, it happens occasionally, but if your publisher can’t see that having another paid professional working to sell your book is a good thing, then your publisher is dumb as a box of rocks. (That’s a possibility, by the way. But don’t let on that you know.)

So what are the things to keep in mind when hiring an outsider marketing specialist? I can think of several…

1. Be very clear what the individual is going to do for you. Set up events? Send review copies? Arrange radio interviews? Introduce you to magazines? What? If you’re talking to an outsider, ask them what it is they’ll do for you. They should be willing to create a list (that you can later check). Learn to ask pointed questions (or have your agent ask pointed questions).
2. Be very clear what this individual has done in the past. There are a few marketing types I know who, in my opinion, don’t bring any particular success with them. The fact that they’ve been hired by publishers to work on past books may merely mean that they turned in the cheapest bid, not that they did a good job. So ask — Who have you worked with? What did you do? What were some of the results?
3. Be very clear what the cost is. Marketing professionals can do a full-blown, multi-month campaign for your book — or they can do things piece by piece, with you paying them to do particular jobs. Think of it as a Chinese menu — you can order one from column A and one from column B, or you can purchase the Full Meal Deal. You need to have a budget before you go into an outside publicity relationship.
4. Shop around. Prices vary greatly, often depending on who’s busy. What will this person do for you? For how long? What expenses will be incurred? This is especially important when it comes to fiction. It doesn’t get said often enough, but fiction marketing is completely different than nonfiction marketing. The fact that this marketing specialist has had big success with some nonfiction books may not mean diddly to you as a novelist. (That’s not to say you should never hire someone who doesn’t have fiction experience — just don’t buy into the argument that because they helped sell The Ten Steps to Stop Bedwetting it means they can also sell Daphne Falls In Love.)
5. Make sure you like the person. There’s nothing worse than having someone you don’t really like screw up your book and your plans.
6. Pray hard. The fact is, there’s no guarantee with an outside marketing specialist. You might find that one publicist worked great for a friend, but can’t seem to do much of anything that works for you. Hey, that’s just the business. Aside from a visit on the Oprah Show, it’s tough to equate a certain number of sales with any one particular marketing effort (and I hate to break it to you, but Oprah isn’t on anymore). You can still reduce your overall risk by asking questions, doing your research, and creating a workable plan.

Let me know if this helps. -Chip

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  • Gary Neal Hansen says:

    It helps a lot — thanks! I especially appreciate the list of recommended marketing books.

    Is willingness to hire a publicist or other marketing help something to mention in a proposal?

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You might mention it, Gary, but I don’t think it will mean much to most publishers. A proposal is done long before you’d actually be hiring a freelancer, so, from the publisher’s perspective, it’s easy to view it as an empty promise.

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