Chip MacGregor

August 27, 2012

Should an author hire an outside publicist?


I’ve had this question quite a bit, from authors who aren’t sure if they can do the required marketing themselves. I think the first thing authors need to do is to look into what marketing they can do on their own. The second thing they need to do is to work with the marketing department at their publishing house, to try and maximize that relationship. But third, authors can certainly check into hiring an outsider to bring special knowledge or skills to the plan, or to pick up some of the pieces the author is not able to do. Some things to keep in mind when hiring an outsider marketing specialistl…

1. Be very clear what the individual is going to do for you. Set up events? Send review copies? Set up radio interviews? Introduce you to magazines? If you’re talking to an outsider, make sure you know exactly 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 bunch of 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 types 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. That means 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. Be realistic. 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 Piers Morgan or the blessing of Oprah, it’s tough to equate a certain number of sales with any one particular marketing effort. You can still reduce your overall risk by asking questions, doing your research, and creating a workable plan.

Let me know if this helps. 

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