Friday, March 21, 2008

Inside Scoop: Not for the Faint-Hearted

The following article is by book publicist Meg McAllister of McAllister Rowan Communications. Note her use of "reality" and "realistic." Publicists use those words a lot when it comes to authors, and for good reason. As a publisher wrote me:
Most authors are far too idealistic and have too many silly, time-wasting notions of how this business works. It is best to dispel those notions early, so we save time and angst later. I have little indulgence for author naïveté. If you want to be successful in the publishing business, then know how it works or forego your right to whine about it later.
Book Publicity is Not for Wussies!
For most authors, the reality is that their responsibility to their book does not end with writing it. This can be a real wake-up call. More and more traditional publishers are encouraging (read: demanding) that authors contract with their own publicist “to augment what we will do for the book internally”--which in 7 out of 10 cases is little to nothing!

Due to the rising cost of everything from production to postage, publishers are even scaling back on standard review mailings. Instead, they're opting for email blasts and postcard mailings to solicit interest before sending books out for review. And the general rule is that they take a reactive rather than proactive stance with publicity. They wait for the media to call them; and with mailings, they generally place follow-up calls to about half of the recipient list.

They're not bad publicists; they're just responsible for an enormous volume of books and have very limited funds for each. That’s why, in most cases, your inhouse publicist will welcome an extra pair of hands; it’s a win-win situation for all.

Faced with that reality, as an author, you need to approach the decision of whether to hire a publicist with the same cautious optimism and objective strategy you did when deciding to write your book. If you invested a lot of time, effort, and money to write it, you're going to have to do the same to promote it. You’re making an investment in yourself (and your writing career!--Bella) and on something that will benefit you in the long run. So you should consider the hiring of a publicist in the same manner as you would any other investment--as a savvy consumer.

Here are some tips:

Educate yourself on what to expect.
You’ve found your way to Bella, so congratulations, you’re already way ahead of the game! (I didn't pay her to write that--honest!) Seek the opinions of people like her who’ll offer honesty and objectivity. If you suspect someone is telling you what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth, they probably are. This is not a good thing.

Think performance, not price tag!
You want a publicist with a track record, a reputation, a vision and a price point with which you feel comfortable. As when buying a new car, you should avoid high-priced bells & whistles you don’t need, yet don’t put your life on the line by choosing a clunker just to save a little money.

Talk to other authors.
Get the pros and cons from their point of view. Look for every side of the story: someone who chose the most expensive publicist, someone who chose the cheapest publicist, and someone who went the DIY route.

Talk to more than one publicist/PR firm before making a decision.
While you may end up going with the first one you spoke to, you should “date” around before making a commitment.

Vetting a publicist is a lot like filling any other job.
Don’t just take a publicist’s word for it – we get paid to spin – check references and ask questions about strengths, weakness and work habits.

Be realistic about your publicity budget.
You should have at least $5,000 in the kitty to start with. NEVER consider getting another mortgage on your house or taking a cash advance on your credit card just to pay for PR. If you plan properly and talk to publicity firms about working within your budget, in most cases you can come away with an effective PR effort.

Make the decision to hire a publicist with eyes wide open, and realistic, informed expectations.
Not only will you prove to your publisher that you are committed to helping sell your book, but that you're willing to spend your own money and time to do so. In some cases, if your campaign progresses further than expected, the PR department may be willing to allocate more money and thereby extend it.* Instead of being derided as a publicity wussie, you'll be lauded as a marketing genius.

*This just happened with one of my clients, who after spending lotsa bucks on an ace publicist and superb website, plus snagging terrific blurbs with zero inhouse help, is going from a "local tour" (i.e., signings close to home) to a publisher-sponsored West Coast tour.

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