If you’re a traditionally-published author, you might be assigned a publicist. The job of that person is to help get your name out there. By ‘out there’, I mean articles and reviews in newspapers and magazines (both print and digital) and blogs too. If there isn't a dedicated social media person available, then they might cover social media too. To be clear, a publicist is often different from the marketing team who will usually be in charge of retail placement and ads. A publicist, or PR, will be the person trying to get 'free' publicity for you.
The contact you have with your publicist will vary depending on which publisher you’re with. At the beginning of your relationship, there will often be a long questionnaire to fill out to give them an idea of any ‘newsworthy’ potential you have. You might be lucky enough to get a phone call, Skype call or face-to-face meeting with them too.
In my view, a publicist can be just as important a person to an author as their agent and editor. You can write the best book in the world but how will people know if word doesn’t get out there about it?
So how do you make the most of that important relationship… and how can you troubleshoot any problems? Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Preparation is key
If physically possible, then I recommend meeting your publicist face-to-face as soon as you can then again2-3 months before each book is published. If you’re popping in to see you editor, for example, try to get some time with your publicist too. Or ask to arrange a phone chat or Skype.
I know for some authors, this first chat with their publicist can be a daunting prospect. This is why I advocate as much prep as possible. You'll have a head-start if you’ve written the thoughts document I recommend in this article as it will help you understand how you want them to pitch you: so what media and angles do you think will work for your readers? Of course, your publicist will often know best, but at least you'll go in armed with knowledge. Also prepare some ideas of your own and a list of questions.
In an ideal world, you will have had a publicity plan when you got your deal or soon after which you can discuss with them. If there is no plan, then ask them to email you their plan after the meeting (or even better, ask if they can bring one in when you arrange the meeting). This will usually make sure they do! As the weeks and months go on, you can refer back to their plan to check all is in order.
If you're not getting any requests to write articles or posts in the lead-up to publication, and it's only a month before publication then a quick polite email to your publicist checking in doesn't harm. Then the week of publication, I recommend popping them another email to confirm where they're at with their plans for publication day itself, especially if they handle social media (and if they haven't sent their publication day plans already, of course!).
2. Don’t be scared to chase up
One of the biggest issues I hear from authors is a lack of publicity support, despite initial promises. Some authors have even told me that, despite getting a big advance and a beautifully-presented publicity plan as a way to win them over, all they got on publication day was one tweet. One tweet!!! The advice above will help, but if you've done all this and still nothing, don’t just sit there and cry into your vanilla latte. Contact your publicist, or ask your agent to, and ask what's going on.
As Sabah Khan, who was once my brilliant publicist when I was published by HarperCollins and at Avon and now Head of Publicity at Simon & Schuster says: ‘I think the relationship between an author and their publicist is so important and part of what makes it strong is being able to be honest with each other. If I felt an author needed feedback on a piece or felt they needed some media training, I would hope I could tell them quite simply and honestly. I’d also hope they could be honest with me and so if they felt that they weren’t getting enough publicity, they need to be honest and tell me what they would like to see.’
But please be polite and understanding... and do NOT email every single day, one polite email will suffice. I used to work in PR and it is so difficult drumming up publicity. Journalists make promises of interest then don’t follow up. You even get told a piece will be published only to discover it’s been bumped off by a bigger news story. Understand it's a challenging job and your obnoxious email isn't going to help. Yes, it's important to get the best 'service' you can. But it's also about a happy medium between asserting yourself as an author, but not being rude.
3. Be realistic
I’ve said it countless times: publishers have lots of authors on their rota and the simple fact is, some will naturally get more publicity than others, so don’t get too precious about it. But you absolutely should expect promises to be kept and decent publicity support too considering the percentage publishers take off your royalties (and even if you got a huge advance, even more reason a publicist should be working hard to make sure they make that advance worth while, right?)
But be realistic. As I say so many times, only you can dedicate 100% of your time to YOU. Don’t expect your publicist to be able to dedicate 100% of his or her time to you. There is nothing worse than authors who harass their publicists for updates as though they are the sole author on their rota. As Sabah says: 'I’m very lucky to do the job that I do, and I really love that my authors trust me with their secrets and the precious gift that is their novel – so I need them to have every faith in me when I say I’m on the case!'
So while you should expect your publicist to do work for you, you should also use your contacts and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities as well (just make sure you let them know anything you’ve committed to so you avoid avoid duplication). As Sabah says: 'A publicist would love to spend hours and hours on each author but we have to be realistic about how much support any one author can have so anything an author can do themselves is a huge bonus.'
4. Show willing… within reason
Publicists like it when authors show willing. If you put in the effort your side and reach deadlines, then they will do the same for you. So fill in those questionnaires, send them ideas. When a request comes in, do what you can to say yes.
However, I completely understand how busy life is and if you’re sacrificing precious writing or family time to write a 2k article for a blog that has 5 followers, then you are perfectly within your rights to push back. You should also not share anything you feel deeply uncomfortable about. I’m personally quite open about my life, and have numerous articles placed by my publicist Sabah in the national press about my infertility and other issues. As Sabah says, her ideal author is one who ‘shares things about themselves and be vocal (not too vocal!) about what they think, and contribute to topical conversations.’ Of course, not everyone is as open as me. If you’re not, then you have to accept you might not get as much media coverage.
5. Keep YOUR promises
If you have a deadline for an article, stick to it. If you’re going to pull out of something, have a bloody good reason. A big part of a publicist’s job is nurturing relationships with people who are very influential among readers. You let them down without a good reason and it makes your publicist look bad.... and you.