Small Publisher or Writer–How to Work with a Publicist

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Ten questions you should ask and ten things a publicist will expect from you

From the Presidentby Kathleen Kaiser, Kathleen Kaiser and Associates, Ventura, California

Now more than ever, publicity drives book sales. This key component of book marketing has grown past reviews, interviews, book signings, media kits, and events to social media campaigns that deliver readers and sales. Knowledge of Facebook ads, Google campaigns, BookBuds, book bloggers, and the many other e-marketing tools are essential skills for a 21st century publicist.

How do you find one? First, what do you want from a publicist?

If you are a small publisher, you need to define the services you will provide for your authors and then solicit publicists who have experience in the genres you offer. You might want someone to create all of your media kits, a different publicist with experience in specific genres to gather reviews and interviews, or, depending upon your budget, one generalist who can handle all of these functions.

As an author, either with a publishing deal or going the indie route, your primary job once the book is completed and edited is to promote the book. Long gone are the days when authors let publishers handle all the marketing. Most publishers expect all, or a large portion of, any advance to go toward promoting your book, your brand (that’s you), and an active social-media presence that begins at least three months prior to your book’s release and continues until your next book comes out.

Literary agent Toni Lopopolo recently told me that she really can’t sell a book anymore to New York if the author has not already established an online presence or, at the very minimum, a website. “While I’m talking to them on the phone, they are googling the author’s name. Nothing comes up, they pass. They tell me publishers want authors who market and understand that it’s their responsibility to be actively involved with their book’s promotion.”

So back to the question, how do you find a publicist?

I suggest you interview as many as you can and find the one who fits with you. They don’t need to be in your community, as almost everything is done online today. This will be an intense six-month or longer relationship. Make sure you gel. Get referrals from other authors you’ve met on GoodReads or other sites. Talk to local authors and ask for a referral. Ask for the good and the bad. Attend meetings or join national organizations focused on your genre and contact members on chat rooms or online groups to look for referrals.

Publishers should look for a person who understands the boundaries of what you want to offer as the marketing package for each book. Years ago I worked in the music business. Each month we averaged fifteen new record releases. There was no way to work equally on each of them, so the five promotions that I felt were hits were the five I called and faxed and mailed to reviewers and pitched interviews. The others got a press kit and a mailing of review copies, but no follow-up. The same thing applies to book publishing. The author now drives the marketing.

Ten questions to ask a prospective publicist
and ten things he or she will expect from you.

What you should ask of a prospective publicist:

  1. What do you think of my book? (If the publicist hasn’t read it, that isn’t the person to hire.)
  2. How many books have you promoted in my genre? What are the titles and names of the authors?
  3. What type of radio would you attempt to set up?
  4. Will you send me an email sample of your media kit? (Compare it to media kits on major publisher websites.)
  5. What angle do you see for my book?
  6. Will you send me a copy of your most recent press release? .
  7. What type of interviews do you expect to pitch on my behalf?
  8. Do you arrange book signings? If yes, what type of advance PR do you do?
  9. What are your thoughts on social media for my book?
  10. What participation do you expect from me in your campaign?

What a publicist expects from you:

  1. That you have a well-written and professionally edited manuscript, a professionally designed book, and wide distribution.
  2. That you will do radio interviews at four o’clock in the morning.
  3. That you will, at least twice weekly, work social media and write a once-a-week blog.
  4. That you have a network of people involved in promoting your book.
  5. That you will go to local stores and place your book.
  6. That you will do some media training on how to do an interview and that you will memorize your key 30-second pitches about the book.
  7. That you have a budget for online advertising, even if it is a modest one.
  8. That you will provide up to 50 printed books for distribution to reviewers and access to ebooks files to be downloaded by key reviewers and interviewers.
  9. That you will have a professional-looking website that promotes you as an author and your book(s).
  10. And, most important, understand that publicists are not magicians.

Click to download these questions.

No publicist can guarantee you great reviews. Amazon notes whether the 5-star reviewers actually bought a book or if instead your family and friends are writing all of the reviews. Remember that anyone can read the first few pages of your book online. If the story or message doesn’t crackle, excite, or intrigue, no one will buy it. Master the craft of writing, then the craft of self-editing, and finally, the art of working with a professional editor (not a schoolteacher or family friend). All of these skills help you produce a great book that will stir the imagination of readers and encourage reviews, which drive more sales.

I schedule a minimum of twice-monthly calls with clients to keep them apprised of what is happening, update any responses from the press, and see if the angle we are working is the correct one. We also email when something breaks. Recently a client claimed his book was a guide for young people. Reviewers found it a delightful memoir covering bygone days of the fifties and mid-century America. We changed our approach and gained more success.

Flexibility is a quality learned, and authors need it when promoting their books. You can’t force a conversation with an interviewer, but must follow where the interview is going. Yes, keep coming back to your book, but maybe, just maybe, the result will be an interview that opens you to a wider audience—one you hadn’t thought about.

Reading books is a very intimate experience. Readers give up hours and days to read your work. Respect them and find out what they gained from reading your book. Then capitalize on it when next promoting, blogging, or chatting online.


Kathleen Kaiser is a book publicist and SPAWN President. Check out her website at www.KathleenKaiserAndAssociates.com.

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