Using a publicity/marketing company

Although you can do considerable publicity and marketing yourself, a commercial firm can bring useful expertise to promoting your book.

The marketing books and other resources listed at the end of this article — as well as the article Marketing your book — can give you an excellent start on doing your own publicity and marketing. If you read them assiduously and use their insights to form a publicity/marketing plan, you may be surprised at how much you can do. Also, doing your own publicity and marketing gives you contacts and skills that will be useful in the future. In contrast, once your relationship with a commercial firm ends, their contacts and expertise go with them. Of course, to the extent that you use the firm as a training resource, you will take more away from that relationship than just media stories about your book.

In any case, the best course is to push yourself to the edge of your comfort level in doing your own publicity and marketing and use a firm to supply those contacts and skills you either don't have or don't feel confident you can acquire. For example, you might not be skilled at pitching stories to editors or producers, or conducting an online blog tour.

Before you look for a publicity/marketing firm, here are some issues to consider:

  • Given the topic of your book, what media would you expect them to approach? Are you interested in getting into specialty media, such as science and engineering magazines, or does your topic lend itself to articles in general newspapers and magazines? You have presumably already identified the audience for your book, as discussed in the article Marketing your book.
  • What marketing do you feel competent to do for yourself — writing news releases, pitching stories, etc. — and what you would be more comfortable having the firm do?
  • What news and feature story ideas can you glean from your book topic? Coming up with such ideas before you approach a firm will help you to help them.
  • What kinds of publicity are you willing to do, and what do you prefer not to do. You might feel comfortable being interviewed for a print article, but not on a radio or TV program.
  • Are you willing to spend the money, anywhere from $500 to $3,000 a month, for a publicity and marketing firm, and will the payback be worth it? Think of this payback as both short-term, in selling your book, and long-term, in establishing you as a recognized authority in your field. The long-term payback is important if you plan to write more books on your topic. To get an idea of costs for different campaigns, you can download the catalog of services of Author Marketing Experts.

Once you decide to hire a publicity firm, here are some steps to take:

  • Ask authors who have had publicity success — especially authors of books similar to yours — whether they have used a commercial firm and whether they would recommend that firm.
  • Check the Web sites of candidate firms to determine their clients, packages, fees and past successes. Also, determine whether they are Internet-savvy in terms of marketing. The Web is a hugely effective book marketing medium, via blog tours, podcasts, You Tube videos, social networks, e-zine articles, Web links, etc. One example of a Web-savvy firm is Author Marketing Experts.
  • When you identify top candidates, meet with their representatives, or at least talk on the phone, and see whether there is good chemistry between you. Make sure you are talking with the person who will actually be working with you.
  • Ask about their contacts with media outlets on which you would most like to be featured.
  • Ask whether they have worked with authors of books on topics similar to yours and what their success has been.
  • Ask them to suggest media outlets, to determine whether they understand the objective of your publicity. Be realistic. If your book doesn't fit a network morning talk show, don't expect them to recommend pitching it there.
  • Ask them to outline their strengths and weaknesses and consider whether their strengths match your needs.
  • Ask whether you will have a chance to review all publicity materials.
  • Warning: If they guarantee to place you on a specific show, walk away. No firm can guarantee placements, only that they will try their best to place you.
  • Ask about their fee schedule. Opt for a per-placement, or per-activity fee, rather than a retainer.
  • Ask them to explain specifically what they will do for their fee. How will they decide whom to pitch, and how are their pitches made? Will they offer you media training? What kind of reports will you receive on their activities?
  • Ask how payments are made and how you can end the contract if necessary.

Once you contract with a firm, give them a reasonable amount of time to perform for you. It may take months, for publicity efforts to bear fruit. However, if several months go by with no activity, consider firing the firm.

John Kremer's Web site features a comprehensive list of publicity/marketing companies, and the The Independent Book Publishers Association offers a smaller list.

For a good explanation of book promotion and publicity strategies, see the Web site of Annie Jennings PR, and of course these books on marketing:

Also, these general self-publishing books offer useful sections on publicity and marketing:

Oct. 17, 2008