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Should You Spend Money On Publicity & Marketing?

December 13, 2012 Writing 10 Comments

By Randy Susan Meyers

Should I hire a publicist?

An author’s marketing service?  A blog tour?

Will my publisher/editor/agent get mad?

Should I ask permission?

If I hire someone, will the publisher do less?

New and experienced authors ask each other these questions often, consulting each other as though somewhere, someone has the answer, but no one has the answer for anyone but themselves. Before you accuse me of being all sorts of psycho-Freudian (the answer lies in you, Grasshopper) answer this: What do you want from a publicist? Or a marketing person?

In my first conversation with the woman who became my outside publicist at Goldberg McDuffie I was asked this: “What do you want from us” Both at the moment and in retrospect, it was a brilliant question because: a) it made me truly consider what my expectations were, and b) let my potential publicist know whether or not my goals were realistic. (If appearing on Jon Stewart and Today, and becoming an Oprah Pick was the only way I’d be satisfied, that was her warning signal to let me know upfront that having a successful partnership with them looked doubtful at best.)

My answer to her question was: My goal is to get my book in front of as many reader’s eyes in as many ways as possible. It seemed simplistic when I said it, but really—other than that which exists to serve ones ego, what else is there for a writer?

Perhaps it wasn’t a lofty goal, but one my publicist was confident she could work towards and, hopefully accomplish. Whether or not readers where interested in reading the book after seeing reviews, articles, television, and hearing me on the radio—that was on me, not her.

In-house versus outside? Is there a problem?

Can your in house publicist from your publisher do this as well as a private publicist? Simplistic as it sounds, that depends on the two of them. Many in house publicists are wonderful; some outside publicists are awful and a waste of money. I was lucky for my first and second book. I had a great publicist from St. Martin’s, and the woman I am now working at with  at Atria Books for my soon-to-launch book is beyond fantastic. But, I hired my outside publicist again, because in my experience having two publicists means having a team—not, as some think, two people dueling over a writer’s affections. They know just how to divide up the work and you’re doubling your chances of getting attention for your book. Nor is there reason to fear repercussions for hiring a publicist. You are doing a favor for your publisher, by possibly increasing their profits using your dime.

In house publicists are often over-worked, so though they may perform miracles, they have a higher writer-to-publicist ratio than most outside publicists, and may only be able to devote themselves to your book for a short period. You want to give yourself any leg-up you can.  There couldn’t guarantee miracles, or even mild excitement, but I knew that by not using them, there was no hope for whatever help they could bring. I wanted the team effort that having an outside and in house publicist would bring.

Beware The Love Theory

And if, perchance, they get upset at your hiring an outside person, ask for an explanation. Is it because they’re promising you star treatment? (Many literary stars have outside publicists who work hand-in-hand with the house.) Is it a territorial question? Work towards clarity on this, because in the end they have many books, but you only have one at the moment: yours. I’d rather have an honest idea of what is being done—whether it’s a mega-campaign, or a modest effort—and thus know where I have to fill in. Show your editor and others at your publisher that you are an adult who can work with the truth and work in concert with them.

And then there’s the ‘love’ theory. Many authors decide against hiring a publicist because they’re certain “they adore me at XYZ Pub House,” only to be devastated when they see what they thought was love ended up as a one-night-stand. Publicists at most publishing houses are stretched to the limit.  The in-house publicist for my first book did a great job, but having an outside publicist from Goldberg McDuffie allowed for more in-depth work from both publicists (and they worked together so well that they shared a panel with me at Grub Street’s Muse & The Marketplace in 2011)

Decide early whether or not to hire a publicist during your book launch process. High-powered ones will want to work with you many (five or six) months before your book comes out. There are different levels of publicists: those who will oversee an entire campaign in concert with your in-house publicist, and those who concentrate on specialized areas, such as radio, social media, or blog tours.

And then there’s marketing.

Budgetary constraints are usually one’s main concern, but while weighing decisions around publicity, also consider the importance of including marketing costs in your decision. Publicity won’t work alone. You have one book getting published and one chance to see it fly (perhaps two if it’s coming out first in hardcover, and then in paperback). After getting that great publicity, you’ll need to use marketing to synergize on the reviews you’ve received or to get the word out if there weren’t many reviews.

Just as you can (and sometimes must) pay for an outside publicist, you can (and sometimes must) pay for outside marketing. For most authors, the publisher’s marketing budget is limited, so it is important to find out what they are  and aren’t doing. Then you can decide how to allocate your money—you might consider anything from hiring marketing professionals to online book tours (Bubble Cow has a good listing of these sites). You might prepare marketing materials ranging from bookmarks to postcards. Go to online printing sites and you can get lost in the choices. Make sure to prepare at least one good handout and always carry some with you.

You’ll want to spread the news of your reviews, awards, and good news to make sure people know your book exists.  While many writers use the words publicity and marketing interchangeably, they’re not the same thing and this confusion often causes people to make marketing mistakes. Marketing is something you pay for. Publicity is something you hope for. They both work to promote a book. People need to hear about a book many times and in several ways before they really notice it.

Marketing is the concrete process of spreading the word about your book by spending money. As with publicity, you will work with a marketing expert at your publishing house. Again, my experience at Atria has been excellent, beyond excellent–and they are honest about what they can and can’t do. This enables me to supplement their work from an intelligent position. I urge you to work towards a relationship with your publishers marketing expert that allows open communication. No whining from you. No subterfuge from them. That’s how you can have a team.

You can hire a web designer, buy advertising space, and hire marketing professionals. These are all tasks with a specific, measurable outcome. Good marketing, both from your publisher, via your own efforts, and from outside companies will distribute information about books and authors via the web to readers, book club members, librarians and booksellers.

Much of the information above comes from What to Do Before Your Book Launch, a book I co-authored with M.J. Rose, an author whose previous career was in advertising. Using that experience, she launched Author Buzz, a marketing company for authors. M.J. taught me much when I worked with her during the launch of my first novel—much of which I’m now putting into great use as I prepare to launch my second novel, The Comfort of Lies, none of which marked me as much as these simple sentences:

1) Nobody can buy a book they’ve never heard about: this is the reason for publicity and marketing.

2) Good publicity and marketing helps readers learn about your book, but only the author can provide the magic that makes them take that book home: this one’s on us.



Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. M.J. Rose says:

    Great article! I’d like to ad something about ads. They are a form or marketing that has the widest reach – the way to put your book cover in front of hundreds of thousands of readers. Often we at can create a campaign for $2500 -$5000 that will put your words about your book in front of a million or more readers.

    No one can buy a book they never heard of and even the best publicist can’t guarantee big press attention. So it is wisest to split your budget. If you spend all your money on a publicist who winds up getting only a few small items then you’ve gambled and lost. If you spend half on a publicist and half on marketing – even if the publicist doesn’t get you big press – you are guaranteed eyeballs from the marketing.

    Also there are some groups you might want to reach that you can’t reach via PR that you can reach via marketing. Like bookclubs – the vest way to reach the most bookclubs is often through paid promotions. For instance we do ads to 35,000 bookclubs that are less than $800. Hard to find anything anywhere that beats that cost ratio.

  2. Cathy Elcik says:

    Wait a minute…I thought a publicist took care of putting the book out there for publicity consideration AND coordinated marketing as well. No? I’ve been saving up for a publicist since the first time I heard about them (I’m a dyed in the wool introvert) but now it sounds like you need both a publicist and a marketing professional? Or would a fantastic publicist do both? I’m so confused. Clearly, I need to read your book!

    • Cathy,
      We all get confused. Think of it this way:

      A publicist works with magazines, bloggers, newspaper, tv, radion, etc to get reviews, articles, and mentions of your book (this is way-over simplifying it, and I am certain I will get bombarded by angry publicists!)

      A marketing person will put ads in all the above and take advantage of pay-for-play placement. (Think of the ads in the NYT, top of blogs, etc.)

      Publishers do both. Writers can supplement on either, both, or neither. Many of the decisions are made based by what’s in our pocket–others by how vast a marketing budget is being alloted to us, and how much of a publicists time will be devoted to you.

  3. Amin Ahmad says:

    Great post, Randy.

    As always, lucid and to the point. It’s incredibly valuable having a successful author’s point of view, as publishers will always say that they love your book.

    For readers of this post, I’d highly recommend Randy and MJ”s e-book, “What to do before your book launch”. It covers all this stuff in great detail, and is a lifesaver. The best ten bucks you’ll ever spend on Amazon:

  4. Thanks, Amin. :) So glad it’s helping you. Glad I wrote it as all those thoughts rattling around my brain were taking up a heck of a lot of space–space I really needed!

  5. Jerri Lee George says:

    Thanks for your article. How about indie-published authors? I have had some experience with both marketing and publicity and am not a shrinking violet by any means.

    Starting out, could a lone wolf begin the process by dropping press releases with a hook, posts on social media and copies of the book to specific entities? I recently saved a post about 250 places to market your book (with contact info).

    Of course, my book CATER$AVVY “Secrets of the Trade Revealed” is non-fiction and directed at a specific market. My plan is to do the best job I can and hire someone later in the process. I guess, reading blog articles like yours and posting about one’s own upcoming work is a good idea too! Free publicity :)

    Thanks for the advice!

  6. This is very timely for me as I have a book coming out in 2013, and my publisher is smal and doesn’t do much marketing, etc. It is very confusing for the first time author to know what to do and not do.

    I’ve wondered how well blog tours work, as it seems that most people on the blogs are writers looking to sell their own stories. Are there great marketing venues for people who don’t have a lot of money to spend?



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Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers
The dark drama of Randy Susan Meyers’ debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, published by St. Martins Press in January 2010, is informed by her years of work with batterers, domestic violence victims, and at-risk youth impacted by family violence. She was raised by books, in Brooklyn, where she could walk to the library daily. Each book she read added to her sense of who she could be in this world. Reading In Cold Blood at too tender an age assured that she’d never stay alone in a country house. Biographies of women like Marie Curie and Elizabeth Blackwell opened doors to another world and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn taught her faith in the future. Each time she read it, she was struck anew by how the author Betty Smith knew so much and dared to write it. Read Full