Why does one book achieve robust sales while another struggles to gain traction? While the ultimate test of a novel is what’s between the covers (the quality of the writing, the intricacies of the plot, the fascinating characters), there is no doubt that if a reader is not aware your book exists, they aren’t going to purchase it. That’s why savvy writers know a comprehensive book campaign made up of publicity (free coverage like on-line magazines, trade reviews, interviews, listicles, social media posts) and marketing (paid ads, giveaways and promotions, ARCS) is essential in today’s publishing climate.
And regardless of whether you’re with a small press, a hybrid press, or an indie author, you have probably looked into hiring a publicist. Most authors don’t feel qualified or don’t have the time to manage all the steps involved in a book launch. But publicists aren’t cheap. A 3 to 6 month contract can cost between $7500-$20,000, making it one of the major expenses of any marketing campaign. And most writers I know worry about whether that cost will ever be recouped. How can you know what efforts paid off in sales and what was a waste of time?
Let’s look at five steps you can take to better the chances you’ll get your money’s worth. Keep these in mind as you interface with outside PR professionals to ensure the best outcome from your marketing efforts.
Be clear on your goals
Before you approach any PR firm, write down what you want to accomplish for this particular release. Be realistic and specific. A PR firm can’t guarantee you’ll land an interview on NPR or be featured on Pop Sugar’s list of “Best New Novels for Spring 2023”, but any author can target social media coverage, pitch to national and regional publications, and have professional-looking marketing materials like a press release and Instagram posts. When you interview firms, share these goals and ask which they can handle and what isn’t in their wheelhouse. If you have money to spend on ads, travel, giveaways, or swag, set yourself a not-to-exceed budget and stick to it.
Do your research
Now that you know what you want, and what you’re able to pay, gather recommendations from your fellow writers about firms they’ve used. Narrow your choices down to five and interview them. When I talk to fellow writers who were dissatisfied with their PR firms, it is generally because the expectations going in weren’t aligned.
For example, how often are they going to check in with you and how? What part of the marketing plan do you want them to manage and what part are you going to do? How do they charge (packages or a la carte services?) How often are you billed? What’s their favored method of communication (email, phone calls, monthly Zoom meetings, texts?) You’ll looking for a business partner, not a best friend. Pick someone whose services dovetail with your goals and who you want representing you to the business community of magazine editors, reviewers, and social media influencers. For example, my PR team always alerted me two days before an upcoming podcast, including links. While I’m an organized person, I appreciated the back-up to keep me on schedule.
Be a collaborator
It’s a mistake to think you can just “turn it over” to your PR firm and go back to writing your next book. Set up an initial brainstorming session, including someone from your publisher, to designate who is going to oversee what (are they going to mail out ARCs or are you? Are they going to approach bookstagrammers or are you?) Share any lists you may have already compiled (bookstagrammers who follow you, media sources you know) Suggest ideas you have for blog posts that match themes in your book. For example, my PR team got me a guest column on Crime Reads about “Nine Films Where Journalists Saved the Day.”
Even though you have hired a team of experts, let’s be clear. You’ll still be involved with the marketing efforts, from penning guest blogs, to being interviewed, to participating in Facebook take-overs and giveaways. In fact, certain activities are best handled by you—recruiting a street team, posting on social media, sending out personal notes with ARCs, filming TikTok posts about launch activities, hosting a launch party. Treat your PR team like you would any other professional relationship – be courteous and helpful, pay your bills on time, keep your promises (any faux pas will reflect negatively on them, too) and remember you aren’t their only client.
Play to your & their strengths
You may be able to provide a list of publications whose readers would be an ideal audience for your book, but they are the ones who will know the private emails of reporters and media contacts. On the other hand, you may have personal relationships with bookstore owners where you can more easily set up a signing than they can. Let your PR team know what you enjoy and what you are good at. If you can whip out a blog about “Five Books that Feature Toxic Friends”, have them pitch that idea. If you are an extrovert with tons of anecdotes to share about how you researched your book, ask them to structure the podcast pitches around that theme. On the other hand, if you have no money to travel outside your area, be upfront about that so they don’t pitch you to appear on an in-person panel three states away.
Watch and learn.
Once your contract is over (usually a month after publication), the marketing efforts will fall back on you. Make sure during the ramp-up to watch and ask questions and learn enough that you can continue promoting your book once your PR team moves on. Do your own evaluation about what worked, what didn’t, and what you would do differently for your next book. If your PR team did a great job, shout about them to your fellow writers and on social media. Everybody likes being appreciated.
Remember: Marketing is about building awareness of your book, not about making the sale. If people tell you “I keep seeing your book everywhere”, then your publicist has done their job.
- The PR team for my debut novel Truth and Other Lies was Kaye Publicity out of Chicago. They were successful in getting me on listicles with Marie Claire, Nerd Daily, Pop Sugar, Reading Nook, and two Goodreads lists and on 15+ top podcasts, including The Sh*t No One Tells You About Writing, Rebel Author Podcast, Corks & Conversation, and A Mighty Blaze. They secured trade reviews from Midwest Book Reviews, Kirkus, Book Reporter, and Foreword Reviews and guest blogs on Writer’s Digest, Career Authors, and Crime Reads.