10 Top Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Book Publicist

by Diana Urban

Hiring a book publicist can be a worthwhile expenditure if you need help building your bookÔÇÖs platform, or if youÔÇÖd like to supplement your existing marketing efforts or those of your publisherÔÇÖs publicity team. While you might be able to do marketing for yourself, hiring help will give you more time to write new books and focus on the most high-impact marketing activities.

Publicists also have media connections you might not have yourself and resources to run creative campaigns you wouldnÔÇÖt have the time to pull off. Additionally, their experience running campaigns for many different books and authors lends them insight into new useful marketing tools theyÔÇÖll be able to recommend. Savvy publicists will also help you avoid outdated or over-hyped publicity tactics.

Hiring a publicist isnÔÇÖt for everyone ÔÇö if you have a marketing background, have time to dedicate toward promotions, or if you lack the budget, you may not want to consider hiring a publicist yet. But if you do decide to hire one, you should ask the right questions to make sure theyÔÇÖre a good fit for you and your bookÔÇÖs genre. Here are a few key questions you should ask when interviewing a potential book publicist.

  1.  What experience do you have promoting books similar to mine?

ItÔÇÖs important to get a sense of the publicistÔÇÖs track record in your genre. Once youÔÇÖve identified a target market for your book, you may want to hire a publicist who has experience marketing to that niche. Those publicists will have media contacts they already know are interested in books like yours, and theyÔÇÖll know what publicity copy readers respond to best and what marketing tactics resonate with your audience.

If they donÔÇÖt have experience in your genre, they should be willing to do research and become familiar with your genreÔÇÖs target audience so they know how to convey your bookÔÇÖs premise and make your book stand out.

  1. Can you share a few case studies of promotions youÔÇÖve run?

Look for publicists who can prove theyÔÇÖve yielded a positive return on investment for their clients. Garnering good results is never a guarantee, but you want to be confident in your publicistÔÇÖs abilities to run effective campaigns and that the money youÔÇÖre spending wonÔÇÖt go to waste.

Ask them to provide examples of media theyÔÇÖve secured for their existing clients, and the results of that attention. While they can anonymize their case studies, they should be able to provide concrete examples of their success. Case studies including numbers and detailed analysis are a great sign that the publicist is thorough and effective.

As an example, here is a great case study Sandra Smith from Smith Publicity included in her BookBub guest blog post here:

One of our clients was a business consultant writing her first book on the topics of leadership and work/life balance. One year before publication, she began a Twitter, newsletter, blog, video, and media outreach strategy. Specifically, she:

  • ┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á Created a series of short ÔÇ£how toÔÇØ videos.
  • ┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á Blogged three times each week.
  • ┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á Started conversations on key influencersÔÇÖ blogs.
  • ┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á Captured email addresses for her monthly newsletter.
  • ┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á Followed key media on Twitter and engaged in authentic exchanges.

When advance reader copies became available five months before the bookÔÇÖs publication, we sent them to a highly targeted list of book review editors and long lead magazine editors (those working on stories four to six months out), along with other pre-launch media outreach initiatives. We worked with her for several months after the publication date as well to reach additional print, broadcast, and online media.

The results:

Her newsletter list grew from 1,500 names to 25,000 names, her Twitter follower count increased from 250 to 4,500 (18 months later, she has almost 23,000 followers). This gave her thousands of targeted consumers to share the news of her bookÔÇÖs release.

A small sampling of our media placements included Publishers Weekly, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, Women in Business, and The Huffington Post. This gave her additional content to share on social media, enabling her to further build her credibility with fans and followers.

We were able to direct media, potential book buyers, and potential clients to informative blog posts, videos, and newsletter articles. We could also pitch her as an expert and thought leader who offers consistent, relevant, and valuable information.

She became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Her business and speaking career are thriving.

This case study is a great example of what you want to see from a publicist youÔÇÖre interviewing.

3. What are a few promotions youÔÇÖd envision running for my book?

Before asking this question, have a good sense of what you want help with. Are you completely strapped for time, and donÔÇÖt have the bandwidth for simple online promotional efforts? Or maybe you have the basics covered, but youÔÇÖre looking for help with wider-reaching promotions than youÔÇÖre capable of putting together on your own.

While you shouldnÔÇÖt expect a publicist to have a fully fleshed-out plan for how theyÔÇÖll promote your book ÔÇö thatÔÇÖs what youÔÇÖll be paying them to do! ÔÇö itÔÇÖs good to get a sense of what they initially have in mind. If they only propose activities you could easily do yourself, e.g. submitting your book to BookBub, setting up a blog tour, crafting tweets, etc., the publicist might not be the best fit. If they suggest setting up TV and radio interviews, pitching your books to print journalists, recruiting street teams to distribute unique swag ÔÇö or any creative campaign you wouldnÔÇÖt have the time or resources to pull off yourself ÔÇö that might be more in-line with what youÔÇÖre looking for.

Of course, this all depends on what you need help with, but make sure the publicist has the capabilities to do whatever youÔÇÖre hoping for!

  1. Can I see examples of publicity material youÔÇÖve provided to other clients?

This question might seem obvious, but in your enthusiasm to hire help, you might be tempted to rush into an agreement with the first publicist one of your friends refers you to. DonÔÇÖt do this. Make sure you have the chance to review the publicistÔÇÖs work ÔÇö both things theyÔÇÖve written and designed ÔÇö so you can see if you even like the promotional assets theyÔÇÖve created before. For example, ask them to share press releases, media pitch emails, print advertisements, banner ads, or social media campaign creative theyÔÇÖve created for other clients.

  1. Would I have the chance to review publicity material before itÔÇÖs shared with the media?

Depending on how hands-on you want to be, you may want to ensure youÔÇÖll have some say in the promotional material. YouÔÇÖre hiring the publicist, and they should be willing to at least be open to incorporating your feedback into their promotional material ÔÇö if thatÔÇÖs the sort of thing you care about.

Also, if you are traditionally published, ask how closely the publicist will work with your publisher. Will they also ask for the publisherÔÇÖs input on the materials? Will they align the assets they create with your publishersÔÇÖ marketing material?

  1. What media contacts do you have that would be interested in my book?

Similar to how youÔÇÖd ask a literary agent about the contacts she has at the major publishing houses, try to get a sense of the relationships a publicist has with the media ÔÇö particularly media that would be good outlets for your book and its genre. Do research ahead of time and put together a short list of publications, television programs, radio programs, etc. where youÔÇÖd love to see your book promoted. Feel free to ask the publicist if they have contacts at these specific places.

  1. What are your fees and payment structure?

PublicistsÔÇÖ fees will vary based on the services offered and the size of the firm you hire. Some publicity firms will offer ÔÇ£a la carteÔÇØ services, while others exclusively provide holistic public relations campaigns that would cover everything from TV interviews to Facebook page management. Some firms will either have you pay by project or pay a retainer on a monthly basis.

There is no one-size-fits-all pricing model for publicists. Depending on what you want help with, you could pay thousands of dollars ÔÇö some authors even pay six figures for their publicists. Be sure to specify up front exactly what services you will need and have them provide a detailed quote and payment plan.

If youÔÇÖre on a tight budget, decide what marketing tactics you can take on yourself. Let the publicist focus on what you donÔÇÖt have the resources to accomplish on your own.

  1. How will you report on results?

If youÔÇÖre paying a publicist to run promotions for you, youÔÇÖre entitled to full disclosure of the results theyÔÇÖve garnered for you on a regular basis. Whether they agree to send you a monthly PowerPoint deck showcasing their efforts and results, or a book-by-book breakdown via an Excel spreadsheet, make sure youÔÇÖre happy with how they intend to inform you of their progress.

  1. What is your communication style?

Just like if youÔÇÖre working with any other publishing professional (an agent, an editor, etc.), itÔÇÖs important to set your communication expectations up front. Do they communicate best via phone or email? How long do they typically take to update you on promotional efforts?

While it may not be realistic to expect anyone to respond to your email within five minutes, 48-hour response times is a reasonable request to make. You might also want your publicist to be proactive in letting you know if they will be unavailable for an extended period of time, whether for vacation, a conference, etc. These are all things you should talk about up front so there arenÔÇÖt panicked moments or resentment along the way.┬á

  1. Can I speak with a few references?

Even if the publicist has a testimonials page on their website and has provided you with case studies, you should speak to or exchange emails with a few of the publicistÔÇÖs clients. This will give you a much better sense of what to expect from the working relationship. Here are a few ideas for questions you should ask their references:

  • What kinds of promotions did the publicist run for you?
  • What ideas did they contribute (as opposed to the author giving them exact directions)?
  • What were their results and were you happy with those?
  • Were they open to your feedback and input into the publicity campaigns?
  • Did they meet their deadlines?
  • WhatÔÇÖs their communication style like?
  • What is the biggest challenge in working with them?
  • How long have you been working with them and will you continue to do so?

Hiring a publicist is a big investment, so make sure to do your due diligence before signing any contracts.