What does a book publicist actually do? By Helen Lewis

Helen Lewis 1The disruption of the publishing industry has sparked a rise in so-called experts coming out of the woodwork offering services at various points of the publishing pipeline. To a first-time author seeking a route to publication, with no previous experience of putting together a publishing team and negotiating the rules of the industry (many of which are unspoken) it can be an expensive and challenging task.

While there is plenty of talk of scams and failings, there are also many professionals out there who are reliable, resourceful and effective. Book publicity can be regarded as a costly exercise by some, a necessity by others, and ÔÇô and IÔÇÖm working on it – a wonderful experience by many. What sets your book apart from the hundreds or thousands of others released in your genre on that same day? How does your book find its intended readers? What do you do to build a name for yourself as an author?

Book publicists have long been in existence in some form or another ÔÇô typically sitting within the major publishing house HQ, the role of the publicist was to escort the big names on book tours around the world, organise interviews and manage the distribution and follow-up of review copies. As budgets have been cut and the publishing industry changed, book publicity is now a function often performed outside of the publishing house. Securing a traditional publishing deal no longer equates to full marketing, sales and publicity support. Authors are being asked by their publishing houses to cough up for their own publicity, to charge forward their own promotion machine via social media, and engage a publicist to liaise with the press.

Almost five years ago I attended the London Book Fair for the first time as an exhibitor ÔÇô in my capacity as freelance book publicist. I was met by the old school publishing executives with confusion, scepticism, and even blatant disregard. Yet, despite the fact my stand was the smallest at the LBF, it was also the busiest in the area. There were queues of people waiting to talk to me and I didnÔÇÖt get a break for the duration of the show (I wasnÔÇÖt complaining!). ItÔÇÖs been the same every year since. Authors ÔÇô as opposed to those in the traditional publishing sector ÔÇô were very open and welcoming to me, they had many questions and failing to find answers elsewhere, spent a lot of time chatting with me. This eye-opening experience inspired the creation of a publicity agency that is inclusive, creative and responsive to authors from all walks of life, as well as the establishment of The Author School (co-founded with YA author Abiola Bello in 2015), which provides workshops and support for authors who are stepping into the publishing world (or discovering they need to know more!).

It was very clear to me, from my first LBF experience, that there was a huge gap in the market for a publicity agency that did more than just churn out press releases and send out unsolicited review copies. An agency that worked on the side of the author, offering a full spectrum of services, was required. As a small business owner, budget is a continual consideration for me. I realised that their publisher was asking authors to self-fund publicity on little or no advance. I also realised that self-publishing and indie authors were funding the entire process and even on a tight budget that usually means thousands rather than hundreds of pounds. Budget had to be a consideration when creating my publicity offering.

Literally PR opened in 2012 with services for authors starting at ┬ú30. Our Full Works Package is currently ┬ú2,499 and includes three months of support and a whole host of services. ItÔÇÖs very popular ÔÇô authors who understand the publishing process and more importantly the secret to sales success are also the ones who understand the need to invest to get a return.

WeÔÇÖve worked with more than 100 authors since Literally PR first opened its doors, we have connections in Australia and the US for authors seeking international representation, weÔÇÖve worked with household names through to first-time writers, and weÔÇÖve loved almost every minute of it!

A typical day at the office (there are three of us now) includes a lot of communication via email and calls. We talk daily to journalists and clients. We create Advance Information Sheets (AIS) for new books (ideally three to six months ahead of release day), handpick contacts to send press materials to, research what the press are covering, create media angles and hooks, build online author portfolios for our website, work on social media strategy and run Social Media MOTs with our clients via Skype, attend (as guest/speaker) meetings and networking events, have team meetings to brainstorm new angles and ideas, follow up with the press with bespoke pitches, create press packs, write syndicated interviews, build online press folders, andread!

Our selection process (we receive around 20 manuscripts for consideration each week) is based on the potential for publicity. We read a section of the book to check for the quality of writing, but the primary assessment is based around our experience of working with the press ÔÇô knowing which categories would be most open to the author and the book (online, radio, trade, womenÔÇÖs, parenting, history etc), what is currently popular in the press, what has worked in the past, who we know who would consider an interview, review or editorial commission, etc. Public relations and book publicity are gradual processes, it can feel like a slow burner but the momentum builds with time. We work with long lead publications such as monthly magazines and quarterly journals that look ahead three to six months, hence the phrase ÔÇÿChristmas in JulyÔÇÖ within the press world.

Once weÔÇÖve signed up a new client we are firmly on the side of the author. We are on your team. The work begins quickly ÔÇô but you wonÔÇÖt necessarily be ÔÇÿput out thereÔÇÖ until all the press materials are prepared. Once the documents are signed off and distributed itÔÇÖs often the case that weÔÇÖll get review copy requests, interview calls and editorial commissions almost immediately ÔÇô this is because we target our campaigns to the right people at the right time. Sometimes authors are surprised by the change in gear and it is important that they are prepared for the amount of work that comes from a successful campaign, and are able to turn around responses, make time for interviews and be available as much as possible. The most successful campaigns work when the author is fully on board and collaborating with the publicist. Many of the authors we work with also have a full-time job, some are in different time zones (Australia, United States, Germany, France, Italy and Australia to name a few), but we always make it work if the author is aware of the need to be as flexible as possible to press responses.

We have no control over what the press write, much the same as authors have no control over who reviews their book on Amazon and how much of the storyline they give away. We can influence but we cannot control ÔÇô if you want full control then advertising is a better route for you.

Ten top tips for finding the right book publicist for you

  1. Seek word of mouth recommendations. If you donÔÇÖt know any authors to chat to directly, join a Facebook forum or a writers group and ask for their recommendations. Put a shout out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Look at who seems to be driving publicity for other authors.
  2. Create a list of possible contacts and initially contact a few and see what they come back with. DonÔÇÖt just go with the first person who replies ÔÇô the email may have just gone through at the right time, but the right person may not be available until the next day.
  3. Try to meet (even if just by Skype) so that you can build a strong relationship from the start. ItÔÇÖs always better to ÔÇÿknowÔÇÖ the person youÔÇÖre working with and if youÔÇÖre going to be working together for three to nine months itÔÇÖs worth taking the time to chat over a coffee.
  4. Look at the other clients theyÔÇÖve worked with ÔÇô have they experience of working with authors in your genre/similar to you? Email four or five of their former clients and check what their experiences were.
  5. Discuss your expectations. We believe itÔÇÖs important to aim high and we chase your ÔÇÿdreamÔÇÖ coverage, but we also regularly have to manage expectations. A publicist cannot force a journalist to write about an author, or to review a book kindly. A publicist can only try their best ÔÇô creatively ÔÇô to put their client in front of the right people at the right time.
  6. Understand what is required of you and make it clear when you wonÔÇÖt be available (holidays, particular days of the week etc).
  7. Keep in regular contact but donÔÇÖt inundate them with requests for calls and emails too much or youÔÇÖll be taking them away from the work theyÔÇÖre doing for you.
  8. Remember – most publicists wonÔÇÖt be working on your account every day ÔÇô the finances donÔÇÖt really work like that. But they will be dealing with the press daily and whenever possible theyÔÇÖll be pushing your book as much as the next ÔÇô depending on who theyÔÇÖre talking to. I try to tailor many of my conversations with the press to include at least a couple of books at a time.
  9. Be proactive while youÔÇÖre investing in publicity ÔÇô two heads are better than one! You can do plenty on social media (blogging, guest blogging, focusing on Twitter and building up a strong following, branching out into another such as LinkedIn, Pinterest or Tumblr depending on your audience).
  10. Keep in touch with your publicist even after your time together ends. We still send on opportunities, support former clients via social media and where relevant introduce them to the press long after weÔÇÖve finished working together. You never know when you might need them again so itÔÇÖs good to stay friends J

Helen Lewis is the director of Literally PR, a unique book publicity agency specialising in supporting indie authors to publishing houses. With a team of experts supporting each client, Literally PR offers creative and innovative publicity campaigns, talent management, social media consultancy and many more services geared towards authors regardless of their budget. Based in Kent and London, in the UK, Literally PR has connections in the US and Australia. Helen is regularly asked to talk at author and publishing events, and continues to write for magazines (consumer and trade) as a freelance journalist after leaving university in 2001 with a journalism degree and lots of debt she feels she owes it to her 20-year old self to continue! For more information about Literally PR please contact info@literallypr.com or visit www.literallypr.com.