It's a little odd to talk about "the squeaky wheel" when it comes to publicity, since that's what publicists are supposed to be! This particular arena, however, will be one of your most challenging in the publication process. And in significant ways your publicity and marketing team hold a lot of the keys to your book's initial reception and visibility in the marketplace. So all your dealings with PR require thoughtful finesse. NOTE: I am going to address your publisher's Publicity Dept. here, not the hiring of a freelance publicist, which is a separate topic for another time. I am also only addressing this whole topic at the broadest level because book marketing and publicity is an entire world of its own, requiring many blogs (over time).
Consider for a moment that Publicity is usually a thankless job, and most publicists are underpaid. They are given a list of Spring or Fall books to promote and publicize, with a limited window of time and a defined budget. Every author sees his or her book's publicity as the most important event of the year; every publicist looks at the list of books coming up next and knows there will not be enough hours in the day or dollars in the budget to make all the good ideas happen. In short, they will do what they can. Their days are spent in planning meetings, prep work, getting materials out, fielding media requests on ALL books (old or new), building relationships with the media, and managing all the author communication. It isn't hard to see how little can be done for any one author on any given day -- and that the tasks and results will in fact happen over much longer periods.
This begs the author to ask, What is my PR budget? Ask your agent, or your editor, and you will probably not get an answer. Why? Because no matter what the answer might be, the author is not likely to be happy about it. Everyone knows this except the author. Each book is evaluated on several factors: (a) the advance paid and the sales expectations in primary markets (meaning not all the peripheral audiences) (b) the author's media platform and general "connectedness" (c) the book's timeliness and "hook" for the media (d) which media platforms most target the book's target audience (TV, radio, internet advertising, blogs, magazines, etc.).
Then based on Publicity's experience in your category and with the intended media focus, they will decide where to focus their efforts to get the most bang for the buck in the short time they have to get some "traction" for your book's launch into the world.
NOTE: The publisher's PR efforts are distinctly separate from what you, the author, are doing to promote your book at launch and beyond, which is your own internet marketing and social networking, blogging, perhaps writing magazine articles or Op Ed pieces, speaking or workshops, local and regional efforts whether that is talks/signings in stores or schools or anywhere you can, and tapping all your local media for interviews or special feature articles, tapping into old alumnus newsletters, organizations and associations you belong to.....and such.
The basic job of Publicity is to create a Press Release for your book that will generate TV and radio interviews; to place strategic internet ads for your intended audience; to generate reviews for your book; and depending on the type of book, to create special promotions through the media.
The dilemmas that arise? (* see notes below)
- "My publicist does not tell me anything...I have no idea what is going on."
- "I'm getting requests for the book by journalists, bloggers, media, professional colleagues..."
- "I've been invited to speak at a conference in New York but I can't afford to go to without the publisher's help..."
- "I'll be travelling for work to a number of cities and the publisher should take advantage of that with book promotions in each city..."
- "Other authors are being booked on TV and radio, on my subject, and my publicist has not gotten me anything."
- "I have given my publicist all the lists and information she asked for, which took me weeks to compile, and she has done nothing with it as far as I can see."
- "Why isn't my book being promoted at the Book Expo (BEA) and why aren't I there?"
- "I'm told my budget is spent, but nothing has happened...we haven't even begun!"
Then, prepare an email, after considering the situation from the publicist's (probable) point of view: (a) no author is ever satisfied (b) no campaign would be extensive enough (c) every author thinks he or she is the only one with a book coming out (d) Do they think I work 14 hour days? (e) If authors had to do my job for one day they'd sing a different tune.
Make sure you start the email with sympathy for the many challenges the publicist has and gratitude for her time, efforts and talent on behalf of your book (even if you haven't seen any). Then move into the factual and specific statement of the problem, with your specific request and supporting persuasive information--devoid of emotional/angry language or "attack" elements, though it is fine to use words like "distressed" or "confused" or "frustrated by." Acknowledge their budget, and show how/why what you are requesting in in their immediate interests of selling books. The email is not to vent, it is to induce the publicity department to solve your problem. Remember the KKK rule mentioned in the earlier blog.
As a precautionary measure, ask your agent to preview the email before you send it (note "before"), and keep your agent in the loop at all times. If things get ugly, your agent is going to have to clean it all up.
What does "ugly" mean? Anything from the publicist telling your editor (who tells your agent) that you are a pain in the ass, and ungrateful to boot -- to the publicist just starting to lie to you to shut you up and get you off her back. Since you want your publicist to actually you the truth about everything, you will need to prove that you can handle the truth...
It is a good idea to keep in mind that your publicist has the ability to make you "persona non grata" and end your lovely relationship with your publisher. Really. Not like anyone would admit it, but it happens. So while you DO need to address real problems in the publicity campaign, you DO need to speak up, you also need to do it with the utmost care, and you need to pick your battles and be very efficient in your communication.
Good luck--rise to the occasion!
Photo credit: Clipart
- * Rather than asking WHY you don't hear anything, approach this from "I can imagine how difficult it is to have any time to communicate with me, so how would you like me to communicate with you? Are there certain times; do you prefer email or voicemail? How can I best update you and how is it realistic for you to update me?"
- * If you say this straight out to a publicist they'll just tell you to email them the list and they'll take care of it. Then you won't know if it is done or not. If you are willing to pay postage, you can ask the publicist to send you books for the list you will email her, and you will send the press release and book to each of them. If they are not willing to do that, then after you email the list you will need to let those people on the list know that they should be expecting a book from Publicity at (your publisher), and if they do not receive it within a reasonable time, to please let you know.
- * You will likely get further with a request like this if you tell your agent and editor first, and enlist their help in getting the budget approved for the conference expenses. You will need to provide the specifics of not only the costs, but why this is an important conference for you to be at and how, exactly, you will be able to promote the book there (will you have a booth? be speaking or presenting?).
- * Not every city is a good book-selling place, so start by informing your publicist of your travel itinerary, with at least 2-3 months notice (any shorter and it is unlikely they can plan and execute anything). First ask for the publicist's input as to any of those cities being valuable for book promotion, whether that is bookstore talks/signings, newspaper or radio interviews, book club speaking, etc. Then work from there to determine what, if anything, can be done to take advantage of your being there. If you run into resistance, ask your agent for help (who will again enlist the support of your editor).
- * This is upsetting, of course. It should be brought to the attention of your publicist by way of informing her that there is clearly a lot of interest in your subject because these other people are being booked, and then you can directly ask what response your publicist has received from her efforts with similar places. (You may or may not get the truth, but it has to be asked.) You can ask for a second or updated effort to be made in those key places where you are showing there is obvious interest, and can offer to prepare a new slant and pitch that won't conflict with what those media outlets have already covered.
- * Your approach here needs to be along the lines of "once I know which of these on the lists you were able to get to, I can then fill in with a second effort on the rest so we are sure to cover them together." This is not accusatory. One of the problems in being too thorough with the information you give Publicity is that they don't have time to do all that, so you will have to be the one to do the rest.
- * The BEA is designed for promoting the publishers' Fall books to booksellers. If you book is on the Spring list, you will not be included in the BEA promotions. If you are on the Fall list, you can ask your publisher about attending, doing book signings, or being at the booth to talk with book sellers, but more and more publishers are not bringing authors because it is not cost effective.
- * It is fair to ask where, exactly, your budget was spent if, at the end of the day, there are no discernible results. This is best done, however, with the aid of your agent. God forbid it sound like a whine!