[SWP: Behind the Book] Three Things I Would Have Done Differently In Hiring A Publicist.

Prior to publishing my food memoir, Tasting Home, with She Writes Press (in March of 2013), I had published five books with traditional academic houses. The world of academic publishing at that time was completely different from today’s world of publishing for a general audience. In my former life as a professor, I was  unfamiliar with the word “platform”-- except as it referred to “principles,” “a flat, raised, horizontal surface,” or possibly a trendy shoe. I had never sent a query, posted a blog, used Twitter, visited Goodreads, or heard of Pinterest, and had only joined Facebook to keep track of my daughter’s life. The idea of hiring a publicist had never occurred to me. It was this lack of experience, coupled with lightning changes in the world of book publishing, that led to some  recent mistakes. Here’s what I’d do if I had it to do all over again.

1.  I wish I had begun researching publicists from the moment I signed my contract with She Writes Press. Yes, publicists are expensive, some more than others, but I underestimated how much work publishing for, and marketing to, a general audience would be. Two months before my publication date, I was completely fraught from having waged a lengthy campaign to secure permissions for the recipes in Tasting Home. I had started my own blog while continuing to contribute to iPinion.com. I was tweeting, pinning, establishing a presence on Goodreads, reading and re-reading proofs. I had also downloaded and perused six notebooks full of blog posts on topics like domain names, SEO, mailing lists, pings, platforms, web sites, blogs and, seemingly, all other forms of  other social media (Seven Sins Never To Commit on Twitter!) The idea of marketing a book all by myself had begun to seem overwhelming. I decided to give a few discreet tasks to a publicist, justifying the expense  as a form of therapy. I would hire a publicist to keep myself from going mad.   

2.  I wish I had hired a publicist three to six months before the publication date of my book. As one of my publicists has since informed me, it is not just major review journals that require a copy of the book well before it is published, magazines and major newspapers also require months of lead time for reviews. In March, for example, the month Tasting Home appeared, some major outlets were only looking at books due to be published in October. This is just one reason I wish I had settled on a public relations person well in advance of my publication.  

3.  I wish I had hired one publicist to do everything.  Because I was reluctant to spend money, I ended up hiring three different publicists at three different times to do different, and increasingly expensive, things. They did them well and guided me to several important decisions, but the decentralization and schedule I had unwittingly imposed worked against me. I hired my first public relations person, for example, to write a press kit for $250. Her first sample sentence  made me painfully aware that I could never write about myself and my work in such a commanding way. I needed her—badly. She also prompted me to submit to the Huffington Post, an action I would probably never have initiated on my own. I did submit a post, “A Valentine for My Gay Ex-Husband,” and got 10,700 likes and 600 comments. The piece was then republished (in French) in the Paris edition. Who knew? Because the piece appeared a month before the book came out, and because I had made my book available on Amazon for preorder, its reception led to an initial, and quite satisfying, spike in sales.

A month before my publication date, I hired another publicist to do a blog tour for $1500.  This hard-working woman got me many on line reviews and guest spots on over 20 blogs and shows. I wrote blog posts and prepped for interviews  every day for a solid month. If I had been searching for outlets on my own, and if I had found even half of what I ended up with, which is unlikely, I don’t know how I could have also done the writing and preparation they required.

This publicist also managed to have Tasting Home reviewed by Independent Publisher and made sure I entered their contest, a contest I had never even heard of before. Tasting Home ended up winning an Independent Publisher Award in May.  She arranged a Goodreads giveaway. Some 600 entered, and the number marking the book “to read” went from 0 to 576. She was great, and worth every penny, but in terms of timing, it made no sense to do a blog tour and then decide, as I later did, to try for print as well.

I hired my third publicist after my book appeared and just after I received a handsome, and unexpected, refund on my income taxes. For $1000 to $1200 a month, she has also done a splendid job, but I hired her too late for major media outlets and for a lot of print. I’ve done readings, events, guest blogs, radio shows, and we’ve marketed to reading groups and food studies professors (after I discovered that a colleague was teaching my memoir in her food studies class).  She is so encouraging that I sometimes slip and refer to her as my therapist. And, once again, I don’t know how I would have managed the research and scheduling on top of writing, prepping for interviews, driving to readings, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, Goodreading, and pinning my heart out.

In the end, I paid as much for three publicists as many spend for one who does it all. I’ll never know if one publicist would have led me to all the good decisions that the three proposed, but one publicist, hired months before publication, could have coordinated the press kit with the blog tour and the print outreach, scheduling the latter far earlier in the process. Still, even with my bad timing, having others doing the research, sending the inquiries, fielding the replies, scheduling events, suggesting topics for posts, and cheering me on has given me a reassuring sense  of having that part of my life under control. Best of all--all things being relative--I have not gone mad, and to me, that’s money well spent.  

Judith Newton,
Professor Emerita, UC Davis
Women and Gender Studies
Tasting Home, She Writes Press, 2013
tasting-home.com
@jnewton70

 

 

 

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Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on July 31, 2013 at 7:05am

Thank you for posting your experience. I am working on a ms for a children's picture book, but packaging and publicity is everything. :0)

Comment by Judith Newton on July 7, 2013 at 8:49pm

Hi Bella,  Thanks!  You can buy Tasting Home here.

Comment by Bella Mahaya Carter on July 5, 2013 at 10:55pm

Great post, Judith. Thank you. I will keep these suggestions in mind as I get closer to finishing my book. And I will read yours. What's the best way to buy it?

Comment by Judith Newton on July 3, 2013 at 2:32pm

I'm sure that the September pr will make a difference and good luck with the movie angle! Now, I have a question.  How does one go to a book festival?  Ie, just attend and walk around, be part of a booth? This is something I've yet to do.

Comment by Rev. LaWaughn Rouse on July 3, 2013 at 11:50am

Wow wish I had seen this sooner. My book came out in May and while I had press releases and book trailer and many people writing about how good it is I just don't know what to do. Because of personal reasons I can't start a tour until Sept. and everything about the book is coming out then. I will be at several book festivals and the book has been sent for possible movie (wishful thinking) and I just decided to hire a publicist who would begin in Sept. as well. I know the book is out already but has not been out that long and I have just got to trust that what I'm doing now and spending will be worth it in the end and maybe better for the next book in the series. Thanks so much for writing this as it has been very helpful to me right about now that I'm getting a little discouraged. The thrill of the write is gone and now its just work...ha,ha,ha

Comment by Judith Newton on July 3, 2013 at 11:09am

Thank you Jennifer and Mary.  I'm really pleased that this post was helpful. 

Comment by Mary L. Holden on July 2, 2013 at 4:55pm

Ms. Newton has done writers a favor by writing this--and all the comments are helpful, too. Thank you, everyone. Publicity is an art unto itself that involves many moving pieces. I watch from the sidelines as an editor and it is fascinating to see what works. My question about it always starts with: Who Are The Readers? From there, I create an hypothesis. But, before I go to hypothesis, I use my imagination. I crank up some energy to see in my mind's eye the likes of the readers who'll enjoy whatever the content is in the book I'm editing. It is a fun exercise, and I wish it could be quantifiable! To the publicist who said something like 'I'm not a magician,' I say, 'oh just give it a try!'

Comment by Jennifer L Myers on July 2, 2013 at 2:39pm

Thank you Judith! Your post about hiring publicists is very helpful! I appreciate it!  Jennifer

Comment by Francine Huss on July 2, 2013 at 1:19pm

Interested to hear whether you published authors found it worthwhile to "hold" your book for several months to get reviews and early marketing.  In hindsight, would you "hold" a book again for publicity/marketing reasons?

Comment by Mary Hutchings Reed on July 2, 2013 at 12:28pm

I hired her the first week in January with a pub date of April 24.  She was one of the few full service publicists willing to take self-pubbed work.  My real take-away is that you have to think outside the box to sell self-pub fiction, and my Night Ministry hook worked well, but being in the first catalogue of SWP didn't generate the reviewer enthusiasm we'd hoped for.  I was assured that the timing was right; the books were available, and we held the pub date on amazon to allow for reviews, etc.....

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