• Judith Newton
  • [SWP: Behind the Book] Three Things I Would Have Done Differently In Hiring A Publicist.
[SWP: Behind the Book] Three Things I Would Have Done Differently In Hiring A Publicist.
Written by
Judith Newton
June 2013
Written by
Judith Newton
June 2013

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




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  • Mary Jo Doig

    Judith, this is incredibly helpful. Many thanks for sharing your experience.

  • 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)

  • Judith Newton

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

  • 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?

  • Judith Newton

    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.

  • 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

  • Judith Newton

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

  • Mary L. Holden

    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!'

  • Jennifer L Myers

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

  • Francine Huss

    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?

  • 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.....

  • Judith Newton

    This is sobering, Mary.  Good to have you weigh in.  Out of curiosity, how far in advance of your pub date did you hire her? 

  • I wish I hadn't hired a publicist ($1000/month ofr 4 months)!  About all I got was someone who sent inquiries to possible reviewers, and one non-Chicago reading.  No reviews that I know of, never saw her press kit, if there was one, she wouldn't even send out a feature article a friend of mine (and professional writer) did on me for local, non-book placement.  And and extra $650 for the fifth month.  Also, when I compared notes with another of ther clients, she was appalled that we would discuss her professional fees.  When I asked what I might expect in terms of the number of actual reviews I might get, I was told she was a publicist, "not a magician."!   All in all, it was a horrible experience, and I've been left feeling like a chump.  Everyone who reads Warming Up seems to love it, and promised to pass the word, but I have yet to find the alpha reader from whom book review manna flows....  Of course there was one person in one of my writing groups who felt compelled to give 4 stars instead of 5 on amazon, which, frankly, I thought was rather bitchy and self-aggrandizing of her (having read her stuff), and am a bit discouraged right now on where to find the right mix.  I'm $15,000 into this project, and have sold a few hundred books, given more than a hundred away, have a couple nice reviews (not through the publicist!, including Kirkus, which is on the cover) and will not break even, even if I sell all remaining copies by hand!  Writing books is easy compared to marketing them!! 

    Bravo to you for working so hard and finding a formula that worked for you!

  • Judith Newton

    Oh good, Kamy, glad you found it helpful.  Good luck with novel!

  • Judith Newton

    Hi Valorie, Thanks so much for your good words about the book and for the interview!

  • This is so helpful, Judy -- thank you so much for sharing!  I am filing this away for when my book comes out on SWP, hopefully in the spring...

  • Wow, Judy, what an amazing odyssey. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. And I love your book.

  • Judith Newton

    Hi Julie, Yes, I was saved by the refund on my income tax, but I'd have started an account at the beginning of the process  if I had known what I know now!

  • Julie Luek

    Such good insight to pass along. It's so hard to find the money, when the dollars may not exist, but I can see how hindsight would motivate the investment.

  • Valerie Brooks

    Judith, I thought that watermelon looked familiar!

  • Judith Newton

    Hi Laura, Thanks for writing.  I'm far less experienced than you sound, which is one reason that the sanity argument  really got to me.

  • Laura Zera

    Hi Judith,

    While I'm not sure *how* my next book will be published (traditional or indie), I've heard that either way, it's a good idea to hire a publicist. I've always been on the fence with regard to this idea, mainly because of a) cost, and b) I think I've learned enough in the last couple of years about social media and platform building that I could pull it off myself. However, your post has illustrated that it's not just know-how, it can boil down to retention of sanity. There is so much to do, and if a couple of campaigns lead to more hits and sales, then the effort to sustain can require even more energy (which is a good thing; it would be bad to be bored). Anyway, let's just say I'm reconsidering my former (personal) stance. Thanks for sharing! 

  • Judith Newton

    Valerie, Thanks so much for being in touch.  I'm glad you like the cover.  It's Frida Kahlo's watermelon. It says so much. Will look forward to more interchange.

  • Valerie Brooks

    Thank you, Judith. Such important information. I don't think I've ever had it laid out this way and will keep it in my Evernote files for the future. I do have more questions, but will message you. And I, too, love your book cover! It's yummy!

  • Judith Newton

    Thanks, Liz!