Hiring a publicity person or firm can be scary. It’s expensive; there’s no guarantee of results; and the situation often feels elusive and out of your control—as if there’s some magic formula or secret, and you are not in on it. To give your book its most promising shot, you should look for publicists with a good mix of experience, personality, price, energy, intelligence, confidence, ambition, relevance (to you and to the market), and results. Here are five things you can do to make the process less scary and cumbersome as well as more likely to succeed.
1. Research. You wouldn’t buy a car without doing some due diligence, right? You would probably ask your friends or post on social media to solicit opinions on what vehicles are best, given your goals and needs. You’d probably also do research on the web and find out what features and models are available. You’d read reviews. So before you hire a publicist, you must do some research and solicit the advice of publishers and writers who have hired publicists before. Check out authors you love and whose platforms you admire and see who they work with. Ask authors who write in your genre or on your subject. Ask agents, editors, author friends, and support groups. Also, find out which publicists authors worked with early in their careers. A lot of times, authors move up to larger or more expensive firms for their PR, but it was those “little people” who helped them get there and made it easier for the bigger firms that picked them up when they were finally established. When you see books covered in the media, online or in print, see if you can find out whether a publicist was involved, and, if so, who that publicist was. Then create a list of candidates your research has identified and try to schedule phone interviews or meetings with each firm or freelancer. Be sure you have a number of options (you may be surprised by how many times you won’t get any response). And create talking points for each publicist on your list (who referred you, what you liked about this person or firm based on their website, what concerns you have based on what you’ve read and/or heard, and so on).
2. Prepare a list of questions. Before those phone interviews or meetings—and in addition to your notes for each one—prepare a list of questions you want to cover during the conversation. Don’t let publicists derail you by dropping names and mentioning media outlets they guarantee. While that sort of information can be nice to know, especially if the guaranteed media outlets are good ones, you should be sure you also cover the things you want to learn. Things like:
- How long have you been doing book publicity?
- How do you select clients?
- Do you read your clients’ books?
- Have you read my book?
- Who will be my main contact?
- What can I expect in terms of communication and reporting?
- What can I expect in terms of results? (Knowing that no one can guarantee results, you should look for someone who is realistic and practical when responding but who also seems confident and nimble.)
- Who are your current clients?
- How many clients do you have at any one time?
- How big is your team?
- What is your biggest success?
- What’s your biggest challenge?
- Why should I hire you?
- Why do you want to work with me?
- What differentiates you from other publicists?
- What is the expected timeline and process?
- How do you resolve conflict?
- How often will I hear from you?
3. Ask for references. Don’t hire someone based on one great conversation; they might have wooed you with words you wanted to hear. Be sure to ask each publicist for references—a list of current clients and past clients. The list can work as a red flag if it doesn’t include anyone the publicist worked with recently or if the publicist seems to have too many clients all at once.
4. Interview those references. Don’t just ask for the references; follow through. E-mail and call and have a list of questions for those references as well. Things like:
- What did you hire this publicist to do?
- What was the experience like?
- Were you happy with the experience?
- How was the communication?
- Was there anything you wanted done differently?
- What was the biggest success?
- What was the biggest challenge?
- What was the publicist’s work style?
- What are this publicist’s strengths and weaknesses?
But don’t stop with the references a publicist gives you. Get on the website; find a few other clients, and interview them too. If clients had negative experiences with a publicist, you don’t have to rule the publicist out or assume that the publicist is hiding something. Talk with the publicist again, bringing up your concerns. Every campaign is different and every client is different. Experiences that a client finds negative may relate to a very small budget or to unrealistic expectations or to things beyond the publicist’s control. Be sure to explore and think about both the good and the bad feedback until you feel confident and comfortable that you know what you need to know.
5. Listen to your gut. At some point, you are just going to click with someone. The energy is going to feel right; the things that person understands and communicates are going to resonate with you. You will know when this happens. It may or may not happen with the publicist who has the biggest-name clients or the happiest clients; it may or may not happen with a publicist others are pushing you toward. Only you can know, and a gut-check is a pretty good indicator. If the passion and vibe didn’t please you and you didn’t feel confident or cared for during your communications, you’ll probably have the same reactions during the publicity campaign. So listen to your gut in addition to what those clients and authors said.