Pub Rants

The Hardest Job in Publishing

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There is no doubt in my mind that this dubious title goes to the in-house publicists at the publishing houses. They have an intense daily job (book mailing for reviews, pitching the mags, setting up book tours, coming up with catchy promos or giveaways etc.), tight deadlines and when one book launch is over, the next is right behind it without any time to breathe.

They are young, usually underpaid, and the burn-out rate is high. Many an author has had to say good-bye to their publicist before or during a book launch.

That is why I encourage new authors to think about the care and feeding of their internal publicist but also why they should seriously consider hiring some outside help to supplement the effort of this overworked person.

The internal publicist is almost always grateful and the author gets the benefit of having some control over what happens to the book.

Besides, authors never believe that their publishing houses do enough publicity or marketing for them. That is the biggest complaint I hear (and a justified one in a lot of cases). Part of the problem is that the majority of money publishers spend on marketing is done in the less sexy and not so visible venues—such as bought co-op placement in bookstores. It’s harder for the authors to see the marketing dollars in action so to speak—unlike, let’s say, a billboard in Times Square or an ad in People Magazine.

And for the record, I do think authors should invest part of their advance toward promotion—why not give your book the best shot you can? But how much is really a personal question. All the money in the world spent on publicity won’t necessarily make the book a success.

(I can’t help thinking about a huge promotion that was done last year—at least out here in Colorado—by a self-published author for his book called Wild Animus. There were full page ads in Publishers Weekly. Books were distributed at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, and it was also a promotional gift in the goody-bag of the half-marathon I ran last year. It started becoming a joke because everyone had this book. When I talked to one of the promoters handing them out, they said 500k was being used on the campaign. I wonder if that’s true. I wonder how this translated into book sales. I don’t hear much about the book now—six months later.)

Some authors do all the publicity in the world and for whatever reason, the book doesn’t sell like it should. Some authors do hardly any promotion and boom, the book takes off and sells like hotcakes on a frosty Sunday morning.

It’s a weird business and if publishing houses could tap and bottle the power behind word-of-mouth, they would.

Wouldn’t we all!

14 Responses

  1. Bella Stander said:

    I’d heard the same thing about the WILD ANIMUS promotion budget. The book tanked because it was god-awful. You should have seen the piles of unread copies at the Virginia Festival of the Book. (It was a joke there, too.) After seeing the WILD ANIMUS Goat Guy do his “interpretive dance” at BookExpo, I read the first couple of pages online. Pure drek. I was angry that innocent trees had to sacrificed for the author’s ego.

  2. reprehn said:

    As someone who also lives in Colorado, I attended the Jefferson County Whale of a Book Sale in October — and I’d be willing to bet there were two dozen copies of that book there…but I haven’t read it.

  3. Kirsten said:

    I have a background in PR and helped promote a non-fic book my ex wrote. It was an alternative medical book, and I hunted down radio shows that do health-related topics, along with some general interest local morning “drive time” talk shows. In the end I got about 15 interviews booked, about three times what the in-house publicist was able to do — she was brand new and had other books she was handling at the same time. I didn’t spend anything like $500,000, lol. Used to give a little bump to Amazon sales, which was fun to watch. (I also wrote & distributed a second press release tailored to the alt health journals, to complement the more general interest release the publisher issued.)

    OTOH the radio int tactic isn’t a formula that always works. When I co-wrote a non-fic myself, I wasn’t able to book a single interview for the expert I wrote with — different market, smaller, dominated by hosts who have their own books to plug, not as big a call for radio content on that topic.

    It might be fun for fiction authors to look for radio interview opps by coming up with some sort of topical angle. For example, if your book required you to do research in a particular area, you could try to interest producers in having you on to talk about that. In any case, that’s a lot cheaper than handing out tchoctkes & less embarrassing than performing interpretive dance LOL

  4. Anonymous said:

    Hello Pub Rants:

    For kicks, I just ran a seach on World Cat to see which public libraries have added “Wild Animus” to their respective collections. By way of full disclosure, I self-published a novel for test marketing purposes (“The Moon Chasers”) last year and have landed it in approximetely 100 public libary collections following library staff review – about a 90% acceptance rate. This was done through targeted emails (no spam) with no related marketing costs – except for my time and my web site, which my brother constructed for me. I gave my review copies away – in some instances – but in many others the libraries bought my work outright. World Cat lists “Wild Animus” as being in the collections of 106 libraries world wide for “Advanced Reading Copies.” This is a good result, in my opinion, since most libraries will not consider adding a work without a major market review — except when you consider the marketing costs that were apparantly involved. In my case, the review copies I pitched and gave away cost approximately $1000. I’ve done pretty well, I guess, since I’ve done almost as good as “Wild Animus” in terms of getting it into libaries a fraction of the marketing cost. I suppose the moral of the story is that a writer needs an agent to trigger a traditional publishing contract to be a serious contenter for renumeration purposes. I’ll be keeping my day job for the forseeable future.


  5. Eileen said:

    What is the proper care and feeding of the internal publicist? What do they find helpful versus annoying. Perhaps they would enjoy a video of the interpretive dance we’ve created?

  6. Anonymous said:

    Yeah, I’d like to hear more about authors and their relationship with in-house publicists.

    Thanks for the blog. I get a lot from it.

  7. doc-t said:

    I’m planning on having Pat Robertson attack my book. I’ll just tell him it has a gay, black, democratic, female darwinist in there.

    He attacks it. The book gets press coverage and voila! readers…

  8. Ally Carter said:

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m one of Kristin’s clients, Ally Carter, and I might chime in here.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two in-house publicists. They’ve both been great. In my experience, the most important thing to do is to say “thank you” a lot and always communicate well, but that doesn’t mean overrun the poor girl with massive amounts of email.

    CC her on any emails you exchange with people wanting to interview you.

    Forward any good reviews her way so that she can add them to the file.

    Don’t be afraid to share ideas, but always phrase them as such–not as demands.

    If you haven’t heard from her in a while, send a “I’m just touching base” email.

    Go through her before you promise any bookstores that you’ll do signings with them (there are complicated money issues involved.)

    And most importantly, if you hire an independent publicist to assist, make sure everyone has a game plan and that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.

    Hope those help,

  9. Elektra said:

    Wow, ally, your site is terrific. Did you design it yourself? If not, can I have the name of the site guru guy for when (if) my book gets published?

  10. Ally Carter said:

    Thanks, Elektra! I really loved the site development process. My designer is Heidi at Check out her great website if you get a chance.

    Oh, and check back at sometime this week. We’re adding a whole new YA portion of the site. SO FUN!!