Are book publicists good or bad?

“What do you think of book publicists? Good or bad?”

I get some form of this question on a regular basis. This is always an interesting conversation and I usually talk about my own interactions with publicists.

Here are my top three:

The “We can’t make any promises” publicists

Last year I spoke at an author marketing workshop and hung around to participate in some of the other sessions. The most awkward was the one the one led by three publicists from three different firms. The majority of the workshop was spent lamenting about how much media has changed and how they can’t promise that anything will work. The most depressing of the group was the publicist that focused 100% on getting newspaper coverage.

I guess I would be depressed too.

The “Bloggers are stupid and online media is a waste of time” publicists

I recently had a phone call that included a client, a publicist and myself. The publicist was openly hostile to the online tribe building suggestions I was making. When I suggested that the author spend time in every city he visits interacting with readers, the publicist said it was a “waste of [the author’s] time”. When I suggested that bloggers be invited to media events, the publicist said “bloggers can’t be trusted and don’t drive many sales anyway”.

Wow.

The “We are actually good publicists” publicists

Then there are a very few publicist firms that do a fantastic job. They have great connections and do their best to get you the media coverage you want.

They also cost over $50,000.

Who hires a publicist?

Last year I got a behind-the-scenes look at an author buying their way onto the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. If you hire a couple top tier publicists, run full page ads in the major, national newspapers and buy ad spots on major TV and radio networks, you can absolutely force your way onto the bestseller lists.

If you have more money than time and you care more about selling books than connecting with an audience, hiring a publicist is the way to go.

What about the rest of the authors out there? The ones that care about building a platform and making a difference over a long period of time? What are their options?

DIY

What is so amazing about the brave new world of online media is that you already have all the tools for being your own publicist right at your finger tips. You can develop relationships with journalists yourself. You can build your own following instead of spending a bunch of money to borrow someone else’s.

Now, when the topic of book publicists come up, it’s no longer a discussion of whether they are good or bad, it’s about imagining a world where they are rendered irrelevant. A world where spending over $50,000 and no guarantee of results is ludicrous because you already have direct access to your readers.

That is the world I want every author to live in.

photo by William Brawley

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