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The Publicity Puzzle

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Ten years ago, after graduating from college, I began my job search in the communications field. I accepted a job as an assistant publicist with a literary publicity firm in Austin, Texas. Inevitably, family and friends would, and still do ask, where are you working? The next question was/ is always what do you do. I have always had to explain what I do as a literary publicist. And not just to family and friends. Writers do not usually know what a literary publicist does.

It's true...most people do not grow up saying they want to become a book publicist—mainly because no one knows what one does! However, this wonderfully exciting job is where the heart lies for someone like me who has a passion for books coupled with a passion for the media. I now own my own publicity firm, PR by the Book, and believe I have the best job in the world!

Part of my job is to speak to writers' groups at conferences and discuss how to create a stellar publicity campaign for a book. I am no longer amazed that 9 out of 10 people in my workshops are hearing about literary publicity for the first time. I thrive on being able to unlock the mystery of publicity for them. I am easily excited by uncovering one more piece of the book puzzle in their quest for best-seller stardom.

I will now attempt to walk you through the book process. Writer completes manuscript. Writer finds agent to sell manuscript to publisher. Publisher agrees to publish book. Publisher edits copy, coordinates cover design, organizes production of galleys (review copies) and actual book, coordinates distribution to bookstores and other booksellers, and then publicist takes over.

The best time to secure a literary publicist is three to four months before the publish date, in order to allow for maximum amount of time to organize the campaign. However, many authors find a publicist about the same time that their books hit bookshelves. A typical campaign lasts four to six months and is orchestrated in a systemized manner. We spend the first month developing strategy and press materials. Then we begin to contact book industry publications, which require that you send them a book pre-publication. We also begin to contact magazines with the longest lead times. The typical magazine requires a three- to six-month lead time.

The publicist then begins contacting the appropriate editors of daily newspapers and radio and television producers. Online media is typically the last segment of media to be contacted because they move at Internet speed and require little to no lead time. After all appropriate media has been contacted, follow-up begins. Follow-up is absolutely essential for a publicity campaign. Most media receive hundreds of press releases a day and, typically, following up is the only way to get yours noticed. We spend the final month of every campaign doing what we call "sweeps." This means that we follow up with ALL media that were ever interested in the book or author. We make sure that we leave no stone unturned.

There are many benefits to hiring a publicist. To name a few:
  1. A publicist has the media contacts and relationships needed to secure interviews/ reviews.

  2. A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the media and how each journalist likes to be contacted.

  3. Most writers do not have the time to devote to a publicity campaign. It is a full-time job.

  4. When an author is pitching his own book, it is typically viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist is seen as a third party, and most journalists are more receptive to discussing a book with a publicist rather than an author.
A publicist's main job is media relations and scheduling interviews, book reviews, and feature stories for a client. Occasionally, other services are offered, such as book tour coordination and event planning, media training and development of marketing materials. However, a publicist does not typically find agents, publishers, or distributors for the book, schedule speaking engagements, or coordinate travel arrangements for a book tour.

Publishers often outsource books to independent publicity firms such as PR by the Book. Due to the heavy volume of books that a publisher's in-house publicity staff has to promote, hiring an outside publicist will allow more time and energy to be devoted to individual titles. Some publishers have even done away with their publicity departments and send all their titles to an outside publicity firm to handle the promotion efforts.

As I said before, the job of literary publicist is ideal for someone who loves the written word and has the desire to help writers have their story told. A recent statistic said that 195,000 books were written and published in 2004. Publicity is an integral step for any book that does not want to remain on the bookshelf. A publicist lets the world know that the book exists and why they need it. Not every book can be in Oprah's book club, but we believe that every book we promote has an audience who needs to know about it.

Just remember, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. We tell authors, "You didn't write your book overnight, and you won't become famous overnight, either." The process takes time. I hope I have helped solve the mystery of what a literary publicist actually does. Although I didn't dream of being a publicist when I was growing up, I am very glad I found my calling!

About the Author:

Marika Flatt is the owner of PR by the Book,, a publicity firm dedicated to helping authors and publishers achieve quality media exposure. You can contact her at
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