Your Publicist: A User’s Guide for Novices

There seems to be some confusion as to what a publicist does and how to employ her effectively. From time to time, one does hear an awful lot of kvetching about the uselessness of publicists, as we are a much maligned group, perhaps only trailing agents and lawyers by a small margin. After a little cajoling, Sarah has persuaded me to illuminate the literate world as to the function and use of the book publicist. Some do’s and don’t’s:

  • Do fill out your author questionnaire completely as early as possible. Give your publicist a thorough bio. Think about your back story—what makes you, beyond your obvious gift with words—worthy of the world’s attention? What is a feature story about you going to say? Were you in a street gang, but now rescue puppies? Is your book set in Umbria and you make amazing tomato sauce? Have you ever killed someone yourself in the exact manner your book describes? (No seriously, have you? Was your victim your last publicist? Just checking.)

  • Imagine yourself giving a radio interview. What are you going to discuss with the interviewer? Generate a dozen questions or topics that you could cover and give those to your publicist with your author questionnaire.

  • Have some nice photos taken—some in black-and-white and some in color. Some should be environmental shots (think People magazine). Try and keep dogs and cats out of the picture. I’m just saying, it’s been done. Be sure to include the photo credit.

  • If you want to travel, let your publicist know where you have friends and family, specifically the kind that will put you up and then show up at your reading with lots of book-buying friends in tow.

  • Collect email and mailing addresses at every reading, conference, and cocktail party you attend. Compile these into a mailing list. Format them to be printed on labels (Avery 5160s are nice). If you have a large enough list, your publicist might make you postcards. Postcards are great to send out to large groups of readers/friends/distant relatives. They’re also excellent to give to bookstores to send to their mailing list. If you’re going on tour, better make sure you have a list for each city. Again, those Avery 5160 labels are pretty nifty.

  • Keep your publicist informed of all your activities. Don’t schedule readings or interviews without telling her. In an ideal world, journalists would always go through the publicist to set up an interview, but sometimes they went to kindergarten with you or live down the street and feel comfortable approaching you directly. Ask them to check with your publicist first, just in case she’s scheduling an interview with another show on the same radio station or she’s pitching an interview with you to another freelancer for the same publication. She’s crafty, your publicist.

  • Do not keep prominent author or journalist friends a secret. Do feel comfortable in reaching out to them, via your publicist, early on.

  • Do not follow-up every email with a phone call to see if your publicist received your message. Do not assume your publicist is doing nothing for you. She is a busy creature and she will get back to you when she has the information you need. That said, if she sends you a tour schedule, and you notice that several of the events don’t have times listed, feel free to ask her to give you those times.

  • Be realistic. Is your book really material for Oprah or the New York Times? Assume your publicist is familiar with Fresh Air and All Things Considered, and that she’ll pitch your book if she thinks it’s appropriate.

Here’s what you need to remember: Your publicist is the medium through which you communicate to the rest of the world. The better informed she is, the better she can serve you. It’s also important to let your publicist do her job. Journalists prefer to be contacted by publicists because journalists are busy and can be brusque or “rude.” It’s easier to do this to publicists. Also, your publicist has spent a lot of time developing relationships with journalists—you might as well put those years of buying book reviewers cocktails to work for you.

So, that’s your publicist in a nutshell. Some publicists work for big houses and have large budgets and can send you on elaborate tours with an escort. Some publicists work for small houses and can do magical things with and Travelocity. Either way, she’ll do her best to promote you and your work. Value you her opinion. She isn’t saying “no” to be mean, but because she doesn’t think that a particular activity is valuable expenditure of your time or her budget. Be kind to your publicist and remember a well-placed, “Thank you” never hurt anyone.