A quick glance of the publishing landscape makes one thing clear: publishing is in a state of ambiguity. Imprints have closed, major publishing houses have merged, and traditional business models have been reconfigured. At the same time, self-publishing has seen a meteoric rise.
While these shifts in the publishing industry give authors far more options in getting their books to market, they also present a bigger challenge: breaking through in a saturated market. This challenge is compounded by an also-shifting media industry.
Still recovering from the 2008 crash and our collective transition from print to digital, the media industry is struggling to maintain equilibrium. Legacy print and broadcast outlets have condensed their staff—or worse, disappeared altogether. At the same time, we have seen the rise of what we are calling Micromedia outlets, thousands and thousands of individuals or small organizations that run blogs, podcasts, and webinars. The result? Fewer journalists in the traditional space and a growing number in the Micromedia space whose influence is decidedly shifting the power.
Amid these changes, one thing is certain: having a professional communicator—specifically, a skilled publicist—on your team has never been more important.
What a publicity firm does (or should do) – the big picture
Hiring an outside publicity firm provides you a trusted advisor, media advocate, and educator through the publishing process. Your publicist guides you on which outlets will matter most in reaching your target audience and creates the strategy for securing coverage.
Beyond that, your publicist has strong relationships with the media and knows how to best approach each reporter or producer with compelling story ideas or angles, in a way that is appropriate for each outlet, beat, and reporter. Further, your publicist is transparent about his or her efforts every step of the way, providing a thorough, written report of activity and media response.
When hiring an outside firm, it is important they are proficient in these key skills AND are a clear fit with you and your overall team. With all of the moving parts that accompany a book launch, having a cohesive team is essential.
When hiring an outside firm – the specifics
In addition to the points noted above, you will want to look for a firm that offers the following:
- Media feedback from the galley mailings. Galleys typically go out three to four months ahead of the book’s on-sale date. This outreach—and response—is critical for establishing what messages in the book are most resonant. While clearly trying to lock down coverage, a good publicist should also know why he or she got a decline, as this feedback may influence positioning moving forward.
- A press kit that incorporates the messages that were the most resonant with the journalists who received early galleys.
- An objective eye on how your book and messaging may fit a media opportunity.
- Guidance on developing bylined materials. As newsrooms are stripped back to bare bones, the opportunity is there for those willing to contribute for free. Your publicist should work to secure invitations for you to contribute, and further, help you craft a piece that is suitable for the outlet—both in terms of style and content.
- A dedication to constantly searching for even more media outlets and media members that can be champions for your cause.
- An eye toward news breaking in your particular field. Responding to breaking news quickly increases the likelihood of securing a commentary opportunity with a major outlet.
- The desire to leave you with relationships. A publicist’s goal, aside from coverage, should be to help you build lasting media relationships so that next time a story breaks in your area of expertise, they will think of you first.
The bottom line for authors: hire not just a firm, but an expert communicator, who can break through the noise to get your message heard, build your brand, and position you as the go-to expert. And be certain that you are comfortable with them representing you, your book, and your brand.