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Authors Guild Launchpad Book Marketing & Publicity

Getting started with book publicity? Read on for an essential primer based on expert advice from the webinars of the Authors Guild Launchpad program for book marketing and publicity. After reading, we encourage you to explore the webinar recordings and other resources available to you as an Authors Guild member to learn more about both DIY book promotion and what to expect while working with your publishing team.

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Intro: Context Matters

Nearly every question about book publicity can be answered with, “it depends.” This is because every book and every author are different—the genre, the size of the publisher, the experience and network of the author, the time of year the book releases, and many other elements. Timing matters, and so does luck. It’s important to have a sense of what you can control, what you cannot, and how to work collaboratively with your publishing team to plant as many publicity seeds as possible. It’s also imperative to not compare yourself to other authors or your book to other books; the media landscape changes all the time, and what might have worked well for one book might not for yours. 

Publicity Versus Marketing

Generally speaking, publicity is earned media whereas marketing is placed content. Or, to put it another way, publicity is what you try to pull in from the world by pitching the media, and marketing is what you push out into the world via newsletters, social media channels, advertising, and more.

There are spaces in which the two overlap—especially in the realm of social media. A publicity effort for social media might involve offering to appear on an Instagram Live with a brand or influencer, whereas marketing on social media typically means paid placement. There is also overlap when it comes to reaching out to influencers. But overall, it’s important to remember that publicity isn’t meant to be pay-to-play, and thus the results cannot be guaranteed. Marketing, meanwhile, allows you more control over the narrative—through designed images, quotes, copy, ads, and more—and can amplify the success of publicity. In short, marketing and publicity both play key roles in getting the word out about your book, and they can operate separately or with synergy.

Setting the Stage for a Publicity Campaign

Publicity work often begins in earnest about four to six months before publication. Conversations and early outreach might happen well before this point (especially with regards to very long-lead publications, such as ones that only publish bi-monthly, or if your book is being pitched to a major book club), or the work might start closer to publication depending on your press and its resources. Many presses only create digital galleys these days, while others still print galleys or ARCs (advance reader copies). Your book might be available on NetGalley or Edelweiss, two systems used by reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and more to read early editions of books. Every press has a different rhythm, resources, and focus, but four to six months is a common timeline. 

As you enter the publication process, consider what success looks like for you. For some, it might be sales. For others, reaching specific communities of readers. Other measures could be receiving critical attention in particular media outlets, writing bylined pieces, engaging and enlarging your communities, having a powerful launch event, finding an agent, or selling another book. These are not mutually exclusive goals, but simply various ways to think about where your focus lies. 

Every author has control over the following: getting comfortable with your elevator pitch (how you talk about your book to people); working to reach your own networks (through email or other channels); and being responsive, respectful, and communicating well with your publishing team (whoever might make up that team).

Most publishers ask authors to fill out a document called the author questionnaire. It’s important to complete this questionnaire thoroughly. This covers information about your background, your connections, local bookstores and organizations, which communities your book might appeal to the most, your ideas for how to present the book to the media, how you came to write it, and much more. This is an extensive document that you should fill out as completely as possible—and that you should also see as a living document, one you can add to as ideas come to you throughout the publication process (An NPR host was your spouse’s roommate in college? You just saw a reviewer cover a book that feels in conversation with yours? You ran into the head of your alumni association, and they have a book club? Any ideas or connections with potential should be noted down).  

It can also be helpful to think about your schedule, both leading up to and around the time of publication. How much time do you have to focus on the book? What time zone(s) will you be in? Are there conferences or other events you already wish to attend that could be helpful for your book? Keep in mind your own bandwidth: publicity expands to fit any space given to it, because there is always another person you could pitch, another ask you could make.

Webinar: Diving into Book Publicity

In-House or Freelance Publicity: What’s Best for You?

Freelance publicists often book up far in advance—sometimes sooner than you would have begun conversations with your publisher’s in-house publicity and marketing (if there is anyone on staff; some small and academic presses don’t have a publicist). As soon as you have an approximate or confirmed publication date, ask your agent or editor if they can give you an idea of who would be working on your book in-house. Will it be a crowded season? How many other books would the publicist be working on simultaneously? When might the press get started on publicity? 

If you are thinking of hiring an outside publicist, start those conversations early. It is possible to hire someone close to publication date, but most freelancers prefer to start at least three to six months in advance. You can reference the Publishing Trends list of freelance publicists or ask fellow writers to get recommendations. Freelance publicity costs range widely, though you can expect to be quoted around $12,000–$24,000 for a full campaign (with some freelancers charging less or more than that range). Most freelancers work for a project fee, while some have monthly retainers or fees for more specific publicity elements (like pitching op-eds). 

Many writers want a quantifiable return on investment for hiring a freelancer, but publicity cannot be guaranteed. Publicity also doesn’t directly translate into a specific, knowable amount of sales. It’s important in your conversations with in-house or freelance publicists to have a sense of expectations, direction, and action plans. Hiring a freelancer can also be a way of thinking about your writing career as a whole. Do you want to have someone who can help you pitch pieces? Someone to talk about the process? Someone who is a steady hand if you’ve experienced a lot of turnover in your publishing journey? Consider your financial, emotional, and time resources. What can you afford—in every respect—to spend on publicity? How much support do you expect in-house, and what might an outside publicist bring to the table? 

The Pitch: from Pre-Pubs to Post-Publication 

Media outreach for a book can take many different forms. Often, it begins with a galley letter or an email pitch that gets the word out about your book to hundreds of outlets, journalists, editors, producers, and more. Sometimes a publicist might also write talking points or include a Q&A with you about the book. An early pitch will go to trade reviews (the “pre-pubs”) and to long-lead publications—these are outlets that need the book well in advance to consider coverage, and often include magazines and major book review outlets.

The major pre-pubs include Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal for adult titles, and children’s literature also includes The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, School Library Journal, Horn Book, and Shelf Awareness. Each of these review outlets has specific submission guidelines, and most presses will submit through those channels automatically. Small presses can also submit to Foreword Reviews. For self-published books, some of the pre-pubs allow for paid review coverage. 

Publicity pitching encompasses pitching for reviews, interviews, and other kinds of coverage (placed pieces, lists, gift guides, mentions, etc.) in national, local, and niche outlets. Publicists often tailor their pitch to specific kinds of outlets (like parenting, business, LGBTQIA+, genre, spirituality, etc.) and to specific reviewers and interviewers. This is one place where the author questionnaire comes into play. The questionnaire gives a publicist fodder to tell the story of your story: how you came to write the book, what resources you used, what communities are interested in your work. As an author, it’s helpful to know publications that you’d like to see cover your work, especially when it comes to niche outlets.

Timing plays a part in the pitching process. A publicist might pitch for “most anticipated” lists, end-of-the-year coverage, holiday guides, summer reading, or monthly interests (AAPI, Black History, Pride, New Year’s resolutions, etc.). It’s also important for you and your publicist to have easy access to high-resolution images (.jpg files, preferably) of your author photo and book jacket. 

For children’s literature, publicists also play a part in scheduling book tours, in-store events, and timed-for-launch school visits that partner with local bookstores. These events are promotional events, and authors are not paid for their appearances; the goal is to sell books and create awareness. Ask your publicist or team if there are plans for events, and if your publicist will do that outreach and scheduling, or if you should schedule a launch event with your local store.  Stores often book events three or four months in advance, and sometimes further out if school visits (with guaranteed book buys) are involved.

Additionally, for children’s literature, library marketing can play a big role in the long-tail success of your book. They are looking for course adoptions, getting books into library circulation, displaying your book at conferences, and nominating you for regional awards, among other things. If you know of regional awards or conferences for which you’re eligible, let your in-house contact know so that you can be considered.

The media landscape changes all the time. Publications start, close, and shift approaches, and reporters, producers, and editors also change jobs, take time off, and get sick. World news affects coverage, as does what other books are coming out at the same time. Keep in mind the potential for a shift in atmosphere. 

Pitching starts well in advance of publication and continues up until—and often beyond—publication day. Shorter-lead outlets, including some local media, radio, TV, and websites, may only decide their coverage close to publication date. Finished books, which often arrive 4-6 weeks before publication date, are another strong moment for pitching purposes as some media people prefer to see a finished book. 

Publicists will also keep an eye on the news for pitching. Is your book set in a place that’s in the news? Is there a writer, editor, or producer who is known to have interest in something related to your book and who could be pitched? Has a reviewer covered a similar book in the past who might be interested?

Post-publication, many publicists will have to turn their attention more thoroughly to other books. Many freelancer contracts end a month post-publication, and whether more pitching happens depends on the bandwidth of your in-house team, your own outreach, and timing (for example, if there is an upcoming holiday or gifting occasion for which your book would make sense), among other considerations. 

Webinar (adult literature): Pitching Pieces: Essays, Op-Eds, Book Lists

Webinar (children’s literature): Kid Lit Coverage: Essays, Op-Eds, and Q&As

What Publicists Wish Authors Knew About the Job

Authors should know that results are not often immediate, and that a lack of tangible results does not mean that work has not happened. That the competition for coverage is intense: more than 30,000 new books are published every month (and 200,000 self-published books). The New York Times Book Review only covers 1 percent of the books they consider for review, and they are one of the few outlets that still runs reviews. That publicity and marketing go hand-in-hand. That even “confirmed coverage” isn’t 100 percent until it actually runs. That publicists are not responsible for distribution—why a bookstore isn’t carrying a book is a question for your agent/publisher. That event venues require long lead times. That in-house publicists might be handling 36–80 books a year. That even smart, sustained pitching often results in 90 percent silence, 9 percent passes, and 1 percent coverage. And that publicists want your book to succeed—to find readers, to make an impact, and to bring your work as widely into the world as possible.   

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