Book publicity 101

By Katie Kurtzman

So your book is on its way to publication. You’re almost done with your edits. You and your publisher have debated and chosen a book jacket, and confirmed an on-sale date. Now, it’s time to meet your cheerleading captain: The Book Publicist.

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What Does a Book Publicist Do?

Book publicity encompasses outreach to media, planning of book events, and more.

The Publicist Pitch

A publicist is also responsible for creating the press materials that accompany a book on its way into the hands of the media. Materials like a press release, pitch letter, praise sheet, or example author Q&A.

Will I Go on a Book Tour?

Unlike media outreach, which is part of a publicist’s regular duties, book tours require publishers to pay for travel and accommodations for the author and, sometimes, for the publicist as well. Learn about the factors that are considered when deciding about a book tour.

The Author’s Role in Book Publicity

For early-writers in particular, it’s important to remember that you also have a role in the book publicity campaign.

Freelance Book Publicists

Are you considering hiring a freelance publicist? Depending on what your publisher has planned for your book and depending on your budget, a freelance publicist can supplement or enhance what your in-house publicist will be doing.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

Is publicity everything? No, but it can help. Do not be afraid of self-promotion.


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By Katie Kurtzman

So your book is on its way to publication. You’re almost done with your edits. You and your publisher have debated and chosen a book jacket, and confirmed an on-sale date. Now, it’s time to meet your cheerleading captain: The Book Publicist.

What Does a Publicist Do?

Traditionally, book publicity encompasses outreach to media such as radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and—in the last decade or so—major blogs, websites, podcasts, and “influencers,” including publishing industry leaders, celebrity book lovers, and tastemakers in the effort to secure review or feature coverage for a book and author. Book publicity also includes the planning of author events and appearances at bookstores, festivals, and various speaking venues. A book publicist is often the first person to spread the word about your book to reviewers, producers, reporters, and bloggers across the country. The responsibilities and workload of a book publicist can vary by publishing house depending on the staff size and resources—in a large publishing house, a publicist may work on three to five titles at a time, or multiple publicists may collaborate on the same title. Smaller, independent houses may have only one publicist for their entire catalogue, which could be anywhere from four to 20 books per year. However, no matter the resources, the basic role of a publicist remains the same: to be the best possible advocate for your book. In other words, be kind to your publicist—respect their time and efforts by consolidating questions and anecdotes in e-mails, reach an understanding of how you want to receive news/updates regarding your publicity, and thank them for their hard work. A “thank you” goes a long way in a publicist’s workday. When they confirm a big media hit or garner a great review for an author, they often feel the same excitement and satisfaction as the author.

Review Copies and Advance Outreach

In a typical big publishing house, an in-house publicist will start working on a book a few months before the publication date. They will first identify their top media and event goals based on the content and subject of the book, then research and create a media list for advance review copies (often called galleys or arcs) to be sent 3 to 5 months out. Major newspapers, trade publications such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist, radio such as NPR, television, and local media are included in this mailing as a formal “heads up” that the book is coming down the pike. Magazines, which have a longer lead time, are also targeted with the hope that the book can be considered for coverage in the issue around its publication date. Five to six weeks before the publication date, the publicist sends final copies of the book to a larger media list which includes more reviewers and reporters at newspapers, weekly magazines, websites, and blogs, plus producers and hosts of radio and television programs. Typically, the lists will overlap so that high priority media contacts will receive both the advance copy and the final copy (which acts as one last reminder that this book is about to go on sale and needs to be considered). Even with all of this outreach, as book review sections continue to shrink and newspapers fold, it’s not unusual for debuts or books without a lot of publisher buzz to be set aside in favor of the expected bestsellers. With less available real estate in the book pages, publicists are always striving to find new ways to get books covered—both online and in more niche markets.

The Pitch

A publicist is also responsible for creating the press materials that accompany a book on its way into the hands of the media. Press materials can consist of anything from a press release, pitch letter, praise sheet, or example author Q&A (to give reporters an idea of what they can ask in an interview), to something creative like a recipe inspired by the book, a map, a historical image, or promotional swag (cue: candy, buttons, bookmarks). With every phone call and e-mail, publicists develop relationships with media, and every time they pitch a book, they’re hoping to set that book apart from the hundreds of other review copies that are landing on the desks and doorsteps of reviewers and reporters all across the country.

A good publicist brainstorms all the possible pitch angles that apply to a title and personalizes each pitch to make the reporter or reviewer really feel like the book was written for them and for their outlet. This is why publicists regularly keep tabs on a wide range of media: they’re tracking trends and opportunities for various types of books, and they’re keeping up to date on the tastes of specific reviewers and reporters. Novels don’t always have the ready-made hooks that some nonfiction titles have, so a publicist will think about the backstory to the book—what inspired the author to write it? Is there a connection to something timely in the news at the moment? Does the author have a unique background? A publicist should try to work all angles to attract interest. It’s key to note that a publicist will normally continue to pitch and follow up with media a month or two after the publication date, and then their role becomes more reactive than proactive (by looking to tie the book and author into headlines of the moment and review roundups) as media will be looking to talk about the new books of the day.

Will I Go on a Book Tour?

Every publisher and imprint varies on how they handle publicity for specific titles, and it often comes down to factors including resources (both money and staff), how much the publisher spent on acquiring the title, their goals for the title, and its genre. There is a big difference in the publicity plans for bestselling authors compared to most debut novelists, and that publicity plan will change even more for a nonfiction author or an author of children’s books. Regarding events, there’s a good chance that a debut author (or even a second- or third-time author) will not be sent on book tour to multiple cities. Unlike media outreach, which is part of a publicist’s regular duties, book tours require publishers to pay for travel and accommodations for the author and, sometimes, for the publicist as well. High overhead combined with a shortage of bookstores (even though the indies are coming back strong!) and a surge in online shoppers lead many publishers to share the opinion that they do not make money on sending authors on tour only to have 10 to 20 people show up at an event. It’s also not uncommon for individual authors to decide to send themselves on tour by paying their own way, and a publicist is often happy to help arrange the events in these situations. That said, many publishers still see the benefit of sending an author on the road, and these tours usually range anywhere from between 5 to 30 cities. Again, it all depends on the publisher and whether or not they think a tour might help promote that specific book. If a tour is decided to be worthwhile, the publicist will plan the tour—deciding which bookstores and venues an author should visit—while also booking flights, car services, hotels, and trains, and generally building a schedule that makes the most of every minute. With every tour city, there is a chance to book local media surrounding events, so a publicist also researches and pitches local television, radio, and print media in that market. It’s not unusual for a publicist located in New York City to be able to rattle off local radio and television programs in Kansas City and Tampa while also being able to recommend the best hotels and car services in Chicago and Houston.

The Author’s Role

For early-writers in particular, it’s important to remember that you also have a role in the publicity campaign for your book. If you have media connections or contacts, pass those along to your publicist. If you’ve done interviews or have had media experience in the past, your publicist should know this so that they can share clips or past features in their pitches. Are there opportunities for you to write an original piece? Think of topics and themes related to your book that you might expand upon, and a publicist can pitch your original essay or op-ed piece to magazines, newspapers, and websites—this is another great way to promote your book and expose your by-line! Even if your publisher doesn’t send you on a tour, a hometown event is an excellent way to celebrate a book’s publication. Do you frequent a local bookstore in your town? Introduce yourself to the bookseller and ask if they’re interested in hosting your launch event. Keep in mind that many bookstores will rely on the author to invite their family and friends to help pull in a crowd for a book launch, especially if you’re a debut author (and even when you’re not!). Even when you’re not planning an event, you should make a point of visiting other booksellers in your area—and when you’re traveling—to introduce yourself and your book. This is sometimes referred to as the “cupcake tour,” when authors arrive with a snack bribe for a few minutes of a bookseller’s time. It’s a small thing, but there is true power in hand-selling, and booksellers love sharing local authors’ works with customers.

Freelance Publicists

Are you considering hiring a freelance publicist? Depending on what your publisher has planned for your book (which an editor often shares with you and your agent 6 months to a year before your book launches), and depending on your budget, a freelance publicist (who usually works on fewer books at any time than an in-house publicist) can supplement or enhance what your in-house publicist will be doing. A freelancer will typically take the lead on outreach to ensure that double-pitching doesn’t occur, can put more focus on local media and additional outlets, and will work with the in-house publicist on mailings and event planning. Hiring a freelancer is like hiring a second cheerleading captain for your campaign. It never hurts to have more people on your team spreading the word about you and finding more readers for your book. Self-published authors and authors published by a small press or indie house tend to seek out a freelance publicist as a means of extra or sole support. It’s ideal to research multiple freelancers, find out what types of books they have worked on in the past or are currently pitching, speak to them about your book and your publicity goals, and have them draft a proposal outlining how they can best help you reach those goals. After receiving multiple proposals, you can make an informed decision about the publicist (and price range) best suited for you.

Be Your Own Cheerleader

Is publicity everything? No, but it can help. When you garner one review, or one great blurb, your publicist can use it as ammunition when pitching the next outlet. With publicity, there’s often a domino effect—but you and your publisher may need some assistance when it comes to knocking over those first few dominoes. Do not be afraid of self-promotion. Contact your aunt’s sister-in-law’s friend who was married to the book reviewer in your grandmother’s town. Tell them about your new book. If you have an existing social media presence, follow reviewers, reporters who regularly cover books, bloggers, and publishing industry folks . . . and make connections with other authors. Share news about your book and send along support to fellow writers in the same boat. It’s like virtual elbow rubbing. Remember to seize the moment. Hopefully, your book will have a long shelf life . . . but when it comes to publicity, there are truly only a few months (weeks!) where you are the “new book” on sale.

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Katie Kurtzman has a decade of book publicity experience with top New York City-based publishing houses including Simon & Schuster, Penguin Young Readers, and Henry Holt. Most recently, she assumed a directorial role at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is currently the Director of Media Relations, Sponsorships, and Program Development for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures while also running her own freelance publicity business KTK Publicity. Active in the literary community, she is a member of the Brooklyn Book Festival publicity committee and publicity director for Littsburgh: Celebrating Literary Pittsburgh.