What to Look for in a Book Publicist—Plus Tips for Going It Alone

Today’s guest post is an excerpt adapted from Ideas, Influence, and Income by Tanya Hall.


A successful book publicity campaign can bring in a level of media coverage that lands more clients, more brand cachet, more book sales, and additional media opportunities. That makes hiring an outside publicity firm a big decision, and knowing what to expect on the front end can help you make the right selection and get more out of the experience. If you’re considering hiring a publicist, here are a few things you should keep in mind.

A good publicist will find multiple angles for pitching your story.

Each media outlet serves a different segment of your audience in a different way, so the hook of the publicity pitch needs to be tailored to their demographics and the tone of their content. Having multiple angles in your pitching arsenal is also necessary in case what seemed to be the most obvious angle just isn’t working. Whether due to a general lack of interest or competing current events, sometimes a pivot to a different angle can make or break a campaign.

A publicist does not burn valuable journalist relationships with off-target pitches.

A publicist’s contacts, and his or her relationship with those contacts, mean everything to the success of the pitch. Journalists are inundated with pitches from publicists who use a “spray and pray” approach to getting the word out versus thoughtful, well-crafted pitches that are built with the journalists’ audience in mind. For that reason, resist the urge to push your publicist to blast a useless press release. Work with them to find the most intriguing parts of your story and zero in on finding the audience that really cares.

A good publicist is strategic about the order in which they pitch the media.

In many cases, major outlets want an exclusive. So if you write a great opinion piece or information article, for example, your publicist would typically give the major publications first run at picking it up before approaching smaller outlets. This way, you’re getting maximum impact out of that content.

A publicist follows up with creativity and diplomacy.

It’s a rare pitch that captures a journalist’s attention at first glance. Journalists are busy trying to stay on top of current events and trends, plus the never-ending pitches from sources known and unknown. A good publicist will follow up with an added bit of relevance or demographic info to add new life to the pitch, and the publicist should provide you (and whoever else you feel needs it) with a weekly update detailing their pitches and follow-up efforts.

A publicist does not determine world events.

Unfortunately, sometimes the odds don’t work in your favor. Timing is critical to the success of a publicity campaign. It’s important to consider holidays, tie-ins, anniversaries, and other known events and important dates as you strategize your big push.

Even with highly thought-out timing and strategy, a campaign can be completely derailed by the weight of other newsworthy stories that simply monopolize the headlines. Major events like presidential elections will predictably dominate the news for a good length of time, but unforeseen events like natural disasters or celebrity deaths can also deal an unexpected blow to publicity efforts in certain media outlets.

A good publicist will tell you what you may not want to hear.

When choosing a publicist, stay away from the yes-man. You may need a dose of tough love from your publicist to ensure your expectations are reasonable. (We all think our stories are great, after all, and it’s hard to imagine that someone doesn’t care, isn’t it?)

Your publicist also needs to be frank with you about the areas where you need polish, whether that’s speaking on camera or being able to quickly crank out a great opinion article concerning trends in your business when a journalist requests it. Heed their advice, and work out those rough spots so that you make the most of these opportunities when they do arrive.

Like so many powerful relationships, the most effective publicists serve as partners to help you grow your brand. Keeping these points in mind will help ensure a smooth start and better working relationship so you can stay focused on your moment in the spotlight.

Going It Alone

Hiring a publicist is expensive. If funds prohibit engaging a publicist to support your book launch, it’s better to try it on your own than to do nothing at all—as long as you approach it strategically. Here are some tips to increase your likelihood of scoring powerful publicity.

Tailor your pitch to the journalist.

Reporters are slammed with pitches, sometimes upward of a hundred per day. They can smell a “spray and pray” mass pitch in no time flat and will throw it in the “pass” pile just as quickly.

Take the time to customize your pitch to be appropriate for the media outlet you’re targeting. This means you’ll need to think about their viewer or reader demographics and spin the pitch angle so that it resonates with that group. Make yourself familiar with their programming and stay close to that tone.

Additionally, larger outlets may have multiple reporters whom you’d like to pitch, with each handling a different beat. For instance, a growing health-oriented start-up might consider pitching separate reporters for the business and health beats at the same publication . . . and the pitch should be modified accordingly for these different audiences.

Provide proof of concept.

Busy reporters don’t have time to research you, your company, or your performance. Ultimately, they are looking for content that will drive views and readership—so establish that there’s demand for your story as soon as possible.

If you can point to a wave of awards, other recent media coverage, or growth numbers, working those into your pitch will help the reporter understand why an audience will care about your story and why it is news.

Keep it succinct.

Your pitch will be considered and reviewed in minutes, if not seconds. Set aside some time to write just the first few sentences of your pitch. Then rewrite them and rewrite them again, until these sentences hit the reader over the head with the compelling point of your pitch. If you don’t hook the reporter quickly, you don’t stand a chance to land coverage.

Make the reporter’s job easy.

Don’t you love it when someone walks into your office with a problem and then presents a well-thought-out solution or two for your consideration? Of course you do. It makes your job easier.

The same is true of reporters. The easier you can make it for them to pull together the story, the better. For example, note who is available for an interview and whether you have license-free footage or images available that could be used to build out the piece.

Don’t call.

No reporter is going to pick up the phone and take your pitch. Send an email or connect with the reporter via social media (Twitter is great for this), and ask how they prefer to be pitched.

Tie your pitch to an event or anniversary.

Media outlets often run stories around themes related to holidays, events, or anniversaries. Use tools like National Day Calendar to find day, week, or month observations that can be tied into your story. (Think “National Small Business Day”—but there are plenty of fun ones too!)

To capitalize on local news angles, create a calendar of major community events and anniversaries and pitch your story idea. Pitch lead times vary by outlet and format (print, broadcast, etc.)—but for a local story, one month of lead time should cover you.

Use online pitch resources.

Clearly, pitching effectively takes a lot of planning and effort. In between your strategic pitches, watch for opportunities for commentary and contributed pieces that may surface on sites like Help a Reporter Out (also called HARO, helpareporter.com) and Profnet.com. These sites exist to connect journalists with resources to help them build out stories for various publications.

These calls for contributions are usually very deadline oriented—so you’ll need to keep your content matrix handy in order to pull from and adapt pieces you’ve already created (unless you are a tireless, speedy writer).

Parting advice

Ideas Influence and IncomeAs with any type of marketing, measuring the ROI (return on investment) of publicity can be a challenge. But a nice publicity hit can bring a surge of follow-on attention from other reporters to reward your efforts. As you secure media placements, be sure to share those articles, interviews, speaking engagements, and the like. Keep a running list of your activities on your website, along with an updated press kit and speaking menu so people can easily identify you as an expert source for their topic.


Ideas, Influence, and Income is a comprehensive guide to writing, publishing, and launching your book—and monetizing your content by Tanya Hall. Learn more.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

Tanya has been empowering authors to tell their stories since she joined Greenleaf Book Group in 2004. As the company’s Chief Executive, Tanya fosters a culture of innovation centered on creating new opportunities to better serve authors. As the first hybrid publisher, Greenleaf Book Group has been at the forefront of innovative publishing for 20 years and continues to grow in response to author needs, morphing from a book distributor to a full-service publishing house that now includes an author branding department.

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excellent advice!

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[…] Successful marketing improves discoverability. Natalia Sylvester explains how to perform—not just read—your work in front of audiences, Frances Caballo shows where and how to get free promotions, Dave Chesson gives us SEO for authors, and Tanya Hall tells us what to look for in a book publicist. […]