introducing readers to writers since 1995

April 11, 2005

Guest Author: Quinn Dalton

by Ron Hogan

quinndalton.jpgQuinn Dalton is the author of Bulletproof Girl, a short story collection that comes out this week. I heard her read a story from it a while back, and the reason I did was her publicist, knowing my interest in supporting emerging writers, invited me to come. Which is just one example of how an independent publicist can help an author get a little extra attention, a theme Quinn explores at length in this guest essay. (Here's another: Quinn's friends will be buying the book en masse from Amazon on April 19th to drive its rank up into the top 100 bestselling titles, and her website extends an invitation to other potential readers to do the same.) She can also be found on Mediabistro, analyzing the end of fiction at the Atlantic Monthly.

Why Hire an Indy Publicist?
by Quinn Dalton

When my agent sold my novel and story collection to imprints of Simon & Schuster, I couldn't have been happier. It was wonderful news to share with family and friends, many of whom had encouraged me over the years, or at least gently ignored the fact that until that point I'd made less than a thousand dollars from my life's passion.

I thought I could be pretty effective doing publicity for High Strung. I had been the director of public relations for an advertising agency for a number of years, and I figured that after getting great coverage for my clients, I'd do fine getting some for myself. Though I didn't have a literary publicity background, I knew about positioning new products. I knew how to build a media list and develop story angles. I wasn't scared to cold-call journalists.

My PR experience did help me in some ways; I had some credibility when promising my publisher I could fill seats for a tour and suggesting a focus on regional publicity. But I found there were limits to how much I could pitch myself. It's a funny thing: Publishers want writers to be more media friendly, even savvy, but when writers promote themselves, they run the risk of being perceived as arrogant or grabby. I learned this, painfully, on a couple of occasions. So when my novel came out in paperback last July, I prepared a short but detailed media list, complete with pitch angles for the targeted journalists, and asked the in-house publicist assigned to me at the time if she would call these people--and not just leave a voice mail, but try to catch them on the phone, because a voice mail, like email, generally just gets deleted. The publicist could not see my point. "I just don't think calling will help," she actually said to me.

This is when I decided to hire an independent publicist for Bulletproof Girl.

With that said, my current in-house publicist is responsive and enthusiastic and has come up with some great ideas. And I don't mean to put down in-house publicists in general, most of whom love books but are saddled with too many to adequately promote them all. Plus, they're all hitting the same media. How many times can you call up The New York Times Book Review and tell them you have the next Great American Novel? The reality is that most in-house publicists don't have the time or, in some cases, the experience, to bring the right kind of attention to your book.

So when you're done being thrilled about your book deal, decide how much of your advance you can spend on an independent publicist. After your agent's cut and taxes, about 50% to 55% of your advance will remain. Take a deep breath and see if you can make yourself put at least $3000 to $5000 in a money market account--and label it "marketing." Then scratch a big "X" on your calendar on the date eight months before your book release. This is when you'll need to start calling independent publicists to figure out which one's right for you. Many independents like to start as much as six months before a book's release date, because they need time to read your book, develop a strategy and then start pitching the "long leads" like monthly magazines, which plan their editorial several months in advance.

Here's why you should hire an independent publicist:

  • An indy publicist is answerable to you. Believe it or not, your in-house publicist will not be fired if your book gets no coverage. But you can part ways with an independent publicist if he or she is not delivering (though it's better to have clear expectations up front so you're not losing your hired gun in the middle of your campaign). A good publicist should, after reading your book, provide you with a media list and appropriate media tactics subject to your approval. Then you should be able to agree on some realistic outcomes (recognizing that while PR is very cost-efficient compared to paid advertising, there aren't any guarantees) and an exit strategy if things aren't progressing according to plan.

  • An indy publicist can complement the efforts of your in-house publicist. Most in-house publicists send media kits to the top dailies and general interest magazines, but they generally don't have niche expertise. If you believe your book should be pitched to car enthusiast magazines because the hero meticulously restores a Triumph TR3, your indy publicist should have the ability and inclination to reach that audience. Another example: my friend Tayari Jones, whose excellent second novel, The Untelling, comes out on the same day as Bulletproof Girl, is an African-American author. Her in-house publicist got her in Essence. Her indy publicist, Lauren Cerand, is also mine, and she discerned that (a) we have a lot in common, (b) our books will officially come out the same day, and (c) we'd like to do something together. So she pulled together a topical roundtable discussion between writers and bloggers for the Emerging Writers Network. She also worked with Tayari to start a blog on her website that has helped to her to engage a regular audience for her work (read: book-buyers).

  • An indy publicist will have media connections and methods that the in-house publicist doesn't. I wanted to get my book in certain women's magazines; Lauren demonstrated that she had contacts with those outlets by naming names and talking me through how she would pitch the book to them. But she also brought to my attention prominent literary blogs (like this one) that I might not otherwise have had the pleasure of getting to know (or write for) otherwise. When I was in New York for the release party of Sex & Sensibility, an anthology in which I had an essay, she put together a pre-book release reading for me in less than two weeks and got fifty people into the store. She's also advised me on improving my web site and on a targeted direct mail campaign using postcards my publisher printed.

Bottom line, unless you've signed with a publisher like MacAdam Cage--which reportedly gives smaller advances but makes up the difference by spending unprecedented amounts to promote new authors--you should hire an indy publicist if you can. Otherwise, be prepared to feel that your book didn't get the attention it needed when the time came. Another author friend of mine has commented, "My publisher is really good at printing books, and not much else." Her recent collection received excellent coverage anyway, the result of media contacts she'd developed as a freelance journalist. She also took a year off to promote her book.

Can you do that? If not, start shopping for your indy publicist.

If you enjoy this blog,
your PayPal donation
can contribute towards its ongoing publication.