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Gathering of the Ghosts – January 22, 2024

Straight Talk for New Authors: What You Need to Know About Book Publicity

Welcome back to Ghostwriting Confidential, a series we launched in 2021 to educate prospective authors about what it is that ghostwriters do (and don’t do). Our goal: to define, demystify, and, to the extent possible, de-risk-ify the process and ultimately maximize the payoff from working with a ghostwriter.

Since then, it’s become clear to us that a lot of confusion and misunderstanding remains about some of the key aspects of hiring and collaborating with a ghost and what to expect from the publishing process So, we thought it was time to revive the series to better set author expectations under the banner of Straight Talk for New Authors. In this edition, we’ll address what to expect around the promotion of your book — namely, why you’ll likely need to hire a publicist. 

Throughout this series, we’ve addressed several prevailing misconceptions among first-time authors, from the cost of ghostwriters’ work to why it’s so hard to get an agent and what hybrid publishing is. In this final installation of our Straight Talk for New Authors series, we’re addressing perhaps the most damaging misconception about the publishing process of all — that publicizing your book is less important to consider than the actual process of writing and publishing a book. 

In fact, this is arguably the biggest avoidable mistake a first-time author can make. Far too many authors fail to invest the same time, resources, and effort that they put into writing their book into publicizing the final product, ultimately undermining that initial investment. They treat it as an afterthought – literally and figuratively.

The good news is that this mistake is avoidable — and we have six tips for how to publicize your book as effectively as possible.  

  1. Start early 

Far too many first-time authors assume that they don’t have to think about publicizing their book until just before its publication or even after it’s released. In reality, authors have to start thinking about publicity much earlier — ideally, from the minute they decide to write and publish a book.

For authors pursuing a traditional book deal, agents will assess what you bring to the table, publicity-wise, when evaluating your submission. As literary agent Regina Brooks and literary coach Aaron Shulman explained during a recent GG webinar, a strong marketing and publicity plan is key to writing a winning book proposal. Any agent worth their salt will not only make their author aware of this but help also ensure this section of the proposal is robust. 

“We’ve always emphasized the critical importance of a solid author platform and strategic audience engagement strategy well ahead of a book launch and subsequent publicity campaign,” shared Marissa Eigenbrood, President of book publicity and marketing agency Smith Publicity. “More recently, and in great part due to introductions from book coaches, ghostwriters, and editors, we’ve had the opportunity to start our author branding work earlier and earlier in the book development process, sometimes as early as the proposal stage. Helping an author set the stage for their future launch by establishing a consistent and clear online presence through their website, social media platforms, and other marketing channels only sets everyone up for better success in the stages that follow.”

But authors without literary agent representation and/or those who plan to pursue nontraditional publishing paths aren’t always clued into this fact. Enter this post, which will hopefully guide authors not only with representation but also those choosing alternative publishing paths — because starting early is just the first step. 

  1. Understand the marketplace

Many authors confuse publicity and marketing. While you can pay to market your book — and whether it makes sense for you to do so depends on the kind of book you’re writing and your goals for it — we’ll focus here on publicity (or earned media). And to effectively garner publicity, it’s crucial to understand what publicity is today and how it has changed dramatically in the last decade. 

First, there’s format: While being interviewed on a TV talk show or being reviewed by a legacy media publication was once a surefire way to sell books, those avenues are increasingly less relevant than new platforms such as podcast interviews and being picked up by BookTok

In addition to changing publicity formats, the number of books being published has also greatly expanded, making competition for publicity much fiercer. “The book industry has become so competitive, with thousands of books published every week,” Kellie Rendina, Business Development Manager with Smith Publicity, told us. “That means that your book will get lost in the shuffle if you don’t make a plan to promote it.”

  1. Build your audience/community

This increasingly competitive landscape has made authors’ ability to build their own audiences and platforms crucial. You need to decide what feels authentic to you, from #BookTok and Substack to reader communities, such as Goodreads and the Copper App, and then commit to being active. 

Building connection and credibility with a universe of potential readers and referrers with whom you can converse directly is invaluable when your pub date rolls around. Of course, nobody can build and get to know their audience overnight, which is yet another reason why authors should start thinking about publicity as far ahead of their book’s launch as possible. 

  1. Accept that you need professional help

Even if you understand how fragmented the media has become, and even if you’ve developed a strategic approach for reaching and building community among your target audience, you still shouldn’t expect to be able to publicize your book on your own. And that’s true no matter which publishing path you take.

Many authors who go the traditional publishing route assume that the publisher’s in-house publicity department will take care of all publicity needs. The dirty secret of book publicity is that the support you’ll get from that team will be minimal at best. “Many publishers, including the big 5 houses, just don’t have the budget or internal bandwidth to facilitate full-scale marketing and publicity campaigns for each title,” Rendina said. The book might be your baby, but it’s just one baby among many they’re launching that season.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of nonfiction authors (particularly in the thought leadership space) will need to work with a professional publicist to break through the media noise and find publicity for their book. Why? Publicists’ knowledge of and relationships within the media industry are crucial for garnering coverage.

  1. And accept that help is a significant investment

Let’s be clear: hiring a publicist is not cheap, although the price can vary a lot. Authors can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per month if they hire a publicity agency. Jane Friedman estimates that an intensive three-month campaign can easily cost $20,000 and up. What an author chooses to pay for publicity depends on a number of factors, including whether or not they hire an independent publicist or agency, how long they choose to engage their publicist, and even the genre of their book. 

  1. Keep your expectations for publicity’s payoff realistic 

No publicist can guarantee a certain sales number to result from their work. In fact, according to Jane Friedman, “authors should not expect to see each publicity dollar come back to them in the form of book sales.” Instead, authors should look at publicizing their books as an investment in their careers, both in terms of their long-term potential to write another book and, arguably more importantly for many authors, to benefit from the opportunities and credentialing a published book can offer. 

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