Martha Tod Dudman
How I Write: The Process of Creating a Book
Hire the Publicist to Land a Book Deal
Upcoming Events Calendar
Return to This Issue's Index
Return to Homepage
Hire The Publicist To Get The Publishing DealBy R. Scott Penza
If you've written a hot manuscript, your publishing deal is probably less than one phone call away. The determining factor is who places the call. You or your publicist.
Many of our clients come to us with really sellable material. They also carry the emotional burden and measurable weight of hundreds of rejection letters. Frustrated by sweating hours at their keyboards crafting query letters that, through some writers guide magical formula, might defy the laws of physics and capture the critical essence and impact of their novels in three paragraphs what it took 400 pages to create, these authors are frequently sobered by the quantum stream of endless declines - "Thank you for considering our agency but we're not reviewing new material at this time…." "Due to the highly competitive nature of the publishing industry we must be highly selective in the titles and writers whom we sign…" "We know you have spent a great deal of time on your project and put your passion into every page but our client roster is currently full..."
You don't need one more "Dear John, my harem is full letter" to establish that you're full of disappointment. What you may need is one more call. Not to an agent or publisher or published writer who may be willing to introduce you to his or her agent. No, if you're material is really good, really really good, you probably need to phone in a literary publicist.
Well, who better equipped to run your manuscript to a prospective agent or publisher?
Too often, too many authors think that the role of a publicist is to get great press after the book has crossed the border from sign on the dotted line to on the shelf at Borders. Not so. In fact, at this literary public relations firm and certainly others, publicists are frequently hired by marketing savvy authors to pitch the project to an agent or to a prospective publisher. Why is this a highly effective approach to landing a deal? Well, here's the theory. One theory, anyway. Because of the explosion in publishing due in large part to online outlets like Amazon.com and the swallowing up of smaller houses by mainstream houses, themselves adopted by entertainment behemoths, not to forget the skyrocketing expense for advertising a book's release in mainstream media, the traditional houses have placed greater emphasis on shelf-ready mss escorted through their doors with a well-written and carefully strategized marketing plan. Many of these houses have severely cut back on their editorial departments. The day of the assigned editor who sticks with the unknown author from query to rewrite to galley is vaporizing like yesterday's dot.com. So when an agent gets the call from the PR guy or PR gal, s/he is more likely to take a look at your book because, after all, there's a PR firm behind it. There must be something here worth looking at.
Publishers, we have found, often echo that reaction. Only they're more likely to consider the economic opportunities created by having a publicist attached to the project as well. If an author has been signed by a PR firm -- in advance of the deal -- then the author is thinking ahead. And if the author has established a working relationship with a publicist, chances are strong that that publicist will be around the day the galleys are prepped for release to reviewers and thereafter. The point: a publishing house less inclined to invest heavily into the marketing of an untried, new author (you know first hand, or you've heard the story: you work a lifetime to get a deal, you get lucky and get the deal, the house ignores your book save for a mention on their list) will be more inclined to sign and work with the new author's marketing strategy if the author is footing the publicist's bill to push the work in the press. Of course, many times, a house will contribute to, even split the publicist's fee. It's in their best interest. PR will always be a less expensive buy than advertising. It makes sense to have someone on board the project who can decisively lock those radio and television talk show bookings in a timely fashion, who can potentially influence the outcome of a major metropolitan daily literary review, and who can make the author a household name just in time for the second or third book.
Professionals in the literary public relations industry recognize the value of a call. Rarely do they waste a call. When our agency signs an unsigned author who walks through our doors with a page turner, the first step in the representation process is to research who the most appropriate agents or publishers are for the specific manuscript in question. Tapping in-house databases, personal contacts, and online research, our staff will identify anywhere from 10-15 agents who are, in our opinion, best suited and probably most interested in representing the property. Considerations include the number of titles similar to our client's mss the agent has signed in the past 2 years, disclaimers in agency guides (a great source is the Writers Guide to Book Editors, Publishers & Literary Agents - Prima Publishing) and market intelligence garnered at the trade shows and through personal contact.
After identifying a preliminary target list, we typically conduct an agency audit. This approach which involves pre-pitching the author's project without revealing title or author is borrowed from the proven media audit conducted by most PR firms prior to pitching a story. The goal is to secure an approximate read on the media's reaction to a particular story by randomly testing the story on a handful of print and electronic journalists. Some in our profession dub this the "dangle the carrot" approach because the publicist is literally enticing the reporter's reaction by holding back, giving up a little, and amassing data. If the pre-pitch shows that the story has legs, i.e. the majority of randomly (or purposefully) selected journalists reacted favorably, many of those same journalists will be included on the media target list when the full pitch is underway. Having expressed interest before all the details were disclosed, those same journalists are more likely to take a look at the story when it's ready for release later on.
The same holds true for agents. Or so we have found. During the agency audit phase of our client representation, our research in advance of the phone calls will provide us with 10, maybe 15 reasonable targets who are ideal for presentation of a new property. Phoning these agents one by one, our staff quickly determines if there is interest in the particular subject area. If so, what would the agent be looking for to consider taking the property from read to representation? What about the markets in general? Does the agent see a need for this type of property now? Has the window passed? Should we wait? What about the news climate? For example, while the market is flooded with self-help books, could this be the best time for another entry about the Freudian psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic approach to weight loss since the Federal government recently released new obesity guidelines suggesting that more than half the nation is overweight?
With a new belt-tightening Bush administration in place and the resurgence in dialogue about a national missile defense shield lighting up the respective radars of evening newscasts coast-to-coast, is there room in the children's market for a book and CD written and recorded by two aerospace engineers who, by day, build weapons of mass destruction like the Stealth Fighter, but, by night, found time to produce a project designed to steer hurting kids away from suicide as the only answer to their emotional problems? These are the types of considerations the seasoned literary publicist brings to the 30 second phone call, which, if s/he is on the job, usually develops into a five to 10 minute phone call followed by a "So, when can I see the book?"
Like with any marketing endeavor getting the agent to look at the book by tapping the resources and instincts of a professional lit pub takes some personal financial investment. While there are private PR "hacks" who will take on an author for $750 - $1,800 usually for anywhere from one to three months, the motto You get what you pay for more often applies to an industry like PR which constantly strives to demonstrate to the client base measurable results amidst clip claiming (i.e. Oh, I think that feature in People was my Uncle Bob's idea...) to the random fallout of media buzz once the bee is out of the hive. The high-end firms (like ours) typically charge anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per month plus expenses. Some firms insist on a minimum three month contract, others represent their author clients on a month-to-month arrangement. While a three month contract totaling a potential $9000 to $10,000 (after expenses) may seem steep, consider the time and hours and personal cost of a writing career that produces great material but, because you couldn't get your manuscript before the right people, goes nowhere. Reciprocally, consider the $10,000 against a potential $50,000 to $150,000 advance if your book is signed. Suddenly, the value of hiring a literary publicist seems to make a great deal of sense…and dollars.
When you've sweated over and finally finished that Great American novel, or breakthrough self-help book, or creative children's illustrated story, submitted it to hundreds of agents and received hundreds of rejections, we suggest you put down your manuscript and pick up the phone. Don't call 911. Not yet. Call your local literary publicist. We'll take care of setting your work on fire.