What do book publicists do?

The role of the publicist isn't an easy one. Find out what publicists do, and why you might need one.

Publicity is, quite possibly, the most important factor contributing to a book's success. A well written book is important, but if no one knows about it, who will buy it? Publicity is all about letting people, outside your immediate family, find out about your book so that they will buy it. (Don't ever lose sight of the fact that selling your books is the point of the whole exercise. An appearance on Oprah that sells only 2 copies of your book might not be the best use of your time.)

So what does a publicist do and why do you need one? Phenix & Phenix define their role like this: "As literary publicists, our primary goal is to provide exceptional media relations, setting up interviews with all forms of media and scheduling book tours." As for the second part of the question, you need a publicist because:

  • Today, there are more than 700,000 books in print.
  • Nearly half of all Americans don't read books at all.
  • Sixty percent of all trade titles lose money for their publishers.
  • Americans are besieged with 2,700 marketing messages every day.
  • To penetrate potential consumers' information-boggled minds, you must get a message in front of him at least 9 times.

Joanna Hurley of Booksavvy.com points out that even (or maybe especially) authors published by large publishing companies need to consider taking charge of their own publicity:

"Each of their many divisions or imprints alone publishes dozens of books per year. While their publicists are generally able and competent, they simply cannot pay attention to every book on their list. When I was director of publicity at Vintage, for example, my department was responsible for the publicity for some 200 books per year and we had a staff of three, including me. There was no way we could read much less promote them all. And at Vintage we were lucky: Many of our titles fell into series so we could promote some of them together. This is not true for most publishers."

How will you know when you've found a winning publicist? First of all, make sure they have the right contacts, and knowledge of the topic and genre of your book. They should also be a good fit for you. After all, they'll be booking events and media coverage that you'll be dealing with too. They also need to be tenacious and not scared of rejection, because their job involves hearing the word 'no' an awful lot.

When you've finally decided and hired a publicist, unfortunately, your work isn't over. You'll need to work closely with your publicist to bring about best results. Lounging at the beach will have to wait.

Wendy J. Woudstra

Homeschool mom, coder, web developer, book lover, geek, writer, and a pretty nice person. Find out more about me at WendyWoudstra.com.

Join the Conversation

Read These Next


Map of Publishing In the USA

Publishing has been, historically, an urban activity. Curious about whether the current growth of independent and small publishers is bucking that trend, I decided to import some data on US publishers into Google Maps. This is the result.


Beginning and Ending Your Story

Elinor Glyn, in the early half of the 20th century, considered the "world’s greatest writer of love stories." Over the course of her writing career she published 31 novels and had 9 movies made from her work. She was criticized rather frequently by the literary press, as are many popular writers today. In 1922, The Author’s Press put out a four volume course written by Glyn on how to write novels, stories and screen plays. This is an excerpt from the second volume.