PR will not save you

If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is—that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is—that’s PR.
—Sylvia H. Simmons

Last week, I promised to address publicity and PR. First, definitions.

Public Relations (PR): What the public sees, hears, and reads about you.

Publicity: Getting placement: TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, blogs, podcasts. (This is changing rapidly. In 5 years, author interviews will be conducted in VR by intelligent self-driving cars.)

So publicity is a tool you use in your public relations campaign. PR is the umbrella term for getting people to care who you are and then getting them to like you once they do.


I’m not clear. I’m skeptical. Skeptical that a nonfiction author can outsource the task of getting themselves noticed.

I come to bury book publicity, not to praise it. But in the spirit of intellectual rigor, I decided to put the question to the pros first.

One former colleague has worked as both an in-house publicist and an outside publicist. What does she do?

An in-house publicist makes the appropriate media–national and local–aware of your book and highlights new research/ideas that would make the book stand out from the crowd.


They meet with book reviewers and producers to present upcoming books. They tie books in with the news cycle. They research new contacts and tweak pitches. They get books for corporate events and set up bookstore events.

What about outside publicists?

In-house publicists work on 5–7 books at a time. A freelancer has more control over their schedule and is likely working on 3–4 books. They can devote more resources to you. They will work with you on pitches and develop more elaborate press materials. More important, they will hold your hand through the process. It can be overwhelming.

Outside help can eat up your entire book advance, so it’s not for everyone.

Vanessa Van Edwards’s next book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, is available for pre-order. She wonders whether morning news segments—The Today Show, etc.—actually move copies. From the publicist:

For a business author, no. The Today Show won’t sell your book. The people you’re aiming for aren’t watching TV at that time. A freelancer will tailor their campaign to the book’s subject. They’ll most likely aim for a show on, for example, CNBC instead. That said, national media of any kind is always good for an author’s platform. You’ll be able to use that media clip to get more media in the future. A more niche approach will often SELL more books then a national media hit. If it’s a book on tech, the publicist’s goal might be to get coverage on the top 20 tech blogs instead of a piece on MSNBC.

Maven Game reader Christina Ward handles marketing and PR For Feral House. She’s all about niche:

Part of good PR is figuring out the right thing for the right audience. I’m not pitching your anti-vaxx diatribe to Reason Magazine. I’m not pitching your survey of 18th-century European socialism to Vice. The right thing for the right readers, always.

When it comes to the author’s part, humility is key:

If I present you with an opportunity for an interview with the Bugtussle Times, do it! Each good piece of press builds to more press. Am I still trying to get you a New York Times profile? Maybe. But sometimes the best we’ll get is the Bugtussle Times.

What about morning news shows, Christina?

The regional morning shows can be a great push for a local appearance or a book that has local focus. In getting folks to buy the book, not as much. Unless of course it’s tied to that community. Podcasts are much more effective when the book is of niche interest. I’ll use myself as an example. My own upcoming book is about preserving food. Because of the niche subject, I’ll pitch myself to locavore, Slow Food, prepper, preservationist, hip mama, homeschool, and urban gardening podcasts. I’ll also try my local morning show, but I won’t even bother in other cities unless I can tie it to a local event there.

By far, most author complaints about their publishers are publicity-related. This is not because of the publicists. Publicists are very nice people. Much nicer than editors. (I hate you.) Yes, books may arrive to an event late, but logistical problems are inevitable on any project the scope and scale of a book campaign.

The real problem is, many authors believe that someone else can make them famous. After all, they put all that hard work into writing a book. They believe that once they’ve secured a publisher, the next step is public intellectual.

They are wrong. Publicists can help you ride a big wave, but if the water’s flat, they will leave you to drown. It isn’t personal; they have other authors, authors with momentum. People have to care who you are first. Not everyone, but the right people. If you and your book leave those people cold, all the pitches in the world won’t save you.

Publicists are force amplifiers. No force, no amplification. You have to provide the force.

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