Five Factors to Consider Before Engaging a Publicity Firm

Your book is ready (or almost ready), final editing touches are completed, and you’re ready for people to learn about your book…now what? The hard truth is that without publicity and promotion, virtually no one will ever know your book exists. If you’re a self-promoter or a publisher with some in-house expertise and have the time and resources, it is possible to successfully publicize your book. Hiring a professional, however, can make all the difference.

There are plenty of options when it comes to publicity. From “one-person shops” and large companies to radio-tours and pay-per-placement firms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the decision-making process. Here are some tips that can help you make the right decision:

1) Personality—Get a feel for the personality of the firm. Do they return calls and emails promptly? Do they have a sense of excitement about your project? Do they have a grasp of your book and your target audience? You are investing not only your time and money, but your reputation as well. You want to make sure you feel a sense of trust—a connection—with the firm or person.

2) Track Record—Every reputable firm will have testimonials from clients. Granted, you’re only seeing the good things author’s have said about the firm, but testimonials can still reveal a lot. Are they “boilerplate” testimonials, or well-thought out, personal commentary? Likewise, you should always ask for references. Don’t expect to be provided phone numbers of references, but the firm should have clients or previous clients who don’t mind receiving an email query about their experience.

3) Picking the Firm Size—A large firm boasting “A list” authors is certainly appealing. Before you hire them, if you’re not an “A lister” (yet!), make sure you know who is handling your account. You don’t want to be relegated to a college intern or become the small fish in a big pond. On the opposite end, if you’re considering an individual freelancer, ask for a contingency plan should there be illness or a family emergency during your campaign.

4) Fee Structure—The cost of publicity service varies widely, but there are three main categories you should understand when selecting:

a) Retainer-based: The most common fee structure in book publicity, a retainer-based agreement is typically for three to six months. When considering this option, ensure the firm has a solid reputation and impressive credentials since you’ll be committing for a period of time.

b) Pay-Per-Placement: This fee structure can be attractive, but be sure you know exactly what you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay. The idea of only paying when a media opportunity is secured seems perfect, but the numbers often tell a different story. Consider this example: You have a very “publicity-friendly” book and decide to pay a firm $150 for every local radio interview, $1,000 for local, network affiliate TV interviews, and $5,000 for  a national TV show interview. Since your book has high potential, the firm quickly secures dozens of radio interviews, a few local TV interviews, and one national TV show appearance.  Within a month you can easily spend $8,000. Another firm could have achieved the same results for less than half that in a retainer arrangement. Also, read the fine print. What if a TV interviews is taped, but never airs … do you still pay? On the other hand, if your book is challenging, a publicist may opt to spend his or her time on a more publicity friendly project that is “easy money.”

c) Flat-fee: A one-time, flat fee for a specific set of services and a set amount of time is something to consider if you’re on a limited budget, want to test out a publicity firm, or get a sense for how the media will react to your book. As always, make sure you know precisely what the firm will be doing, and for exactly how long.

5) Be wary of promises and guarantees—I’ll say this as clearly as possible: No publicist—and I mean no one—can absolutely guarantee you will receive media coverage or tell you how many books you will sell. It’s impossible to know. If one does make such guarantees, run the other way. Publicity, by its very nature, is full of unknowns, which makes the process both challenging and exciting.  There are variables which affect media coverage and book sales, and these variable are out of anyone’s control.

Do your due diligence when selecting a firm, and ultimately, go with your instinct when deciding; go with the firm or person that just feels right. You can rarely go wrong by trusting your instincts.

Dan Smith is the Founder and CEO of Smith Publicity Inc. Beginning in 1997, Smith Publicity is one of the world’s leading promotional firms, specializing in book publicity. Fueled by a passion for making good things happen for clients, the company has worked with over 900 individuals and companies–from authors and entrepreneurs to publicly-held companies and businesses representing a wide range of industries. The Smith Publicity reach is international with offices in New Jersey, New York City, Los Angeles, and London. For more information about Smith Publicity, Inc., please visit