By Maryglenn McCombs
At first, I was coming up a little blank when I tried to figure out what I would write about this month. However, after a recent, and inordinately frustrating, experience with a potential author client, the answer became clear. Why not write about what makes a good author client and what doesn’t? That frustrating experience with the aforementioned potential client certainly blessed me with plenty of material.
Before I go into that, however, I should note that I speak with the highest authority on what makes a good client because the vast majority of my authors are good—great even. Sure, a difficult author sneaks in every now and again, but overall, I represent a wonderful group of authors. I hold most of the authors I’ve represented in high esteem as they aren’t just good writers: they’re good people. I respect them. I admire them. I love reading their books. I look forward to seeing them. I like them and I love working with them.
So what makes an author a good client, and what doesn’t? Consider these six suggestions.
Understand what PR is and PR isn’t
What PR is—and isn’t—is a mystifying concept for some. Successful book PR is about creating awareness for books and authors. No publicist can offer guarantees about what media coverage is going to result, or that any reviews generated will be positive. Likewise, we sure can’t guarantee, or even predict, the volume of sales that will result. PR is a vital component of selling a book, but it is not the only component. Any publicist who offers guarantees or predictions is not only doing a tremendous disservice to the author, but is also not being honest.
Lesson: Don’t hire a publicist if you are looking for guarantees, if you don’t know what PR is, or if you are intent on qualifying return on your investment solely based on sales. Obviously, we hope you sell a million books, but good PR can manifest itself in other ways. PR can drive engagements to speak, opportunities to give lectures, invitations to take part in events, rights sales, awards, book deals—you name it. Good PR can make for great success, but sales aren’t the only measure of success.
Consider your relationship with your publicist a collaborative relationship
I get it. We’re all busy. But good authors understand that in order to succeed, book marketing must be a priority. If an author wants limited involvement in a PR campaign, isn’t available to guest blog or do interviews, and is clear about that on the front end, I can work around it. What’s difficult is an author who is not terribly responsive to requests and doesn’t meet deadlines.
There is nothing better than working with an author who responds promptly, meets deadlines, and follows directions. (Actually, on closer inspection, there is something even better and that’s an author who is enthusiastic about being involved, responds promptly, meets deadlines and follows directions.)
Lesson: If your time is limited, be sure to tell your publicist that on the front end. Are you in the middle of writing your next book and going to have a difficult time guest blogging, or being interviewed? Tell your publicist about it upfront. Your publicist should be able to work around your schedule and preferences, but we need to know what those are. Ideally, an author would be available, but that isn’t always the case. We get that. If you’re clear about it, we can plan accordingly.
Successful book PR does not happen overnight and good authors know that. It takes time to plan, execute a plan, follow up and coordinate specifics needed to launch a book.
A publicist’s schedule can fill up months in advance, and if you are interested in a PR campaign, start the process of looking for a publicist as early as you can. I hate when I have to tell a wonderful writer with a wonderful project “no,” but it happens frequently. If I’m overcommitted, then I’m not able to provide my clients with the level of service they deserve. How do I avoid that? I don’t get overcommitted, even if that means passing on book projects I would love to represent.
With regards to timing, it’s important to address another often-mystifying concept in the publishing world: the publication date. Take time to educate yourself on what a publication date is, as it is an extremely important factor in how your publicist and/or publisher works. With very few exceptions, publicity—reviews, interviews, etc.—need to take place right at or after publication date. The same holds true with signings. Assuming your publisher isn’t using a specific publication date for your book, work with your publicist to come up with the “right” time to release your book. And once you have that date, plan your activities, appearances, etc. around it and after it (not before it).
Lesson: If you’re interested in hiring a publicist, start the search process early. Make it a priority to learn about how the publishing industry works—and use that knowledge to inform your decisions regarding your book. Trying to go against how the industry operates usually does not help your cause!
Understand what a publicist does
A number of the authors who come my way are new to the business of publishing and are excited to get their books off the ground. I get that 100 percent. Getting published is a big deal—and it is exciting (even for me, and I have been through this hundreds upon hundreds of times.)
But, don’t let that excitement cause you to lose sight of what a publicist does and what their role is in the process. A publicist is a service provider. What we bring to the table is special skills, experience, contacts, and knowledge. Our special skills, experiences, contacts, and knowledge is valuable. The services we provide have value and we charge for our services. Bearing in mind that we’re service providers who charge for our services, please don’t come to us to “pick our brains” or get advice on what you should do with your book. Come to us when you’re interested in talking to us about working together.
If you are interested in hiring us, ask us what that process is. What do we provide potential clients on the front end: a phone call, a proposal? How do we charge? What material do we need you to provide? Are we available to take on a project? Are we interested in your project?
Please don’t expect or demand that we help you make decisions about your book before you’ve hired us. We are not, I repeat not, in the business of giving out free advice. And we really, really, really appreciate authors who respect and understand that. I have a sense that I speak on behalf of most publicists when I say that we really, really, really, don’t appreciate authors who look to us as providers of free advice.
Lesson: I’m not aware of any book publicists who offer free services. I know I don’t. I also know I don’t start work until I’m officially hired, but more on that follows…
Understand how to work with—and not against—your publicist
So let’s say you’ve found the perfect fit publicist-wise. You’re excited to move forward, you’ve checked the publicist’s references, and decided that yes, you’ve found the person you want to hire. Let’s suppose, for the sake of supposing, that you’ve decided to hire me. If so, I’ve already mentioned to you what I need from you (specifically, I need a signed agreement outlining the details of the services I will provide, and when I will provide them, and a deposit.) I will also tell you that in order to move forward, I need your signed agreement and deposit by a certain date. Please understand that I have such policies for a reason and if you are serious about hiring me, or hiring any publicist to do a job for you, understand their process for scheduling work and follow the instructions they provide.
I should also note that there are a few things I require of all clients. I need books: advance review copies (ARCs) and/or finished books. I also need information about the author. I need digital files of such items as your cover art, your photo, and your book. It’s a big red flag when an author can’t or won’t provide basic information as requested. When journalists make requests, I need to make certain I’m able to fill those requests. Authors who don’t provide the information I need, make it exponentially harder for me to secure coverage for their books.
Lesson: Find out what a publicist needs to represent you, when they need it, and follow their instructions. Do not expect a service provider to save time for your project if you won’t commit. As mentioned above, it’s also not fair to expect a publicist to start work on your project before you’ve hired them. Moreover, a publicist will likely need certain things from you—review copies, information—that you will need to provide if the publicist is going to be successful with your project. Find out what the publicist needs, when they need it, and provide it as instructed. There are certain things a publicist needs to be able to do a bang up job on your book. If you can’t, won’t, or don’t provide us with those things, you make it harder for us to succeed. What’s the point in that?
Understand that the physical product is important
Whatever you do, create a physical book product that will be taken seriously. What does that mean? It means you need: a good, strong title with dynamic, eye-catching, professionally rendered cover art; a well-written, carefully- and thoughtfully-written book that has been professionally edited and proofread. I cannot say it enough: A subpar product can torpedo your chances of success. If you want your book to be taken seriously, you must have a first-rate product.
Lesson: Think of your book’s cover design, title, and physical makeup as your book’s first impression. You don’t want your book to make a bad first impression, do you?
If you are interested in hiring a publicist, or actively looking for a publicist, keep these six things in mind.
And that brings me back to the impetus for this article: my frustrating experience.
Now I’m not saying aforementioned-potential-client-with-whom-I-had-a-frustrating-experience broke all of these six rules. But, I’m not saying aforementioned-potential-client-with-whom-I-had-a-frustrating-experience didn’t break all of these six rules. Happily, said author “made other plans”—and I’m looking at my wonderful stable of authors with newfound appreciation. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Maryglenn McCombs has actively worked in the book publishing industry for over twenty years. After starting her own publishing company in 1995, Maryglenn transitioned into the role of book publicist in the late ’90s. As a book publicist, she works to create media exposure for books and authors through various print, online, and broadcast media outlets. Maryglenn focuses primarily on titles in the mystery/suspense/thriller genres. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Maryglenn serves on the board of the Nashville Humane Association. A South Central Kentucky native, Maryglenn lives in Nashville with her husband, Tim Warnock, and their Old English Sheepdog, Majordomo Billy Bojangles.
Want to get in touch with Maryglenn? Contact her at [email protected], or reach her by phone at (615) 297-9875.