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July 28, 2014
By Paige Crutcher
The publicist-author relationship should be treated as a partnership.

Going indie means more than deciding to self-publish, it means embracing an entrepreneurial path. For me, it’s a learn-on-the-job experience, one that has meant dealing with doubt’s attempts to sabotage my every turn. Four months into this process, I’ve discovered going from a writer and reporter to an indie author is akin to climbing a very steep mountain, only to find a new peak each time I think I’ve reached the top.

Thankfully, I don’t have to go every step alone. My writing community, editors, and cover designer are a phenomenal well of support. And when the book comes out, I’ll have a new partner -- in the form of my publicist. I’ve chosen to hire a publicity firm -- though I have yet to commit to one -- because the less marketing on my plate, the more time I can devote to writing. While a rewarding one, the publicist-author relationship should be treated as a partnership. “Working with a public relations professional, just like working with an editor or working with the company publishing your book, is a collaborative process. The more engaged you are in the process, the more fruitful and productive it will be,” said Alison Law of Alison Law Communications.

The stigma of self-publishing continues to fade, but there are still challenges to reaching an audience, but teamwork came make the difference. As Julie Schoerke, owner of JKSCommunications, puts it, “Being an indie published author can be challenging because there isn't the cachet of the imprint of a traditional publishing house that ‘proves’ the book has been ‘vetted’ for the media and readers. So indie sales tend to be more difficult to jumpstart.” On the print side, it can also prove tough for an indie author to get distribution of her to stores. “It's more challenging, and more paperwork, for a bookstore to take an indie title on consignment or buy copies because bookstores buy the bulk of their titles through Ingram or Baker & Taylor or large publishing houses with distribution in place  -- which means one invoice, one set of paperwork.”

"Don’t forget this is a business, on both sides, and it’s important for an indie author to operate as the CEO of her own company."
As with hiring an editor and cover designer, there are definite do’s and don’ts when choosing a publicity firm. KP Simmon of InkSlinger PR noted, “I think the biggest thing for an author, when hiring a publicist, is to have realistic expectations. Hiring a publicist doesn’t mean you get to stop doing all promotional work and take a backseat in the process. I can make all the connections in the world, but readers still want to hear from the author.” Simmon’s do’s list includes: “Do your research on the company and/or publicist you are hiring, ask for recommendations and find out why their clients like working with them, find out what their strengths are and figure out if those match your needs ahead of time as much as possible, and find out if they have marketing and PR experience in the past.”

One of the biggest don’ts? Don’t forget this is a business, on both sides, and it’s important for an indie author to operate as the CEO of her own company. This means being professional and remembering there are no “stupid” questions or questions that shouldn't be asked.

Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity advises authors seek multiple proposals from publicists, and trust their gut. And, she recommends an author have a plan, a website, and a social media presence. “I'm an advocate for identifying the platforms that work best for you and that reach the target audience. Most teens are on Tumblr and Instagram, so if you write YA, that's where you should spend your time. If you write for an older demographic, Facebook is the one to focus on. I don't believe every author has to do everything, but they do have to do something. Identify where your target audience is, and then pick one or two of those platforms to really focus on.”

Cost varies when it comes to hiring a publicist. In the world of self-publishing, there’s also the option to DIY. Authors like Joanna Penn break down the immediate do’s and don’ts for tweeting, posting on Facebook, and keeping content appropriate – and urge authors not break the unspoken “rules” – that help authors better sell books.

With so many options out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Perhaps KP Simmon said it best when she noted, “Have courage. Seriously. Putting your words, and putting yourself, out there is never easy. But it is a part of this business.”