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June 12, 2014
By Allison Schiff
Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, indie authors have a real chance at popular success, but being realistic is important.

When an author writes a book, she wants other people to read it, but there’s a big difference between self-publishing a book with the hope of selling a few copies and taking the decisive—and potentially pricey—step of hiring a professional marketing or publicity firm.

Book Marketing Works President Brian Jud advises authors to begin by taking stock of their goals. A marketing professional can help authors gain exposure—book reviews, interviews with press, blog tours—but it’s best for writers to be clear upfront about what they want to achieve. That will determine both whom to hire and the tenor of the marketing plan.

“Know what you want to do before you seek the assistance of a professional,” Jud says. “Knowing what you want to accomplish is going to help you both find the best person to contact and help you utilize that person most effectively.”

Ask Around and Get References

Research will get indie authors everywhere, says Jud, who suggests talking to other writers, attending writing events, checking LinkedIn, reading blogs, and generally asking around to see which firms or consultants other people have used in the past. Certain names will keep surfacing.

"If you’re building an author brand, you don’t just want to hire someone for two months; you need to work hard and build relationships for the long term."
Indie authors should be careful to look for firms with a history of helping writers with similar experience levels working in similar genres. Additionally, indie authors should get everything in writing and always ask for examples of past work, but be prepared to take them with a grain of salt.

“Ask questions about everything; about how long they’ve been doing this, who they’ve worked with, who their clients are, and why they could be a good fit for you,” says Sandra Poirier Diaz, president of Smith Publicity, Inc., which has a long history of working with self-published authors. “Be very careful who you trust with your name and your brand—because it’s you. If a firm has only ever promoted children’s books, then what do they know about promoting your business book?”

Beware of Magicians

If a publicist promises a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, it’s a clear sign to walk in the opposite direction. Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, indie authors have a real chance at popular success, but being realistic is important.

“When someone guarantees to get you on this list or that list or promises you sales of 10,000 copies a year—those aren’t actually things you can guarantee,” Jud says. “If someone does that, I suggest looking elsewhere.”

A good marketing firm with integrity will be brutally honest with clients, so authors should check their egos at the door.

“I’m up front; if a book is no good, if it’s a book of poetry that your dog wrote, then there’s not much of a market for that. I will tell people if their book is not ready for marketing, and generally they really appreciate it,” Jud says. “Otherwise they’d be wasting my time, their time, and their money.”

Roll up Your Sleeves

The most effective publicity relationships are collaborative, says Poirier Diaz. Firms offer a host of services, but indie writers who take the initiative will see the best results.

While a marketing firm is doing its thing—writing press releases, pulling prospect lists, reaching out to journalists, facilitating uploads to digital galley distributors like Netgalley and Edelweiss, and connecting with bloggers to spark reviews—authors should be calling their neighborhood library and bookstore to make personal connections and arrange readings, as well as blogging and engaging with fans online.

“It’s always better when we can partner with authors,” Poirier Diaz says. “We do the media outreach and get books to reviewers, but authors can be doing so many things to build their brand at the same time.”

Although some marketing firms will take care of an author’s social media channels for them, Poirier Diaz encourages writers to tweet and post on their own, though if you’re a novice, definitely ask your firm for advice and tips. Not only will the messaging be more authentic if it’s coming directly from the author—readers generally expect authors to be tweeting for themselves—there’s less room for mistakes or miscommunications to creep in.

Consider the Target and the Timing

Authors don’t necessarily need a finished product before hiring a pro firm. In fact, getting in touch with a publicist early—in some cases before the book is finished—can be beneficial for planning promotion. If an author approaches a marketing firm with a Christmas-themed book in the middle of December, it’s going to be too late to launch a marketing plan that can capitalize on a timely tie-in.

Making early contact can also help focus an author during the writing process, especially for business books and non-fiction.

“Talking to a marketing firm early on is helpful because we can discuss who the target audience is,” Poirier Diaz says. “That would be what a traditional publisher would normally do, but indie authors have to take on that part of the business and start thinking about things like book distribution and budget.”

Be Ready to Spend

Hiring a marketing firm isn’t cheap, so authors must remember to budget accordingly. Nearly every marketing firm will have its own offerings, sometimes à la carte. There can be quite a large price range depending on the service and the length of the campaign, and firms often don’t disclose pricing on their websites.

For example, Smith Publicity charges a $295 entry fee to upload a book to Netgalley, but a full-on marketing campaign could cost anywhere between $1,500 and $3,200 a month. Some firms will charge an hourly rate for basic consulting. Things like international outreach or live book tours will push the fee higher, but those offerings are less relevant for new indie authors just beginning their marketing journey.

“If you’re building an author brand, you don’t just want to hire someone for two months; you need to work hard and build relationships for the long term,” Poirier Diaz says. “It takes time to get a big name and awareness in the media and not everyone has the money to spend for that long.”