Friday, November 11, 2005

Hire The Publicist To Get The Publishing Deal

By R. Scott Penza

If you've written a hot manuscript, your publishing deal is probably
less than one phone call away. The determining factor is who places
the call. You or your publicist.

Many of our clients come to us with really sellable material. They
also carry the emotional burden and measurable weight of hundreds of
rejection letters. Frustrated by sweating hours at their keyboards
crafting query letters that, through some writers guide magical
formula, might defy the laws of physics and capture the critical
essence and impact of their novels in three paragraphs what it took
400 pages to create, these authors are frequently sobered by the
quantum stream of endless declines - "Thank you for considering our
agency but we're not reviewing new material at this time…." "Due to
the highly competitive nature of the publishing industry we must be
highly selective in the titles and writers whom we sign…" "We know
you have spent a great deal of time on your project and put your
passion into every page but our client roster is currently full..."

You don't need one more "Dear John, my harem is full letter" to
establish that you're full of disappointment. What you may need is
one more call. Not to an agent or publisher or published writer who
may be willing to introduce you to his or her agent. No, if you're
material is really good, really really good, you probably need to
phone in a literary publicist.



Now wait a minute, you may be thinking, aren't publicists those
behind-the-scenes hacks who turn magazine editors' faces red as they
turn down high profile client feature interviews for anything less
than a cover story? The smooth operators who know how to spin an
angle out of thin air so quick, you could dry your laundry in their
mouths? The insiders who don't need a membership at Bally's Health
Club because they can just as easily bench press their 50 pound
Rolodexes?

Well, who better equipped to run your manuscript to a prospective
agent or publisher?

Too often, too many authors think that the role of a publicist is to
get great press after the book has crossed the border from sign on
the dotted line to on the shelf at Borders. Not so. In fact, at this
literary public relations firm and certainly others, publicists are
frequently hired by marketing savvy authors to pitch the project to
an agent or to a prospective publisher. Why is this a highly
effective approach to landing a deal? Well, here's the theory. One
theory, anyway. Because of the explosion in publishing due in large
part to online outlets like Amazon.com and the swallowing up of
smaller houses by mainstream houses, themselves adopted by
entertainment behemoths, not to forget the skyrocketing expense for
advertising a book's release in mainstream media, the traditional
houses have placed greater emphasis on shelf-ready mss escorted
through their doors with a well-written and carefully strategized
marketing plan. Many of these houses have severely cut back on their
editorial departments. The day of the assigned editor who sticks
with the unknown author from query to rewrite to galley is vaporizing
like yesterday's dot.com. So when an agent gets the call from the PR
guy or PR gal, s/he is more likely to take a look at your book
because, after all, there's a PR firm behind it. There must be
something here worth looking at.

Publishers, we have found, often echo that reaction. Only they're
more likely to consider the economic opportunities created by having
a publicist attached to the project as well. If an author has been
signed by a PR firm -- in advance of the deal -- then the author is
thinking ahead. And if the author has established a working
relationship with a publicist, chances are strong that that publicist
will be around the day the galleys are prepped for release to
reviewers and thereafter. The point: a publishing house less inclined
to invest heavily into the marketing of an untried, new author (you
know first hand, or you've heard the story: you work a lifetime to
get a deal, you get lucky and get the deal, the house ignores your
book save for a mention on their list) will be more inclined to sign
and work with the new author's marketing strategy if the author is
footing the publicist's bill to push the work in the press. Of
course, many times, a house will contribute to, even split the
publicist's fee. It's in their best interest. PR will always be a
less expensive buy than advertising. It makes sense to have someone
on board the project who can decisively lock those radio and
television talk show bookings in a timely fashion, who can
potentially influence the outcome of a major metropolitan daily
literary review, and who can make the author a household name just in
time for the second or third book.

Professionals in the literary public relations industry recognize the
value of a call. Rarely do they waste a call. When our agency signs
an unsigned author who walks through our doors with a page turner,
the first step in the representation process is to research who the
most appropriate agents or publishers are for the specific manuscript
in question. Tapping in-house databases, personal contacts, and
online research, our staff will identify anywhere from 10-15 agents
who are, in our opinion, best suited and probably most interested in
representing the property. Considerations include the number of
titles similar to our client's mss the agent has signed in the past 2
years, disclaimers in agency guides (a great source is the Writers
Guide to Book Editors, Publishers & Literary Agents - Prima
Publishing) and market intelligence garnered at the trade shows and
through personal contact.

After identifying a preliminary target list, we typically conduct an
agency audit. This approach which involves pre-pitching the author's
project without revealing title or author is borrowed from the proven
media audit conducted by most PR firms prior to pitching a story. The
goal is to secure an approximate read on the media's reaction to a
particular story by randomly testing the story on a handful of print
and electronic journalists. Some in our profession dub this the
"dangle the carrot" approach because the publicist is literally
enticing the reporter's reaction by holding back, giving up a little,
and amassing data. If the pre-pitch shows that the story has legs,
i.e. the majority of randomly (or purposefully) selected journalists
reacted favorably, many of those same journalists will be included on
the media target list when the full pitch is underway. Having
expressed interest before all the details were disclosed, those same
journalists are more likely to take a look at the
story when it's ready for release later on.

The same holds true for agents. Or so we have found. During the
agency audit phase of our client representation, our research in
advance of the phone calls will provide us with 10, maybe 15
reasonable targets who are ideal for presentation of a new property.
Phoning these agents one by one, our staff quickly determines if
there is interest in the particular subject area. If so, what would
the agent be looking for to consider taking the property from read to
representation? What about the markets in general? Does the agent see
a need for this type of property now? Has the window passed? Should
we wait? What about the news climate? For example, while the market
is flooded with self-help books, could this be the best time for
another entry about the Freudian psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic
approach to weight loss since the Federal government recently
released new obesity guidelines suggesting that more than half the
nation is overweight?

With a new belt-tightening Bush administration in place and the
resurgence in dialogue about a national missile defense shield
lighting up the respective radars of evening newscasts
coast-to-coast, is there room in the children's market for a book and
CD written and recorded by two aerospace engineers who, by day, build
weapons of mass destruction like the Stealth Fighter, but, by night,
found time to produce a project designed to steer hurting kids away
from suicide as the only answer to their emotional problems? These
are the types of considerations the seasoned literary publicist
brings to the 30 second phone call, which, if s/he is on the job,
usually develops into a five to 10 minute phone call followed by a
"So, when can I see the book?"

Like with any marketing endeavor getting the agent to look at the
book by tapping the resources and instincts of a professional lit pub
takes some personal financial investment. While there are private PR
"hacks" who will take on an author for $750 - $1,800 usually for
anywhere from one to three months, the motto You get what you pay for
more often applies to an industry like PR which constantly strives to
demonstrate to the client base measurable results amidst clip
claiming (i.e. Oh, I think that feature in People was my Uncle Bob's
idea...) to the random fallout of media buzz once the bee is out of
the hive. The high-end firms (like ours) typically charge anywhere
from $2,000 to $3,000 per month plus expenses. Some firms insist on a
minimum three month contract, others represent their author clients
on a month-to-month arrangement. While a three month contract
totaling a potential $9000 to $10,000 (after expenses) may seem
steep, consider the time and hours and personal cost of a
writing career that produces great material but, because you
couldn't get your manuscript before the right people, goes nowhere.
Reciprocally, consider the $10,000 against a potential $50,000 to
$150,000 advance if your book is signed. Suddenly, the value of
hiring a literary publicist seems to make a great deal of sense…and
dollars.

When you've sweated over and finally finished that Great American
novel, or breakthrough self-help book, or creative children's
illustrated story, submitted it to hundreds of agents and received
hundreds of rejections, we suggest you put down your manuscript and
pick up the phone. Don't call 911. Not yet. Call your local literary
publicist. We'll take care of setting your work on fire.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now You're Talking
Getting a publicist before the book is signed by a publisher is such a novel and clever idea. Having been an editor at HarperCollins, Ballantine, Bantam, I can tell you these giant fortresses are tough to penetrate and outsiders have no idea how the machine works; only a savvy publicist would get it. Books are market-driven and that's the specialty not of editors, or of agents, but of the publicist.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Live the Low Life High said...

Very much enjoy your insight. I have read many of your blogs about publishing. Are there any updates or changes you would make to keep up to date. Is there information that's outdated or in the current market has become more important. And if you will allow another question, whee do I find a list of ligitimate and successful publicists? Thanks again. NO
onenrone@ nospam gmail.com

6:35 PM  

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