What is a Literary Publicist?

WomanwithBookA publicist is a professional who has both the know-how and the network in place to help bring your name to the public. In the literary world, a publicist is key to the marketing plan, to create consumer appetite for a book title, and to stimulate buzz for the author.

A literary publicist promotes the book title directly to consumers through niche markets with an interest in the storyline or subject matter of the book. The publicist also networks with media by pitching specific interview angles the author can provide—setting up the writer as an expert on certain subjects.

Sometimes publishing houses hire independent PR firms to manage specific book campaigns, or entire lines of books. Other times, they pay half toward an outside campaign, and the author matches that. The third option is for the author to pay all of the expense from their advance, believing that publicity and marketing is what will make or break the overall sales for the book. Publicists also assist with author branding for the career of the author, so the buzz extends beyond the life of one book.

Most PR and communications firms offer a wide array of services. They come alongside of you at any stage in the writing game. They can help expand your platform, branding, and name recognition. Need some help making sure your website is selling you in the best possible light? Ask your publicist. Some will even edit your manuscripts and write your book proposals, query letters and marketing plans. Many customize plans to work with your goals, no matter where you are in the literary process.

After the book contract, your publicist will customize a plan for promoting you and your titles with the goal of maximizing exposure—with hopes that the promotion goes “viral.” This requires multiple reaches to the public, through traditional media presence, online spotlights, and waves of social networking.

Why Hire a Publicist?

1. A publicist has the media contacts and relationships needed to secure interviews/ reviews.
2. A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the media and how each journalist prefers to be contacted.
3. Most writers do not have the time to devote to a publicity campaign. It is a full-time job.
4. When an author pitches his own book to media or consumers, it is sometimes viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist is seen as a third party. Others are more receptive to discussing book promotion with a publicist rather than the author.
5. When media, retailers, and consumers hear an author has a publicist, they seem to think the author has more “clout.” It legitimizes the expert-status of the author and elevates them to a higher professional standing.
6. An author with a publicity team has “peeps.” It’s that whole “I’ll have my people contact your people” approach.

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KathyWillisKathy Carlton Willis spins many plates as writer, speaker, editor, and platform coach. She writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. Kathy discusses the key issues that hold believers back and shines the light on their paths to freedom. Kathy’s passionate about helping audiences have lightbulb moments. All told, nearly a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published online and in print publications. Speaker to Speaker: The Essential Speaker’s Companion (OakTara) and Grin with Grace (AMG) are set to release in 2014. She serves alongside her pastor husband, Russ Willis, in local church ministry.

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Setting and Straying from your Brand

BrandBranding is even more about defining the essence of a writer than it is defining the niche or genre. We all leave an imprint on others—some of us do this in a strategic way while others leave a message without meaning to. So why not be intentional?

How is it some can write different types of books and be consistent to their brand and others seem to be disloyal to their readers by branching out? It all depends on voice. Does the voice match the brand?

For example: Liz Curtis Higgs. I once talked with her at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) and told her, “I use you as an example in my marketing classes. When I teach branding, I explain that writers don’t have to declare a niche but they have to be true to their writing essence. Even though you write fiction, nonfiction, Bible Studies, humor and children’s books, your voice is consistent in each work. I see and hear Liz Curtis Higgs in every piece I read by you. You have no idea what a relief that is to writers who are so confused by the industry push to get branded into just one little box.” We had a good discussion about this topic. Then I told her, “When you are true to your voice, that’s the best brand of all, because it’s the imprint God wants you to leave.”

But then there’s John Grisham. His readers expect legal suspense. And he’s good at it. Made his money with this point of view. Any time he veers from this identity, some of his loyal readers feel betrayed. They don’t get what they are looking for in between the covers. They find a confused voice. Others have loved it. Is it worth it to take the risk? He can get away with it because if only 25% of his loyal readers buy his books when he strays from his brand, that’s still a big seller, but can a regular writer afford to only sell 25% of their normal book sales if they depart from their brand?

My advice to writers setting up a brand is to create a think tank or wisdom team and conduct a survey. Make sure it’s a variety of people who know you well (in the publishing industry, in ministry, from your target audience, family and friends). Ask them to give you some key words that best describe your essence (as a person, in your writing, in your speaking, in your ministry, etc.). Pay attention to the words that pop up on several lists. Try to capture those descriptors in your brand, and also make sure it has a “deliverable” quality to it. Those paying attention to your brand have a WII-FM mentality (What’s In It For Me).

For me, the words “light” and “shine” kept popping up. So I created my taglines and brand around that impression. This way, people know my voice, and know what I bring to the table when they connect with me.

Brand combines voice, style, audience, content, tagline, logo, style, colors, and more. It’s that overall impression you make (strategic) or leave (accidental).

The industry does want your brand—your voice—to speak to certain groups. It’s easier to sell to niche markets than to general markets. It’s better to categorize yourself as a certain type of writer, and then set yourself up as a go-to-writer in those genres or categories. Once you are established, and you think you can be true to your voice, then you can branch out. Let your brand be your filter so you know what projects are a good fit, and which ones to pass up.

What impression are you leaving?

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KathyWillisKathy Carlton Willis spins many plates as writer, speaker, editor, and platform coach. She writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. Kathy discusses the key issues that hold believers back and shines the light on their paths to freedom. Kathy’s passionate about helping audiences have lightbulb moments. All told, nearly a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published online and in print publications. Speaker to Speaker: The Essential Speaker’s Companion (OakTara) and Grin with Grace (AMG) are set to release in 2014. She serves alongside her pastor husband, Russ Willis, in local church ministry.