The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Why authors shouldn’t contact journalists directly

Given that this is, after all, The Book Publicity Blog, every so often an author will write in asking for contact information for a show.  It may surprise you (if you’re an author — not so much if you’re a book publicist) that it’s really not a good idea for authors to be in touch directly with reporters and producers.

As an author, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?”  Book publicity isn’t exactly, say, rocket science.  In fact, you would be correct about this.  However, we do learn who to contact, how to go about it, when to do it.  We think and consider and strategize.  We research and meet and talk with journalists.  So while I’ve covered a lot of book publicity issues in this blog like how to utilize social networks or what an author website should contain, I’ve never posted about how to publicize a book because one post (or even a series of posts) will never cover that.

So book publicity is not rocket science, but there still are reasons to leave publicity to the publicists:

  • As publicists, we spend careers developing relationships with journalists.  We meet with them, talk to them, alert them to interesting upcoming books.  Our contact with many journalists doesn’t consist of one message pitching one book one time.  It’s an ongoing process.
  • We follow up with any combination of mail, email and phone, depending on the contact.  We want to make sure journalists are aware of a book, but we don’t want to overwhelm them.  (At least we really try not to.)
  • We’re familiar with the lead times of various television and radio shows as well as with those of newspapers and magazines which vary from the next few minutes to six months and more.
  • We can distinguish the book editor from the economy correspondent from the news assignment manager.  There’s very rarely only one right contact at a show or newspaper or magazine (or even some blogs).  We can find reporters who cover cruise ships.  Or Salem Radio Network affiliates in the top 20 markets.  Journalists based in Eastern Europe.  Newspapers for the Armenian community.  And a lot more.
  • We’re accustomed to hearing “no.”  We’re also accustomed to not hearing anything at all most of the time.  The reality is that there are hundreds of publicists pitching hundreds of thousands of books to hundreds of newspapers and magazines and radio shows (and only dozens of national ones).  You don’t need to be a numbers genius to see that means there are a heck of a lot more of us than them.

Some exceptions:

  • If you’re an author and know the journalist (and by “know” I mean you were at dinner at their house last night, not you handed them a business card at a conference), by all means: chat up your buddy (and call in a favor while you’re at it).
  • Many bloggers don’t mind being contacted by authors, particularly if said authors regularly follow and comment on their blog.  Also, there’s no centralized blogger database (in part because blogs change so frequently) so anyone — like an author — who’s willing to do the leg work of digging up appropriate blogs is welcome to.

Lest you think I’m simply raining on the publicity parade, here are some suggestions for what authors should do:

  • Communicate with your publicist.  Your publicist should contact you starting four-six month’s before a book’s publication.  Make sure to ask questions so you understand the publicity process and timeline.  Ask what you can do to help.  (And of course, you can also read this blog for general tips.)
  • Trust your publicist.  It may be hard to believe that the publicist has so few responses from the media.  But you can see the numbers above.  Journalists can either do their jobs or their can spend their days answering our queries about books we’ve sent and authors we’re offering for interviews.  They can’t do a lot of both, which, unfortunately for us publicists, means that we don’t hear back from journalists nearly as much as we’d like to.
  • Keep your contacts in a database.  Assuming you use anything that doesn’t involve a pen and paper (like Outlook or Gmail), you probably already do.  In advance of a book’s publication, publicists will ask authors for their media contacts (if any).  Rather than sending along the contact information in an email or a Word document, export the information into Excel so it can be quickly imported into publicity databases or mail merged into labels.  (Think of it like this: entering data like names and addresses in Word makes about as much sense as submitting a manuscript in Excel.)  If your publicist doesn’t provide you with a template, you can use one like this.  (And to make sure you don’t inadvertently drop leading zeros from zip codes, make sure to select the column, then select “Format” from the top menu bar, then “Cells.”  In the “Number” tab, make sure “Text” is selected.

And lastly, if you really feel that you need to supplement the publishing house’s publicity efforts, rather than diving in on your own, consider hiring a freelance book publicist.

***

Questions?  Comments?  Do share.

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January 14, 2010 - Posted by | Author-Publicist Relationship, Miscellaneous

18 Comments »

  1. I also think it’s easier for a media contact to be honest with a publicist. The publicist didn’t write the book, an author did. It’s easier to tell someone you aren’t interested in a book/author if they aren’t the person who actually wrote the book.

    So, I think hearing from an author directly for many media people would put them in a potentially awkward situation.

    Comment by Kama Timbrell | January 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Too true!

      Comment by Yen | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. This is a great post, Yen. Thank you!

    As founder of a literary website, I am regularly contacted by publicists. I don’t often hear from authors, though I don’t mind that if the contact is professionally handled.

    What I would like to point out is that it is good if anyone who wants to contact us finds and uses the review publication’s submission guidelines or preferences. In our case, we have a “Submit Books for Review” page. It lists our reviewers by name along with their review preferences, and also contains a direct e-mail link for each of them.

    I realize given the time constraints of publicists, whether in-house or freelance, that it’s not always feasible to go searching for review submission guidelines on our site or any other one. But I think doins so can help avoid waste of time and books for busy publicists. And it’s essential for any author thinking about doing so.

    Looking at this subject from the reviewer’s point of view (at least this reviewer), I try to also keep to standards of professional courtesy as much as possible. Both my managing editor and I answer every email (excepting obvious spam). We also want to develop and nurture ongoing relationships with book publicists regardless of whether they are in-house (and from a large or small publishers) or freelance so we treat them and their house’s or clients’ books with the highest regard ( http://laurensb.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/the-ethics-of-bibliobuffet/ ). We want them to know they can depend on us to notify them when a review is published, and to understand that we take our responsibility to our readers seriously. Yen has laid out the reasons why book publicists are both valuable and essential to the book marketing process. I would hope we can also look at the role book reviewers play in this process, and how we can make it better for them as well.

    Comment by Lauren Roberts | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. I agree with this completely. I have been campaigning for self published authors to try to hire a free lance publicist to handle their queries. The main reason that I (and many others) do not accept review copies from Self Published Authors, is the crazy amount of query letters you get for books that haven’t been properly edited and then when you review the book that hasn’t been perfected and you didn’t like it. The backlash from the author is imminent, then maybe you don’t review it for some reason and they continue to email you for the review. Also sending queries via social network is a bad idea. (@reply on Twitter, Facebook or Myspace Message.)

    Great article!

    Comment by Pam | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  4. Actually Yen, when dealing with the right author and the right journalist, in the right situation–I encourage my authors to communicate directly. This is usually when responding to a HARO query. The authors I deal with are of the ‘expert’ type, so I often just send the query along and leave them to it. I go over the whole expectations and professionalism aspect. It might be much different when addressing fiction. Most non-fiction authors do have to have their own publicity strategy and usually they do hire publicists, but in the HARO situation timeliness is essential and the whole who is helping who dynamic is different.

    Comment by Jean Westcott | January 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Jean — you raise a good point. I didn’t make the distinction — but should have — between a response to a query and an unsolicited pitch. I too also forward HARO / Help a Reporter queries directly to authors (when appropriate, of course!) and encourage them to respond directly to the journalist if they want / have the time.

      Comment by Yen | January 14, 2010 | Reply

      • Of course–your initial points all still stand. Just wanted to say that in some cases direct author contact can work.

        Comment by Jean | January 15, 2010

  5. Fantastic, Jen!

    Comment by Bella Stander | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  6. Oops, I meant Yen.

    Comment by Bella Stander | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  7. Great post — it’s sort of the same reason authors have agents. We need a go between!

    Comment by Daisy Whitney | January 14, 2010 | Reply

  8. Confirming what others have said in the comments RE: responses to HARO. As a journalist who uses HARO, I vastly prefer working with authors/experts directly than with publicists. If a publicist repeatedly insists on arranging any contact, or otherwise puts up hoops, I bail on the source. As an editor for a magazine that pubs book reviews, on the other hand, I prefer to work with publishers.

    Comment by Kelly | January 16, 2010 | Reply

  9. As a blogger with about 6,000 daily readers who love books, I don’t care where the books come from as long as they’re subject appropriate and good, but this is rarely the case. I am offered books I could never review or highlight for the most part by PR ppl. ‘Course you’re not addressing bloggers per say and the situation has changed since the FTC stepped in somewhat, but hasn’t stopped my readers buy tons of books.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Thanks,
    Carolg

    Comment by parisbreakfast | January 17, 2010 | Reply

  10. I have been producing and hosting The Writing Show podcast since 2005, and I have to say that I much prefer dealing with authors than with their publicists. Authors really know their works. They know why they wrote them and what they’ll be able to say about the topics I’ll want to discuss. When I talk to them, I can get a sense of them, and I can discuss what approach we’ll take in the interview. I have dealt with a few publicists who know their authors’ material well, but I find that most of them don’t have the time to get to know the topics or the authors in any depth. Not their fault: just the nature of the beast.

    Comment by Paula B. | January 17, 2010 | Reply

  11. To contact, or not to contact…that, is the question.

    As one of the most successful self-published authors around, I can speak directly on this issue. And, in fact, I might add that it pertains to my kind more directly simply because we generally do not have a large team of publicists, editors, and office assistants at the ready ;)

    My personal experience has been “YES, it is a bad practice, as an author, to contact ANY media outlet directly that you are targeting for marketing purposes.” On the other hand, what choice do we have? Well, the obvious answer is to hire a publicist, of course. A good publicist can help you to maintain a professional image while obtaining leads and coverage within the media arena. However, a good publicist tends to cost a little coin. Nothing wrong with that, unless you have less than a little coin. Then, you may try to find a bargain publicist, and herein lies the crux of my comment.

    I recently contacted two different publicists(about 4 months ago, roughly) and entered into agreements with both of them. One was more of a small time, marketing expert. His whole game was to create an author page on a high ranking site, that get’s you umpteen zillion hits, etc. His credible claim to fame was being listed as one of the “101 Best Writer Websites” on “The Writers Digest Magazine” website. It’s one of those things that self-published writers put a lot of credibility into. As it turned out, he was just a really good scam artist. You know how the best lies have a grain of truth to them? Well, the best scams are run the same way-the perpetrator does actually deliver something tangible. Had I researched him more thoroughly, I would have seen that he had received an ‘F’ from the BBB.

    Then, there was an actual publicist whom I hired to represent me. The only problem was that she turned out to be a ‘PR coach’ who falsely represented herself. Before I signed the contract she said, “We will be making calls on your behalf to my list of ‘contacts’.” Then, after I went into contract with her she told me, “Oh no, I will help YOU find someone to make the calls and I will coach them on what to say on your behalf.” Shark alert.

    In the end, my best success has been contacting media outlets on my own. I would much prefer to have a professional doing it for me, but to get past the shlock you have to be able to spend the bigger coin.

    Here is some of what I have been able to achieve on my own though:

    “This book gives you the tools, knowledge, and awareness to completely revamp your unconscious mind to create the life you really want.”-T. Harv Eker author of the #1 NY Times best seller Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

    “Maybe the best way to describe this book is that this is the ‘missing manual’ for positive thinking and re-creating a more fulfilled way of life…big thumbs up.”-Joanna Daneman Amazon top 10 Reviewer

    “Sometimes in order to create what you want, you have to get rid of what you don’t want. I like this book because it addresses the difficulties that people can face in life. It doesn’t take the reader for granted.”-Dr. Joe Vitale author of the #1 best seller The Attractor Factor

    “Reality Creation 101 is a beautifully written book with a practical step-by-step process for a more fulfilling life. Regardless of where one may be on the spiritual path, new insights will certainly be found.”-John Randolph Price author of the #1 best seller The Super Beings

    “Christopher Pinckley uses an almost clairvoyant eye to get to the essence of what can stand in the way of making us more attractive to our own greater power and to the infinite possibilities that are in store for us in the world. For anyone who is stuck in a rut without knowing why, this book can educate, inspire, and transform.”-Claudia Sheftel Luiz the 2008 Winner of the Writer’s Digest Best Writer’s Website Award

    Comment by Christopher Pinckley | January 17, 2010 | Reply

  12. [...] The Book Publicity Blog makes the case for authors not approaching show producers on their own. [...]

    Pingback by odds & ends « Diane Sherlock's Blog | January 22, 2010 | Reply

  13. Your blog is so informative … ..I just bookmarked you….keep up the good work!!!!

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    Comment by Robert Shumake | February 2, 2010 | Reply

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