Why you should never hire a publicist for your book (do this instead)

A common question I get in my private facebook group goes like this: “my book is published but I have zero sales and no visibility, and I don’t know anything about book marketing. Should I hire a publicist?”

The short answer is NO.

A book publicist or book launch specialist will often charge 10K or more, guarantee nothing and focus on things that don’t directly sell books.

They might help you:

  • find relevant bloggers or platforms and approach them 6months in advance
  • figure out how to tie your book into a current story or topical issue
  • find the “hook” that makes your book relevant
  • figure out the “pitch” to communicate your book’s value
  • organize a book launch (timing, ads, etc).

They won’t help you:

  • check to make sure the book has obvious value (content, title, subtitle)
  • research and find your audience
  • make sure your cover attracts that audience
  • invest in building your own email list and audience (which means after you blow all the money, sales will dry up and your book will be invisible again)
  • get enough book reviews before you launch

Which means, even if you get a ton of visibility, the conversion won’t be great, and because you’re not in control of the way you reach your fans and audience, after sales are exhausted you’ll have no way to reach more readers.

This is why most books fail, and most authors lose money publishing. It’s easy to spend 10K or 25K and expect big results, but fail with the cover, title or content and have a book that never takes off.

It’s also why I don’t personally offer book marketing services like this – unless I can help you write a book that’s actually going to sell and design and position it well, no amount of marketing will help.

If you get everything else right, I love making customized marketing strategies and launch plans for the members of my private community. You can join Guerrilla Publishing for a fraction of the price you’d pay for a book publicist, and get far more value from the program (it’s basically like like booking me for a marketing consultation, but instead of one hour you get long-term support.)

The problem is, services follow demand.

Most authors are willing to pay, but they aren’t willing to listen. They just want to pay someone to make their book successful, without focusing on writing books that sell; getting professional covers; building organic traffic or engaging with their email list.
However, because these companies will take your money whether or not your book is actually read for marketing, or whether or not it has enough commercial potential to have a chance at earning back at the investment, it makes it appear that such services are scams. Anne Allen has a recent post about new writing scams in 2019, warning against predatory companies rising from the remains of Author Solutions (a mostly conquered behemoth of vanity publishing).
These services succeed because they offer authors what they WANT: a “publishing deal” with a real “literary agent” (they just ask you to foot the bill for some services, then try and upsell you more and more bogus marketing packages with aggressive sales tactics.)
They target frustrated, naive or newbie authors – and unfortunately, since the vast majority of authors are already losing money with their book and languishing in the millions of unread books on Amazon – hopeful and desperate authors are easy marks.

What Anne calls “Junk marketing” is basically anything that can’t be measured, costs too much, and won’t sell books – but the truth is nearly all “book marketing” packages are probably worthless, along with most publicists, because the real problems are the book, the audience size, the value proposition and the positioning/book design (which is why I say all real marketing happens before the book is published).

How to publish successfully

It may seem like publishing is getting saturated, but the truth is there is a ton of demand from readers that is not being met, because the majority of writers are choosing to write in less commercial genres.

It’s nice to focus on craft, but demand usually trumps all other considerations. With this in mind, you can boil publishing success down to only 2 simple steps, which most authors refuse to consider.

  1. Write great books in popular genres with obvious value people actually want.
  2. Put it in front of the right readers with positioning statements, credibility boosters, quality signals and an open loop hook.

There’s always room at the top. Half the bestsellers are indie, but they’re doing all the things right: great covers and blurbs, finished series and boxsets, AMS/FB ads, rapid release… if you do all the things it’s not *that* hard, but that’s assuming you can write great books in popular genres semi-quickly (a few a year) plus handle all the rest of it.

Specifically, use content marketing to get traffic; use a permafree book and optin bribe to build an email list; offer vulnerable shares and valuable content to build trust; use image qoutes and excerpts to build desire before launch; launch with ad stacking and list trades; write series and complete boxsets so you have a higher value ladder and can bid more on ads; run ads as long as they’re profitable (if you cant advertise profitably, there’s a problem with your conversion or targeting – product market fit).

If you don’t know what all this means, now is a great time to join my private course and membership community (or just download the free guide and workbook, which explains most of this stuff).

But wait, there’s more…

Even if you get everything right, there are some new changes you need to be aware of: many of these were just pointed out in a great article by Yudhanjaya Wijeratnewhich claims we’re at the end of the “Wild West” of indie publishing and entering new territory.

Specifically,

“it takes a certain amount of financial security to be able to put one’s feet up and keep the pen on paper. Traditional publishing no longer provides this surety.”

And while ten years ago indie authors were getting rich by being first in new market, now it takes networking, practice, and hard work – three things most authors aren’t interested in.

The new opportunity, are what Yudhanjaya calls “CoPubs” or franchises – a team of indie authors publishing together under one branded universe, which tend to have these features:

  1. Characters that are interesting and memorable
  2. A fictional universe big enough for more than one story
  3. A recognisable visual style
  4. Different, but not too different

These may be set up as profit share, or they can be set up with ghostwriters or paid interns (Yudhanjaya says “in an optimistic future, competition forces them to give their authors a larger share of the royalties”). In my own version of this publishing experiment, we’ve created a program where writers get credit, but are only paid a one time advance without royalties. This means we can reinvest any profit in the marketing, so that hopefully, eventually, I also get paid for all the work I’m putting in.

It’s risky, but allows me to concentrate on building up a large backlist of creative content, while also continuing to focus on writing and publishing my own books at the same time.

How much should you pay to publish?

That depends on you, but probably less than $2000, with the understanding that “marketing services” won’t work. You can pay more if you need long-term coaching, extensive editing or feedback, or some major publicity (as long as you recognize that getting featured on primetime news won’t sell books, so you better have another income model besides book sales to recoup your investment).

The cost of a product or service depends most on the size of the pain you’re trying to avoid, the perceived benefits and potential earnings, and the available budget. Many authors are so desperate to make their book so successful and so reluctant to figure out publishing and marketing, they will gladly pay someone to remove the burden.

This might all sound intimidating to the casual or first-time author who’s is thinking about publishing their first book, or the one who can’t imagine writing more than one book a year. If you need help getting started, the very best thing you can do is focus on writing books people want to read (if you manage this and do it intentionally, you will absolutely be way ahead of most authors). Don’t worry too much about anything until you have a book out, know who it’s for, and how to position it in a way that attracts your target readers.

After that, the second most important thing will be building up your OWN audience and platform, so you are less tempted to pay for bullshit marketing services that won’t help your long-term author career. If you need help getting started, I have a course on writing bestsellers, and a bundle to help you build a fanbase, that are highly recommended.

★ Bestseller Blueprint (91% off!): https://bit.ly/2Ra4xU5
★ Platform Basics (website/email list): https://bit.ly/2GZ2kGr

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.