It’s like a dirty word. In fact, I’m calling it today’s Dirty Word of the Day. Once, I needed help with an author contract and reached out to a woman about hiring her as a consultant. I got an email from her that said, “I don’t like publicists but sure I’ll talk to you.” Uh, no thank you. I wouldn’t want you to slum it with little old dirty me. And I wouldn’t want to disappoint her and her preconceived notion of a “publicist” either. After all, I’ve been told I’m quite likeable (usually).
This woman, she’s not alone in her prejudice. There is this love-hate relationship that exists between authors and publicists, between publishers and outside publicists – now there is a really dirty word and occupation: outside publicist. Like… porta-potty cleaner, fishmonger, used car salesman or …porn star. (In fact, for fun, here are a few other really disgusting words, perhaps far more disgusting than publicist. And some really disgusting jobs, perhaps far worse than publicist.)
But, in all seriousness, and back to the Dirty Word of the Day: At some point as an author, you are going to have to make a decision about hiring a publicist. And at some point you might not be happy with that publicist, you might not know what to do or you might be considering firing that publicist, or perhaps looking for another porn star…err publicist to take their place. Here are some tips on how to fire – and not to fire- your publicist.
#1 Share some pie
If you are on the fence about the relationship with your publicist and whether you want to extend it or terminate it, sit down and talk. My grandfather (a true Midwesterner) liked to say that there’s nothing that a good pie can’t fix. If you live in the same area, sit down over coffee (and pie) and have a face-to-face, heart-to-heart with your publicist. They are (usually) people too. I’ve been doing this awhile and I know that sometimes it’s a matter of neither party understanding the feelings, needs, expectations, hard work and situation on both sides. If you don’t live in the same area, try Skype or Face Time. Relying on email or texts is not a great way to communicate, especially over big matters. And if you have hired the kind of publicist that would never even consider sitting down over coffee, let alone pie, with you, then you should probably fire them (just kidding…sort of).
#2 Be Patient
I often have clients say, “Why haven’t you heard back yet?”, “Well, you would think local media would be very interested in my story”, or “What’s taking so long? It’s been over a month now…”. Media relations is tough and it takes time and a good publicist is aggressive and persistent without being annoying. Sometimes who you know can help, sometimes not. Sometimes an editor is busy or out or just not interested or has other things they are focused on. Sometimes they are still reading your book. Sometimes they read it and didn’t choose it. Sometimes they didn’t like it. Sometimes they loved it and still there wasn’t a place for it. There’s never any guarantee and it’s very hit or miss. This is very difficult to hear when you are paying money for a publicist. I had a book featured in Entertainment Weekly that the editor called “The undiscovered YA book of summer”. I couldn’t have written that better myself. Oh wait, I did write that in the pitch, and it got put in the story. Amazing! But you know what? It took eight months for that to happen. So just don’t jump the gun – a good publicist knows that media relations takes time and effort and requires follow up. If you don’t think that follow up is happening, ask. Ask again. But be patient if there’s been no word. Patience and consistency wins the race, or something like that.
#3 Stay Classy
In my career, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing authors. Some of them from the beginning of their career or very early on. I’ve had many conversations over the years where we have discussed – together – the need to hire me again, or not, to move on to someone who has a different skill set, to not hire outside help anymore because they have worked their way up at their publishing house to get even more time and resources from the publisher. The reasons and the conversations have been many. And 99% of the time, it’s been a great conversation and showed me that the client really appreciated all the hard work, that they recognized that I knocked on every door for them, that I got their social media off the ground, that I helped introduce them to media, bloggers and readers who are fans for life. I had an author not long ago who was making a big decision about going from traditional publishing to Indie – a very big decision. She wanted to start fresh and try something different. I recommended another publicist that I adore. Her agent called me, she called me, the other publicist called me. It was a great mutually respected decision with the goal of the author in mind. So there are reasons why it’s time to move on or try something new, and that’s acceptable. Be classy and have those conversations if it’s that time for you and someone who has been working with you. It means so much. And it says so much. Which leads me to….
#4 Don’t Lie
If you aren’t going to work with the publicist who helped you in the beginning, don’t lie. Especially if they were successful in their efforts and went above and beyond. Especially if they were your biggest cheerleader. Don’t say you are going to handle it yourself this time around and then hire another firm. Just say you are hiring someone else. See #3 Stay Classy.
#5 Sometimes you gotta learn the hard way
Sometimes, like in marriage and other relationships, you have to just learn the hard way. It’s like…. Adultery. You are in a committed relationship but you are starting to get bored with your current publicist…err partner. You think it would be exciting and more successful with someone new. Maybe they have a shiny website or exciting clients or use buzz words like “Oprah”. And in some cases, that new relationship can go on to be very successful. But most of the time, you are just going to start seeing the same pattern as your original “marriage”. The honeymoon phase wears off, you start noticing things you don’t like or that bug you, promises fall through and you realize the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
In that case, I say, call your old publicist… err partner up and offer to talk over some pie.