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What you should look for when hiring an outside publicist

I’m continually surprised to learn when authors express dissatisfaction with their independent publicist that they did not do their homework before they hired their publicist. Too often, authors never checked their publicist’s references nor did they ask to see sample press materials or sample media campaigns. Worse, some authors have confided to me that they hired an independent PR firm or freelance publicist who refused to submit references when asked.

Any professional publicist worth his or her reputation has good references and sample campaign materials, and will gladly provide them upon request. In fact, I provide them before authors even make the request. References are a standard part of my proposal. What better way is there to prove your track record to your potential client? And satisfied authors are more than happy to give glowing testimonials (for instance, you can check my testimonials on the testimonial page of my website). If a PR firm refuses to offer references, it should raise a red flag in the author’s mind. Would you hire someone to work for you in a corporate environment without checking references? Would you go to a doctor you found in the yellow pages?

So how can you find a reputable publicist? Here are some useful pointers:

First, word-of-mouth not only sells books, but it is also a great way of shopping around for an independent publicist as well. When I ask my clients how they heard about me, they often tell me that I received great word-of-mouth references from other authors, which is how British bestselling author Nick Stone [1] heard about me when he published THE KING OF SWORDS (HarperCollins) in the United States last December. Ask your colleagues who represents them or whom they respect.

Second, you must visit the website of any publicist you are considering. What books have they promoted (both current and past titles)? What kinds of campaigns have they launched? What kinds of media did they book? Most importantly, take a close look at their testimonials. If you see that an author has hired the same publicist for more than one book, consider it an excellent sign. In addition to the website’s testimonials, ask the publicist to provide contact information of past or current clients so you can check the publicist’s credentials directly with the authors.

Shop around: Look up publicists online, in the Literary Market Place [2] as well as on websites such as The Midwest Book Review [3]. Make sure that your publicist is experienced, that he or she has at least three years experience at a big house handling top authors. Preferably you want a seasoned publicist with five or more years of experience. Ask your prospective publicist how he or she works with in-house publicists: will she be sending updates? Will she be communicating with your in-house publicist?

Third, an independent publicist should draw up a proposal outlining his or her services detailing what you will be getting for your money. Don’t be shy about asking questions. You want to make sure you are a good fit with your publicist. Make sure they get a copy of your book before committing to the campaign and that they are excited about its prospects. Remember, you’ll be working together closely for one to three months, so you want to be sure that the chemistry is right and that there is a good channel of communication between you. Bottom line: you want to feel comfortable with whomever you hire.

Fourth, a Letter of Agreement should follow the proposal once you have decided upon a particular publicist. You want to make sure that you seal the deal in writing—and that the terms of the agreement are clearly spelled out. A good Letter of Agreement should have an opt-out clause for both parties should for whatever reason one or both of you want to end the campaign before the originally agreed-upon date.

Below is a checklist you should use when hiring an independent publicist:

• Shop around: Look up publicists online, in the Literary Market Place as well as on websites such as The Midwest Book Review

• Word-of-mouth: ask other authors to recommend publicists

• Check out the publicist’s website carefully. Pay close attention to the testimonials

• Always ask for referrals and check references

• Ask for a client list, sample campaigns and sample press materials

• Experience: Make sure your publicist has at least three to five years experience

• Ask your prospective publicist how he or she works with in-house publicists

• Chemistry is a factor: Do you feel comfortable with the publicist you are going to hire?

• Make sure he or she gets your book: Is your publicist excited about your book? Discuss how he or she would promote it

• Compare prices and know exactly what you are getting for your money

• Proposal: Make sure you get a proposal. The proposal should carefully spell out the fee structure and what you would be getting for your money. A proposal should include references

• Letter of Agreement: Make sure you seal the deal in writing and that there is an opt-out clause in the Letter of Agreement

Next month I’ll be writing about when you should hire an independent publicist. So stay tuned…

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