How to publicize your book for the maximum impact

Stop! There may be better ways to publicize your book.
Emma Donnan, who runs Busy Bee PR, a public relations agency for books, answers some questions for Words and Pictures.

Have you seen more authors using a publicist in recent years?
I have seen a lot more having to take on their own publicist. The changing market means there is not always the budget for a publisher to put an in-house publicist on to a book for as long as an author may wish. And of course self-publishing means an author has no help at all without hiring someone, and with so many thousands of new books coming out yearly, making your book stand out from the crowd is becoming ever more important.

Do you think the need for authors to do public relations has had an effect on what gets published?
A good book that has caught an editor’s attention will be published regardless; but if you can show that you are willing to partake in publicity, or that you already have a fan base or a following, a good background story of your own, established press relations, etc., it will make you that much more appealing.  

Can you explain what a book publisher's marketing department does?
The marketing team focus on paid-for placement – adverts, advertorials, promotions etc.

What sort of books do you take on? Is there any kind you would refuse?
At BBPR I take on any book or author that I genuinely think I can do something for. I will chat with the author, read the book, and brainstorm, and if I can see how I could create a good campaign, we are good to go. I would turn down the book if I couldn’t see who the readers would be, or if I morally disagree with the book. In terms of the Press My Book courses, anyone is welcome to attend. 
How should an author find and choose a publicist?  
The majority of our clients come through word of mouth. Talking to other authors and finding out about their experiences can often point you towards a good publicist – or let you know one to avoid!

How easy is it for an author to do their own publicity?
In reality, it is not easy. Like anything, someone trained in and working in that sector will always do a better job. But if finances dictate, then it is not impossible. For pointers on how to get started, see the tips below. 

Be realistic!
What sorts of things could an author do that would make a publicist groan in agony?
Having unrealistic expectations; for example, expecting 5-star reviews in all the national broadsheets as a first-time self-published author. Sadly, that isn’t going to happen.
Being flaky about any interviews that are set up. Nothing will anger a journalist more than ringing someone at a prearranged time to find the subject has forgotten the chat.
Should the author copy in the publicist on everything they do and all publicity they get?
It depends on the relationship you have, but I would want to know any publicity that was being sought out by the author directly, in case it clashed with anything I was setting up.

Will the publicist tell the author about any features, mentions, and news stories featuring their books?
Yes. The publicist will want you to know what is being achieved and hopefully you will feel happy about it! Also you can put these to use on your website, in social media, etc.

Five top tips for doing your own PR
It is rarely the book that makes the story for the press– it is the author.

* Work out your selling points. “This is a great book that can be enjoyed by everyone.” That classic quote gets... erm… exactly no one to take any notice. The reality is that it is rarely the book (in fiction anyhow) that makes the story for the press – the author does. So you need to work out what makes you stand out from the crowd. Not always easy to work out for yourself, but bounce ideas off friends, family, the stranger in the pub – if you can keep them enthralled by a certain angle, you have more chance of catching a journalist’s attention.

* Do your research. Before you contact the media, be it local or national press, TV, radio, or online, make sure you have done your research. Do they cover the kind of story you are looking to put out there? And if so, which is the right desk in their office? News, features, crime, investigations, sport, the women’s desk – there is a lot to choose from, and what one likes, another may ignore. Who is the best person within that section? Often the junior reporter is your best bet. Then there will be a prime time to contact them, and a prime time to leave them alone (e.g. when they are on deadline). Get all this right, and you have more chance of getting any journalist to listen to you. 

How will your book be found?
* Streamline your reviews list. National newspaper reviewers get literally hundreds of books landing on their desks each week, and the reality is as a self-published author, you have next to no chance of getting them to write about you. Instead, try to think of those with smaller readerships, but whose readership has more chance of being interested in your book – for example, find specialist magazines that cover topics that appear in your book, or look at blogs that focus on your genre.

* Network like mad. Half of PR is about knowing the right people – journalists, bookshop owners, librarians, bookclub co-ordinators… We give you a list of relevant contacts as part of our course, but remember, the more you go out and talk to people, the more people you can tell about your book. Word of mouth is crucial to the success of a book, and unless you have a huge marketing budget, it is a steady build-up of interest that you will be looking to create, rather than an instant impact from week one.   
* Keep one eye on the long-term. Assuming you want to write more than one book, keep in mind that you are building yourself as a brand, not just basing your image on your first novel. This can be something as simple as making your website / Facebook / Twitter name your own name, rather than the title of the book. Because what are you going to do when book two comes out – start again from scratch?

Could you explain fees and when/how they are paid?
For our agency, rates are hugely varied, depending on the length and extent of the campaign. Payment is due at the end of the campaign.

What kind of areas are covered on one of your Press My Book days?
A typical day includes working out an author and a book’s selling points; learning how to pitch and to whom; dealing with TV, radio and print; getting reviews; social media; and looking at the long-term profile.

Emma Donnan is a publicist and a ghostwriter, and previously worked as a journalist, all three of the keys that make up a book and its publicity campaign. As a journalist, she worked for local and national newspapers and magazines for 10 years, covering news, arts and culture, and celebrity stories. As a writer, Emma has ghostwritten seven books, including a Sunday Times number-one bestseller. Emma is director of Busy Bee PR, a PR agency that specialises in publicity for books, as well as ongoing author profiles. Clients range from major publishing houses to self-published authors. 

Emma and her colleague Katy Weitz have now set up one-day courses to teach authors how to publicize their own books–whether to complement the work of their PR, or to go it alone. Their Press My Book courses are run in central London, both on weekends and weekdays, from 10am-4pm. £199 for the day course. Throughout 2015, SCBWI members can attend for the reduced rate of £129 for the day. 


  1. Very helpful, thanks. Making oneself the story - rather than the book - is particularly thought-provoking, and something few of us would feel comfortable about, I'd guess.

  2. This is a great resource for all published authors. I have a question - when should an author seek out a publicist - how many months before the book is out ?

  3. Great interview. Thanks for the insight.

  4. Very valuable insights indeed. I'm published solely by mainstream publishers, but I've never seen any activity from their publicity department... more and more it seems like authors and illustrators are expected to do their own publicity, or so it feels. Is it something we should be paying for though... there's the question! Does a publicist charge an upfront flat fee or receive a commission on sales from the publisher?

  5. Hello, Emma here, glad the above was helpful!
    Chitra, to answer your q - for us, 4 months before the book's publication is a good length of time to allow for long lead deadlines. Although we have been hired as late as the week of release, you obviously stand less chance of coverage, the later you leave it.
    John - in-house PRs are often spread more thinly so you are right, there is a limit to what they can do. At BBPR don't work for commission, but charge varying fees depending on the length and size of the campaign. The amount is agreed up front and paid at the end. Thanks!


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