I can’t seem to figure out what a publicist does – which is a good reason for not hiring one

I acknowledge that publicity doesn’t come naturally to me. And since I am lucky enough to be middle class, and have a little bit of money to just throw at a problem, I started looking into the effectiveness of a book publicist. So I found this article by Jane Friedman about her takeaway from a panel about book publicists.

Perhaps I have trained myself to see too many fnords – to see the unsaid but relevant things. But Friedman’s article goes on at some length about what publicists want from the writers with whom they work, but nothing about what the publicist brings to the table. What the publicist does for the writer is discussed in ONE LINE in Friedman’s article: “Publicity seeks to find, identify, or target the audience to make them aware of your book.” The rest? It is about saying how much work the author will need to do, and lowering expectations.

“All panelists agreed that—even though you’re hiring a publicist—all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their book.”

“The panelists seek clients who know marketing and publicity is a process and know that it will take some time to see the effects of an effort.”

“The best authors are those already familiar with their audience and who have aspects of their platform already in place.”

“Obando recommends that authors learn all the social platforms that their potential or target audience uses.”

“As far as payoff, the overarching answer to this question is that authors should not expect to see each publicity dollar come back to them in the form of book sales.”

Etc., etc. They literally said that you shouldn’t expect a return in the form of book sales! So, why the FUCK would any author hire a publicist at all? Book sales are the whole fucking point of trying to publicize a book!

I can only imagine trying to take that fucked-up bullshit to a beer company. “We want you to spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign, but you shouldn’t expect to see the money come back to you.” They’d be fired on the spot, and rightly so.

Some of the copy was also very. . . coded. The article says that when you’re hiring a publicist, you’re hiring a partner. No, I’m hiring an employee. A partner has a financial interest in the success of your business. An employee is a person who is paid to do a job. If a publicist were a partner, they would accept a cut of your work, and they would put up some of the various expenses along the way. A person who takes your money for a job is not, not, not a partner. It is insulting to writers to suggest it is otherwise! No, worse, it is a scam, preying on the anxieties and insecurities of writers about the daunting task of publicizing a book (a skill set that few writers have any experience with) to better fleece them.

Near the end, there is a very little practical advice: for traditional authors (not me), market before you publish. Regional publicity is easier to get than national publicity. Lead with your story, not the book. But almost all of the article – and, I would reasonably infer, the panel – is about managing the expectations of authors. The authors will be doing the work, and don’t expect to return a profit (which is just baffling, since they essential admit that they offer no value added to the product). It was an effective way of turning me off of hiring a publicist! Everything I have read about them has the stink of a scam. “We can’t identify what we’ll give your business, but you should pay us a lot of money to do it.  Ha!

I did other research, too, but I found that the tasks that publicists do that I could identify – for which they charge a great deal – could likely be done as well by a virtual assistant at a much-reduced cost. If I need to do the research and planning for everything, shit, I can just hire someone to make a few phone calls!