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To Pitch or Not to Pitch: Do I Need a Book Publicist?

In the old, old days (so they tell me), book PR was everything. Before every single human being had access to the megaphone that is the internet, traditional media was the way that information was disseminated. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV were big, powerful beasts.

And so book PR was huge. The more media outlets your book appeared in, the more eyeballs it got. Media was the key, so a strong book publicist was essential for success.

But, times are a-changin’. Social media dominates, and traditional media is withering. While most traditional media companies have worked hard to keep up with tech changes, there are fewer outlets than in years past, and more books being published than ever before. Not only is traditional media–as we once knew it–less powerful, but there’s higher demand for the few book spots available.

And so the questions I get often are: “Is media attention worth pursuing?” and “Do I need a book publicist?”

I usually start by telling an author that PR and marketing work hand-in-hand beautifully–that media hits might lead to a bigger platform long-term, and a bigger platform might lead to more media hits; both can be partners in a book campaign.

But I would then tell that author that if he/she has limited resources and is deciding to use them for either digital marketing or PR, go with digital marketing (almost always, but there are some exceptions). And here’s why:

Digital marketing expenses are about highly-targeted advertising–advertising that you can change and tweak at the drop of a hat as based on real-time analytics. You know whom you’re reaching, and you know how and when they’re reacting/converting. Never before have we seen marketing like this.

PR, on the other hand, puts dollars toward a publicist who pitches your message out to various media outlets. It might stick; it might not. And if it does stick, you do not know exactly whom you’re reaching, nor how and when they’re reacting/converting.

So, there’s a place for both. But because good digital marketing is highly measurable, it leads to clearer and more immediate ROI on each dollar you put in.

However, don’t let that information turn you away from book publicity altogether. While the media game is a shifting one, it’s not altogether dead–not at all. Some of the most amazing book campaigns I’ve ever worked on or witnessed involved big media outreach, and some of the most talented folks in the industry are PR pros.

So, instead of saying, “Yes, you should hire a book publicist,” or, “No, you shouldn’t,” let me suggest a few things to think through.

The effectiveness of a PR campaign is super unpredictable, but it will depend on the content of your book, the topics within the news cycle, and the nature of your own brand/authority. In short, go with a publicist if any of the below items are true for you.

  • You are hoping to get strong reviews in trade publications in order to further influence retailers.
  • You are hoping to establish strong media relationships for the future of your career.
  • Your book directly ties into news of the day issues.
  • You have stronger media potential than you do email list/platform size.
  • You are a thought leader and already have media relationships that can be leveraged for this book.

The certainty and consequences of a media campaign, though, are often misunderstood. Here’s a quick list of what a PR/media campaign does not do:

  • Doesn’t guarantee you media hits, even if you’re paying for that book publicist to work really hard
  • Doesn’t guarantee book sales
  • Doesn’t guarantee bestseller list status
  • Doesn’t allow you to control your messaging or to control whether hyperlinks to the sales pages are included
  • Doesn’t give you analytics to know what’s working and what’s not

Too many authors are disappointed when they hire a book publicist and don’t see those dollars carry a strong, tangible return. The truth, though, is that the return might be intangible and long-term. I spoke to a well-known author recently who said that her hits on Good Morning America, in Redbook and Marie Claire, etc. did not show any direct link to book sales–but she did see that those hits, over the course of time and with strong, consistent pitching, did have solid results on the size and authority of her brand.

She is the perfect example of what media hits can do–over time and with continued pitching:

  • Create a snowball effect to more media hits
  • Grow an online presence and platform
  • Raise universal brand/name awareness
  • Find audiences outside of your online tribe
  • Offer ammo to earn more lucrative speaking gigs and book contracts

Just like anything, at the end of the day, it’s all about expectations. Hire a publicist if your book and/or your brand is ripe for the media pickin’–but know that an immediate correlation to sales growth is rarely the immediate option. It’s a long-term play, and one that isn’t for everyone.

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  • Micah Maddox

    Good info! I’ve wondered about this exact question. Thanks for the scoop!

    • You’re welcome, Micah! Glad it was a helpful resource.

  • Great article, Chad. Digital marketing is so much easier to measure. I wonder if you have heard of anyone trying the new Brand Awareness objective in Facebook Advertising for a book launch? I’ve been wondering if that was the way to go for a book launch, a lead ad or web site conversion objective.