5 Myths of Book Publicity

by Dan Smith

Did you know …

  • Any author can do publicity on their own.
  • Book publicists will take your money and get the same results you would get on your own.
  • Book publicity really never sparks book sales.
  • Book publicists are fast-talking BS artists.

Actually, the real “did you know” is that there are many unfounded myths about book publicists and book publicity in general.

Let’s examine just a few:

  • Book publicists are a seedy, untrustworthy lot. No, the vast majority of book publicists don’t take your money and run and are not fast-talking BS artists. This just isn’t true.

For some reason, publicity and PR take hits like this more than some other industries, when any industry or service field has some bad actors. Perhaps this myth stems from the fact that book publicists offer no guarantees of results in most cases.

Who takes money and doesn’t promise to deliver specific things? Actually, a lot of professionals. Does your financial advisor guarantee specific returns on stock investments? Does your lawyer guarantee a favorable decision by a judge? Does a psychotherapist guarantee you won’t ever get depressed again?

We, book publicists, are no different.

A February 2019 article in The Guardian has some great insights into how publicists are portrayed in films:

Why do publicists get such terrible publicity? Some of the screen’s most disreputable characters are press agents, despite it being the profession best placed to improve its own image. In film and TV, PRs tend to be venal and corrupt at worst, damaged or ditzy at best. In the TV series Flack, Robin, played by Anna Paquin, is a classic screen publicist, a cynical schemer who can manipulate public opinion like a master, but whose private life is in freefall. Between cheating on her boyfriend and snorting coke, she spends her working hours salvaging the mangled reputations of her celebrity clients – arranging lavender marriages and teenage sex tapes without sweating too much over the moral implications. PR, she says, “makes the most of my natural talents: lying and drinking.”

  • Book marketing and book publicity never produce significant sales of books. Well, while it’s true that industry statistics about the average number of books sold are sobering, and selling huge numbers of books is very difficult for any author or publisher, the fact is, it can happen. Even with major media placements, book publicists can’t guarantee a huge increase in sales, but there are, in fact, many authors out there who have sold tens of thousands and many hundreds of thousands of books due to the work of publicists. At Smith Publicity, we have clients who sell 50 to 100 books a week for many months. While it may not add up to tens of thousands, this type of sales volume consistently is very, very good.

The Nonfiction Authors Association published an interesting article on book sales. Check it out here.

  • Anyone can do book publicity. Some people feel that what we do as book publicists isn’t really very hard and that almost anyone can do it. Write a press release and send it out, and you’ll get as good of results as most publicists. Well, the simple answer to this is … WRONG. Book marketing is a specialized field that requires in-depth knowledge of many areas, including journalism, media operations, media relations, a keen awareness of breaking and general news, and how to capitalize on news and even psychology. It also requires many skills such as persuasive writing, oral communications, marketing communications, and much more.

Sure, there are certainly some very successful self-promoters out there, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that what we do is easy. It is not.

  • Authors should focus only on the highest-level media; anything else is useless. This is what we used to call the “Oprah Effect,” and it will destroy an author’s chances of success. Ignore smaller media outlets at your own peril. The best book publicity campaigns are full of singles, doubles, triples, and some home runs, to use the baseball analogy. Every hit counts, even bunts.
  • A self-published book will never get coverage by a national newspaper or TV show. This was indeed true at one time. Many years ago, when I first started Smith Publicity, when my hair was thicker, and I still had two real knees, it was tough to get self-published books and authors major media coverage. But the industry has changed dramatically, and the stigma against self-published books is long gone. Today, the media look for quality books, quality content, and expert authors. They no longer immediately turn a book over to see who published it.

More myths and misconceptions will be examined in the future on our blog.

Stay tuned!