Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
PR for Your Self-Published Book
“Does anyone do PR stuff? Do you know anyone good at social media?”
These are frequent posts, actually cries for help, in author groups on social. The meta messages behind these requests are:
“I don’t have a clue what PR is. But I guess the big authors have PR people to help them get on the talk shows and in the news to talk about their books. So I think that’s what I need ‘cause I ain’t gettin’ any sales and attention for my amazing self-published book.”
“Social media. Ugh. I hate it. Can’t I just get somebody to do it for me?”
I was in marketing and public relations for trade shows for some years and then was a trade newspaper editor and advertising director for over 15 years. So let me give you the scoop on what the PR game is all about. And now that social media has become even more of a force than mass media for smaller businesses and authors, I’ll talk about that, too, as it relates to promotions for your book.
What Is PR?
Public relations, often referred to as PR, is the process of getting attention for you and your business or books in media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, television, and radio.
As I’ve talked about in other places, this is referred to as earned media, meaning that you didn’t pay for this coverage about you. The media outlet found your content or announcement valuable enough to share with its audience. By providing this valued content, you have earned the privilege of being included in their broadcasts or publications. No media outlet or website is ever obligated to include or feature you or your book.
Because, unlike advertising, getting coverage in any media or website is not paid for, many people erroneously believe that it has no cost. That is not true. The process of distributing press releases and outreach to members of the media can be expensive in terms of dollars and time.
PR agents or representatives don’t work for free. Some work on retainers, while others will charge based on each campaign or project. Though rarer, some PR companies charge based on results achieved, though those results would be narrowly defined to help ensure the company receives payment.
PR professionals will often only take on clients for whom they feel they can achieve the desired results. If you’re a totally unknown self-published author, they probably won’t take you on as a client unless you have celebrity status. It’s just too hard to impossible to start from zero with a client that is unknown and has questionable media value.
What Can You Expect From Working With a PR Company?
Due to their inexperience and ignorance, authors may have unrealistic expectations of what a PR company can do for them. Understandably, the result authors expect is more book sales, though some may be going for the fame factor. While sustained PR efforts can result in both book sales and public recognition, it is not guaranteed.
PR companies typically measure results in terms of placements. A placement is a mention or feature of you or your book in the media or a website. Again, no inclusion of you or your work can be guaranteed. The PR company representing you will send and do outreach to many outlets with a press release (most common) or a custom pitch (more expensive) to encourage these placements.
You pay for PR professionals to solicit these placements, whether that’s on retainer, by campaign, or for placements actually received. But it will cost you no matter what. The more prized the placements, or the more difficult it is to achieve these placements, the higher the price.
While freelancers you may find on Fiverr could be in the hundreds of dollars, regular PR company fees could be as high as several thousand dollars per month, depending on the level of the company’s expertise, reputation, connections, and experience.
Brutal honesty here: PR companies are above self-published authors’ pay grade. It’s just not worth the investment for either the company or you.
Can You Do Your Own PR?
Yes. But it depends on how you define PR. If it’s merely distributing a press release with the hope of getting coverage in the media or online, then, yes, it’s possible. But if your goal is to be on talk shows and get featured in national media, then no. You would need some significant connections or cash to get help to make that a reality. Even then, as I’ve emphasized, results like that are not guaranteed.
Some authors and small businesses use news wire services, such as PRWeb/Cision Newswire, to distribute press releases to media outlets. There is a fee for this, with higher fees for more elite media lists.
Though I couldn’t see any current pricing, in the past, each campaign could be hundreds of dollars for each press release. But no media coverage is ever guaranteed, regardless of the service used.
What about free press release distribution services? You get what you pay for. Enough said.
But you can cheaply distribute your press release to people who are more likely to read, maybe even act, on the information. Send it to your email list and post it on social media. True, it may not result in media placements. But if the goal of PR is to get attention for you and your book, why not send it to a warm audience that has the ability to share or even buy?
How Do You Write a Press Release?
If you go the DIY route, you’ll need to be able to craft a press release. Even if you’re a writer of novels, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to write a press release. That is a specialized skill. If you can’t do it, you can hire a PR writer on the likes of Fiverr.
Tips for Writing a Press Release
- Always write it in the third person. This is because media outlets often publish press releases as is. They would be writing in the third person about you. You save them time and effort by doing this, which helps your chances of being considered for inclusion.
- The structure of a press release should be an inverted pyramid, meaning that the main information should be in the first paragraph or the first few sentences. The media outlet may crop the press release to fit within space requirements. This was more of an issue back in the print media days. But even now, in the age of the internet, online readers can scan the first bit of a news story and not read the rest.
- Try to keep your press release to one page or less. Each press release should have a specific objective. Just remember to keep it to one idea per press release.
Press Release Ideas
- Announcing the release of your book
- Announcing a book signing at a local bookstore
- Getting an award for your book
Why Social Media Help Doesn't Help
The “I need social media help” request is a complex one. It could be an expression of exasperation that authors have with their own existing social media efforts. Or they realize they have zero social media presence as they launch their first books.
If you’re not already winning at the social media game, hiring someone to do it for you won’t help. I have seen this story play out with people in my network. They’ll hire someone to “do their social media.” Then some months later, I ask how it’s going, and they usually tell me that they’ve fired their social media person already.
The problem is that these businesses don’t understand social media and therefore don’t understand what the person they hire is supposed to do or how to measure results. The social media person will dutifully create posts and provide the client with numbers of impressions, clicks, or whatever. But the results they really want are more sales. Tying social media activities to sales, especially book sales on Amazon, is almost impossible.
As with standard PR, the goal of your social media activities is merely to gain positive attention for you and your books. If you’re really looking to have trackable results for the books you sell on Amazon, you need to advertise on Amazon.
How Do You Find PR or Social Media Help?
Actually, the authors who post on social that they need help are doing the right thing in looking for qualified referrals. Definitely post to ask for referrals on relevant social channels where you trust those who would be making recommendations.
The mistake I see with these posts is that the requesting authors aren’t that specific about what kind of help they need or the results they want. Sometimes they don’t know what to ask for. This leads to wasting time sifting through a pile of potential referrals, most of which won’t be useful.
Share some details about you and your book in these requests. These would include what genre of book you’ve written, the market or audience you hope to reach, and what your budget is. But please don’t say, “I don’t have a lot of money.”
When I see that, I have to seriously restrain myself from going into full rant mode. Be clear about what you want in terms of placements or press release distribution. This will help any potential providers determine if they’re the right fit for you.
For those of you looking for big-game PR, like national television and news shows, you probably won’t find that kind of help from your connections on social media. Plus, hiring a recognized PR company is above your self-published author pay grade. Scale your PR efforts to what is doable given your circumstances and cash.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne