Allison Lane: Why Publishers Want You to Hire a Publicist and Why You Don’t Have to
“We are the ultimate do it yourselfers. Poof, there’s a book. Poof, you can do your own marketing and publicity.” –Allison Lane
Allison Lane is an editor and author strategy coach with 25 years of experience marketing global brands. In 2019 she turned her marketing expertise to helping nonfiction authors develop their books, craft crucial and captivating book proposals, submission packages, and marketing plans. Allison’s mission is to help advocates, experts, and entrepreneurs who have a book that needs to be born and a message that the world needs. She runs the Creative Non-Fiction Community on Facebook where she shares insights and resources about craft, publishing, and marketing for writers. Find out more at AllisonLaneLiterary.com.
- Allison Lane’s Creative Non-Fiction Community (Facebook)
- Allison Lane’s YouTube channel
- Where to Pitch: A Free Guide by Allison Lane
- Clobber Your Crutches: A Free Guide by Allison Lane
- Podcasts to Propel Your Writing: A Free Guide by Allison Lane
In This Episode…
- The relationship between marketing and publicity.
- Why publicity is your job, whether you are traditionally published or self-published.
- “Earned media coverage” and how to use it to your benefit.
- Understanding that you are your own brand.
- What working with a publicist looks like.
- What you’ll need to work with a publicist if you decide to hire one.
- How to be your own publicist, and how to put together your author-speaker package.
- What marketing and publicity looks like as part of a traditional publishing contract.
- How to get ready to merchandise your work.
Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Allison Lane and we will be talking about why publishers want you to hire a publicist, and why you don’t have to. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find recordings on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube.
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And now I’d like to introduce our guest. Allison Lane is an editor and author strategy coach with 25 years of experience marketing global brands. In 2019, she turned her marketing expertise to helping nonfiction authors develop their books, craft crucial and captivating book proposals, submission packages and marketing plans. Allison’s mission is to help advocates, experts, and entrepreneurs who have a book that needs to be born, and a message that the world needs. She runs the Creative Non-Fiction Community on Facebook, where she shares insights and resources about craft, publishing, and marketing for writers. You can find out more at allisonlaneliterary.com. So hi, Allison, welcome to the podcast!
Allison: Super jazzed to be here. Thanks.
Carla: Well, let’s start in. I love the title of the talk, Why Publishers Want You to Hire a Publicist, and Why You Don’t Have to. But, does this information also apply if authors aren’t publishing traditionally?
Allison: Every writer needs to be their best marketer. Whether you’re self-publishing, or traditionally publishing–you really are self-promoting. And your publisher, whoever that is, even if it’s yourself, depends on you to be promoting yourself and your book.
Carla: Great, thank you for that. So, self-publishers, listen up, okay? And our focus here is publicity, but marketing and publicity are so intertwined. Can we just start with a difference between the two, or perhaps better said, the relationship between the two?
Allison: A lot of people think that marketing comes first, or that’s one effort, and then the publicity is separate. It’s like a braid. It really is intertwined. If marketing is the big bucket, publicity is in the bucket–it is something that you’re always doing. So, for instance, you might be setting up a speaking event for yourself, or pitching yourself to a bookstore, or, as a speaker for a conference. The publicity that comes from that is earned media coverage that you can’t control. It’s not on your website, but the subsequent media coverage–that is someone else writing about you, or your theme, or your topic or your expertise–is something that then you can use in your marketing. So it goes back in your bucket. And your marketing efforts, then might include a photo, or a clip from your speaking engagement. That clip might go on your website. Again, that’s marketing. But it’s a cycle, you’ve got to be prepared for the output of your efforts to feed into your next efforts.
Carla: I love that you made it analogous to a braid. I love that, and this is the sort of juggling act between the two and everything that you’re doing. And the author is very involved in that process, right? But most authors, a lot of authors I know, think, ‘Well, I want a traditional publishing deal because yeah, they’re gonna do all this for me,’ right? Because maybe we don’t have time or money. And we just want that off of our plate. So are you going to tell me that’s a myth?
Allison: I’m going to tell you that that is a pipe dream, and you might be high. So it’s, you know, it’s true that in the olden days, when publishing was just a baby, that yes, a publisher might be promoting you and your book. But you are not your book, you are not the product, your book is the product. So let me again give you a nice example.
So this is my Burt’s Bees lip balm, I used to run PR for Burt’s Bees as one of my jobs. Burt’s Bees is the brand and Orange Blossom and Pistachio lip balm is the product. You are the brand, your book is the product. The publisher is promoting the product. If you have a lot to say about, I don’t know [for example] traffic patterns. If you’re an expert in something as simple as planned communities, your book might be about the benefits of the roundabout. (If this is not a book, someone should write it, because it is delightful.)
But if your book is about roundabouts, your brand might be about reducing accidents or beautifying communities. You might be speaking at conferences. And so your publisher will say, ‘Great, we’re going to promote your book.’ They’re going to pitch your book for media coverage and book reviews. They’re not going to book you to speak at the National Association of Traffic Lights as the keynote speaker, or Moms Against Drunk Driving. They’re not your Speaker’s Bureau. You have to be that. And so you have to have the tools ready to meet the publisher and their efforts. That’s the publicist at the publishing house, or if you’re self-publishing, and you hire a publicist, they are going to want you to hand them your assets.
What do you speak about? Yes, we know you’re going to talk about your book. But you’re going to talk about the themes of your book, you’re going to talk about the topics around your book, you’re going to be giving advice about what you write about–whatever your expertise is. But the publicist isn’t going to come up with that. They don’t know your stuff. They don’t have your photos, your headshots. So you need to be ready. Also, the publisher only has a six-week window to publicize your book. Your whole job is publicizing you. Marketing yourself. So yeah, publicity–it’s your job, no matter what you’re doing.
Carla: Interesting. So in that six-week window, your job is to maximize that with your publicist and communicate with them.
Allison: Yeah, so if you’re going to hire a publicist–first of all, a traditional publishing house will have a publicity window. And that’s about six weeks. But if you’re going to hire a publicist, I hope you have an extra $10,000 sitting around. Because publicists are about $3,500 a month for a three-month minimum.
Because you can’t really do anything spectacular, or achieve anything spectacular in a couple of weeks. What you’ll get is a pitching machine–for three months. They will be pitching your book, or whatever it is that you want them to pitch. So you’ll get promotion for your brand and your product, which is the book, but what you don’t get is a marketing strategist, because, FYI–that’s you. You have to be your best marketer. And you’re not going to be able to save yourself from spending the energy, the resources and the money that you should. You’re not going to get promotion for your brand long-term with that three-month stint. Because you are your brand. You should have a two-year plan for your brand promotion and marketing. You also won’t get a social media manager to manage all of your promotion. You won’t get an assistant to connect to your peers, to promote and distribute your ARCs, and you will not get a clone of yourself, despite us wanting that. So you have to really be prepared.
That publicist–whoever it is–in-house, or at a publisher, or whoever you hire, or yourself–to be most efficient, you have to give them the assets, the tools, the ingredients, so they can do their job that is their specialty incredibly well.
Carla: Thank you for all that. So let’s address the second half of the title of this as, you know, Why Your Publisher Wants You to Hire a Publicist, and Why You Don’t Have to. Now why, and when, would you not have to?
Allison: Well, the thing is, the reason people hire a publicist is because they think it’s hard to pitch media. And what they’re missing is a few simple steps to do it yourself. We are writers, which means that we create work directly out of our noggins, right? If you can do that, you can do anything. So we are the ultimate do it yourselfers. Poof, there’s a book. Poof, you can do your own marketing and publicity.
So here’s what you need.
You need an author-speaker package. And you don’t need a publicist, although they will be happy to charge you for this. You need your three photos of yourself–of just you–not cut out from a group photo. We don’t want to see anybody’s arm in a gripping grin photo from a wedding, or from 100 years ago. [Your photo should be] just you, against a background that is not too busy, like a brick wall or a tree, anything like that, where it’s just you, just from the nipples up. We call it a medium shot. Just you.
And then your bio. And it needs to be written in a couple of ways. You’ll want a first person bio, a third person bio, and a bio that’s about 200 words.
And you’ll need a website and your social media presence. Just in one page. Just have that ready, because everyone’s going to ask you for that.
Then you’ll need the questions you want to be asked. That way you give that to your publicist if you want to hire them. Or, when the journalist says, ‘I’d love to interview you, what questions should I ask you?,’ you are ready for that?
You’ll want the angles and the stories that you want to pitch. Not, ‘Hey, I think you should cover my book.’ But why is your message relevant? Again, you know, traffic circles. These might be relevant in cities and towns where there’s gridlock.
You’ll need to know how much time you have available to do this, and a template pitch–which is, again, two paragraphs. You can do it, I swear. And if you need help, I have free resources on my website, just go there. So you can really do this. And then if you still need the help, you know, hire a publicist and get everything out of them that you can. Just don’t waste your money having them prepare things that you can prepare in advance.
Carla: So yeah, I think self-publishers are kind of used to doing that. We don’t really look forward to it all that much. I know that some authors who do negotiate contracts, do it mostly with an agent to a publishing company to negotiate time and money spent with the marketer and the publicist at the publishing company. Is that something that–I know you work with people to create agent pitches and stuff like that–is that something you should negotiate with your agent, and try to get more of that maybe in lieu or maybe less of an advance, or how does that work?
Allison: The contract with the publisher will include mention of a marketing plan. But until the rubber hits the road, it’s pretty vague. So it might say, “including social media,” and you don’t know if that’s one post a month, or if it’s a social media campaign with a budget behind it. It might include a line about media outreach to promote the book, and you don’t know if that is promoting you as a speaker, which, by the way, it’s almost never going to be. Or if it’s just the standard list of book reviewers. That’s super standard, I mean, that there’s like a list of 40 places. So it’s super limited. Your opportunities are way more bountiful, and marketing and subsequently marketable if you meet that publicist where they are.
Very few times will you get a chance to sit down with your traditional publisher’s publicist and say, ‘How can we collaborate?’ Moreso, they will send you their media list, and you will email them back and say, ‘Hey, I’m also doing these other things. I’m speaking at these five conferences that I booked myself. Here’s some fun photos of me doing these other things. Here’s an article I just wrote for The Washington Post.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ That’s more material for them. But no, you should not expect a super built-out marketing plan in your publishers contract.
Carla: Okay, thanks. Well, do you have any other tips to share?
Allison: Well, I do. I think the most important thing is that–you have to be ready to merchandise your work–whatever it is. So if you’re speaking somewhere, make sure that someone takes a picture of you showing the environment that you’re in. If you’re speaking on a stage, we want to see you from afar, with the backs of people’s heads, rapt attention, watching you, because we want to get a sense of how many people were there to see you. If you are taking pictures with people, make sure you hold up your book. I’m gonna do just this–this is Jenny Trues’ book, “You Look Tired,” right?
So we don’t want to see you next to somebody like this, holding [the book] down, because then we can’t see it. Because that’s not how social media works. Right up here, next to your cheekbone. And then you can take a picture with someone. Make sure that you get those images and capture them in a moment, because you won’t get another chance. And then, if you need places to pitch, media outlets are salivating. They’re hungry for your content. No, they don’t want to advertise your book. They want you to talk about, you know, the need for honesty for new parents. Jenny is a friend and a client. When we were talking about how to publicize her new book, we were not talking about, ‘Let me tell you about my new book,’ we were talking about how to turn her content–her message–into pieces that are for the reader, right?
If you need to figure out, ‘Where can I pitch?,’ I’ve got a cheat sheet sitting ready freebie on my website. You can download it and have, I don’t know, dozens and dozens of media outlets that are sitting there waiting for you to pitch them, because media content is needed every single day.
Carla: Yeah, it is, and it’s not “Buy my book” media content. So, why don’t you tell us where we can find you and I think you have three freebies that you can sign up for?
Allison: I do. You can get valuable freebies at AllisonLaneLiterary.com. Media outlets hungry for your content, you can clobber your crutches, and access 35 words that will tranquilize your reader. These are words you don’t want to ever use. And there are a bunch of podcasts that propel your writing. These are freebies–they link directly to the sources that I’m recommending. Get any of them , and then you’ll end up signing up for my email tips that are all about promoting yourself and publishing. Plus links to free webinars on my YouTube channel. And to my free Creative Nonfiction Community on Facebook, so no cost, no kidding.
Carla: Thank you so much, Allison. Appreciate that. And thanks for being here today.
And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.
Quotes from our guest…
“That publicist, whoever it is–in house, at a publisher, or whoever you hire, or yourself (to be most efficient), you have to give them the assets, the tools, the ingredients, so they can do their job. Publicity is their specialty and they do it incredibly well.” –Allison Lane
“We are the ultimate do it yourselfers. Poof, there’s a book. Poof, you can do your own marketing and publicity.” –Allison Lane
“When the journalist says I’d love to interview you, what questions should I ask you? Are you ready for that? You’ll want the angles and the stories that you’d want to pitch. Not, hey, I think you should cover my book. But why is your message relevant?” –Allison Lane
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