Literary Publicity: A 3-Part Interview with Julie Schoerke

Solid book promotion is critical to the success of any author’s publishing journey, and this is especially true for debut authors. As a newbie author, you need to build your brand, grow exposure, and most of all, sell books. After all, you’re basically an unknown, and unless you’re a superstar author with your own dedicated in-house publicity team, you’re probably going to need some help getting your name out there. This is where a Literary Publicist comes in.

I’d like to introduce the wonderful Julie Schoerke, the founder of JKS Communications, who has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on the ins and outs of literary publicity. With over 30 years of combined Public Relations experience, the JKS team provides winning literary publicity campaigns for its clients. As part of my campaign, Julie and her team secured television (CBS, LMC-TV) and radio coverage (B96 FM, 99.5 WYCD), traditional print coverage (The Journal News, Westchester Magazine), broad online coverage (Seventeen, Portland Book Review, and numerous book blogs) as well as scheduled tons of in-person appearances at bookstores, conventions (BEA, RT Booklovers), and educational institutions (Poudre High School, CSU, LIC YMCA) during a 10-city national book tour for my novel, Bloodspell.


AH: I’ve had the honor of working with you and your team at JKS Communications for the past year (February 2011) in support of my book, Bloodspell. For many, launching a book can be a daunting experience, and in my case, I knew that with a small publisher, hiring the right publicist would be key in my success. Luckily, I budgeted book publicity into my expenses, and I was also lucky to have found your company via word of mouth. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions that a prospective author may have when seeking a book publicist. So first things first, what exactly does a book publicist do and why should I hire one? Can’t I do publicity on my own?

JS: Amalie, I’d have to say that the honor has been all ours! You are a dream client for reasons that I’ll discuss. A book publicist says and does the things for you that would be awkward for you to do for yourself in promoting your book. Having a publicity firm behind you gives a kind of legitimacy to your book because it demonstrates that there are people in the industry that endorse you and believe in your book.

Bookstores owners consistently tell us that they are pitched about 20 books a day, mainly by self-published authors walking in off the street. The authors take the bookseller’s time without making an appointment first. The bookstore buyer often has questions that an author can’t answer about industry standard practices such as return policies and discounts from the publisher. A publicist can easily anticipate and quickly answer the questions. That way the author can spend his or her energy on going in for an appointment, being friendly, calm and gracious. It’s a more sophisticated and preferred way to work with the people who have the ability to hand-sell your book in their store for a very long time.

A literary publicist also will create the components of an electronic press kit that you need in order to have the media consider your book for a review or feature, or an interview with you. Also, publicists have contacts. It’s important to choose a reputable publicist who is honest not only with you, but also with the media and community. That way you have instant credibility when a call is made on your behalf.

Although there is plenty more I could say on the subject, I’ll leave it at this – we can say things about you that you can’t, or shouldn’t, say about yourself and your book. I have yet to meet any author that doesn’t love the book they’ve written – it’s a given. But, in our firm, we read the books and can enthusiastically and honestly give feedback during the pitch that “I stayed up all night” or “I didn’t see the end coming!” or “I’ve read a bunch of books in the genre, but this stands out because of xyz” – again, third party credibility.

AH: That makes a lot of sense. I mean, you don’t want to go tooting your own horn, per se. Now my publisher has a small publicity department that handled my ARCs and marketing launch, but I still elected to go with an outside publicity firm. How do your efforts complement the publicity efforts of the publishing houses? How does that work?

JS: We are very fortunate to have good working relationships with in-house publicists with big publishing houses and mid-size publishing houses. We are the preferred publicity firm for several small publishers.

Your outside publicist should have a good working relationship with your inside team. Ask them how they work with their publishing house counter-parts and which publishers they’ve worked with. It should absolutely be complementary. If you are with a publisher that has a publicist on staff, understand upfront that that person is probably overworked, has many titles (s)he is responsible for launching. You may have a press release created along with 100 or 200 advance reader copies (ARCs) sent out to various media. The publicist may have time to follow-up on three to five of those ARCs. Two weeks after your book is launched, unless you are a well-known author, the publicist is on to the next project. They have to be to keep up with their workload.

Your outside publicity firm can work with your in-house team to follow-up on the additional ARC mailings, making calls to the media. They may have access to ARCs to send and follow-up for your regional and on-line media as well. They often can schedule your book tour, media appearances and virtual book tour, if your in-house publicist isn’t able to spend that much time.

We also are advocates for our authors with the in-house team. If you’re a debut novelist and haven’t been through this before, your outside publicist can talk with your publisher about getting a few more things for you. You’ve proven your commitment to your book by paying for a publicist to support the publisher’s investment in you, investing in travel or other expenses such as a book trailer, Facebook ads and spending your time promoting your book as much as possible. Often the publishing company will be especially amenable to do some additional things that are presented in a phone conference that can legitimately support your efforts on your own.

AH: So in general, what should I look for in a publicity firm? Does size matter?

JS: If you’re doing your job and your publicity firm is doing their job, then you are all going to “live together” for a number of months. Choose a publicity firm that feels comfortable to you. Interview several. Let your instincts guide you. No two authors are the same and no two publicity firms are the same.

You should find a publicity firm that takes a special interest in your project, understands your goals and embraces them. Look on their website and see if you like the kind of projects they work on – if they mainly represent cookbooks and you have a middle-grade book for boys, it’s probably not a good fit. Check out the testimonials or try to find out on-line what others are saying about the firm. Google the titles that they represent. If you aren’t finding much on-line then perhaps that firm doesn’t have the carry-through you are looking for. Today, titles represented by book publicity firms better be easily found on-line.

Our publicists that pitch the media are former journalists. Our publicists who schedule tours have an artist management background. Check out who is going to be representing you. You may decide you want to go with a small firm with one or two publicists who do everything, or a larger firm with a team of people who focus on particular aspects of your campaign. Again, it’s your personal preference and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Click here for PART 2 of this interview.

Click here for PART 3 of this interview.

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