The role of the book publicist
‘There’s always a certain amount of glamour to a new book coming out,’ says Helen Holyoake, a respected book publicist who has worked with JM Coetzee, Pamela Jooste and Fiona Snyckers. ‘You need to capture that excitement in a good PR campaign.’
Who uses a publicist?
Sometimes traditional publishers use her services to bolster their in-house marketing strategies, and she also works with many self-published authors, like Carlyle Laubachange and Rachel Morgan.
‘However, book launches are expensive,’ she cautions. ‘What I focus on is a solid media programme. One good article in the right magazine can equal R50 thousand in ad spend.’
Aligning retail and media
Helen believes South Africa hasn’t adapted to digital as much as the rest of the world. ‘The SA e-book market is tiny,’ she says. ‘Readers and reviewers prefer a printed book; the focus should be on print and online.’
A publicist will ensure that a mainstream book publicity campaign should make sure that the distribution of the book and the media launch work together. ‘The book should be available in retail to be able to take advantage of a media campaign,’ Helen says.
Helen works with a few distribution stakeholders that can help get books from the warehouse to the bookstore. Distributors form deeper relationships with booksellers – like Exclusive Books and independent stores – to ensure your self-published book will get on the shelves.
‘The barrier to entry is that because of the process, self-published books end up being more expensive than books from bigger publishers,’ she points out.
Helen says there is a lingering stigma around independently published work. ‘For example, the Sunday Times won’t touch a self-published book,’ she points out.
However, there are ways around it. An agile, dedicated and savvy publicist can find a way to get a reviewer to look at it, if they find the right angle. ‘Even bigger books are struggling to get coverage,’ she says. ‘Editorial space gets smaller as advertising shrinks in magazines and newspapers.’
Television is another powerful platform. ‘Today you can sell more books with one TV interview than any other media exposure,’ Helen says.
‘Online has its place too. There is more advertising online and more space, and it allows for hyperlinks to author websites and blogs. My concern with online is that it’s so quick, it filters down quite quickly. It can be lost.’
‘Media relationships are an integral part of PR,’ she adds. ‘The media should always be targets to the genre you’re writing. For example, I never send a book unless a reviewer requests it after reading the press release and other marketing material.’
Often her relationships prevent negative exposure for an author. ‘Recently I had an editor call me to say she wasn’t going to run with her journalist’s review because it was a bad review,’ she says. ‘While some believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, you learn to appreciate these kinds of interventions.’
This relationship-building is the bedrock between the author and the publicist too. Helen says an author should form a relationship with a publicist and see it as an investment in your long term career as a writer. ‘There is a special relationship between a publicist and author,’ she says.
|Helen with author Rae Rivers at ROSACon2014|