What a Publicist Does and Why You Might Want One

Over the last year, I’ve had the blessing of working as an editor and book coach for some of the clients of Cherrie Woods, a publicist who has worked in the PR field for 16 years. Recently, she and author, producer, and business-woman V. Helena put out a podcast that discussed just what a publicist does in the book publishing field. The entire podcast can be found here, but I got permission from Cherrie to share quotes from the interview itself as well.

To contact Cherrie with any questions about her work or to take advantage of her free 15 min. PR consultation service, contact her via her email, info@eclecticpr.com


What does a publicist do?

Cherrie Woods: I connect authors to the public at large and also to media outlets. I would say those are the two connectors. But in that connection there’s so much that’s involved, so whether it’s writing a press release and pitching an angle, something to do with your book that makes it interesting enough for an outlet to want to have you on air or on a radio interview or even online media. And also, how do we connect to your general public? So maybe I get you a you a book signing or a reading opportunity could be from a church to a book store to a library to a museum.

How do we get your book out to the public? That’s kind of the overall, and then of course, particularly when you work with self published authors, there’s that phase of “you may not quite be ready for me to pitch you to that media outlet or get you a book signing” because maybe your book cover isn’t quite as professional as it needs to be. Maybe your back cover, the headshot, isn’t of the best quality. Maybe the synopsis of your book on the back cover isn’t written as well as it could be. So that’s where the extra work comes in with working with self published authors.

How does it differ from what an agent would do?

Cherrie Woods: …So an author—you’ve written your book, you have a manuscript, and if you want to go the traditionally published route, then you’re going to find an agent. And those are getting harder and harder to find. But when you find that agent, you’re not supposed to be paying them up-front. They get a percentage of your advance once they find you a publisher. So that agent’s primary job is to get you published. So, yes, they would work on, you know, your bio, synopsis, make sure your book is properly edited, and it’s in their best interests to get you that publisher because that’s how they get paid.

But again, if you’re not going that route, you’re basically on your own. How do you know as a self-published author that your bio or synopsis is correct or in the right format or is industry standard? How do you know what resolution your headshot should be? How do you know what the typical length for a novel or a nonfiction book is? You don’t. And so a quality publicist or a publicist who knows his or her stuff, they can advise you on that. So they’re taking some of the work of an agent in terms of being your publicist because you are self-published…

As a self-published author, my manuscript is done. What now? I don’t know how to publish, I don’t know any professional editors, I’m not a graphic designer so how do I design my book? I’m not sure what the format is to write a proper bio/synopsis. Could also be, I’d like to get my book reviewed; I don’t know how to do that. Those are all things the publishing house will do for you. Between the agent and publishing house, they kind of cover all your needs. So again, on the outside of that world, you’re covering all your needs.

What about working with online or vanity presses?

Cherrie Woods: You have online publishing companies—there’s several…but they do some of the things that a publishing house would do, so yes, they probably have in-house graphic designers and editors, except, of course, it’s all online. You’re doing everything digitally. Now, they do have marketing and PR services, but from what I’ve heard reported from most authors, they’re not that good. They’re usually not satisfied with that.

V. Helena: They’re not booking you on, you know, some big book tour, they’re not getting in contact with Barnes & Noble to get your book signing set up. So they’re really not offering any marketing, that’s really on the author to do that.

Cherrie Woods: Well, in the online world, they get you on the Barnes & Noble website, you know, the digital website. They’ll get you on Amazon as well, but anything in real time, no, they’re typically not offering those services.

V. Helena: So whether it’s a self-published author who’s doing everything themselves or a published author who’s going with an online press, a publicist is a good person to have.

What about for those who are traditionally published?

Cherrie Woods: Sometimes, authors that are published by a traditional publishing house, unless they’re a big name, sometimes they still want the services of a publicist to help them push their books as well, because even if you have a big publishing house…even if you’re with a big publishing house, if you are not one of the big name authors, the marketing budget that you would have may be nonexistent or really small, so you might still want to do some of your own work on the side.

So I’ve helped authors who are published by a traditional publisher, give them some insight and some direction, and then maybe they can push the publicist that they’re working with, with their publishing house, to, you know, get things done a little faster.

What are some of the challenges self-published authors face?

Cherrie Woods: You know, I start out, at the beginning of [my] book, and I ask that question, “Why did you write your book?” And often times, authors forget that, and I think, when you’re able to answer that question, to yourself really…it really kind of defines the progression of how your book goes in terms of the public side. Because research has been done and they’ve found there’s four reasons why authors typically self-publish a book…

They choose to self-publish a book because they cannot find a traditional publisher. Some people just say, “You know what, I have something to say. I just want to say it, and I just want to write a book.” Or they want it as a source of income.

V Helena: That’s probably number one.

Cherrie Woods: Actually, no, and we’ll talk about that. And the fourth is, “You know, I’ve been doing something for ten years.” So maybe you’ve been making films for ten years and you want to really establish your brand in a serious way, and so you write a book, and so it just takes your brand to a whole new level, because now people have something physical printed  about you, so that helps kind of make your brand even stronger. 

Now, ironically, I think the problems arise—a lot of people just want to write a book. “I have no expectation of this book, I’m just writing this book. If nobody buys it, I’m good.” And then they self-publish a book, and then your friends and your family and your cousins and your coworkers all buy the book, and suddenly, you think “Ah…”

V Helena: You’re on this high. 

Cherrie Woods: “I’m on this high. This book could be a best seller. You know what? I want to take this book to another level.” That’s where some of the challenges come in, because the book you wrote “Just because I have something to say and it doesn’t matter if it sells” is not necessarily the same book that you should look at as a source of income.

Because once your book is a source of income, it’s a business. And business require certain attributes and a certain level of professionalism and certain packaging. And maybe then, people want to know, “Okay, this book is great, but who else thinks so?” And so there’s your review process. Or, “Who are you to say that you’re so good at this?” Oh, that’s building your platform and showing people your credibility. So that’s where, often times, I meet an author who’s like “Well, I wrote this book and three hundred people bought it and I just think I’m going to be a bestseller.” And who are the three hundred people? The people in your network will support you, but now you want a mass audience—we’ve got to tighten things up.

V Helena: And that’s where a publicist comes in.

Cherrie Woods: Yes, that’s where a good publicist comes in.

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