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Hiring a Publicist: Fees and Accountability

by Rod Mitchell   

 
 


Over the years I have found that authors are increasingly confused over two issues - the variety of fees charged and how to measure the publicists' performance and accountability. First the issue of fees.

Some publicists charge by the hour, some charge 'per venue' booked, with fees based on their performance (this is probably the most fair for the author), some charge a flat monthly rate , and some charge per city toured.

Most publicists require money up front (a retainer), from which fees and expenses can be deducted. Retainers vary from $1,500 to $20,000, depending on the size and reputation of the firm. When retainers are not collected, publicists are too often left holding the bag, and end up spending more time as a collector than a publicist.

Hourly rates also vary, in a range from $50 to $150/hr., as do per venue charges. The larger firms often charge greater per venue fees. For example: while smaller firms charge $1,000 for an Oprah booking, larger firms feel this booking is worth $5,000. Even though the outcome from an Oprah booking can be phenominal, the cost for the appearance is not always relative.

The other concern, that I hear all too often, surrounds accountability on the performance of the publicist, despite the fee arrangement. When a publicist does not provide a performance log (listing which media outlets were contacted and the outcome) authors have the right to question accountability - what they have received, in exchange for their money. This seems to be especially true when authors are charged by the hour, or a flat monthly rate, in instances when they do not net the number of bookings that they had anticipated.

It is a harsh fact, that despite the best efforts of any publicist, first time, uncredentialed authors, releasing a unique, 'niche,' non-fiction, or concept-fiction novel, will not net as many interviews, reviews, or feature articles as mainstream topics. Normally, non-fiction authors, who are experts on the topic for which they have written, draw the greatest attention from the media. This rule does not always apply, and surprises do happen, when books are based on true incidents (Civil Action) or stories that can be tied-in with high profile (current) news stories.

When a publicist accepts a first-timer with a ho-hum book it is probably best that the publicist require a lower retainer amount, and not oversell the outcome. By focusing more on local print and radio media, and scheduling book signings and appearances that match the audience, they can still perform well for their client, and leave the author smiling.

As more and more authors release books, and as the literary publicity and promotion industry becomes more competitive, there is a cry for us to be fair and equitable in what we charge and more accountable for what we do. This is good thing for our industry and can be a win-win for everyone.


Rod Mitchell is founder & president of Adventures In Media, Inc. a Houston-based literary & entertainment publicity and promotions agency. AIMPRESS, as his company has come to be known, specializes in non-fiction titles and authors who are experts in their field. Mitchell, who has a background in news journalism, has been a full-time publicist for since 1984, and regularly ties-in his clients with TV and radio talk and news programs.