how much publicity work should book authors do?

Hi orgheads,

A colleague emailed me to ask whether I thought hiring a PR specialist would be helpful for getting the word out about a forthcoming university press book. While a university press will send books to venues at the author’s request and place ads in academic venues like the Chronicle of Higher Ed, the author may consider doing more, usually using his/her own resources. Looking at the book publicist’s webpage, buying this person’s services would mean access to radio talk shows.

Based on conversations with book authors over the years, I know that opinions vary about how much effort authors should expend to publicize their work:

At one end, one colleague thought that the “work should stand on its own.” While it’s possible that an audience will flock to an unpublicized book, not doing anything to announce the arrival of a book could effectively consign years of work to the remainders shelf of a bookstore basement or warehouse.

At another end, a few colleagues might go on the radio talk show circuit, give talks at universities, book stores, and other venues, do interviews with high profile magazines (possibly in exchange for a pricy ad placed), and have ads on public transit stations. The trade-off here is emotional energy expended and the opportunity cost of working on other projects, spending time with family/friends, etc.

For my book, I adopted a middle route:
– made a webpage
– joined facebook
– made postcards of the book cover and handed these out to colleagues at ASA and Burning Man attendees
– bought books (at author’s discount) to gift and share
– asked colleagues at universities to order the book for their libraries (note: this was during the financial meltdown, so some libraries were unable to order)
– said yes to invitations to give talks for classes
– guest-blogged on orgtheory and other venues
– did “author meets critics” sessions at regional association meetings

Colleagues have also noted that depending on a professional association’s rules, authors can self-nominate books for section or professional association awards.

So, orgtheory readers, soliciting your experiences and thoughts here:
What’s the sweet spot?
Is it worth a couple $K to hire someone to do publicity?
What tangibles and intangibles does an author get with this extra effort?
Please do share in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

March 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Posted in bleg, books

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7 Responses

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  1. Katherine,

    Thanks for a helpful post! I’m only at the book prospectus stage right now, but these are helpful tips for the future. I have a question – how can you arrange an “author meets critic” sessions? My understanding is that you can’t arrange your own, so do you just ask a colleague to do one for you? Am I wrong, and you can arrange your own, asking people to be the critics, presider etc?



    March 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

  2. I bet not many of us have the answer to the question of whether to hire a PR person and with what payoff. With my first book I did things fairly similar to you, Katherine, and not a lot beyond that. I also was mainly focused on getting tenure, and on producing a good piece of work, more than on getting the word out.

    The main thing I plan to do differently with book #2 is to write more for non-academic outlets. I wrote op-eds for the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed with my first book, but I think doing more of that kind of writing, and using social media more actively, could have helped me reach more people. Also, book #2 has a cross-disciplinary academic audience (I hope — economists, policy folks, recent US historians) who I want to reach but won’t, necessarily, through my sociological networks. (Hence, at least in part, the blogging and Twitter, though it has other benefits too.)

    I have heard of people having great success with hiring PR help but only secondhand. But there are other kinds of resources for those who want to reach a broader audience, e.g. these classes: (Full disclosure, I have worked a bit with Audra Wolfe, who is teaching the one on pitching scholarly books, and is great and very knowledgeable about academic publishing.)

    Finally, on book panels — I think the program committee selects ASA book panels, and I’m not sure from what pool of books, but at many smaller conferences (I know SSHA is this way, and I think Easterns is?) you can ask a friend/colleague to organize one for you.



    March 18, 2015 at 3:26 am

  3. vreyes227, what epopp said about author meet critics book panels is accurate. Committees often look at publisher lists to identify recently published university press books. Some committees also find it helpful to have someone (could be the author or author’s colleague) propose a session and arrange for the critics.

    epopp, I see the PR stage as the final stage of author’s responsibility to ensure that research has an audience – in other words, disseminating the results. One could do nothing or very minimal marketing work, but that may not be helpful if come tenure or promotion time, none of the dept. colleagues or letter-writers has heard of the work. In the final stages of getting the book ready for publication (i.e., page proofing), the publisher will ask authors to complete a form about publicity, which is probably the ideal time to consider what the author is willing to do.



    March 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm

  4. I would love to know what high-end magazine is willing to trade an ad purchase for guaranteed placement of an interview in their editorial section. This is different from sponsored content, in which an interview looks like editorial but is actually an ad, and is marked “ADVERTISEMENT,” somewhere. (My favorite example of this is an insert from China Daily which occasionally appears in the Sunday New York Times.)

    It would also be interesting to know if there are PR people who promise that this is something that happens and can be done.


    Nick Judd

    March 19, 2015 at 6:25 pm

  5. Sorry. By “editorial section,” I just mean in the editorial (as opposed to advertising) pages of the magazine.


    Nick Judd

    March 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm

  6. Katherine, I’m so glad you’ve posted about this. Your timing is just right for my purposes. I am in the midst of working to promote my book, which will be out next month. I actually was inspired by your postcard to make my own. I remember picking one up at the University of Chicago Press booth and wondering: who made this?! (As an aside, how many did you end up using? They’re not cheap.) I’ve also made a page for my book on my website (shameless plug:!books/cnec).

    I’ve spent the past 48 hours working to place an op-ed on corporate diversity management and Starbucks’ wacky Race Together campaign; my piece currently in an inbox at the Wall Street Journal. A long shot, but I’m determined to publish it somewhere. This is my first time trying to write and place an op-ed. The writing process is time-consuming and intense, as anyone knows who has tried it. The Starbucks campaign came at a perfect time for me (it’s spring break), and I’m between academic jobs, so have a window in my career when it’s not too risky to spend some time on publicity. One of the lessons I’ve just now learned is that I need to save my breath for an issue that doesn’t provoke instant moral outrage–which is often the case when race is in the headlines. This Starbucks stunt is a case in point: the online news sites and blogosphere was on fire in a hot minute. I simply can’t keep pace with the 24 hours news cycle. I don’t write as quickly as journalists and seasoned commentators. But for now, I am going to keep trying to land op-eds and general interest pieces.

    In addition to the great suggestions listed here, I’ve also been advised to write up pieces for section newsletters, the Society Pages, Contexts, and relevant professional associations and non-profits. My work is relevant to law and society, for example, so I’ve reached out to one group that does work on law, race, and poverty.

    BTW- for those who are not familiar with any of this, academic presses are not in the business of doing intensive time book promotion, although I suspect there may be exceptions for big-splash books like Alice Goffman’s On the Run. Folks at University of Chicago Press has been very helpful and enthusiastic regarding my efforts, but I’m pushing this forward on my own. Essentially, you have to create your own buzz.


    Ellen Berrey

    March 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm

  7. Nick – Haven’t personally talked to a PR firm that would promise this, just have seen the end result.

    Ellen, congrats on your forthcoming book. I looked back in my records about the postcards. I ordered 2 batches of 4X6 postcards, 300 in each ($45 for first round, $42 for second round), but this is because I distributed some with postage at Burning Man, for use at the Black Rock City Post Office. For most authors, I would guess that one round of 300 or less is sufficient for handing out at multiple conferences and talks, etc. I also had my university copier service make some color fliers with the conference book discount to hand out/pick up at tables – just ask your contact at the press to send you a PDF in advance of the conference.



    March 21, 2015 at 10:08 am

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