Choose four or five firms or consultants to interview. Before you contact them, formulate some basic ideas on what you want them to do and the results you hope to receive. However, be open to their suggestions because as experienced professionals, they probably will suggest better, more productive tactics than you had in mind.
Also be realistic. We know that your hopes are deeply attached to your book, but all books won't be mega-sellers, especially authors' first books. As much as you believe in your book, don't expect a publicist to be able to make it Wednesdays with Morrie--it could happen, but the odds are real long.
Decide how much you are willing to spend. Discuss pricing with your agent. Most firms have set fees for specific services, so calling and saying you have $5,000 to spend isn't the best approach. Instead, explain your book's focus and your expectations, and ask what it will take to launch your book.
Publicity is an investment, and, at first, the cost might surprise you. Investments always entail risks, so if you're not willing to invest, don't put firms or consultants through the entire selection process. Don't waste their time. Wait until you're ready and willing to spend.
Meet and interview each firm and consultant in person. Go to their offices, look around and into their eyes, and ---
* Get a sense of the atmosphere and how they work. Is it relaxed, tense, efficient, well organized, or chaotic? How do they dress and answer phones? Do they look and act professional and would you want them to represent you?
* Trust you instincts, your gut feelings. How do you feel? Are you comfortable, on edge, intimidated, or unimpressed? Do you like and trust them? Do you believe what they're saying? How much interest do they seem to have in your account?
* Ask who will perform the actual work on your campaign and for details on his or her experience. Make sure to meet that person and to look for signs of his or her energy, enthusiasm, excitement, and creativity. Find out who will be supervising your account and to what extent he or she will be monitoring
* How did the people you met react to your book? Do they want to read it? Do they seem excited by it or even interested in it? Is it just another job to them?
* Are they good listeners? Do they seem to understand you and your needs? Do they genuinely seem interested in helping you or are they just selling you?
* Do they have good ideas, energy, and a twinkle? Are they people who can get others excited enough to really get behind your book?
* What results do they claim? Who are their clients? Ask for a list of their clients and permission to contact them. Ask specifically for the names of those that worked with the people who will be handling your account. Call them. Don't just call the three or four clients that the firm selects; request their entire client list and then decide whom to call. When your reach the firm's clients, ask them the questions listed in "Finding Publicists" above.
* Be wary of formulaic campaigns that follow repetitive formats. While some successful tactics may be worth repeating, they can quickly grow old. Repetition often stifles creativity and causes publicists to be inattentive or to merely go through the motions, which can sap the life and energy from campaigns.
* Ask each firm or consultant what it will bring to your account. Is it creativity, experience, contacts, large agency backing, personal service, attention to detail, entrepreneurial background, media placement, booking speaking engagements, and more? Make them sell themselves to you.
* Find out if publicists are members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and associations specific to publishing, such as the Small Publishing Association of North America (SPAN) or the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA). Since publicity is a business of contacts, your publicist should have solid connections within the industry in which he or she works.
* Visit all candidates' Web sites. If publicists don't promote themselves with great Web sites, they probably won't do a good job of publicizing your book. Their Web sites should include testimonials, titles they represented, case studies, and staff biographies.
Ask candidates for references from authors they represented. Verify them by speaking personally with their authors. Don't merely settle for written testimonials that praise a candidate, check them.
Be wary of publicists who want you to contact only certain authors. Instead, get a copy of their entire client list and decide whom you want to call. Try to speak with authors they have recently represented and those who are long-standing clients. When you call, ask authors the questions listed in the section "Finding Publicists" above.