Hiring a Publicist Part II: After the Contract

In Hiring a Publicist…or Not, I described considerations to make before embarking on a publicity campaign. Things like finances, weather, health, timing, your tolerance for risk, and your personal preferences. JoAnna Senger is a warm, outgoing author who lives in a warm, dry climate. Her book, Reservation Ravaged, went live July 1st. Having contemplated her circumstances, Joanna Senger hired JKS Communications, a literary publicity firm.

JoAnna and JKS were a great match in that JKS places a heavy emphasis on face-to-face contact. The cost wasn’t as steep as what most publicists charge, but still in the four figures range. JKS formulated a beaut of a press kit, including a press release. This kit provided material that I used for a Facebook ad that revolved around JoAnna’s interview tour. JKS set up a concentrated interview tour by phone with about ten top AM/FM stations such as Dave Malarkey’s WISR-AM. They sent out 50 to 75 Advance Reader Copies to garner book reviews and publicity for media events. No one’s reported any book reviews yet, but they’re coming.

JoAnna took a 5-city tour that spanned across several states. Basically this included signings and meet-and-greets at libraries, bookstores, book clubs and meet up groups. I posted three of these events on Facebook.

So…if you bring a publicist like JKS to the party, let your publisher know straight away. Your publisher may have ideas for promotion which ties in with the campaign. Your publicist will need the ordering links for your book when they become available, and your publisher can make that happen. After each interview, the radio hosts and other interviewers deserve a big “thank you.” One caveat: the retainer fees only cover the setting up of interviews, press release, and other things your publicist agrees to do in the contract. This means that JoAnna had to pay her own traveling expenses, the purchase of books for her events, and the cost for mailing the ARCs ($8.00 per package). Any service that fell out of the scope of the contract would cost her, too.

As soon as the contract was finalized, JKS contacted me and JoAnna for a release date (July 1st). Like many publicists, JKS wanted to begin the campaign four months before the release, so they started April 1st, 2014. To their credit, JKS Communications were willing to work around JoAnna’s schedule (day job and a bout with pneumonia). Each month they sent a publicity update to me and JoAnna. Reservation Ravaged came with a great cover, so I’m hoping for the best. This should give you some idea on what to expect from a publicist.

So…have you given any thought to hiring a publicist for a publicity campaign? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Hiring a Publicist…or Not? (Part I)

If you’re hiring a book publicist, you might want to note the following Shakespearian quote, tape the words to your mirror, and memorize them as you contemplate interviews, signings, and other types of publicity.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

Shakespeare was a poet and playwright, so he must have understood the public’s temperament. The average publicist charges $1,000 to $5,000 a month for retainer fees, and that doesn’t include traveling expenses or monies for review copies. What’s more, there’s no guarantee of sales. A publicist can set up interviews with influential radio and TV stations, book signings, and blog tours; put together trailers and revamp your website. So you should realize some sales, but I wouldn’t bet your home mortgage on it. Can you afford to gamble $7,000 to $14,000? If the answer’s yes, most publicists recommend that you start your campaign about four months before the book goes live. If you have a beaut of a cover, superb editing, and a strong platform, you’ve taken the tide of publicity at the flood, and it’s on to fame and fortune. If not all that – you can’t win the lottery every time – the publicity will enhance your brand and provide a decent amount of sales. If you’re going in with an overpriced book, bad cover, and spotty editing, you might run into dismal reviews and other miseries.

Let’s say you’ve got the funds and everything’s squeaky clean with your cover and editing. You’ve consulted several publicists to compare prices versus services, and honed in on a choice. Before you sign the contract – yes, there’s one involved – questions need to be asked before you decide on and schedule services.

  • Is this your first book? What kind of platform will you offer?
  • Are you free to schedule a book tour or will family obligations, health problems, and/or work hours get in the way?
  • Are you media-shy? Could you benefit from coaching?
  • Is the weather where you live compatible with travel, or is your neighborhood prone to frequent snowstorms, hurricanes, etc.? How comfortable are you with traveling in adverse weather conditions?
  • Are you comfortable with guest blogging? I enjoyed my blog tour for Steel Rose as much as I do chasing balloons at the Giant, but I’ve seen people grimace at the prospect of writing a blog.
  • Is the SEO for your website up to par or do you need help in that area?

NTD author JoAnna Senger considered these questions before she hired JKS Communications for Reservation Ravaged. As her publisher, I got to see the process up close and personal. Mind you, everyone’s experience will be different, but in my next blog (Part II), I hope to give you an idea of what to expect when you hire a publicist.


JoAnna Senger’s Thoughts on Writing

Around the age of four, I fell in love with the letters of the alphabet. Following the philosophy of the day, my parents would not teach me to read but spent dutiful hours reading to me. The letter “y” and the “w” with all its syllables sounded so exotic. I would hear my parents spell out words (y-e-s spells “yes”), but I didn’t know which of the squiggles in my books was a “y” or a “w.” Fascinating and frustrating.

Then…school! I remember being so surprised at the appearance of a “y.” What a disappointing letter! It was squat and had an appendage hanging down below the line. I thought it should look more like a “b” or a “d.” As time went on, I got used to its appearance and forgave the “y” for laying down on the job, so to speak. I learned all my letters. Letters began to make words, words became stories, and then teachers were asking me to write!

Was I a big girl or what?!

Since those grade school days, I have written skits, essays, stories, policies and procedures, legal documents, books, anything else assigned to me, and other stuff just for fun.

Writing is so self-indulgent that I often wonder why everyone doesn’t spend their free time with a pen in hand (or a keyboard at their fingers). Don’t like someone? Bump them off. Someone is a pompous jerk? Hold them up to ridicule. Spouse is an affront to the human race? Take a lover…between the pages.

Finally, serious fiction called to me. At least, I was serious about writing it, primarily mysteries and horror. Distinct genres in the bookstores, they are just slants on real life as far as I am concerned. Mysteries have entertained me all my reading life, so I try to return the favor. The analyst in me loves the precision of mystery plot development, clues appearing all along the way but in a manner to elude or mislead the reader. The clues have to be there, the author must play fair. Without the clues, the book becomes crime detection, another entertaining genre but not a mystery. I particularly like mysteries in which the reader figures out “who dun it” but the characters don’t, plodding on in dull ignorance of the carnage all around them.

Like garlic, horror is a strong flavor best introduced slowly until the reader is saturated with its odor. Of all the literary genres, horror has the most difficulty in achieving respectability, yet its power is the least diminished over time. Only the romance is as enduring. The fear of darkness, the sinking despair of betrayal, the panic of confinement and torture, the irresistible urge to open the locked door, these are all horror literary devices and still effective when done skillfully.

I prefer horror which is just one step outside of daily life, a small but jarring detail only slightly out of place, like a piece of glass in your ice cream cone. Oh well, remove it and keep on eating. Licking. Enjoying all that creamy coldness until you find another piece of glass, and this one cuts. You look around and everyone in the ice cream parlor is looking at you, and all of them are bleeding from the mouth. And smiling.

You get the idea.

Regardless of what we write or how we write it, those words on paper are our ticket to the grand show: the unbroken human story-telling tradition that began on cave walls, got chiseled into stone tablets, engraved and painted on pyramid chambers, copied laboriously by armies of scribes and monks, and now flies through the ether according to physical principles that most of us poorly understand if we understand them at all.

Why do we do it? Paid or not, published or not, successful or not, we just want to tell a story. It’s the story that matters, not the method or the language or even the writer.

And we all know it.

JoAnna Senger

Blurb: Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood, a dark murder mystery, reflects bits and pieces of people and places that have crossed her path.  Barbara Custer, Publisher, Night to Dawn Magazines and Books, has published a number of JoAnna’s short stories including the Bodies Day & Night series (about a vampire run athletic club) and The Pet Door series (about a portal to some other world for pets and some unimaginables.

How does a small, self-contained city react to a brutal murder in its only tourist attraction? Hush it up? Blame an unknown outsider? Find a scapegoat?

Then what?

Ask Karl Kelly and Vito Kostowki, San Tobino detectives baffled by the outrageous murders of various visitors to Milady’s Manor: nothing taken, nothing left behind, unrelated victims, no clues.

Milady’s Manor puts San Tobino on the map due to its 200 rooms each lavishly decorated according to a unique theme.

But what if tourists stop coming?


JoAnna Senger’s Interview

I first became aware of JoAnna Senger through her short stories for Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine. Her writing style easily pulled me into the stories. Recently, I read her first published novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, and was blown away by her writing technique and storytelling ability.

Tom: JoAnna, thank you for sitting down with me for this interview. First, how about telling your fans a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?

JoAnna: I still consider myself a Midwestern girl despite decades in California and now Arizona, still root for the Kansas City Chiefs even though I can’t remember the last time I saw them play in a stadium.  My family consisted of a mom, dad, little brother and a half-sister. Only my brother and I are left. Although I still own my home in California, I have to say that I much prefer living in Arizona in the City of Surprise, a small city around 120,000 in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

I went to Stephens College, a girls’ college in Columbia, Missouri, where I received a Bachelors in a double major, French and Economics. I attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley and earned a master’s degree in economics.

The world of words and the world of numbers are equally comfortable for me.

Tom: From reading your short stories, and now your novel, it is easy to tell you are an experienced writer, how did you get your start, and what is your background?

JoAnna: You’re really taking me back.  When I was in the fourth grade, we had a choice about a project, and writing a story was one of the choices. I wrote and illustrated (Lord help us) my first story:  Roo-lah and the Elephant Herd. No doubt influenced by my thorough attention to Tarzan comics. I have worked as a financial analyst, a computer programmer and systems analyst, a compensation specialist, a Human Resources consultant, and recently earned a paralegal certificate. So I’ve written just about everything from technical documentation through legal briefs into fantasy.

Or, maybe it’s all a fantasy.

Tom: What writers influenced you, if any, and whom would you say your writing style most resembles? And are your stories more plot driven or character driven, do you think?

JoAnna:  When I was seven, my parents gave me my first book that I could read myself: “The Tin Woodman of Oz” for Christmas. Smitten with the Land of Oz, I went on to buy all the books in the series, and I still have them. L. Frank Baum was followed by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), William Faulkner, Ann Rice, Agatha Christie, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and many others.

I strive for a style similar to Faulkner’s with respect to the abrupt pace change and like Christie’s for subtlety. With respect to mysteries, I particularly like those where “who-dun-it” becomes almost beside the point, given the extraordinary discoveries made along the way.

As for plot versus character, I suppose I would put character first.  It seems to me that the characters act according to their nature, and their actions become the plot.  Yet, I usually think of a broad plot outline before I refine the characters.  Once refined, the characters become real to me and, often, I can’t give them up.

Tom: Tell us about your short stories, and a bit about your recent novel, and which do you prefer writing, novels or short stories? Or do you have a preference either way?

JoAnna:  The novel is most natural to me. A few of my short stories are standalones, and in the future, I will submit only standalones to magazines such as Night To Dawn and save the continuous stories for a novel. I think of writing a novel as similar to making a quilt, which I also do. Sometimes you need to take a break, and the short story or a table runner does the trick.

Tom: You point out that the human monster is worse than any imaginary creature, and I agree. There is a touch of horror in your recent mystery novel involving a human monster. But besides horror and mystery, do you consider writing other genres down the road, and if so, what would they be?

JoAnna:  I have written a few children’s stories, as yet unpublished, as sometimes wonder what it would be like to write a column for a newspaper.  So many challenges ahead!

Tom: In your novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, you have some very interesting characters, in particular the police investigators and a certain female P.I., are these based on anyone you know (lol)? As you know, I’m already a fan of your lady P.I., and hope to see more of her!

JoAnna: In truth, I see myself, family, friends, and acquaintances in every character I write. I’ve heard it said that writers just write about themselves and use different disguises.  A former colleague read a very early version of Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood and saw me clearly in the lady P.I. I was so flattered!

When I have strong feelings about someone, that person will definitely wind up in my writing.

Tom: What do you find to be the most exciting part of the creating process to either novels or short stories?

JoAnna:  Ideas come over me and demand my attention, nag at me, give me no peace until I start writing.  The flow of words and the images in my mind invite me into another world, the world I am putting down on paper and yes, I often do write my very first drafts in long hand, a chapter at a time.  This first act of writing, the very beginning of a novel, transports me to another world where I am all-powerful and everything will be as I have said. Then, I discover myself writing something completely different from what I was thinking, and we’re off to the races. If I’m using my laptop, I don’t even look at the screen and just write what I see in my mind’s eye.

Weird?  You bet.

Tom: Along the same subject as above, what do you find to be the most difficult area in the creating process?


JoAnna:  Making sure that what I see so clearly in my mind’s eye actually becomes words on the page. I have absorbed the characters and events so thoroughly that I sometimes forget that the reader has not.

Tom: Are you working on anything special right now, perhaps a sequel (I hope) to Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood?

JoAnna:  I have completed the first draft of the next book in the San Tobino series: Holistic Death.  I can guarantee you that you’ll see some folks you know.

Tom: Besides family and writing, tell us about any hobbies or community services you may be involved in, and any other activity you would like to mention.

JoAnna:  I am currently volunteering in the Prosecutor’s Office in the City of Surprise.  The Chief Prosecutor is similar to a District Attorney.

I love to quilt and embroider, maintaining the traditions of the women in my family.  I am the first to be raised in suburbia rather than on a farm or ranch.

Tom: What advice would you give other aspiring authors hoping to break into the writing field today?

JoAnna:  Remain open to all opportunities.  There are so many how-tos, and each of them worked for somebody. It’s all so easy once it happens, and so seemingly hopeless before it happens. The activities I thought would lead somewhere usually didn’t, and then a casual note led me to a bit of success.

And throughout it all was the writing, the world of the imagination, and that is an incomparable experience.  When you realize that you would rather fail at writing than be successful at anything else, you know you’re in the right place.

Tom: Where can fans find and buy – your stories, and do you keep copies on hand for autographs? Please include website and Blogs.

JoAnna:  My novel and short stories can currently be found in Night To Dawn magazine at www.bloodredshadow.com/ My novel is also available at Amazon and B&N.

Tom:  And now a question from left field.  If you could, would you choose to live in a parallel universe as one of the people in the places you create?

JoAnna:  In a heartbeat.  I would go to San Tobino and live forever having safe adventures with Emma, Hermione, Karl and Vito.  Writing about them is the next best thing.

Tom: JoAnna, thank you very much for consenting to this interview.

JoAnna:  It’t been a real pleasure.




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