Literary Agent vs Publicist: What Is the Difference?November 27th, 2010
Many new authors are confused by the different roles of support professionals in the publishing world. It can be a very overwhelming world! So the goal of this article is to shed some light on the basic differences between 2 support professionals who often cause new authors to scratch their heads: Literary Agents and Publicists.
Literary Agent Overview:
You’ve written a book manuscript and you don’t want to self-publish it…your dream is to land a publishing deal with a major publishing house. Great goal, but what many new authors don’t realize is that nowadays you typically need to land a Literary Agent to represent you FIRST, and then they’ll shop your manuscript to Publishers. Most Publishers won’t even accept a manuscript unless a legitimate Literary Agent delivers it to them. And, quite honestly, finding a Literary Agent to represent you can take quite some time – months and even years. This is a big reason many authors choose the self-publishing route…out of total frustration!
But, for the sake of this article, let’s say you are totally determined to land a publishing deal with a traditional publishing house. Here is some general info you need to know about Literary Agents.
What exactly is a Literary Agent and what do they do?
In general, they are marketing and sales experts who know how to give your manuscript pizzazz. Their purpose is to determine the compelling pitch that (they hope) will make Publishers want to review your manuscript and offer you a publishing deal. Literary Agents also negotiate the book deals for their clients (often with an attorney involved).
How do they charge?
Like a Talent Agent, they work on commission based on the deal they get for you. So if you contact an agent and they say they will charge a fee to represent you, RUN! That’s a scam. Legitimate agents only get paid if they land you a publishing contract.
Here’s a bit more detail from AgentQuery.com about this: Literary Agents charge a commission whenever they sell the publishing rights (and various sub-rights) of a book. Standard commissions range from 10-15% for the sale of domestic rights and 15-20% for foreign rights. Major Publishers pay authors an advance against royalties. A Literary Agent negotiates the terms of the sale, and then collects a commission for their hard work.
Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you can hire a Publicist. And their main purpose is to get you, and your book, mass exposure. So a Publicist typically comes into the picture when your book is close to being published (or after it is) and assists with the book marketing.
What exactly is a Publicist and what do they do?
Basically, a good Publicist comes up with strategic ideas for event promotions, tries to get book reviews, finds opportunities where you and/or you book would fit nicely (like speaking at an event or coordinating a virtual book tour), contacts the media on your behalf to land interviews, and also “cooks up” interesting story angles to grab the media’s attention. Plus, if you’re “famous” and run into trouble that becomes public, your Publicist is there to protect you from bad press OR (try to) address the issue with a positive spin…think Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods!
How do they charge?
Unlike Literary Agents, Publicists do not work on commission. Most of them have an hourly rate or monthly retainer fee. However, there are some who charge based on “pay for placement” (i.e. charging $3000 if they secure you 10 radio interviews), but under those placement arrangements they are not helping with all the other services I mentioned above. And you typically have to come up with the “story angle” yourself to pitch the media and then they contact the media they think will be interested.
But, most authors I work with need help with more than just landing a few media interviews. They need help with Marketing, PR, Branding, and Social Media strategies, too. So I assess and strategize all of the elements needed to market the book and the author – and I consider “publicity” just one piece of the big puzzle. Therefore, I don’t just limit my services to being a “Publicist”.
I bring this up so you know what to ask a Publicist before hiring one! I know one author who was pitched by a Publicist and for $2500 a month all she was going to do was contact the media. This so-called “Publicist” had no experience with all of the other puzzle pieces needed to successfully market the author or their book, and my (now) client, who was new to the “publicity” world, came close to signing a contract with her. That could have been a very expensive lesson with very little return!
Bottom line? If you contact a Publicist and they don’t mention strategies beyond contacting the media (such as conducting a Virtual Book Tour, or assessing your marketing materials, website and positioning), don’t waste your money on their services.
In terms of retainer fees, they vary greatly. You’ll see some Publicists who charge $1,000 per month (for a limited amount of hours), and others who charge $25,000+ per month. Most of the “bigger” well-known Publicists I’m aware of won’t take on clients for less than $10,000 per month, and they require 6-month contracts – a pretty hefty price tag for most authors I know.
So, there you have it. I hope this snapshot of differences between Literary Agents and Publicists has given you some clarity. They each play very different roles in the publishing world, and (the good ones) can often make a big difference in your quest for publishing greatness!
Cheers & Happy Marketing!
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