Home » Community » Articles » BookSmarts Podcast (ep. 42): Marika Flatt on Book Publicity


Marika Flatt is the owner and founder of PR by the Book, an Austin, Texas-based publicity firm. She is a regular speaker in the book industry regarding marketing and publicity and joins us on the BookSmarts Podcast to discuss book publicity tips for both publishers and self-published authors, as well as how publicity should be conducted throughout the entire publishing process.

Her publicity firm, PR by the Book, helps authors elevate their relevancy and create buss for their titles by helping authors turn into influencers. With over 900 book titles and over 20 years of experience, their success and specialty spans over many different genres, including travel, lifestyle, outdoors, self-help, parenting, and Christian titles.

To learn more, visit PRbythebook.com. You can also request to join their private “Author to Influencer Accelerator” group on Facebook to learn how authors can take advantage of DIY publicity opportunities.

Talk about the timing of publicity for publishing. How early/late do you start pushing your clients to think about it?

It’s slightly different for publishers and authors. When I’m talking to authors, I tell them to start thinking about it, basically, when they’re writing the book, because sometimes I’m talking to people who are going to Self Publish. When I talk to publishers, first and foremost, I want them to know that PR by the Book and other publicity services out there can basically complement their own efforts of whatever they’re going to do in house. Some people might say, well, we have our own publicity department so what does this interest us? Well, it very much does, because a publicity department only has a certain bandwidth to handle a certain amount for their list that’s coming out. So sometimes a publisher, they just need outside help to complement what they’re going to be doing in house.

I’ve been doing this for almost 27 years, and PR by the Book is a little over 21 years old, so I’ve seen this change a lot over the years. I was about to give an example of what we use to be contacted by publishing houses for things like blog tours, which are now called virtual book tours, or physical tours, when publishing houses wanted to send an author on a physical tour. We would help them and we wouldn’t do the event planning of scheduling with the bookstore. But we would track their tour. Internally, we call those tour cities or tour markets and so we would basically start pitching two or three months prior to an author getting to a market, and we would just track the tour. And we would aim to get, let’s just say three media hits in a tour city. In the early days, that’s how publishers would hire us. Now, it varies.

Sometimes we have a publisher that would hire us to just basically handle an entire book, because they’ve got a big book coming out and they just don’t want to be caught empty handed with no publicity. Other times, it could be things like ala carte. Going back to the virtual book tour, that’s something that works really well for certain genres, including fiction, children’s books, sometimes self improvement books really hit the nail on the head with those.

We have an entire digital department at PR by the Book that runs like two train tracks. I like to envision that as an analogy where we have our digital department running alongside our PR department. So a publicist is pitching what’s left of print and radio and television and podcasts, persons local and regional media, those types of things, and the digital team tracking alongside that is putting together not only handling somebody’s social media content development, scheduling and all that, but also creating a virtual book tour, which in this day and age consists of a lot of bookstagramers on Instagram.

It’s about getting in front of their audience. These people have built up a huge audience and we do not work with the ones who are charging. We work with the ones classified as earned media and these are people who are not charging to make the post so it’s more authentic. All they’re asking for is book. They just want to book and you want to send them a book, because a lot of these are creating a beautiful photo to post on their Instagram. So it’s still earn media and these people are, their mission is just to be talking about great books. That’s a virtual book tour.

Also in our digital department, falls under our digital department, is our NetGalley account. We were the very first PR firm to sign on to NetGalley. One of the benefits that we bring to the table with our NetGalley is that we have the longevity. We’ve been on it for so long. The reviewers on NetGalley, they know who we are. We know how to vet and who’s a good fit for what. We also know how to follow up with these people to try to get those links to show, you know, that our authors can use on their own social media.

Those are the three arenas that fall under our digital. So a publisher can supplement what they’re going to do in house. What I tell others all the time is that the first and foremost thing that a publishing house typically does really well in terms of publicity, is that they’re great about getting those ARC’s printed, the advanced review copies, also called galleys, get those printed and submit those electronically and physically, early on, long lead, you know, four and a half to six months prior to pub date. And so that is kind of their bread and butter.

What publicity are you thinking about in the 2-3 month timeframe? 

Shortly, publicity consists of things like their local and regional media, podcast, TV. Now, the caveat on that is that we have national TV, which we booked an author on Good Morning, America last fall. Which by the way, took three months to land. Three months of work. We booked them early November for a segment that’s going to happen in March. So sometimes they’re planning far ahead. Sometimes it’s a quicker turnaround. As you get into short lead media, it’s things like what’s left of daily newspapers, online magazines, I already said podcasts, bookstagrammars, other micro influencers on like, TikTok, YouTube, those are shorter lead. There’s still a little bit of talk radio around too.

What about on a content or approach basis?

We have what we call timely tie ins. They are a silver bullet for us here at PR by the Book. It’s the call to action that a media outlet needs. An example of a timely tie in would be, let’s just say one of my favorites is May as Mental Health Awareness Month, for instance. We will start pitching that shortly, let’s say early March, to media outlets. We work with a lot of memoirs. We work a lot of self improvement books. So that’s a great timely tie in. We’ll even do a bulk pitch, where we create an entire almost like a roundup article for media outlets, and we say we need to be talking about mental health awareness. This is something that you want to be letting your readers know about. Here’s, basically, here’s your work done for you. Basically, you can just copy and paste this as an article, and we get a lot of traction with that.

Timely tie ins are just golden. They really move the needle. Let’s say I’m the publicist. And you’re the radio producer. I send you a pitch and you read it and think this is really interesting. I like this. Sounds like a book I want to read.

If there’s no timely tie in, it’s very easy for you to file it away. You have a folder of like, I’m interested in this, but I’m not gonna do anything with it right now. So you just slip it into that folder, out of sight, out of mind. If I say to you, this is a great book for Paperback Book Day, which is the end of July, and you like to read novels. Maybe it’s a thriller that’s just about to come out. You think oh, Chad Boudreaux is one of our authors. He has a thriller coming out in August. Paperback Book Day lands right before that. We’re going to be utilizing that and pitching that starting probably in May so that’s on people’s radar screens. You as a producer, you’re looking at that and you’re thinking, okay, yeah, I’m pretty busy. I’m pretty booked up. But I’ve got a space right here, July 20. Is he available July 20th? So those timely tie ins can make or break a publicity campaign because without it, it’s just too easy to get overlooked.

How does publicity start to change once you’re close to the launch date? 

So there’s a crescendo of excitement, you know, and in media, hear about it from us that we’re getting excited, we’re almost there, get a last minute spot on the virtual bookstore, it’s happening in two weeks, get that spot, and we’ll get you all have the assets that you need in order to be able to participate in the book tour. So things like that, really just kind of giving them a little bit more urgency, and letting them know that it’s coming. And so for us, when we create a strategy, we map it all out at the beginning, we know you know who we need to contact, we’re spreading it out, if we’ve got, let’s say, a six month campaign for a book, we know who needs to be contacted, and each given month, you can’t contact everybody in a month. There’s too much. So we go into it with a strategy and so we know, okay, in this particular month, we’re going to be pitching their local and regional media, for instance. And so just depending on where that falls in the timeline depends on what timeliness we’re using for that.

Talk about the difference between marketing and publicity.

So, we just did a session for one of our author groups on running a price steal, a price drop, as a marketing tool. That’s a marketing tool, when you’re gonna, let’s say, drop the Ebook price to 99 cents for a particular week. That’s marketing. But the way that it can work alongside publicity is that you can utilize that on your social media, put a link to a review that you just got and they are all working together. So you’re utilizing a marketing tool. You’re promoting it on your socials. You’re pulling in an example of earned media that you’ve already gotten the credentials and basically can set you apart from the rest of the authors that are promoting their book on that day. So it’s all working in tandem together.

Marketing is different than publicity and here’s the biggest differentiation. Marketing, you’re typically putting dollars into that. It is a paid opportunity. So it can be anything from an ad online, or something as old fashioned as creating bookmarks or it could be running a promo. It could be a price drop. All of those things, they involve money. Whereas publicity, yes, you’re paying your publicist because you’re paying someone to do it for you. But there is no money exchanged in publicity and that’s why it’s called earned media.

What would you say to an author trying to promote a previously published book?

It’s really about them as a brand at that point. We love looking at our authors as a brand, whether we’re starting from scratch, because a lot of times we are starting from scratch, and you and I could have a whole conversation about expectations related to that. But then sometimes somebody already has a brand that’s built in. It might not be, you know, on a national basis, they might just have built something kind of in their circles of influence. But regardless, it’s a brand, and so I encourage people and this is the way we look at our clients in that situation is think of themselves as an umbrella, that’s their brand, and everything falls under that umbrella. That could be not only the book, but it could be a course that they offer. It could be maybe they have clients that they meet with one on one, maybe they’re a therapist and they have a practice. Maybe they’re a speaker and so they are going out to speak. So they have all of these offerings under their brand. And then you are investing in publicity as a business. It is a business expense. It’s an investment. All the smart brands have done it for history.

Some brands are spending millions of dollars on a Superbowl ad and that’s advertising. But think about, I used to use this Bill Gates quote on my email signature for years that said, “If I only had $2, left, I would spend one on PR”. Yeah. So there’s a reason why big companies invest in PR. And when you think about it like that, you realize, not every month are they getting 20, 25 media hits. Maybe there’s months that are slower, but regardless, it’s an annual strategy that they are setting out, and they are making a plan for. And so you as an author, can look at it the same way. You can think, okay, this is my brand. I’ve got all these. I just had a meeting yesterday with an author in this situation. Now her book is not coming out until September, and she’s with a hybrid press but she’s doing it right and she’s thinking big picture. She’s thinking, okay, my publisher is doing these things already leading up to my book launch. I need PR by the Book to take the baton and run with it when my publisher isn’t doing it anymore. She’s looking like, okay, January is going to be a huge time for me because of my topic, New Year, New You. And then she’s even looking farther down into March with another timely tie in that she knows about. And so that’s the way to look at it. When somebody comes to us, and their book is already out, we vet that as what we call an expert’s campaign, which is really about the media, they don’t really care about your book, necessarily. They want to know, what are you bringing to my audience? So what how can you entertain, educate, inform, inspire my audience. And so that’s our job. Our job as publicists is to basically package that person into a pitch to show you as a host, what is this person going to bring?