My mother and I were sitting across the table one day and she asked:

Mom: Why don’t agents do publicity? They have the contacts and it would mean more books sold for the author which would be good for them.

Tracy: Agents and publicists don’t have the same contacts though. An agent knows editors, publishers, and people that buy ancillary rights. A publicist knows tv show bookers, book review editors at newspapers and magazines and perhaps people involved with the lecture circuit. An agent’s job is to sell your work, a publicist’s job is to promote it.

M: But why not bring in a publicist for the agency’s books?

T: How would you decide which books would get the benefit of the publicist? If an agency has 10 agents, and each has an average of a book a month published, then that’s 120 books for one person. Just like the publisher’s publicity department, you’d have to decide which books are going to get more attention. Then how do you decide how to charge clients? You can’t charge for a publicist’s time based on results because the end result of a large submission could still be zero. Even if you don’t charge anything additional, let’s say you advertise use of the publicist as part of what you receive with your comission, you could still have authors wondering why x client got booked on a tv show and y client did not. Client y would feel like they were getting jipped.

M: Okay, so then the clients could chose if they want to utilize the publicist and somehow pay for the use.

T: I still think there could be problems that could bleed into the agent’s relationship. Let’s say a client decides to utilize the publicist, and then the publicist has to buy 10 hardcover books at the author’s discount (let’s say 40%), so there’s $120 in books. Then let’s say that, after talking to the publisher’s publicist, they determine that the publisher has already pitched to all the major outlets, and so the agency’s publicist decides to hit some of the smaller book review blogs. Let’s say these ten books don’t amount to any reviews. Then when the author’s primary agent is sending out their latest royalty check, there’s a recouperable taken out of $120 from the publicist’s submission. Maybe the author thinks this is too much, and then they go to their primary agent and ask why they’re paying recouperables and whatever else is charged for the publicist’s time and still getting nothing in publicity — knowing that their publisher is also working on publicity but is not directly charging them for books or time. You can explain that the publisher has a publicity budget and that the option to use the agent’s publicist was an added service, but it could leave a sour taste in an author’s mouth.

M: Oh.

T: I don’t think it’s a bad idea though… but perhaps we’re not talking about a traditional publicist. Maybe agencies could bring in one person whose job is to build their agency’s online presence. They blog about agenting, about their authors… they go on Facebook and participate in book groups… they’re signed on to Goodreads and talk about the latest book from client “y”… they post Q&A’s with their authors… they podcast interviews with the author on their release date. Random House has brought in a few people solely for building online presence, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for an agency.

M: Well I’m just going to have your father build me a website when my book is published. He needs something to do anyway.

T: (nods her head) Lunch?

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