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Ask the agony editor: firing publicists and book launch drinking

In his inaugural readers’ advice column, Brian Francis tackles drink-ticket etiquette and gives tough love to publicity-hungry authors


(illustration: Evan Munday)

I have a publicist through my publishing house, but I don’t think she’s doing a good job promoting my book. I want to hire a freelance publicist. How do I find one and how much do they cost?

Publicity Blues

Dear PB,
One of the golden rules of publishing is don’t piss off your publicist. Insinuate she’s not doing a good job and you run the risk of tainting your relationship. Before looking elsewhere, take a hard look at your book. Is it media-friendly? Does it touch on hot topics? Are you competing with a monster title that’s sucking up all the press? There could be a variety of reasons your book isn’t gaining traction, most of which have nothing to do with your publicist.

That said, if you genuinely feel she has been missing her mark, try the freelance route. But run the idea by your publicist first. She might recommend people. It’s important that the two have a good working relationship. You want to avoid double pitches. It’ll annoy the media, not to mention your publicists.

There aren’t many freelance book publicists out there and most work for publishers, not authors. One professional I spoke to says she’s reluctant to take on full book campaigns, especially for authors she’s not certain will get media pick-up. Instead, she focuses on certain elements, like helping authors build their online presence. (Her rate is $95 an hour.) Targetted efforts might actually help your primary publicist.

Bottom line? Give your publicist the benefit of the doubt before making a move. Talk to her about your concerns. Ask her what she thinks the obstacles are and if you can help. Above all, try to remain realistic. The world may need just a little more time to appreciate your brilliance.

Sometimes after book launches I wake up to discover that I still have a drink ticket left in my pocket. Is it okay to try to cash it in at the next launch?

What Was I Thinking?

Dear WWIT,
First off, congratulations. You’ve been to a book launch with drink tickets. It must’ve been one of those fancy ones with cheese cubes. But I can appreciate your angst. Darn it all! You could’ve enjoyed another glass of house red.
It’s certainly okay for you to try cashing in your drink ticket at the next launch you attend, although I can’t guarantee you’ll be successful. Bartenders are usually on to people in the publishing business. We’re worse than ad-agency types when it comes to scamming free booze. If you get turned down, try one of the following responses:
– “Hashtag awkward. This is my book launch.”
– “Linda said it’s all right. What do you mean, ‘Who’s Linda?’ Don’t even joke about that. Pass me a gin and tonic and I promise not to mention this incident to her.”
– “But they took these at the Gillers!”
– “This reminds me of a scene I recently wrote. Oh, the hilarity! Get me my drink and I’ll tell you what happens next.”
If you try any (or all) of these and you’re still denied, bring out a notepad, look the bartender up and down, scribble some notes, say, “See you in Chapter Two,” and storm off.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.