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Publishing Note: Publicity – The Cost


“I want my book to be a New York Times #1 bestseller.” If that is your ambition, then be prepared. Know that reaching the pinnacle of book recognition, for some the ultimate validation of an author, comes at a cost.

In a recent post, I described three varieties of publicity a publisher can seek for an author and title. Whether you pursue earned, owned, or paid publicity, it will cost something. The cost is directly related to the components of the campaign.

Campaign Components

Publicity campaigns, especially those aiming for bestseller status, involve numerous components. First among them is the publicist or publicity firm entrusted to secure media and other types of attention.

Who will you entrust with publicizing you and your book?

Who you hire and what you expect of them will shape the publicity you and your book get, as well as the cost of it all. You will want to find the publicity firm best suited to your book and the publicity goals you set. A basic criterion should be that the firm or individual is a book publicist. Publicizing books is different than publicizing a brand, or a cause, or a product in some other industry (e.g., cars, insurance plans, political candidates, you name it). Look for a firm or individual that knows and has experience doing publicity within the subject category of your book. Fiction is not the same as nonfiction, and a definitive history of some event is very different than a how-to book or memoir. The size of the firm is not as important as the attention they will pay to you, in addition to the publicity they can generate for you and your book. A large firm may assign you to an inexperienced publicist, whereas a one-person operation may be stretched so thin, it can’t do everything promised. You want the best fit for you, no sense paying for things you don’t need or that won’t benefit your campaign.

What do you want to accomplish?

A critical component of success is a well-defined set of objectives. If the overall goal is hitting bestseller lists, that’s a start. Other goals can focus on book reviews, TV, radio, podcast appearances, blog posts, endorsements from social media influencers, and other quantifiable activities. You may set short-term, intermediary, and long-term goals, which can differ from one another. The clearer your goals are, the better you can tailor the campaign to reach them.

What strategies do you plan to implement?

Publicity strategies are not the same as publicity activities. Strategies have to do with crafting plans to reach the goals, and activities are selected to enact the plans. Your strategy may be to build word-of-mouth buzz, or to target influencers, or to create events, or to make a huge splash at one particularly important high-profile event, etc. A primary responsibility of the publicist, what you are paying them for, is to see the big picture and design a strategy, or strategies, that allow you to achieve your goals. It is one thing to have media contacts, segmented lists for target audiences, and other assets, it is quite a distinct thing to know which of these assets to marshal in pursuit of your particular goals, in what combinations, and the timing to make it all work.

What specific tools and activities do these strategies entail? And what tasks comprise these activities?

Tools and activities will be selected to maximize impact in reaching your goals. No matter the strategy, any publicist worth her or his salt will begin with what the author brings to the table. Are you an engaging and experienced public speaker, are you saddled with stage fright, do you have a robust social media platform with tons of followers, are you directly connected with a significant number of celebrities or world famous personalities, can you call on support from influential people in your industry? Depending on the answers to these questions, the campaign may revolve around author activities. Or you may be looking to persuade libraries to purchase your book and the activities will revolve around getting reviews, reaching out to librarians, and maybe even arranging a book party at a library. The channels of communication through which you can reach the target audience are also a crucial component. Activities may be channel specific.

Who do you want to reach?

Your target audience dictates much of the strategy, as well as the choice of tools and activities. Before the publicist can begin, she or he will need to know exactly who you want to buy and read the book. Trying to reach Gen Z readers who are always online requires a different approach than does reaching AARP members who may or may not be active online, regardless of the genre or category of title. Publicizing a book for expectant mothers is different than publicizing a book for esports enthusiasts. One campaign definitely does not fit all audiences.

Other components include the territories you want the campaign to cover. Although authors always believe their book is for every person capable of reading, the audience for your book may be restricted to a particular place. Or the subject matter may appeal to people in given locations (e.g., a story set at sea, or a book about the sport of cricket). Also, how long you want the campaign to run is an important consideration. You may want to go full tilt for four or six weeks after the publication date, then stop with publicity. Or, you could create waves of publicity that attract attention over a longer period.

Campaign Costs

Virtually every author I speak with asks, “How much will publicity cost?” Publicity campaigns, especially those aiming for bestseller status, carry a steep price tag. They can utilize a wide array of publicity tools, demand a lot of time and energy, and require substantial direct expenses. Sometimes the budget is split between publicity and marketing (a subject for a separate blog post). Your budget will set parameters on how much time, talent, and tools you can devote to publicizing your book.


A publicist’s time is valuable. Their campaign proposal may itemize hours worked, or their time may be folded into individual tasks, but make no mistake about it, you are paying for the time they spend on your book. The more senior the publicist, the higher the rate. The length of the campaign plus the publicist’s labor, and what they do while promoting your book all contribute to the cost.


By talent, I mean the skills, knowledge, and level of experience each person offers. One key talent is you, the author. Without your talent, there would be no book. To the extent you are involved in publicity, your time counts as sweat equity invested toward the success of the book. In addition to an account manager or lead publicist for your book, a publicity firm may bring on board a social media specialist, a speaker’s bureau booker, content creators, event planners, and so forth. The talent required to execute the campaign designed to achieve the publicity goals you set contributes directly to how much publicity costs.


Of course the tools chosen to reach the desired outcomes add to the cost. It is a matter of how many tools are employed and how long those tools are used. The combination of creating a press release letter, sifting and producing a mailing list, mailing review copies, and following up with reviewers represents a labor-intensive tool. Purchasing space ads for print or online publications, creating copy, designing the ads, running the ads for multiple issues or weeks, all this amounts to a publicity tool. These types of direct costs add up. The list of publicity tools is long. The more creative the publicist, the wider the array of tools at her or his disposal. Whether you are targeting earned, owned, or paid publicity, the tools you use will carry a cost.

What should you expect publicity to cost? The range is so wide, any number is virtually meaningless. You can spend nothing and just devote your time to publicity. What is the cost of sweat equity? You can purchase an off-the-rack publicity package from some online promoter for $500 to $2,500. What is the benefit if the company implements a prescribed campaign not tailored to your book, which doesn’t achieve your goals? You can hire a reputable publicist for $5,000 to $20,000 (or more), which offers a modicum of assurance of success. In this range, at least you have a say in what happens and the metrics you want to use to measure success. Or, you can go all in and spend $50,000 and up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, aiming to reach #1 New York Times bestseller status. In the end, what really matters is whether the money you spend actually accomplishes the goals you set. The cost of publicity depends on how ambitious you want to be and how much money you want to invest to reach your goals.