Stephanie Barko: Helping Authors Get Booked & Be Heard

Stephanie BarkoStephanie Barko’s award-winning clients include traditional publishers and their authors, small presses, and independently published nonfiction authors and historical novelists.

She has presented on book marketing & publicity at industry & genre conferences, such as North American Historical Novel Society and Oklahoma Writers Federation.

Her articles and book reviews have been published in Southern Writers Magazine, San Francisco Book Review, and Writers’ Digest.

Stephanie was a national Finalist in More Magazine’s Reinvention Story Competition, nominated by her peers as Book Publicist of the Year, and voted Preditors & Editors Best Book Promotion Service.

She lives in Austin, Texas where she is an adjunct Instructor for the Writers’ League of Texas and a media Sponsor for several charities.

Stephanie Barko Interview

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Stephanie Barko Transcript

Tim Knox: Hi everyone. Welcome back in to Interviewing Authors. Stephanie Barko is my guest today. Stephanie is a literary publicist and that is someone who works with authors, new and old, helping get the word out about their book, helping them get publicity, helping them get noticed in all media – radio, television, print, web, et cetera.

Stephanie has worked with a lot of award winning clients, primarily non-fiction authors and historical novelists. Regardless of the genre you write in or where you are in the process this is a great interview for you to listen to because Stephanie talks about the best time to publish a book, when you should start thinking about publicity, who you should have on your team and what she calls the three legged stool of success.

A stool with two legs is going to fall over… so a great interview with Stephanie Barko, literary publicist, on today’s Interviewing Authors.

Tim Knox: Stephanie, welcome to the program.

Stephanie Barko: Thanks for inviting me, Tim.

Tim Knox: We’re happy to have you here. I’m very excited about talking to you today. You are my first literary publicist. We’re going to break new ground here today. Before we get started give us a little background information on you.

Stephanie Barko: Wow, okay, well my background is in marketing. Before I marketed books I marketed semiconductors for 12 years and that was really fun and I met some really smart people and got to work in high-tech which was my goal at the time. Then when I felt complete with that career I took some time off and just really let myself sink in to who I was going to be next. That came up with something around writing, around the publishing industry, around all the dynamic things that were going on in the way of getting your voice out there, getting the word out.

At that time independent publishing was in its infancy and it really had a bad reputation. I thought you know, this is going to change because what I saw was an industry that was tracking along the same lines as independent music and I knew about that industry because I live in the live music capital of the world Austin, Texas. I was watching what was going on with independent music and how people were able to produce their own work in their living rooms and musicians all over town are just getting together and turning out great stuff on equipment that’s not hard to come by.

I thought there’s going to be a revolution in publishing and it’s going to be like this so this is a good time to get in and learn the industry and so that’s what I did. I started going to writing groups and one of the writing groups I was in had an author who pointed out to me that I didn’t act like the other writers in the group and I was more concerned about getting their writing out there than I was about the writing that I was doing. She was right of course and that’s when I realized once a marketer, always a marketer.

I’m marketing books, specifically non-fiction and historical fiction because that’s what I love to read. That’s how I got going eight years ago.

Tim Knox: That’s so interesting. You were in the technology field doing semiconductors. You finished off that career, wanted to start something new. I know you said you saw the trend there coming but was it because you wanted to be a writer at the time? You really hadn’t thought about becoming a publicist had you? You were going to market your own work?

Stephanie Barko: I’ve always been a networker. Even in my 20’s and my early 30’s I was always promoting something, usually for free and usually in the non-profit world. It was always some cause. I was in exchange groups in Houston where I’m from and I was always promoting somebody else’s business or what I wanted to do next or charities I was fond of. So it wasn’t a big leap to market books because books to me, I mean this allows me to live in the world of ideas. I like intangibles. I like marketing intangibles and talking about intangibles and that’s what books are. They’re ideas. It was just kind of a natural transition.

Tim Knox: So really you took the marketing skills you already had and just lent them to the literary industry.

Stephanie Barko: Yes and the networking skills and the promotion skills. This was also when social media was just starting to get some traction. We were just beginning to realize about that time what social media might be able to do and what you could do if you could link it all together and web presence and a blog. Then what would you have? There were quite a few confluences of things that were going on that came together.

Tim Knox: It’s kind of like being an entrepreneur. I’m an old entrepreneur and I’ve always thought the product really doesn’t matter. If you have the fundamental skills you can lend those skills to any product and basically that’s what you’ve done. Your products now are authors and books.

Stephanie Barko: Well let me say a little about the difference between a literary publicist and a publicist because I think it’s really useful to know that. I don’t know that my definition would be everybody’s definition but this is my working definition of the difference between a publicist and a literary publicist.

General publicists get the word out about what a company’s doing well. They can get the word out about what a personality is doing well, what a celebrity is doing. Movie publicists market movies, usually launches and when a movie goes into different formats not unlike the same thing with books when books go into different formats.

A book publicist however works within a specific timeframe and to me that’s what makes us unique. We focus on the book. Some book publicists will tell you that you’re never really marketing a book; you’re marketing the person behind it. I don’t really think that’s entirely true, otherwise we wouldn’t have this timeframe that we’re always working around. The timeframe that we’re working around is the book. If a book is coming out in three months, the publicist should already be onboard because they need to be working on endorsements and pre-pub reviews for the book.

Then they’re going to work a little bit past the release date for the book to help introduce it to the marketplace and work some of the followers that they’ve worked on getting for the author into buyers and readers after the book comes out somewhat, but not a lot. We work in this timeframe that is like 3-6 months prior to release date and then maybe a month or two after release date. Then we rotate back out to another client that has a book that’s 3-6 months prior to release date. So we work in that little zone that’s like 6-8 months around the release date and then we’re on to the next book. We kind of rotate around in that zone, that timeframe of a book.

Tim Knox: I find it really interesting. You’re doing a buildup then the book comes out and then you do the big push after it comes out but there becomes a point where the publicity portion of it ends and then you move on to another client.

Stephanie Barko: That’s right. I mean I rarely work on a book that’s older than three months.

Tim Knox: Does that surprise the authors you work with? Do authors think that you have to continually push a book like that? It’s not that there’s a lifespan of the book. There’s just kind of a lifespan of the publicity that you do. Is that correct?

Stephanie Barko: That’s correct, yeah. That’s a very precise language that you just came up with and probably a good way to describe it. If someone comes to me, and people do all the time, and their book is a year old, two years, three years. Some people even come to me with books older than that and say their book is evergreen and that may be true but they need to be with a general publicist, somebody who’s going to market them and their body of work and that book with it because the book’s old. A book is considered aged at one year and really most of your readers and your sales for the book are going to come in the first 90 days. That’s when you really want to focus your promotion. You want to do your local launch that month, maybe on the release date and you want to do most of your events and most of your promotional activities in the first 90 days past release date.

Tim Knox: I find that really interesting what you were just saying about some authors think their book is evergreen. I always say just because it’s made of a tree does not mean it’s evergreen.

Stephanie Barko: Some are. I agree with them. It’s just not something I want to handle. I handed off a perfectly wonderful couple who wrote… I used to work with them actually in high-tech and they wrote a book about business that was very good; it was extremely well edited, really well put together, well designed. They came out with it and they wanted to keep going with me and I couldn’t go with them because it was past my time. It was time for me to go back and prepare a book for the market, which is what I’m best at and what I really do working in that pre-release date zone.

So I turned them onto another publicist who does a lot of non-fiction promotion after release date. In other words she works with what are called experts, which is what these people are. They’re human resource experts in organizational development of professionals. They work all over the world. They’re well known but this was their first book. They needed a lot of media. They needed a big splash. That helps them attract global customers. They needed it to be international publications that they were getting in so I turned them on to another group that is very good at that, at attracting media after the fact. These are business people and a business book and it’s a little bit different than other types of books.

Tim Knox: Let me ask you this question. This may be a little off topic but I’ve always wondered about this. There comes a point with authors who are successful where their name suddenly is bigger on the book jacket than the name of the book.

Stephanie Barko: Oh yeah, that’s a trend now in book design.

Tim Knox: It really is. Are those authors who are now branding themselves more than the book, are those the authors that write whatever and people will buy it?

Stephanie Barko: Well it’s just a trend in book design. There’s always trends in book design. I’m not a graphic designer or a book designer but I work with a lot of them and that’s what they say. They’ll tell you what the trends are. There’s certain colors. It’s just like interior design or fashion. All art runs in cycles so the cycle we’re in now is having the author name really big and having sort of these really splashy covers. That means usually that the author is well-known. I think an author that’s coming out with their first book to do that would be very presumptuous and it wouldn’t be what I’d do. It really wouldn’t.

Actually I’m marketing a professor’s book right now and it’s probably his fourth book. I really encouraged him to consider him to making the subtitle of his book the first thing that people saw, rather than the title itself because the subtitle frequently – and this one is a good example of it – describes what’s in the book better than the title itself. So his name is on the bottom and it’s his fourth book but he’s not a household name.

Tim Knox: I keep expecting James Patterson to come out with a book that just says ‘James Patterson’ on the front. No title, nothing else.

Stephanie Barko: There you go and he could and people would buy it.

Tim Knox: He could, exactly. You mentioned earlier that there were very specific genres that you prefer to work with. Tell us about that.

Stephanie Barko: I prefer to work in two genres and those are non-fiction and historical fiction. When you query a publicist it’s really not a whole lot different than querying an agent. You say well why would that be? Don’t you want my money? Yes but… because publicists screen for clients just like agents do. We all specialize in certain types of material and certain kinds of clients. That is actually to your advantage as a consumer because that means our skills are honed in a certain area. My skills are deep in certain areas. For instance, I would never take a children’s book but I will refer you to someone I know who might be good at that.

So what you want to do if you’re an author looking for a publicist is you want to look for a publicist that has marketed material that’s similar to what you’re coming out with and look at their track record and make sure that they have good recommendations.

Tim Knox: I think that’s such an important point. I’m sure there are publicists as there are agents and other folks in the industry that will work with anyone just to get the check and you do get what you pay for.

Stephanie Barko: You do and if you want to work with a generalist go right ahead but most of us are specialists and I really respect that. When I look out in the field I can’t tell you of a publicist I know who takes everything. Most of the publicists I know take some things or take a lot of things but then really don’t take other things. You might find someone who takes a lot of fiction but they won’t touch paranormal or fantasy. That’s actually quite common. If you’re in that genre, and those are very, very popular genres of fiction right now, you might have to really hunt to find somebody, especially an independent publicist that takes that.

You know what we ought to talk about, Tim. We ought to talk about the difference between traditional publishing and independent publishing.

Tim Knox: I agree. I was going to ask you about that because I know you got in early when the independent publishing was really just kind of starting. What are your thoughts about that? It seems that there are so many avenues available to authors as far as self-publishing goes.

Stephanie Barko: There are. An author can go either way. That’s a very personal decision and each author needs to decide whether their material and who they are is more suited to independent publishing or traditional publishing. I take both but the way I enter the project is different and it’s at a different time.

If I’m going to enter a traditionally published author’s timeframe then I’m going to come in under the lead publicist at the publisher and I’m going to come in a little bit later than I would if they were independently publishing. If they’re independently publishing I want to get onboard as early as I can because my goal is to be their book shepherd and really help them create something that will sell. I try to make the book as marketable as possible because to be brutally honest, a lot of authors shoot themselves in the foot before their book comes out. There are a number of ways an author can do this. One is by editing. Another is by book design. Another is by not knowing marketing, just releasing a book and trying to decide what they should do on release date, which is way, way, way too late.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that. I talk to a lot of authors in authors groups and I’ve been there myself. They really are ignorant of the process. I think there’s a train of thought among a lot of new authors, “Okay, all I have to do is write an amazing book and the world is my oyster.” But there’s a lot of work involved. I mean writing the book is just a very small piece of it. What are some of the things an author should do before the book is published? You talk about getting in there months in advance. If I’m the author, what are some things that I need to start thinking about even before the book is finished?

Stephanie Barko: Even before the book is finished you need to be thinking about platform. Where are your readers and how are they going to find out about your book? Do they know you exist? Do you have a relationship with anybody who might eventually become a reader? Maybe someone you could call a follower today, perhaps a social media follower or a blog subscriber or someone who’s been to your website a few times. These conversions, you have to work on them. It’s not like you’re selling but you have to create these relationships either in person or through the internet. It’s very important to lay down your platform.

I say that platform is like a three legged stool. There’s three things you need. You need a website. You need a blog attached to that website on the same domain and third, you need a social suite. You need a fleet of social media profiles that you are frequenting every day. That’s how you create your following. When you can document how many people you have at those levels then you can begin to say you have a platform.

Tim Knox: I find that’s so interesting that one word you put in there, relationships. I’ve interviewed probably 50 authors at this point and I’ve interviewed new authors. I’ve interviewed people like Joe Finder who’s been on the New York Times list 11 times. All of them that are successful, no matter the level, talk about building relationships with their readers and keeping in touch with those readers. I don’t know if a lot of authors understand that and I think that’s why what you do is so important in my mind. You’re not only publicizing these authors. You are shepherding them. You are taking them by the hand and going here’s the process. It’s got to be enjoyable for you when someone actually listens and it all goes well.

Tim Knox: It is and it’s also good to work with accomplished authors who are maybe on their 30th book and see what good connection with readers can do. For instance, one of my clients was Jane Kirkpatrick, who’s written about 50 books now and has been primarily almost all the way through traditionally published.

Jane is an ex-therapist and I think it’s her skills in conflict management and relationship building and just she’s a master at being with people – being with people, not talking at people or lecturing or doing events. She’s a master at being with people and somehow she’s learned to convert this to not only being good in person but being good online.

Let me tell you how this shows up. I asked Jane to be a guest blogger on my blog. So I invited her when she had a book coming out after the one that I marketed. I said why don’t you come over and I’ll help you promote your new book. She came over and she talked about her new book. Do you know how many comments I had on my blog after Jane talked about her new book? 119. Those are people who did not know me. They knew Jane. That’s a puppy dog effect. This is people who are following her around and waiting to hear what her next word is. That’s how loyal they are.

So if you’re really good at tending your readers like she does, that’s what can happen. She’s just a master at it and she just writes novels. She writes historical novels.

Tim Knox: I’m always surprised, and maybe I shouldn’t be, at how rabid some of the fans of these authors are. Have you worked with any authors like Jane who have always been traditionally published who are now going into self-publishing and really having to relearn how things are done? The reason I ask that is I’ve interviewed a couple of authors who have sold tons of books, have never done anything other than write it and hand it off to the publisher who are now self-publishing and are a little lost.

Stephanie Barko: This is natural. They’re so used to having their hand held all the way through where all they have to do is respond to deadlines and then something happens behind the curtain that they don’t even see and voila all of a sudden they have a book. There are events and they go and there’s a turnout. These are the kinds of things that just don’t happen in real life. I mean if you’re doing your own thing if you’re having an event that you book yourself then you have to make that turnout happen. It’s not easy and I don’t recommend it for authors other than your local launch. Anybody can get a turnout for a local launch but after that it’s hard. You really want to do events where the turnout is built in, where someone else is producing the turnout for you like a book festival.

So yeah, I’ve had people come in like that. I have one right now who’s really just very slow to grasp that he’s got to come up with all this infrastructure because he was used to sharing a page with a bunch of other people on a different site that doesn’t have anything to do with books. I’m like, no, you need your own website and you need your own blog and we need to redo your bio. This is your author bio, which is different than your bio for your work or your bio for family or anything else. It’s really different.

Yeah, there’s a whole lot to learn. What traditionally published authors don’t get is that when they were traditionally published they were just somebody who was collecting a royalty check and when you’re independently published you’re going into business. You’re entering the publishing industry, which is real different than being an author who’s collecting a royalty check.


Tim Knox: Welcome to the new age.

Stephanie Barko: You’re becoming an entrepreneur. You know what that means but the average person who has never done anything on their own who has always worked for somebody else, they don’t know what that means.

Tim Knox: Exactly and that’s another thing I hear over and over and over from successful authors. You have to be an entrepreneur. You have to consider your work your product and your audience your customers. You mentioned earlier that you select clients much the way a literary agent would. Talk a little about what you look for in clients. What is the criteria that someone needs to have to work with you?

Stephanie Barko: This is a really, really good question and it’s not about whether you get through this screen to get to me. It’s about how as an author you make yourself presentable to anyone in the industry – to a publisher, to an agent, to a publicist, to a book designer, to an editor. Why would anyone want to work with you? Why would anyone want to enter your project?

Let’s look at it in that light. The first thing I look for when I come into a project is timing. Are you at a time in the project where I can make a difference? If you come to me after the book’s been out I’m much less likely to work with you. I want you to come to me very early and allow me to influence the things that I can make a difference on like your cover, especially your back cover and like your editing to make sure that you get hooked up with the best editors for your genre and to make sure you understand that there are four kinds of editing. It’s to your advantage to go through all four types.

Also book design and just the whole idea of being ready for the market. How is the book ready for the market? There’s so many different elements. One of the things that I think is really important for authors to have in their toolkit right now is video. Most authors don’t think about that. It just doesn’t come up for them but video is very important. Why? It’s the first thing that Google looks for. If you have an author video, if you’re a non-fiction author or if you have a book trailer if you’re a fiction author, you’re more likely to come up quickly on Google on page one. That’s important.

It’s important to have a little radio under you so that you can put an mp3 on your website so people can see how you sound. As an author you have a voice and people want to know what your voice sounds like, not only your writing but your actual voice. It’s like your voice saying your voice. That’s important.

These are some of the things. I want good editing. If the book’s already been designed then I want to agree that the cover is something that can sell the book. I’ve asked authors if they were open to redesigning their book and some of them are. They either pick their friend or somebody who doesn’t know how to design a book or an artist, a fine artist instead of a book designer or a graphic designer instead of a book designer. People pick all kinds of things for a book cover and they’re not all covers that will sell the book. There’s an art to having the cover and the cover is very, very important. It’s the first thing people see.

Tim Knox: Do you have to read the manuscript before you agree to take someone on?

Stephanie Barko: I read the long synopsis. I frequently will read the book too but I definitely want the long synopsis, the short synopsis, the author bio. I want to see your resume. I want to see what you’ve done in life, every place you’ve lived, who you know. All these sort of things are important.

Tim Knox: You really go deep background.

Stephanie Barko: I do because it’s all part of your platform. The more I know about you the more I can place you. For instance, radio. I have a client right now who wants to be on NPR. Well okay but I’m not going to pitch you to NPR in D.C. I’m going to pitch you to some local NPR stations so let’s look at every place you’ve ever lived or worked or gone to school. Those are places where I can tie who you are to a local audience and maybe Albuquerque NPR would be interested in you because you taught there. “Former Professor So-and-so has a new book out and it talks about culture in the area” and that’s why it’s relevant. So yeah, I want to know a lot about you.

Tim Knox: I think that’s so important. So many authors want to be on NPR. Don’t we all? You’ve got to be realistic about it.

Stephanie Barko: Yeah, why would NPR be interested in you?

Tim Knox: How important are things like endorsements from known names and critics and that sort of thing?

Stephanie Barko: I think they’re critically important. it’s not that they’re going to sell the book but if you don’t have them… let’s say you don’t have endorsements on your back cover and you goofed and failed to get pre-pub reviews or they didn’t come in early enough to make the back cover before the book came out. Well then what do you have? If you’re lucky you have a synopsis and a good author bio. How do we know the book’s any good? Nobody else is saying it’s good writing or it’s a good plot or it’s a good story or there are good characters. What you have when you have pre-pub endorsers on the back cover is you have someone of note, maybe a New York Times bestselling author or an actress or somebody of some note that we may know about or somebody who’s a luminary in your field, saying this is worth reading. That’s what you want.

Tim Knox: Right and that’s just an old tenet of business. People believe testimonials before they believe you.

Stephanie Barko: I recommend people try to get three. If you have three maybe one of the three will actually really speak to a specific reader who’s wondering whether or not to buy your book versus this other book that’s somewhat similar. Let’s say the other book has no endorsements and your book has two or three. I would pick the one with endorsements all other things being equal just because I know that somebody else is saying that this author has good material, can write, is worth endorsing. It’s worth my time to look this over, my important time. I’m a VIP and I chose to take the time to endorse this book because I think it’s worth reading. That says something.

Tim Knox: It does, especially if it’s someone that the reader recognizes, a trusted name. How important do you think book signings really are? I hear some authors live and die by them and I hear other authors that say they’re a complete waste of time. What are your thoughts?

Stephanie Barko: They’re a waste of time if you don’t have a turnout. They’re very worth your time if you have a turnout. As I said, I alluded to earlier, the one time when I think it’s really okay to do a live event is your hometown launch. There’s your book. It’s coming out on April 1st and that weekend you’re having a live launch of your book in your home base and all your nearest and dearest are there. Your colleagues are there. Your family’s there. Your friends are there. The people in your professional association are there. Your writing circle is there. Your editor is there. Everybody that you worked with that’s on the ground, everybody that knows you is going to come.

You’re going to get 80-190 people and they’re going to buy and they’re going to buy in multiples. They’re going to buy three and four books at a time and they’re going to give them to people that they know because they know you. They’re going to come and listen to what you have to say and they’re going to make you feel good. That is worth it. It’s worth it to the bookstore that has the event for you. It’s worth your time to be there and bring drinks and tapas for them. That is worth doing. You will create a turnout in your hometown.

Beyond that you need to be in something where somebody else is producing the turnout for you – a book fair, a book festival, a conference, something where the turnout is produced elsewise. All you have to do is show up and do your thing and you know the traffic will come that you had nothing to do with. In other words, you will have the opportunity to meet brand new readers. That is okay.

Tim Knox: Always okay to meet brand new readers.

Stephanie Barko: Always okay to go meet new readers but not if you had to produce the turnout. Why? It’s too much work and your time is better spent writing your next book.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about the seasonality of the business. Is there an optimal time of year to release a book better than other times?

Stephanie Barko: There are times when you don’t want to release a book. If you are not writing about the holidays then you don’t want to release a book past Thanksgiving. Well you say, “My book would make a great gift. My novel would make a great gift at Christmas.” Well maybe it would but guess what? Let’s say you write murder mysteries. People don’t really have murder on their mind at Christmas. They are light and easy breezy unless they have a relative that really loves murder mysteries but are they going to buy you or a bestseller? They’re probably going to buy a bestseller.

So what you want to do is get your book out. If you’re going to hit that fall rush then make sure that you can compete with all the books that come out in the fall. That’s when most books come out. A lot of people like to release in the fall because they like to work on their marketing all year and get the book ready and then come out in September. Yes, people do get more serious in the fall. They think of school. They get in that cycle. They get back into a routine and they’re away from their vacations. They’re back at their desk. This is all true but you have to be able to compete.

I just tell people if you’re going to come out at the end of the year don’t come out past Thanksgiving unless it’s a Christmas book, and that’s different.

Tim Knox: So my Zombie for Holiday book is not a good idea.

Stephanie Barko: Well, you know. If you have some kind of crossover maybe. I just tell people try not to get in that Christmas thing. The other thing about Christmas is that Christmas and Hanukah and Kwanza and all the holidays that come at the end of the year – people are just so busy. You think people would have time to read but they really don’t. They’re so busy rushing around.

Tim Knox: If I’m an author, when is the best time to hire a book publicist? When should I start thinking about calling you?

Stephanie Barko: If you are traditionally published the best time to bring your independent publicist, which is called a supplemental publicist, into the team is after you have contracted with the publisher. In other words, your agent has gotten you a deal with a publisher and this publisher is producing your first book and the publicist at the publisher has been identified. Then you can bring me in because I need to talk to the publicist at your publisher before I know what I can do that’s unique to what she’s doing. Every publisher does something a little bit different. I don’t know what they’re going to do so I need to know that first and then I can come into the project. That’s usually like three months prior to release date.

If you are independently publishing your book or if you’re with a hybrid press that does some things for you but you are definitely paying to have your book published then you would bring me in between three and six months prior to release date, depending on how much infrastructure you’re missing. By infrastructure I mean that three legged stool – the website, the blog, the social suite.

Tim Knox: Does my book have to be completed or do you prefer to come in when it’s still in the rough manuscript phase? I know you mentioned you like to see some heavy editing there.

Stephanie Barko: I’ve come into books that are not quite finished. I prefer that they be all the way finished but by the same token I don’t want to walk into something that has poor editing. If you’re not sure about editing and you don’t know who to call or you think your book has been poorly edited then absolutely call a publicist because publicists know who the good editors are, especially for your genre. If you write non-fiction and you come to me, I know who the good non-fiction editors are. I can set you up with those. Maybe we can’t start work today but it’s to my advantage to put you with a good editor so that I have a more marketable book. A well edited book is a more marketable book so it’s easier for me to sell it.

Tim Knox: What type of author benefits most from the services of a literary publicist?

Stephanie Barko: I think a debut author really, really benefits from using a publicist. You can learn so much as a debut author from what your publicist does. You can just pick a lot of things up by osmosis. There are some authors that could pick up what I’m doing but they don’t want to. They want to spend time writing so they’re always going to delegate the publicity because it’s not something that they really want to spend time on.

Others want to learn how to market themselves. They want to learn how to speak on TV so I’ll send them to a communication expert or a speech coach to teach them how to be in person with people on TV. They’ll want to learn how to develop their talking points so that they can be better on the radio. It depends.

Tim Knox: I found that interesting. I work with a lot of new authors and we do recorded interviews and that sort of thing for marketing and a lot of them really don’t know how to do an interview. I’ve had authors just get in on the mic and completely freeze. I think authors nowadays have to be marketers. They have to be the mouthpiece of their brand, right?

Stephanie Barko: They do. I think it’s important to know your material and know how to language that so people get it beyond the elevator speech, which is no small thing as well. A lot of authors have a hard time telling you about their book in two to three sentences and you should be able to tell people what your book’s about in two to three sentences. That’s just respectful. That’s turning the conversation back over to the person that’s listening to you so that you can get some feedback from them.

Tim Knox: In a minute or two that we have left let’s talk a little bit about cost. That’s always the first thing that everybody asks. A full blown marketing campaign – what are we looking at cost wise?

Stephanie Barko: It depends on who you go to. My minimum charge is a little over $2,000 and that would get you maybe a month and a half with me, perhaps a virtual tour or some custom work based on time. A complete campaign can range anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. It just depends on how much advertising and coaching is rolled into the package. My work is usually in the $5,000 to $7,000 range. Most people I work with can handle that, some more. The last author that I got into a top 10 book festival here in the United States paid me almost $10,000 and it wasn’t just to do that. I mean I worked with him for almost a year and we did a lot of work together but I did get him in a top 10 book festival.

It depends on what your goals are and how long you want to work with the publicist. I talked to a prospect two days ago who was pretty blown out of the water by some publicist – I never did find out who it was – quoted her $21,000. I have a funny feeling I know who it was, a guy in Hollywood. There’s a guy in Hollywood who charges those kinds of prices and gets people to pay them. To me, if you’re Joe Nobody you don’t want to do that on your first book. You want to get your infrastructure down. You want to learn how to market yourself a little bit and move on from there. You don’t want somebody who’s yelling your name at the top of his lungs to Hollywood. I just think that’s a little backwards. I like to start on the ground and work out. That makes sense to me.

Tim Knox: I think to me that makes the most sense. Again, it’s an old business thing. You start in your backyard and you work out from there. I think the thing with a lot of authors, especially those that may have sticker shot, you have to understand the amount of work that goes into this. I’m a big believer in making the best use of your talents. If you’re a great writer but a lousy marketer, you go write and let somebody else market or let someone else edit or whatever the case may be. I think what you do is an invaluable service and I think a lot of authors if they don’t realize that on the first book, they probably will figure it out on the second.

Stephanie Barko: I was going to say, the sad thing is authors will release a book and then realize they should have hired a publicist. At that point it’s too late. You can’t hire one a month after the book’s out. How do you get the toothpaste back in the tube? It doesn’t work like that.

Tim Knox: That’s when the tail is chasing the dog. Stephanie, tell our audience how they can learn more about what you do. What is your website?

Stephanie Barko: My website is

Tim Knox: Very good. One last question and it’s one I always end in. Advice to authors? I know you’ve given us a lot but if you’ve got to do a really quick thumbnail to new authors or even to old authors out there, what is that advice?

Stephanie Barko: Wow, infrastructure to me is the name of the game, that three legged stool – having what you need to succeed and then building on that throughout your career. That would be the website, the blog and the social suite and working those and connecting all those together. That is your following. It is the basis of your platform. Know your platform. It’s never too early to start your platform and understand how that is going to produce your readers.

Tim Knox: Great advice, Stephanie. We appreciate you being on the show. Will you come back again?

Stephanie Barko: I will. Thanks, Tim.

Tim Knox: Super, talk to you soon.


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