The Luxury of a Book Publicist

Publicizing your great insights into the human condition if you’re not already famous, don’t already have a following, a fascinating tale, or a high colonic cleanse is going to be a tough sell. There’s no getting around you or somebody having to do the hard work to spread the word.

In the survival game of a full-time, committed author budgets get tight. You have to prioritize–rent, food, whether to pay for a review in Kirkus, run a promotion and ad in Goodreads. Precious moments of concentrated thought and writing are constantly under attack from those distracting, exhausting, awful part-time jobs, family and friends, and doing your own publicity.

The idea of paying someone else–no matter how professional or accomplished–to maintain an email list, write blogs, seek out reviewers, to tell you what you should be doing to promote your book seems like an extravagant waste of money unless you can afford it.

Having someone else pay for publicity is mostly afforded to those who already have fans to be alerted with a full-page ad in the New York Times of the availability of a new book. For the rest of us grinding away in near-obscurity, you have to pay for your publicity.

Publicizing a book is the major but unavoidable hassle of being an author–both those who self-publish and are published. It’s something you have to do. Unless you like blogging, managing a scant advertising budget, or making costly mistakes, letting people know about your book takes up a lot of time you would rather be writing.

Then, there is the problem of so many charlatans offering to borrow your watch to tell what time it is. Sketchy professional publicists are not just hustlers but the major review magazines, professional bloggers and social networks who have set up pay-for-a-review schemes.

Publicizing your book is probably the biggest waste of money an author can make. The return on investment is depressingly low. And as in most ad campaigns you have to be repetitive. You can easily shoot a $100 wad on a Google ad with 50 hits and no sales. On a tight budget, hiring a book publicists is far down priority lists–below paying bills and visiting relatives.

Unless a publicist can get you reviewed in a major publication or featured at a book fair or writing conferences there is not really much she can do for you that you should do yourself.

Why pay someone to tell you what to do when a little research will tell you to take advantage of all the free publicity–both direct and indirect–you can find or develop. This includes mailing lists, blogs, websites and strategic advertising.

Yeah, I know it’s a bummer but unless you can afford to pay someone to do the things you don’t like to do, it’s the only way your work is ever going to get more read.

Hey Acquisition Editors — We Have Some Questions For You


What’s the deal with literary agents? They don’t know what publishers are looking for and neither do we.

Our Linkedin group — Let’s Talk About Writing — has 4,996 members and we’ve been having a lively ongoing discussion about whether it’s worth it to keep sending out query letters to agents because even if we do get an agent most often they can’t get us a publishing deal and if they do the deals are so bad we’re better off self-publishing.

Our group of writers have been trying to find an acquisition editor at a major publisher (there are apparently five left) or small press who will come into our discussion and answer some questions about their present relationship with literary agents.

We’ve all tried self-publishing with varying degrees of success. We know that getting our books reviewed by literary journals, into libraries, bookstores, and foreign sales is nearly impossible on our own (unless we pay for it — thanks a lot Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for exploiting self-published authors.)

We’ve read the stories of indie authors who are approached by agents after their books are a success.

We know that an agent is a useful thing to have once you are a success. But what about the rest of us?

The old model of agents culling through piles of manuscripts for good ones to present to publishers is like so many other aspects of the publishing business either broken or in the midst of a rapid transformation. These poor bastards are receiving 200 or more queries a week (many ginned by a thriving book query writing industry). How are they supposed to know from a few lines or a partial submission if something is going to make them or the publisher some money (we know that’s the deal)? And forget about good writing on fascinating topics — god knows how those books manage to keep being published, reviewed by the New York Times and promptly forgotten.

And even if we do manage to get published we still have to do our own publicity — blog, beg, and grovel for attention.

So we might as well self-publish, right?

Come on editors, we’d love to hear from you and ask you a few questions.

Here’s the link to our discussion.

Never Too Old To Rock


Never Too Old To Rock

What’s Your Grandfather Doing in His Room

I am 64 years old and have been writing songs for over 40 years. But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to live my teenage dream of being a recording artist. I’m hoping to be discovered — Lord knows not for the fame but a bit of the fortune would do — I want someone else to pay for me to record in a real studio, work with the best equipment and software, session players, engineers, and producers.

ApokafulI have everything I need to put myself out there and join the cavalcade of musicians clamoring for a listen and a look.

I have a:

  • 1960’s vintage mashup electric guitar (Humbucker pickup, Strat neck, and Tele body);
  • Early 70’s Martin D-18 with a cracked body (but still the sweetest sound);
  • Borrowed Samick bass;
  • Six-year old MacBook Pro;
  • Pirated Logic Pro 9 recording program;
  • M-Audio Keystation 88 MIDI keyboard and Fast Track audio interface;
  • Two cheap mics, stand, and headphones;
  • I-phone 4; and
  • Student version of Adobe Creative Suites.

In other words all the tools to write and produce my own music and videos are in my bedroom.

I can:

  • Use Photoshop to create graphics, WordPress and Godaddy to make a website;
  • Upload and distribute my songs through Distrokid;
  • Sell my songs on Amazon and iTunes;
  • Stream on the online music channels;
  • Make and upload by videos to YouTube and Vimeo using footage shot with my phone camera or from the public domain collection from the Library of Congress; and
  • Design, make and distribute my own CD’s (at least I could. Amazon’s Createspace, because they are “constantly evaluating our service catalog,” will no longer provide this service).

What I can’t do to get discovered is hit the road and tour. I’m just too old for that. But that doesn’t stop me from admiring and rooting for the bands that do.

I like to go to hear the young bands perform at Soho. There’s a Soho in most towns — a bar with a stage, a decent sound system and lights. The bands arrive road-weary but purposeful, unload their van, setup their equipment and merch table (better have some vinyl), and try to build a following. That long exhausting process is definitely for the young and optimistic who still have years ahead of them to try, fail, and try again. Occasionally, an old rocker, like Peter Wolfe or Chris Robinson, who once did or still does play on the big stage, will perform at Soho either because they can’t get it out of their system or they’ve written songs that they know will only grow if they play them before a live audience.

Sometimes, a band will arrive with a great buzz and you know that they very well might make it to the next level of playing on a big stage, lights, sound, tour bus, roadies. And every once in awhile you get to see a nascent act like Jack Johnson or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros who does make it big.


I went to hear Cymbals Eat Guitars last week and there was hardly anyone in the club. Despite having been featured on NPR’s First Listen, being experienced pros who had produced and recorded a great record (definitely not recorded in a bedroom) — few turned out to hear them play on a Wednesday night. The band delayed coming out, letting the two opening acts take their time, but the crowd never grew. What must that do to your hopes? All that creativity, practice, money, great production, the buzz, transport all your gear to California from Staten Island, hiding out in a converted closet offstage, waiting, and nada.

The bands I admire are the ones who put it out there anyway. There were even less folks in the club for the Melismatics who’d driven out from Minnesota, and they tore it up. A paid rehearsal might be how they looked at the nearly empty room or maybe they’re true pros who always play hard.

What can an aging, unsigned recording artist do?

I could send my tunes to:

  • College radio stations (practically the only terrestrial outlets where the DJ’s can play what they want); or
  • National Public Radio who may use part of a song as a musical bed or feature me and my music on a radio show.

I could:

Or I can just stay in my room and let the creativity flow and hope that somebody might notice.

Editors, Beta Readers and the Rise of the Sharing Economy

Just as taxis face unprecedented competition from ride sharing companies, professional freelance editors are finding they now must compete with a deep pool of beta readers – highly qualified editors, university professors, English PhD’s, and sharp-eyed readers willing to proof and provide feedback about an author’s work for little or no money.

As the founder of I provide a forum for this literary sharing economy – helping match everyone from book doctors to video producers with writers of all professional statures.

While this is a wonderful resource for indie-authors, don’t let any tell you they would not rather be published by a big house and work with a professional team to polish, distribute and promote their book. Signed authors also use the BetaReader Journal and BetaReader Bulletin Board to supplement services they receive from their publisher – crowdsourcing editing, proofreading and promotion needs. And why not if it is low/no cost?

Of all the sectors of the new literary sharing economy the most seriously impacted by crowdsourcing are those trying to make their living as freelance editors.

There is a time in every project – if you can afford it – to pay for the surgical precision of a professional edit. But in the meanwhile, through many drafts,  authors at all economic levels can afford as many beta readers as they want.

When to pay for additional professional services depends on the needs and wallet of the author. But in true indie fashion thanks to the new crowdsourcing publishing industry including even the poorest author can afford to produce well-edited books.

I invite anyone interested in publishing – service provider, author, or observer to join the community.

Jeffrey Marcus Oshins

What do Authors Need from Beta Readers?

Reprinted from the BetaReader Journal

Beta reading is a growing field in publishing. The Journal will in the next few issues examine some evolving topics on beta reading including:

  • What does an author expect and need from a beta reader?
  • What does a beta reader expect and need from an author?
  • Should a beta readers be paid? (see past Journal poll)

As more writers turn to self-publishing and authors’ access to professional editors and proofreaders at mainstream publishing houses decline, the need for “more eyes” to look at manuscripts before publication has grown. Where spouses, friends, and associates (notoriously harsh critics) were once the primary resources for reading early drafts, there is now emerging a more professional cadre of readers who actively seek out unpublished work – the beta reader.

What exactly is the role of the beta reader?

Does she represent an average reader?

Is she an editor?

How ruthless should she be with a work that has taken so many hours and represents the hopes and aspirations of the author?

The following are what some authors say they want and expect from a beta reader.

Kat Kirst says there should be – “good ground rules and expectations.”

A great place to start the conversation about rules and expectations can be found at with the link to a Beta Reader Manual. Though the author is uncertain, the article found on contains sound observations and is a great place to start a conversation about expectations between author and beta reader.

Other observations:

  • Being a good beta reader is an art, a carefully crafted skill for most people. The critiques they provide are invaluable, but especially for aspiring authors throwing their work out there, so to speak, with 700,000 other manuscripts (published last year).
Ben Hutchins
Author at Mad Ink Publishing
  • Don’t stick with a critiquer (sic) just because they always praise whatever they read. That may not actually be helpful. Read something they have written, and decide whether or not they write well. Choose critiquers who can address specific weaknesses, whether those are technical (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) or substantive (plot, characters, dialogue, etc.). It’s important to respect what a critiquer says and learn how to accept or reject suggestions based on merit and not ego. Once such a person is found, add that person to a small, personal circle of ongoing critiquers.
Don Maker
Freelance Writer at Metacognition Press

  • Keep the writer’s voice and words as much as possible. You are only making suggestions for the writer’s benefit not editing the script. Plots and characterization is included in my first sentence. Make suggestions. And be brutally honest.
Ruth Ann Hixson
  • As an author who is just starting to use beta readers, I would say that you need to define very clearly between you and the author what help they want. Maybe they want you to make suggestions about style and voice, maybe they just want you to spot plot holes and problems with pace etc. When I read for someone else, I can’t help doing a copy edit as I go – but I always ask if they mind, and whether they want that separate to other comments.
Ann Marie Thomas
Thank you so much for agreeing to read xxx and for providing your feedback. Don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings because when it comes to my book, I want to make readers happy. Happy readers = successful writers.
And don’t worry if you’re not an expert in the craft of writing. Remember that most of the people who read fiction are not experts either, but they’ll buy a book if it grabs and keeps their interest. However, they won’t recommend it if the story drags, is not believable, or contains glaring factual errors.

DON’T FIX THE PROBLEM: When you find a problem, you don’t have to fix it. Sure, if a solution occurs to you, I’ll be very grateful. Feel free to share it…but don’t feel obligated.

CHARACTERS: Characters don’t always have to be likeable, but they should be at least interesting. Above all, they should be believable. If any of the characters don’t seem real to you, please let me know. You can also tell me which characters were your favorites and your least favorites.

UNCLEAR/CONFUSING: Sometimes writers and their editors think they’ve put all the information the reader needs to know to understand what’s going on in the novel into clear words and ideas…but they’re wrong (it’s all in your head, my dear). Lack of clarity can kill the reader’s interest. If something, anything, is unclear to you, just write UNCLEAR and indicate the part that was unclear.

BORING/TOO SLOW: The worst thing a writer can do is to bore the reader, but writers will frequently inject irrelevant information because they are attacked by over-powering urges to show everyone how smart they are, or to convince the reader that their view of the world is the only correct view. If a particular section, even a paragraph or sentence, is boring or you want to skip over it, write BORING and indicate the part I should have left out. Elmer Leonard has made a fortune by “leaving out all the parts the readers don’t want to read.”

UNREALISTIC/UNBELIEVABLE: There may be parts of the story you find unbelievable. For example, you might not believe that a particular character would do what I made them do. Don’t you just hate that? Well, so do I, so tell me about it by inserting UNBELIEVABLE where applicable.

AWKWARD WORDING: Awkward wording – – a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, sometimes even a single word – – can throw readers out of the fictional dream. Writers detest getting rid of ‘their little darlings,’ but they must. Just put AWK and indicate the part that made you forget about the story.

YOU LIKED IT: Writers improve their writing through failures and through successes, so if there’s anything that you especially liked – – a phrase, a word, an idea, a character, whatever – – write GREAT (if you want, you can even write BRILLIANT (:-) and indicate the section that grabbed you.

In fact, please make any kind of comment that comes to mind, but remember that I’m not asking you to be an editor, just a reader.

Sheryl Dunn
Chief Thief a.k.a. CEO at Shelfstealers