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Opinion: Why I Paid For A Publicity Service

Opinion: Why I Paid for a Publicity Service

Lesia Daria headshot

Self-published novelist Lesia Daria

When it comes to paid marketing services for books, authors often complain they’re expensive, don’t always lead to sales, or that the sales resulting are hard to quantify. But for the release of my debut novel Forty One, I took the view that none of that mattered. It was time to invest for other reasons.


Know Thyself, and Thy Book

Photo of Lesia signing books

Signing books at the launch

Considering whether or not to hire a publicist, I first thought about what my book was, how it came to be, and how I wanted it – and equally importantly, myself – to be perceived. Then I thought about who might be my readers and how to reach them.

Looking around the web for marketing and publicity opportunities, I felt lost or left out. While Goodreads and Amazon reviews might boost my profile, discounting my book via Book Bub alerts or trying to find a niche in special interest audiences (like historical, crime, romance, YA) would simply not work. My book did not fit into any of those traditional genres or the new crossover genres that readily find fans on the internet. Forty One – as I wrote and intended to market it – was a work of literary fiction, contemporary and of particular interest to women, but definitely not chick-lit or the usual more commercial fiction.

With respect to marketing and publicity activities, I knew I could do some things myself (with help, of course): create a website, organise a launch, take on local media. But despite my journalism background, I didn’t have key literary contacts nationally, or the time to find and reach all necessary reviewers. And I was on deadline: I had six months until publication to get it all done. Equally, I wasn’t sure what all the possibilities might be, never mind which would be realistic to try to accomplish. So when I did begin to research publicists and how they might help, it was at the point where I hoped they could not only advise me on the form of my campaign and on the tricky dual aspects of marketing literary/high-end women’s fiction, but also I wanted their time, expertise and contacts.

In for a Penny, in for a Pound

First page of article

Cameron Publicity provided the opportunity for a two-page feature in Woman and Home magazine

Nothing quality comes for free or without risk – on that my husband and I agreed. He’d helped me finance the publication so far and we both wondered how much more to spend, if it was becoming a vanity project. But in the same way that I wasn’t prepared to discount my book – a tenner is an awfully good deal for six years of work – neither of us believed that much would happen without a sound marketing plan and campaign. And that would not come cheap.

The company I chose, Cameron Publicity and Marketing, came with twenty years’ book publicity experience, hundreds of contacts. I knew they work hard, and that they know people. Their rates seemed fair and appropriate – if they were any good. But how would I judge that?

First, they read my book. They met with me for a few hours to outline a plan. Then, as excited as I was about the prospects ahead, Cameron passed on a fantastic opportunity for media exposure before I’d even signed on the dotted line.

Founded on Faith

Photo of Lesia with Ben and Debbie

Chatting with her publicists Ben Cameron and Debbie Elliott at the launch

So the deal began in good faith. I want to emphasise faith. Because although you struggle with the ‘no guarantees’ foundation of the relationship, it is the only honest thing a marketer or publicist can say. But equally, if Cameron could land me such a fantastic first lead, which soon became a two-page article in a national magazine, I imagined we could really conquer so much more together than I could alone!

We continued in that vein – me writing, they pitching. They sent out review copies, contacted hundreds of bloggers. They garnered a top ten listing on Netgalley that lead to nearly ninety review requests overnight. They landed two live radio shows, BBC Oxford and Bristol. And my publicist reported regularly on progress, chatted through ideas, gave good guidance and editing and feedback. Even after our contract expired, they twittered for me (because I don’t). And we’re still in touch.

Photo of crowd

The crowded book launch at the London Review Bookshop

The End Result?

I’d say the result was not just fair on price, but priceless. But not because I landed a Guardian or any other newspaper review or sold thousands of books (though I have sold a couple hundred in two months). The critical aspect is that I never once expected our work to translate into concrete sales or publicity in a specific space. Publicity and marketing – building a brand, building awareness, reaching out – are fuzzy non-calculable and long-term activities. Like writing a book itself: you have to give time for it to work its way out, to become what it will ultimately become. And as all writers should know, there’s serendipity involved too. A bit of inspiration and luck go a long way. . .

Photo of Lesia with her book in the shop

Lesia Daria at her book launch

(Editor's note: we haven't detailed the financial details of Lesia's campaign here because every campaign is different, and Cameron PR and any other reputable company will tailor your price according to your needs – and an ethical one (like Cameron) will not take money from you unless they genuinely believe they can deliver value for your investment. We shall be running a post in the near future that addresses paid publicity costs in general, and how to decide whether or not such a campaign is worthwhile for you and your book.)

OVER TO YOU Would you hire a publicity company? Would you like to share your experience of using one – either good or bad? Like to ask Lesia any questions about her experience? Please join the conversation via the comments box!

Should #selfpub #authors pay for #PR? Case study by Lesia Daria Share on X


Author: Lesia Daria

Before turning to writing full time, Lesia Daria worked as a journalist in Washington DC, Kiev, London and New York, where she last reported for the Financial Times. She has also lived in Paris, Minsk and Istanbul and speaks several languages. Lesia studied for her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia, Sorbonne Paris IV and Institut d’Etudes Politiques, earning her master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. www.lesiadaria.com


This Post Has 35 Comments
  1. Thank you Leslie for sharing. This kind of insightful posts are hard to come by and you have done a great service to the author community.

    1. I posted this comment too soon. After writing it, I stopped freaking out and I contacted Dan again. He had always been cordial with me, and this time he told me my press release would work. He handed me over to Courtney Link, and I ended up getting on NBC, CBS and Dr. Oz and countless print publications. It was an extremely positive experience, and I regret terribly posting such a negative review.I never would’ve gotten this coverage without Smith Publicity, I have gotten hundreds of hits to my website, people on my mailing list, and of course it was very energizing. Dan is a man of integrity who honors his promises and I now understand how he may have found my accusations outrageous: they were.

  2. BE WARNED! Publicity and marketing for a self published book by a London company, brought extremely disappointing results! I paid a lot and it is a very big loss. It hurts. I don’t know if much work was done or what was done as promised, as there is zero proof on it, and refused to provide. If this went to court, it would have to be provided, so why not now? My answer: not much to provide.

    Don’t believe on the glorified proposal that is sent to you! Best, stay away! This works as I see it, if the author is a celebrity, the book is backed by a big publishing house or very important if the publicity and marketing company itself, has a high profile! Be warned!

    Start at a smaller scale and go to a digital company, and those companies in the countryside are cheaper too. Be armed with information to avoid disappointments and distress!

  3. Am so happy to réad this post, I am curently writing a book about my l’ife expérience, I ran àway from my home when I was fourteen , had been râpé , prenant when I was fifteen I am présently 33 yrs with 5 children , I réalisé it is time to write à book, on my life expérience, I know théir are à lot of People is going through the samething I had went through. Please I need some input on how to go about this , I am à fraid of what my family would say I am from à small island in the cartibbean , I really have a story ,to be told

  4. So glad I’ve found this post! (Thanks to Joanna and Orna mentioning it on their recent podcast). Great info Lesia, and I agree 100% with your thinking behind your decision. You may remember our discussion of it, in fact, at the ALLi Author Fringe Fest at Foyles last April. I now have two novels out and one non-fiction cookbook. I ended up using Authoright for a UK campaign post-pub for the first novel (got a 20 minute BBC London radio interview, among many other smaller successes) and then a full US-UK campaign for my more recent novel’s launch. I mention Authoright because I’ve been very pleased with their work and their cross-cultural finesse. I’m American, but I live in Switzerland and London — so I really needed that unusual blend. When I produced the cookbook as a scholarship fundraiser for Tanzanian students in Switzerland, Gareth Howard at Authoright had a skype conference with me brainstorming ideas for its promotion too. In the end, I couldn’t justify the expense of a formal campaign for that book, but his generosity and clever input added to my easy decision to use them for my next novel’s campaign. So there’s another resource for anyone looking — US, UK, or both. As soon as I start to see light at the end of my next novel’s tunnel, I’ll certainly be calling them again… BIG congrats on your successes, Lesia, and thanks so much for this great post.
    x Nancy

  5. Hello Lesia,

    Many thanks for your most helpful posting, and sharing your experiences. Your frankness and realism are not only refreshing, they’re ‘just what the doctor ordered’, at this juncture.

    As a previously-published author, via ancient traditions, I’ve now embarked on the (lonelier!) self-published ebook route. Last year, I released my first, a nonfiction work via BookBaby:


    Currently, I’m finishing up a four-volume fiction work, which should be prepped for release in January.

    The thing is, I’m one of those who puts all their energy into the actual writing end of things, and when faced with the next sequence of required ‘DIY’, the wearisome prospects quickly turn from daunting to dismal. I know I’m hardly alone in this!

    So, with the information you offer for consideration, the publicity service route might be just the ticket to bolster my sagging spirits in this respect.

    After all, the tedium of doing everything on one’s own may be just fine for some, but the price paid may end up being much higher, in any number of ways, than having professionals handle the publicity aspects of publishing.

    Again, thanks for your offering, and all best wishes for your book’s success!


  6. Also about the point of trying to market an older book. . . .Precisely why I put all the eggs into the basket and went for broke at the time of the launch! I knew I had a window from pre-launch (when journalists and reviewers are interested in exclusives) until about Christmas (for actual sales) and so I’ve left practically no stone unturned in the quest to publicise, promote and sell my book in these months. However, I have also turned down the kind of things that won’t generate anything for me (Bookbub etc).

    Once my book is ‘old’, last year’s fair, I won’t be bothering to market it apart from talking it up to live people I meet at events (this I find, tends to lead to sales, one book at a time). But by then I’ll be on my next project and I won’t have the head space to be worrying constantly about the book I’ve put out. By then I hope, word-of-mouth publicity will have started to take hold, based on all my efforts this year. If not, then not. Next book. Next book.


  7. Hello again to all!

    I’ve just read all of the conversation above and wanted to make a couple more points.

    As a dual US-UK citizen with many friends and family in the US, I am also trying to target that ‘market’ and on that score I’ve found Facebook a free and easy point of outreach. In fact, before my two ‘official’ UK launches (in London at LRB and my hometown pub in Surrey) I had a mini-launch in Northern Virginia consisting of a dozen women at a librarian friend’s house. With most of them on Goodreads, I hoped to start a ball rolling that way. Now I’m planning another ‘US book tour’ based on the fact that I am already going to the US for my 25th uni reunion in June. So I hope get on a panel there, and then find friends in my old hometowns of NYC, Philly and DC to hold similar book group nights.

    Similarly I am targeting book groups in my area here and now. I’ll be selling 8 copies tomorrow at one such book group live and in person. And I’ve done two Christmas fairs at schools where I similarly sold 9 copies each time, mostly to local readers in book groups. Tomorrow I will hand out a few dozen vouchers for free downloadable copies at a local hair salon which has displayed my posters for the last month.

    I hate to say ‘every little helps’ but it does. I see marketing and publicity as a multi-pronged approach, high and low targets. Sales come from actual live interested people but building a brand also requires going for ‘high’ targets like book reviewers. Just knowing that people like Claire Armistead have seen and know my book exists is a big deal. I only hope someday she’ll be impressed enough to say nice things, but in the meantime, I plan to keep spreading the word at my own cost by sending my book to others whom I admire or whom I’d like to take note of me.

    Lastly on the social media aspect, which I enjoy least, I try to keep my website up to date, as I mentioned and be active on various FB groups and Goodreads (just started). I am finding that every blog I write tends to generate more requests for my writing, though at the moment it’s all about writing (and therefore I think the audience isn’t readers but other authors, who don’t tend to by your book). I tend to shy away from social media simply because it’s such a time-suck and I prefer speaking to real people like yourselves. I will never just be ‘putting myself out there’ again and again. If I have something valuable to say, I tell people — that’s why I wrote the book, read it!


  8. A very interesting article. I self published my first book last year and had a deadline set for me by the timing of an anniversary relating to the book’s subject. The deadline came around all too soon and I had not been able to arrange enough publicity through my own resources. I needed a quick and last minute fix and was recommended a publicist through a contact at a mainstream publisher who had been interested in my book. I was quoted a very reasonable rate-£400- for a short but extensive burst of publicity around the anniversary date. I took the plunge as I wanted my book to have a chance of being “picked up.” I was very satisfied with the quality and professionalism of the campaign and my tutor on the MA Professional Writing course who had supervised my book thought the press release was one if the best she had come across. http://www.ellydonovan.co.uk/sites/default/files/PD%20Murphy%20As%20I%20Walked%20Out%20Press%20Release_0.pdf

    I would use Elly again without hesitation but would be better prepared in giving her a decent run -in to publication.


  9. Very interesting post, Lesia, with an honest examination of expectations and benefits. I’m another literary author wondering how to reach readers, and although I don’t think I could finance a campaign on the scale you’ve managed I can see that it brought you worthwhile results. Perhaps in a few years… Anyway, all power to you, and thanks for sharing your experience here – including the price tag, which was helpful to know.

  10. Lesia–
    Thanks for your reply to my comment. Your article underscores an obvious but easily neglected detail–the workable scale of your country. You were able to travel to London and actually meet potential marketers. I imagine this more workable scale also works to any marketer’s advantage. The company I lost my money to does everything through a carefully managed, filtered system of Internet communication. They’re located in California, I live in Michigan. The States are so big that the odds of being able to meet face to face with a possible marketer are slim. I’m sorry Cameron doesn’t have an American branch. After reading about your experience, I’d definitely be interested in doing business with them.

    1. Hi Barry,

      I’m in the states too. Smith Publicity is one option to consider that came up with good reviews upon my research. As David James mentioned above, Cameron was with them but no longer… (David, please feel free to correct me if I”m wrong). That is the company that I was engaged with for book 2 of my series, and postponed until book 3 was on its way out. As a caveat, they did say they read the submitted MS, but don’t/can’t accept all submissions (I think Lesia mentioned the same for Cameron). I also asked a series of technical questions and found much of the effort, or your money, goes toward garnering reviews…but may be worth your research to make the determination if it’s right for you. Best wishes.

  11. What stood out to me here is how clearly Lesia understood her book and herself. I think when an author understands her book and her audience so well that she knows what mix of marketing and publicity will work best for her project that she’s already ahead of the game. Another important thing to point out: her expectations for what publicity could bring her. Again, that comes from understanding the book you’ve written and the nature of publicity. It’s about building a brand and creating devoted fans. And unknown author is typically not going to get thousands of sales from one publicity campaign. But it’s the difference between just trying to sell books and launching a career as a writer. The latter is a slow, steady grind over a period of years, not a one shot deal one enters with fingers crossed.

  12. I first met Ben Cameron at the London Book Fair when I was touting Becky Sharp. He was then working for Smith Publicity and seemed like a reliable chap. Smith was much more push and go than Ben is now, Ben working on his own. By that I mean I never met Smith in the flesh, but was put under the care of another lady who lived in the UK. The cost was breath-taking but like you Lesia, I took the plunge. Results? Not so marvellous. I got a BBC sort-of spot on Woman’s Hour and an interview recorded in Brighton for BBC Sussex. I got one review from the Stares. Nothing much else. Forget it, forget that 3k gone where all the rest has! This time, with an even better book, I chose – you know it – Ben Cameron himself. Like your book,, Lesia, mine is literary fiction, but unfortunately it was last year that I published it. A big downer! It must be forthcoming or new and available now. Unlike wine, last year’s stock is devaluing by the month. ..So I took the cheaper option with a campaign of a few days. Wait and see. I’ve paid up now. If you believe stubbornly in your book and it’s lit fic you have to take a chance.

  13. In the interests of honestly, I’d also like to point out that Cameron Publicity did not fund or organise my launch at the London Review Bookshop, pictured above. That was my idea and I undertook that separately. But again it was part of the show of seriousness and in tandem with taking on Cameron, giving them a venue where they could invite their most prestigious contacts. It was as much about the perception of the kind of writer I am and hope to be, as it was about getting people to show up for a toast. I felt I had one go at the launch, and that whatever I did in these crucial weeks would reverberate, so I tried to make it the best possible.

    I now feel that was also money well spent in that the launch is another feature on my website, which journalists always see when they think about whether to hire me to write or to interview.

  14. This is a great post! I’m just about to embark down the publicity route and although there are no guarantees I think you have to look upon it as an investment like anything else – it might pay off or it might not. Better to have a go than do nothing at all.

    1. This is true, you have to figure out what disappointments you’re prepared to handle. I knew it was HIGHLY unlikely I’d get a Guardian review, but we went for it anyway. I have also submitted to many contests, only to get nowhere. But my reading ‘tribe’ is probably out there somewhere, and through Facebook I am starting to build a base. My campaign was only the most polished aspect of my launch. . .you have to do other stuff too, and often those costs are ‘only’ your own time. . . (so it depends how you value that as well!)

  15. Thanks, Lesia, that was good of you to publish the figure in response to the comments.
    Couldn’t agree more that it is as much a personal decision as it is a hard-headed, business outlay vs income one.

    1. It’s tough Gordon, because many authors are trying to make money off their writing, whereas I’m going for something completely different.

      I was once at an interesting talk where the author said, you have to decide which of the three you want: respect, readers, revenue. She said, choose one, and be patient for the rest to follow.

      Well, I took that to heart, and I’ve gone for respect. So only time will tell about the rest!


      1. I chose the same one – respect. I’ve been tempted to hire someone to help me out in marketting, but this is the first time i’ve heard anyone say it’s worth it, and i like that you don’t measure worth totally in terms of books sold.

  16. Hello to all again,

    I would just like to add that the campaign made me feel like the six years of work on the novel was worth it. I felt like I’d arrived in a new place, coming out as a writer, looking professional (and that included the creation of my website, separate to the campaign but integral, and I spent separate money on that too).

    I feel like I set myself up for the long haul, with a presence that reflects who I am and what i want to say. I spend more time tweaking my website than ‘getting out there’ on various social media. But then, I’m about to have my third BBC radio interview next week, and I feel it’s important that every journalist or blogger has a place to go where they can see the work I’ve put in.

    Also I feel that time is money: I’ve not spent the hundreds of thousands of hours that other authors do on the technical aspects of publishing, website design, social media, non-stop promotions. But if I expect others to do help me to do that, then they ought to be paid, as I’m saving myself a lot of time! (not to mention, I don’t always have the expertise. . . )


    1. Lesia,

      Re: Technical aspects: No worries. Creating your brand isn’t as technically challenging as one might think with the latest options from sites such as WordPress, as one example. I was resistant to all of social media (who had time for it all, and did anyone really care?) but had decided to go about it differently by not pushing my product yet having my profiles still reflect my brand, then build relationships with people, which was most important to me.

      Building and managing your brand through a website, Twitter, all the social networks is useful (although personally and for many other authors I know, Facebook did very little, even with an approach of posting positive material). I hired a technical person to tweak the things on my website I couldn’t at a very reasonable/inexpensive rate, and I’ve probably asked him for assistance 3 times over the year. I’ve found as long as you can manage what can often be a “time suck” of social media properly, such as interacting a small amount every day, there remains plenty of time for writing, handling life, and doing the many things you love.

  17. Thanks for this. I went to a workshop by Ben Cameron and it was excellent. I came away full of ideas as to how to go about marketing (I actually have a publisher for my forthcoming novel, but I know I have to do a lot of this work myself).

    One thing occurs to me about employing publicists: surely they can only do a fabulous job if you have a fabulous book that is also likely to be a commercial success? Would they turn you down if they didn’t like the book?

    1. Barbara,

      Mine is not going to be a commercial success. But it is a fine work of literary fiction. And yes, they have every right to turn down mediocre writing because they also have a reputation to uphold. So in some sense they have to ‘like it’. But more importantly, it has to be quality. They wouldn’t turn it down simply because it wasn’t their favourite kind of book topic-wise.


  18. Hello Desia,
    Back in the day, Freudian “talk” therapists liked to justify their hefty fees by telling patients that only when it cost serious money would patients take the treatment sessions seriously. In some sense, the same holds true for writers in relation to how seriously they take their work. Are they willing to not only scribble away and talk the talk, but also ready to walk the walk by seeking out and paying for marketing help?
    After deciding to commit money to getting the word out, the great hurdle is finding effective marketing help. I thought I’d done my due diligence, and had discovered the right company. The head was well-known and highly successful, but in the end she did nothing for me and my book–and a good book at that, with excellent reviews. The only thing she did a great job of was selling herself.
    My only regret about your post is that you make no mention of cost. It would be helpful to know what you decided was a reasonable amount to pay for experts to pitch your book. That would be a useful thing to know.

    1. Barry,

      I’m sorry for your experience but can only say that I almost fell into the same trap!

      At one point as I was looking around, I fell under a very heavy ‘sales push’ and while I went to the central London offices of the firm (swish indeed) I started to worry that I was paying for overhead rather than direct attention. In the end, I wiggled out of a deal because I had a very bad feeling about precisely what you identified, and I did feel pressured into signing the contract. (The next day I reneged on it since no work/money had yet exchanged hands.)

      I think finding publicity is a bit like finding a job. You know when you feel a fit with the firm, when the colleagues suit you, when authenticity is there. When I met Ben Cameron, a really nice guy from the US Midwest, with 20+ years in the book world, I was impressed that he’d made a successful business here in the UK. I felt that I was getting a hard worker, not a flash in the pan, because he’d built his own business over time. His quiet, cautious and realistic approach really appealed to me. My own publicist (not Ben) had equally good experience and a part time job in publishing, so lots of contacts and ideas.

      It also probably helped that I was willing to listen, to shape the campaign to what they felt was realistic. I did have to lower my expectations of what might be ‘achieved’ in six weeks, because you can always try for something, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get it! So we were very much on the same page as we worked throughout the campaign. One publicist, like any one author, can only tackle so much in a given time!

      I now think of ‘getting the word out’ as a lifelong process . . . but that doesn’t mean it will stay my focus. Part of my campaign has got to be getting my head down to write the next book!


    1. Hello to all!

      My campaign was 3K. That was a six week campaign that effectively started in June with strategy sessions and to-do lists for both parties, which then took a break during the dead of summer, ramping up again in the five weeks ahead of my book launch from end of August to early October. But there was also quite a bit of spillover on work time — Cameron were very helpful and treated me like a valued client, not someone eating up their valuable time.

      I know it’s an eye-watering sum of money, but it depends on how you view it. You can start a business in many ways: on the cheap, out of the house, or with start-up capital or even a bank loan. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve, short and long term, how much expense you can bear and how much you’re willing to gamble. So it’s an incredibly personal decision.

      I was very wary of the many authors linking expenses to sales — that’s not how I look at my writing career at all! But I realise I’m probably in a minority, and certainly, I’m lucky to have the extra funds and a willing partner! I would say it’s a case-by-case basis, and Cameron doesn’t have a one-shoe-fits-all approach. So it’s worth looking into.

      1. Hi Lesia,

        I am so happy to read your post and this reply. I too opted to utilize a PR company but for a bit more than you stated, for the same services. I have a series and decided to hold off until the next book was out to maximize my product for readers.

        It’s your comment regarding being “wary of the many authors linking expenses to sales…” that resonated with me. I felt like the oddball not looking at my career like so many other authors do. For me, it’s a long term investment. I’m all in for all that I can give to what I believe in, understanding the risk involved for the passion and ambition that drives me. I was so happy to read your reply above and ‘meet’ another author who felt similarly. Even if the series takes a tumble later, I won’t have any regrets that I put all I could, good writing, resources, time and yes, money (within certain limits of course) into it.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience with one of the experienced publicity companies.

        Best regards for much success!

  19. Hi Lesia.
    Great post thanks. I’m just starting off down the publicity route. My children’s book DOGNAPPED! is being published by Matador at the end of April next year. To that end I have set up a website and am blogging regularly. I’m also trying to raise my Facebook profile.
    There’s a second book just finished so the brand building begins now. Your insight is very timely and interesting. I shall certainly be investigating all avenues for marketing opportunities.

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