You’ve Got the Agent, You’ve Got the Publisher — But Do You Have the Publicist?

College student enters airport with suitcases to go to Carleton College for his freshman year.  Photo by Barbara Falconer Newhall

Son Peter leaves home for college. He’s like the manuscript I just sent off to the publisher — there was no more time to put finishing touches on this grown-up kid. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

You get an idea for a book. You like it a lot. You think people are going to want to read this book. You’re stoked.

You fret for months and years over how to transform this idea you like so much into a 250-page manuscript that people will actually read. You write the book. You like it. You think maybe you’ve pulled it off.

Now it’s time to get an agent.

You send out dozens of query letters touting your manuscript. You say nice things about yourself and your book, things that in your heart-of-hearts you believe, most days.

Lots of agents don’t see things the way you do. But one agent does. He likes your book. He takes you on.

(But maybe you don’t get an agent. In which case, you look for a publisher on your own. You send out dozens more query letters telling publishers all about your book.)

The book manuscript for "Wrestling with God" appears on computer monitor, ready to send to publisher. Photo by BF Newhall

The manuscript for Wrestling with God — ready to email to publisher. No more time for finishing touches here either. Photo by BF Newhall

You get turned down. But you only need one publisher. You snag one. You sign a contract.

You polish up the manuscript, and email it to your editor. Your Spin class buddy congratulates you. “It must be like giving birth,” she says.

You tell her that actually, sending a manuscript off to a publisher is more like sending a kid off to college. It’s gone. You’re done. No more finishing touches. If a paragraph is too short or a twenty-something’s hair is too long, forget about it. It’s out of your hands.

Your partner makes a special trip down to the supermarket to buy a bottle of champagne. He raises a glass and toasts you. But he doesn’t much like champagne; he takes a few sips and switches back to the cabernet. You polish the bottle off yourself.

You have a headache the next day.

And you’re depressed – but not because of the champagne. You’re down-hearted because now you have to start the process all over again. You’ve got the agent. You’ve got the publisher. You’ve got the finished manuscript. Your friends are telling you to relax and enjoy the moment. But you can’t.

Because now you need to find yourself – a publicist.

That’s right. It’s not enough to get a book contract these days. This isn’t 1925 and you’re not Ernest Hemingway. You can’t drop your manuscript in the mail to New York, kick back in a Paris bistro, and let your publisher make sure that somebody reads your book.

You’ve got to get out there and sell that puppy. If you’re lucky, there will be newspaper articles, radio interviews, book reviews and endorsements. Also, book signings, tweets, blog posts, status updates and YouTube trailers. There will be buzz. But for that to happen, you’ll need a publicist.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a one who likes your book.

And if you’re really lucky, all these months and years later, you’ll still like your book.



  1. Virginia Newhall says:

    That is so interesting, Barbara. I’ve been wondering about the publicity. I see you on John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, with Ronn Owens and Michael Krasny, and in newspapers and book stores. Religion is a hot topic. By the way, I’ve noticed the athiests have gotten kind of obnoxious and militant lately. Maybe it’s good though. Checks and balances are generally good. Anyway I’ll be surprising you at one of your signings.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Actually, an atheist is one of the stars of my book. He had something wonderful to teach me. But I’m not keen on the noisy atheists who seem hell-bent (!) on taking down religion, rather than on giving themselves and othes some positives to live by.

  2. inspired analogy. salud!

  3. Sharie mcn amee says:

    Aren’t you glad you ‘re not. Ken Follett and have to go through this countless times,keep looking for a publicist so you can start on your next idea.


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