Public Relation Agency Publicist David Ratner on Promoting Books for the New York Times Bestseller List


David Ratner has been a book publicist for over two decades, with extensive experience managing book publicity firms, book marketing companies, and book publicity consulting.

The former president of a large book public relations agency, he has worked with leading publishers, as well as hundreds of best-selling authors across all genres. These days, the majority of his clients are in the business space; he helps them use their books as leverage to grow their revenue and client base. David has been a featured speaker at a number of publishing conferences, and is well-respected for his knowledge of the industry.

In this podcast interview, David talks about how to hire the right book publicist, how much book PR costs, hacking the NYT bestseller list, and more.

The Business of Public Relations for Books

Throughout his illustrious career in book PR consulting, David has worked with prominent names like Rudy Giuliani, Michael Lewis, Larry King, and Stephanie Seymour. 

According to David, among the biggest challenges in handling PR for well-known authors or A-list personalities are the people around them and being able to get on their calendars, given their busy schedules. “It’s kind of just designing the right schedule for them that fits what they’re looking to do and what you have available to you,” he shares, adding that from a personality perspective, he’s had mostly positive experiences with prominent clients. 

A unique selling proposition aimed at the right target audience: that’s what David says is the best way for new nonfiction authors to get more press coverage and book review attention in the media. “Bring something to the table that is different from what you’re hearing from everybody else — or if it’s not different, at least, phrase it differently.”

David mentions personal finance as an example, a genre in which nonfiction authors such as David Bach, Robert Kiyosaki, and Suzy Orman all had to come up with ways to market and publicize their books “in a very unique, compelling, informative, and entertaining fashion that made it different than the next personal finance book, which theoretically might have been offering you almost the exact same advice.”

Tips and Strategies for Effective Book PR

For first-time authors in need of a publicist to promote their book to journalists and reporters, David recommends going to their personal network for recommendations first. Other authors who’ve successfully marketed their books to the mainstream media may already know the best book publicists to recommend.

Unsurprisingly, a Google search can also help. David stresses the need to look for people who are familiar with your space (like a publicist who has worked in the business genre, if your book is in that category). 

David’s simple piece of advice in picking the best book publicist? “Don’t say yes to the first PR person, but you don’t have to talk to fifteen, either. Because in the end, a lot of us do the same thing; there’s a lot of us out there, and you can make the decision a lot more difficult than it needs to be.” Additionally, when interviewing book publicists who can potentially work with you, ask for realistic expectations. 

As for getting the highest level of service from a publicist juggling different accounts, David says that the key is a good relationship — while paying them more for their time, of course. “You want them to want to succeed on your behalf, and not just look at you as a paycheck.” It helps if you understand what PR firms do, what makes news, and how radio and TV bookers choose guests, so you have realistic expectations.

Promoting Books for the New York Times Bestseller List

Ever wonder how you can get on the New York Times bestseller list? David reveals that for the longest time, such lists were (and likely still are) done on time-based algorithms: If you sell a certain number of books in a certain period of time, it will likely work in your favor.

Even though it’s difficult to achieve these days, getting a deal with a major publisher can work wonders for you in achieving this goal. David also mentioned working with so-called hybrid publishers, with whom you can make a significantly higher amount of money (and maintain far more creative control) on your books as opposed to what you’d earn by selling through a traditional publisher.

As David explains: “[Hybrid publishers] act like a traditional publisher. They provide all of the distribution services, the editorial services, the design services, and all those kinds of things. And they get you set up with Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, and all these other outlets, and they actually do some optimization with those sites.”

To listen to my full interview with David (in which we also talked about the process of publicizing a book, the challenges self-published authors face in terms of becoming a bestseller, the growing area of audiobooks, digital PR and more), use the audio plater at the top of the post to listen to the interview.

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