Whether you are a new or established author, getting publicity for your books is important. “Publicity” means spreading the word about your new release. You can do it yourself, or you can hire a professional to do it for you. Such a professional, called Book Publicist, will prepare a press-release for your book and contact the media on your behalf, trying to get you reviews, interviews, book signings, articles featuring your book, talk show invitations, etc.
As you see, publicity is different from advertising. Instead of placing a paid ad, a publicist works to get your book truly noticed. Our society is constantly bombarded with ads; we are tired of them and usually pay little attention to yet another book / gadget / toy advertised. Articles and interviews, on the other hand, draw the people’s attention. We like to read someone’s opinion on a book, movie, or anything else when we know that this someone has not been paid to push it on us. That’s why a good publicity campaign usually works better than an advertising campaign.
New authors often wonder whether they should invest in a book publicist. I would say it depends on what publisher you have done your book with. Generally speaking, self-published and small press authors should consider this option. Larger publishing companies usually do a good job publicizing their new releases, they will do most of the things an independent publicist would. Therefore, your first step should be talking to your publisher. Find out what their publicity plan is. There is no need to spend extra money and duplicate their efforts.
As to self-published authors, the advantage of hiring a publicist is obvious. Yes, you can do it all yourself: send out book announcements, call the newspapers, bookstores, etc. But while you will have to do tons of research to find all the opportunities, the publicist already has a list of contacts, plus experience. Besides, chances are that the media will be more impressed if it is not you knocking on doors but someone who works for you.