Reading the future: For South Jersey book publicity firm, modern technology has revolutionized how it does business


Cherry Hill-based Smith Publicity has for the past 25 years built a reputation for turning the works of writers into the next celebrated page-turner. Maintaining that reputation over the years has called for a bit of reinvention … and a whole new vocabulary.

Between “Bookstagrammers,” “BookTubers” and, why not, “BookTokers,” social media influencers are becoming central in the strategy of a company that’s out to promote authors and books in today’s market.

Beyond the hashtags, Marissa Eigenbrood, senior vice president of Smith Publicity, said what goes into making books and authors newsworthy has evolved a great deal since the company’s start in 1997.

Smith Publicity has worked with thousands of books and authors since its founding by Dan Smith, who saw an opportunity to promote self-published authors in the earliest days of e-commerce.

“What he saw was that those who were self-publishing didn’t necessarily have a direction to go in or a resource to connect with for promoting and marketing their titles,” she said. “Most of those who were getting that support were getting it through the traditional publishers or agencies who were solely working with traditionally published titles.”

Smith Publicity started off by providing creative media coverage opportunities to self-published authors who just weren’t breaking into the media space. They weren’t as readily accepted by the media for book reviews, which was a major piece of the promotion of a book two decades ago.

That isn’t so much the case anymore.

“What the media world has really moved toward is sharing really quality voices and quality projects, versus being so concerned with who the publisher is behind it,” Eigenbrood said. “If you get your book reviewed in USA Today, let’s say, that’s great. But if someone is looking for recommendations for their next summer beach read, that’s probably not what they’re going to jump to.”

As web search engines entered the fray, agencies handling this niche marketing area were forced to adjust. That wasn’t easily done, as evidenced by the fact that about 70% of firms and one-person shops handling book promotion have closed their doors since Smith Publicity’s 1997 launch.

Smith Publicity, which eventually took on traditionally published authors as well as self-published authors, established connections with the online bloggers that had usurped relevance from newspaper book review columns.

The latest chapter in that story has been the “viral traction” that Eigenbrood said a book can receive through social media platforms. Instagram, YouTube and TikTok all have their own version of influencers talking about books.

And, sometimes, that’s a shortcut to earning bestseller laurels.

“Those worlds have just created so much trust and connection with communities really excited about the next recommended read,” Eigenbrood said. “And, you see a lot more traction in terms of book sales from that — someone with 30,000 followers talking about a book — than you might get from being on the ‘Today’ show. You’re reaching a really condensed population of people who should be interested in your book, not just the general public.”

Smith Publicity hasn’t been the only one to identify trends and keep up with them. The local company has competition from other agencies in the niche sector of book promotion and marketing.

There’s a surprisingly high density of them in the region, given that New York City is considered the world’s book publishing hub, Eigenbrood said. (The company has been content to keep a base in South Jersey to avoid that hub’s high rents and instead offer what it believes are more affordable services.)

Eigenbrood said the company regardless expects to continue seeing exponential growth — not just for its own business, but book publishing in general.

“Authors are breaking out of the traditional models in terms of how things have been done and how they should be done,” she said. “So, we want to make sure the work we’re doing is really tailored to that. And we want to be a part of it.”