Authors - particularly novelists - often fret about publicity, and recently one asked me if he should hire his own publicist, because his writer friends were telling him that the publisher wasn't really going to do that much for publicity.
Novels are hard to publicise, it's true - but they're going to be as hard to publicise for a freelance publicist you hire as for your publishing company's publicist. Having a personal publicist won't necessarily make the difficulty go away. In my experience Australian book publicists, working in publishing houses, are highly competent. They know what they're doing. Yes, they have a lot of books to publicise but they do the best they can. There are so many books competing for publicity and review space each month that I can consider it a small miracle any time one of my authors gets anything.
Publicists need 'hooks' in order to get decent publicity, and most of the time novels just don't have the hooks, unless the author is already famous or has an interesting personal story. So what's a novelist - especially a first-timer - to do? The answer is to not try to do the job that your publicist - who is a professional in their field - is trying to do. And it's not to hire a personal publicist either.
Your personal campaign needs to start early - well before publication. These days you should have an online presence, probably a blog. My own feeling is that Twitter has probably jumped the shark so you could possibly forget about that, but it's also possible that I'm an idiot. What you want is a Google-able result. When someone searches on your name, it needs to come up prominently. How do you do that? Well, having a Blogger/blogspot blog helps, because it's owned by Google. Or you can namecheck famous writers in your blog - review their books, refer to them in your posts - so that whenever someone searches on them, your blog comes up.
Then there's the in-person stuff. If you have a day job, take as much leave as you can around your publication date. Tell your publisher that you'd like to meet with some booksellers in your area, and do they mind if you do that? Can they help with that? Even better, can you travel to rural and regional areas? Many country bookshops never see an author. If you go and visit them, don't you think they're going to remember that and perhaps mention you to their customers? It's all about building goodwill. And if you want to know how it's really done, read a biography of Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls.
At all times, inform your publisher of what's going on. They probably can't send a sales rep with you on each visit, but the rep may be able to give some advice about who to visit. And getting in touch with a sales rep will also help you understand how the sales side of things works.
The most important thing to remember is to act professionally. You are a published novelist - you don't need to feel insecure and you don't need to beg. Respect the role that each person you meet may play in your success. Don't feel that it's wrong to want to sell lots of books. Don't feel that it's not 'artistic' to want to make lots of money. Money buys you freedom. An earned-out advance buys you the ability to determine your career.
The publisher needs to take a lot of the responsibility for selling your books but you can certainly kick it along - if you want to. So the real question you need to ask yourself is: How successful do I want to be? And then you'll probably work out what you need to do. Jacqueline Susann was not a great writer but she sold a hell of a lot of books, because she wanted to. She wanted it - fame, money, adoration. She got it. And you can get it to, if you want it. Just be professional, be respectful of others, keep your eyes on the prize and don't ever lose faith in yourself. But, again, it keeps coming back to that question: How successful do I want to be?