What's your opinion on the value of new writers (I have one book out now, another coming out in the fall) hiring publicists? I am going to try to make a concerted effort to do more with my website, which I understand is my best marketing tool, but other than that, do you think a professional publicist is the way to go or a waste of money?
It depends on what you need to accomplish. If you need media attention in a short amount of time, ie a big fat splashy launch and lots of review and feature attention, you'd be a nitwit not to hire a good publicist.
If you are a new writer, and you've got 2000 hardcovers to move, you'd do well to focus on talking to book clubs, and readers directly. No publicist can do that for you cause that's marketing not PR.
I'm a big believer in the value of publicists but they are not the universal answer to getting attention for your book.