I seem to be stuck on promotion this week, so I may as well just run with it and relate a story that has an interesting perspective.
Several of us were sitting around one evening, drinking way too many margaritas for our own good, when a fellow editor friend of mine piped up – ok, it was more of a hiccup really – and said she was very insulted that an author, who was trying to decide whether to vanity pub his book or go with a mainstream publisher such as herself, had the audacity to ask what HER promotion plans were.
“Can you imagine? An author asking ME about our promotion plans? Let the little dweeb pay thousands for a vanity book. See how quickly he makes his investment back.”
Sez me, “Hey, don’t go all haughty, high and mighty. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a fair question. Why should any author simply assume that we have the ability to get their book out to market? Isn’t it in their best interests to find out? Isn’t that what we teach in our seminars – to research potential publishers in order to make the smartest choice for their book and writing career?”
Her reply: “grumble grumble – pour me another margarita and shaddap.”
I had to smile at the irony and almost felt badly for her ensuing hangover.
Authors should know exactly what the publisher is going to do for their books. There have books that I loved and wanted to sign, but I didn’t think I could do them proper justice. It might have been too mainstream for us, or a subject matter where we had few contacts. The relationship has to be right for everyone, or we all lose money. Not a good way to keep up with the beagle’s tequila budget. But I can somewhat sympathize with my editor buddy.
A few months back an author contacted me and explained that he already knew how to find his audience and demanded my promotion plan – in writing – that included my expectations for the book, a complete rundown of the projected money that would be spent, and where it would be spent. His inference was that I was actually competing with him should he decide to vanity publish his book because his promotion was so firmly entrenched.
It’s a nice thought, but dreadfully wrong because mainstream publishing doesn’t compete with anyone other than other mainstream publishers, and that’s because we’re all in the same marketplace – bookstores and libraries. This is where you separate the hopefuls from the serious writers – distribution.
Let’s use The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box [please!] as an example. I can sell my book online through our website, at seminars, and out of the trunk of my car – which so far has amounted to a few hundred. However, the bookstores are ordering it in the thousands. Sure, there’s always the threat of returns, but because my promotion plan is so strong, I don’t envision that being a problem. See, it’s a two-pronged attack that vanity authors don’t have.
Regardless of how great a promotion plan is, a vanity book isn’t going to be on store shelves. Nor will they be reviewed by trade magazines. Does this matter? Not necessarily, believe it or not. It may be that it’s more appropriate to vanity pub a book due to niche, or the author is a public speaker and needs books for back of the room sales.
The problem I have with vanity presses is that they get their money up front, so where is the incentive to do a quality job? Editing? Have you seen a vanity book lately? Forget it. No matter what package the author pays for, vanity presses do not hire Random House editors who are moonlighting. The same goes for cover design. If the author hires his own designer, his book has a chance of a nice appearance. Otherwise that book will be wearing the same cover of about fifteen other books. Reminds me of my senior prom and five of us had the same dress. I’m still in therapy for it.
And that negates the entire issue of vanity publishing. Vanity authors say “we do what you do!”, and they don’t because they can’t. It’s the rare author who has the same marketing reach of a mainstream publisher because they’ll never be in the bookstores. Their sales playground is the internet and whatever they can sell out of the trunks of their cars. Or back of the room sales. Again, this could prove to be lucrative, but those who are doing this with any measure of success are woefully small. Which gets me back to my demanding author.
I declined to deliver the goods he requested because I concluded he’d probably be happier with an editor who, while investing thousands into his title, wouldn’t mind being ordered around by her author. That, and he was a putz. Respect is a two-way street and it’s unwise to assume a confrontational stance if you’re looking for information.
See, he got caught up in the same mistake that most authors do; the difference between promotion and marketing. Authors promote; publishers market. Given that mindset, it’s not unusual to hear the “why do I need you if I already know how to find my audience?” The answer is that we take care of the national stuff, and the author does the local stuff. After all, who knows his own hometown better?
The end result is that we want us all to be successful and our sole purpose is to do everything we can to attain that goal. And you know what? Thanks for asking.