Voidwalker asked a very good question in my post about “improving” publishing:
Can you elaborate on the difference between marketing and promotion that a real publishing house takes on with the author, vs. say vanity publishers?
To start off, a book doesn’t normally take off of its own accord. I wish, more than anything, that ours was a world of “If I write, they will come.” Alas, that’s as likely as the beagle is from discovering sobriety. People have to be alerted to a book’s existence, and that comes via marketing and promotion. Commercial trade publishers invest a lot of money in each title, so it’s in their best interest to get people talking about their new release.
ARCs: It starts with getting ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) out to the trade reviewers. It’s true that many readers don’t give a rip about reviews. They probably don’t read Publisher’s Weekly (gasp!) or Library Journal (another gasp!). They simply wander into a bookstore (because they’re achingly brilliant and love good entertainment) and buy what they think will be a good book. But how did they hear about it?
Well. It’s possible those good folks who do read PW and LJ read the reviews, bought the book, and opened their mouths about it. We call them “Big Mouths.” Clever, no? These may be librarians or movie producers, or movie agents, or bookstore owners. All of these loverly people help create buzz. It’s the “Oh, I just read the most amazing book…”
Trade presses don’t stop with just the trade magazines. They send ARCs out to media of all types – magazines that are applicable to the book, newspapers, radio, TV. And we don’t just send a book, hoping that it falls into the right hands. We send a cover letter to someone specific that gives a brief outline of the book. Then we attach a TIP sheet to the book that has a mouth-watering synopsis (different from the one on the back of the book), author bio, all the retail info, and their promotion plan.
Distribution: While we’re sending out ARCs, our distributor’s sales teams are pitching our books to libraries and genre buyers of the chains and big indie stores. They print up catalogues that showcase the upcoming releases in any give season.
Catalogs: Likewise, publishers also print up personal catalogs that highlight their front and backlist titles. Whenever the publisher pitches to, say, a smaller indie store, or plans an event for an author, they send their catalog as well. It’s their calling card.
All this takes time. And money. Lots of it. Printing up hundreds of ARCs and catalogs ain’t free. They’re unrecoverable costs – all done in the hopes that the efforts strike a chord with all the right people so they’ll call for interviews and appearances. Same can be said for teaming up with a distributor, as they take their bite out of sales as well. But we do this because we’re targeting readers. That’s how we keep errant beagles stocked in designer tequila and keeping our authors happy.
And this is where vanity presses go wonky. And why not, actually? Their customers aren’t readers, they’re the authors who bought those expensive publishing packages. Vanity books aren’t in stores, they don’t get the important reviews – in fact, it’s interesting to note that many online reviewers work very hard to ensure no vanity or POD books cross their desks. Nor do they require distribution services since all they do is list the title with the online stores like Amazon.
You’re on your own, baby: Vanity presses are interested in one thing: your money. They shoulder no risk, so there’s no reason for them to help you. What sours my choccie martini is vanity presses who sell promotion packages, which is little more than spamming thousands of soon-t0-be pissed-off email recipients.
In other words, the vanity author is on their own. They receive no support or backing from their publisher. If you’re having a hard time getting a bookstore to take you seriously about an event (which they do because vanity author events are more trouble than they’re worth), your “editor” isn’t going to pick up the phone and talk to the event planner. Nor will they send out an ARC to an interested reviewer. All of this is on the author’s back.
I guess I wonder just how much of the promotion, marketing and advertising is expected of the author after the novel has been picked up by a publishing house?
Publicists: The larger presses employ publicists who will help set up a few events for their authors. Smaller presses may offer to do the same, but it’s different for everyone. I’ve talked with authors pubbed by very large houses who received no help, and others who received lots of help from the inhouse publicist. Like I said, it varies.
Smaller publishers don’t have the huge reach that the large press inhouse publicist has because they’re busy getting the books into the stores and out to reviewers. But that doesn’t mean the small press isn’t going to focus on the author’s promo plan. And the type of promo varies given the genre. The nonfiction writer probably has a platform which will yield a different kind of promotion – more than likely author talks and seminars. A novelist will probably do the bookstore events. The type of promotion is a whole other blog post.
But the amount of promo is consistent. When the author stops trying, the book dies. Promotion is a multi-pronged attack. You have personal appearances and the internet. In my experience, the internet is a wonderful tool for those who already have a readership. It’s much harder for the debut author because s/he has no presence as yet. They need to get out there and show their lovely faces because that’s what sells books. Readers get a feel for the author, their personality, their “voice.” It’s their chance to understand you and your book.
Nearly all of our authors have hired their own publicist, and I can say, unequivocally, that these folks make a huge difference in a book’s footprint. We support each other and cover different territory, which all goes toward a united effort of getting the title in front of all the right people.
For example, B&N decided not to order a particular title of ours. I was sooo not happy, and complained bitterly about it to my distributor’s sales teams. Then the author’s publicist started kicking ass and taking names. Now that book is flying off the shelves and B&N is howling for more books. A lovely little circumstance. Most publicists work for about 90 days. By that time, it’s hoped the book has caught fire.
Yes, it’s not free. But you’re laying the groundwork for your future projects and building a readership and depending on what you write, this may be something to consider.
Advertising: To date, I haven’t felt that ads sold books. Throughout the years we’ve placed ads all the trade mags – for nothing in return. Even in the specialized magazines. Zip. Nada. Ads are hideously expensive. Save your money.
Internet: This is the rest of the multi-pronged attack I mentioned earlier. If you’ve gotten your pretty face out there, people are going to be naturally interested in learning more about you. You need to have a great looking website and perhaps a blog – depending on your subject matter.
If you have a blog, have something to say. Give it a great deal of thought. Are you the lawyer who wrote a law novel? If so, your blog could be about some of the crazier things you’ve encountered in your practice – or discussing serious issues. The trick is to keep up a current internet presence because just like personal appearances, if you aren’t current, you lose your readership.
How long does promotion last?
Ahh, the sixty-four billion – trillion? – question. I said earlier that the book dies when the author stops trying. Sure, it’s silly to think you’re going to promote your book for years. Few have that kind of staying power. The older the book, the less inclined people may be to read it. Then again, it depends on the book. If you have a relevant subject – say the law, or medicine, or aging, then why not? You won’t be of interest to the bookstores, but you may have a whole new life elsewhere. There are lots of groups who are always looking for author speakers.
But to be more concise, a book is considered “new” for a year, so it’s not unreasonable to plan for that.
To bring this all home, everyone knows that most authors look at promotion like they do a tax audit. But times have changed and authors who hope to light a fire on their writing careers will get out there and create something marvelous to their future readers. Trade presses will support and help with their every move. Vanity presses will simply hold out their hands and accept your next check.