Promotion between trade and vanity – how much and how different

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?

Trade publishing

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.

Vanity publishing

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.

14 Responses to Promotion between trade and vanity – how much and how different

  1. Speaking as a rookie (trade-published) author who has just returned home after a day spent signing copies of Hope Against Hope in yet another branch of Waterstone’s I can only agree that vanity publishers do not even try to sell youre books. A publicist is vital. My publisher is small and uses a freelance company and they’ve been brilliant. (You should see the six foot high banner they’ve made for me!) But, I was all alone today and boy did I work hard, even being nice to a guy who told me he’d just been released from three years in jail and had self-published his book of memoirs and sold 1,500 copies over the Internet. (Oh yeah?) Then there was the lady who asked, ‘Did you really write this yourself?’

    Smile, Zigmond, smile…

  2. Voidwalker says:

    Wow, you nailed it for me. I’m so glad you took the time to share the details here. I actually never heard that authors hire publicists, assuming that these were provided through the publishing house. Thank you very much for the info here.

    One last thing… May I ask what was the name of the book that B&N is now selling of yours, but initially declined?

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    Can you do a post on the sort of support authors with trade publishers can expect in terms of planning events? Especially ones that might not be local.

    The first prong of my personal promotion plan is to call up all the indie bookstores in the city I live in (I found a wonderful list). But I also live not that far from Philadelphia and New York. How much support would a publisher give to an author who said ‘Look, I’d like to spend two weeks doing events in X nearby city’. Just as an example.

    Oh, and I’m going to share a tip I heard for planning local signings. Bribe a few friends to come and hang out with you at the signing table. That way you’re not sitting there *all on your own* and people are much more likely to be attracted to a group than to one person.

  4. You’re right, Zigmond. Smile and grit yer teeth.

    I actually never heard that authors hire publicists, assuming that these were provided through the publishing house.

    Voidy, the larger houses do hire inhouse publicists or contract with a publicist. Smaller houses don’t have that kind of cash laying about. And at that, the inhouse publicist can only do so much because they have to attend to the needs of a lot of other authors, so there isn’t a ton of individualized treatment.

    Ninja: Can you do a post on the sort of support authors with trade publishers can expect in terms of planning events? Especially ones that might not be local…How much support would a publisher give to an author who said ‘Look, I’d like to spend two weeks doing events in X nearby city’.

    Ninja, this is all over the map. Publishers don’t commonly set up book tours anymore. They may schedule a few events for their authors in their hometown, but they don’t always call all other cities. Like I said, it depends on the publisher.

    We used to set up in-town and out of town events for our authors and it drove us nuts because too many times the schedules conflicted with something the author may have planned – like a sudden dental appt. and such. We had several events where the authors didn’t show up because they forgot or something else came up.

    At that point, I said forget it, the authors can do their own scheduling. That way the onus is on them to be responsible. There’s nothing worse than being a go-between and having to constantly reschedule events.

    However, if an author says he’s having a hard time with one particular store, then sure, I’ll call them up and schedule an event. But after too many abuses, I nixed the blanket scheduling.

  5. Voidwalker says:

    Makes sense. Well, when my amazing novel gets picked up, then I guess that’s a discussion I’ll have with the publisher to determine what’s best. Working together….Imagine that? 😛

  6. You’d be surprised how wonderful and helpful most editors are. They want their authors to be as successful as possible.

  7. Cat says:

    This is the bit that scares me. I wonder if, when I finally put the mss up for consideration, they will turn me down because I live far from the places where publicity could happen (a more remote state capital of Australia). I am no good at putting paw prints on pages either – the bank complains constantly about my paw print. I am not a bold cat. I dislike giving speeches and making small talk at social events. Would I try to do it to get a book published? Yes but I am not sure I would be good enough at it.
    Oh, and some people are allergic to cats. This could be a problem too. Sigh…sorry about the cat hair.

  8. Cat, don’t mind about the cat hair, the beagle finds it comforting. I wouldn’t let your remote kitteh bed put you off from trying to get published. Promotion differs depending on what you write. There are other ways to get your name out there. Articles and such.

    It’s true that debut authors should be prepared to get out there, and that’s what many of us are looking for, but if a publisher loves your writing enough and has a nice, wide distribution arm, then they may not mind your shyness and faraway location.

  9. janettronstad says:

    In terms of almost-free promotion, I’d recommend any author list their books as giveaways on Goodreads. The only cost is the cost of sending out as many books as you list for giveaway (I generally list three). Members of Goodreads then can enter a contest to win one of the books you are giving away. My last contest (for an inspirational historical novel) garnered over 1200 entries. Goodreads runs the contests, picks the winners, and sends you their names. All for the cost of sending out those three books. By the way, the fact thata 1200 entered the contest means even more read what you posted (in my case — the title and back cover copy).

  10. NinjaFingers says:

    Okay. So, you would expect the author to do his or her own scheduling, which does make sense…stuff happens, and I, for one, have odd religious commitments at odd times. I’d actually *rather* say ‘Okay, I can arrange a reading at X coffee shop on Thursday night’ than have my publisher demand ‘You need to do an event at this bookstore on 6pm on Saturday’ when its a major holiday for me and I’m participating, or even *leading* services.

    But, what happens then? What happens when you call up your agent or your publisher and say ‘I plan on doing a signing in New York on May X’. What are the chances of getting expenses? How often are extra copies sent to the book store, and if so, who determines how many…I would assume marketing…or is this something negotiated between the publisher and the book store?

  11. What happens when you call up your agent or your publisher and say ‘I plan on doing a signing in New York on May X’. What are the chances of getting expenses?

    There is no one-answer-fits-all to this question. It depends on your publisher, where you are in their pecking order (meaning are you a solid midlist author with a promo budget, or a debut author with 0 promo budget), your book, and how far you’re traveling. They may give you a very small budget in which to travel outside your area – or they may not give you anything, especially if you’re only doing one signing in a city.

    How often are extra copies sent to the book store, and if so, who determines how many…I would assume marketing…or is this something negotiated between the publisher and the book store?

    Unless you specifically state that you’ve planned for a huge turnout, the bookstore will order, on average, around 30-40 books for your event. They may keep a few after the event and return the rest.

    As for who negotiates the number of books ordered – that falls to the store. However, there have been times when I told the store to order hundreds of copies because I knew there would be a large turnout.

    In one case, the store only ordered 35 units, and 200 people showed up. The store manager freaked out. Thankfully, it was a local event and I jammed to our warehouse and brought over more books. But I was extremely pissed, as they fell over themselves apologizing.

    So, yes, we (the publisher) or the author can make strong suggestions as to the number of books they need to order. If an author makes the recommendations, they should be prepared to justify the higher order. Now, whether they heed that advice is another story, and I know many, many authors who keep extras in their car for just such an occasion.

  12. Pelotard says:

    Ah, publicist. That’s another specialist after the agent does his/her thing. Now I get it. 🙂

  13. I know I’m off topic here Lynn, but I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and just thought I would drop in a little hello. Looking forward to meeting you sometime, maybe I can tag along on one of Kim’s book signing tours out in Cali.
    All the best, and looking forward to July.

  14. Mike, it will be my honor to meet you and Kim. Thank you so much for reading our blog. When you come to CA, drinks are on me. And no, I won’t make the beagle play bartender-ess – she can be a bit heavy handed with the tequila.

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