Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Marketing Director

Why are so many books published without any meaningful marketing? Enormous amounts of editorial time and trouble are lavished on projects whose covers won't feature in print ads, whose placement in chain stores won't be paid for, whose authors and illustrators won't be signing copies for the crowds at conferences. One standard response is that there isn't money, but that answer won't quite do: there is money; it's just allocated other places. All those people who micro-tweak covers in meetings are getting paid, after all, as are the designers, authors, illustrators and printers for all that future pulp. Another answer authors hear frequently is that it's their job to market their books. No question, this is partly true. Certainly no one is more motivated. But just as certainly, no individual has a publisher's resources, stature or integration into the book world's network of communication and distribution. The Internet is a good tool, but there are still only 24 hours in a day and the author is still only one person. Aside from my personal stake in the issue, I've never seen the business sense in it from the publishers' point of view. Care to elucidate?

Who are the publishers who are telling you the author has to be the main marketing force behind a book? Honestly, I'm curious.

Let's first assume you're being publishing at a publisher that does allocate marketing money (i.e., not rinky-dink). You're right, most of that money is not going to go into print ads or conference visits or endcaps at B&N. And that's because those investments only pay off if they're based on a known reaction. They are not ways to create a reaction.

The marketing money for your book will instead be spent on making your book available and visible in ways that lots of authors seem to take for granted—the catalogs we print thousands of copies of, the websites we must maintain, the copies of the book we'll send out for free to reviewers and editors of magazines and awards committees, the trade and consumer shows where we will pay to have a booth, etc, etc. These are meaningful marketing efforts.

Perhaps you'd rather publishers spent less money on editorial and design work—less investment in making a book the best it can be—and more money on pushing it at the consumer.

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a "purity of the book" lecture. Editors and designers are in this business because they love books, but publishers are in this business to make money. So trust me, if it would sell more books to skip over the editorial and design side of things and just focus on shoving products down the public's throat, that's exactly what publishers would be doing.

Experience shows, however, that even on our own lists of carefully chosen and lovingly developed books, we can't always tell which books are going to get the reaction we're hoping for. And there's no building on a complete lack of interest from the market.

Once a book starts generating interest (if it generates interest), the marketing department will look for ways to encourage and nurture that interest, and it's at that point that you'll see the marketing pushes many lay people think of as actual "marketing."

Feel free to think of the publisher as a souless, mercenary behemoth that does not really care about your book. (Though this would obviously be a disservice to the underpaid, overworked, book-loving people who actually make books happen.) Just don't start thinking the publisher doesn't care about the tens of thousands of dollars it's invested to bring your book to market. It cares. It wants your book to earn back that investment. And it's doing what makes financial sense to help it sell, whether the author likes it or not.


Anonymous said...

I sent a similar question asking if you knew of any good sources for solid marketing plans or advice for new authors. I did this because everything I've read said "Your publisher will not market your book," and that they only put marketing money into the top 5 or 6 books of the year.

Have we been mislead by people trying to sell their own books on how to market a book [gasp!]?

Anonymous said...

I think whether or not the marketing is "a lot" depends on your own assumptions going into the process. I have a YA book out now and I, too, was stunned by how little I thought was done for it.

Yeah, NOW I realize that putting it in a book catalogue and sending ARC's out to reviewers IS marketing and I was lucky to get that, but at the time, quite honestly, I couldn't help but to feel let down by the publisher when I saw their other books getting huge campaigns -- book displays, posters, those authors getting to attend the Book Expo, etc, on the publisher's dime.

For awhile it made me feel like my book wasn't important to anyone but me. I'm over it.

Though I think if publishers would TELL you things upfront it would ease a lot of fears. Something like, "Yes, your book is probably considered a mid-list title, but its still a solid book and we love it," would've helped me tremendously rather than, you know, silence.

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in this issue, too, and would like to hear more about it from EA and other editors. It's definitely become the conventional wisdom among children's authors (and authors in general) that we need to self-promote massively. It's not uncommon to hear that you should "invest" your entire advance into hiring a publicist or spend the six months surrounding a book's publication working full-time on promotion. Those who demur are seen as lazy, out of touch, dreaming of a lost golden age when writers were supposed to write and other people were supposed to sell their books.

Who came up with this idea? What do people in marketing departments at publishers think of it? Is it free help for the publisher (after all, they earn a lot more from each copy sold than the writer does) or just a waste of time?

Anonymous said...

Check this out:

Here's a typical instance: an agent (formerly Random House editor) saying that authors shouldn't rely on publishers to "steer their campaign" and telling writers to spend 30% of their time on marketing.

Joni said...

I so agree with Anon 9:24. I think part of the problem is that while catalogs and the like DO help, from the writer's viewpoint, this is something the publisher does for ALL of their books -- while, yes, a handful of books get the mega-marketing treatment. I've never heard the "that's based on interest" argument and it does help. (Although since these decisions are made LONG before there's an ARC to generate interest, I'd like to know more from EA about what that "interest" is based on -- internal interest in the house from its own staff and sales about the ms.? Sub rights interest?)

It really would help if publishers (and editors) would talk to us more. (e.g., "We haven't had as much interest as we hoped, so it's not wise to invest $$ until we can generate more grass-roots interest.") It's like they're so afraid of hurting writers' feelings, they won't tell us anything. It doesn't help anyone.

Anonymous said...

This is great to have spelled out like this, part just to tell other people too! It's is so frustrating to be published and have well meaning friends and relatives continually and earnestly suggest things like "you should tell your publisher to put an ad in the NYT's book review" or "tell them that this should be a movie!" or "you should get on NPR", or whatever. It's just as bad as explaining over and over that no, you are not going on a multi-city book tour...

- another anon

Anonymous said...

I'm Anonymous 9:24--

Joni I think I might know you from the blueboards...

And I totally agree with your statement about "it's like they don't want to hurt our feelings." And I say "not knowing" is far more harmful. It's my first book --I can take being a mid-lister. And with all the rejection you go through to get something published you are certainly tough enough to take whatever else comes. It's the not knowing that makes it tough.

Publishers don't seem to realize there is so much writer's don't know about marketing and sales and if they'd just talk about it we are more than eager to learn, not blame them for things.

It's being in the dark that's frustrating.

I also agree with Another Anon 12:00 -- I can't tell you the times I've been asked by well-meaning people, "Why aren't you going on a book tour?" And "Is your publisher throwing you a big launch party?"

I think they only have being an author like J.K. Rowling or currently Stephenie Meyer in mind and it almost feels like you're letting them down and trying to defend your book at the same time.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 9:24 again. Oops, your not the correct Joni, my bad!

Anonymous said...

Great thread! Yes, it would be interesting to hear what exactly is expected of a first-time author. What's a given these days? That you'll put up a website? Do a few school visits and a signing or two?

And how do marketers perceive the value of writer blogs? Aside from John Greene and a handful of others, are they really seen as a viable way to sell books?


Anonymous said...

I suggest authors contact their publisher's publicity department 6 months before their book is due to be released. Ask them what you can do to help them.
I did this with my last two books and received "ink"
beyond my expectations. The publisher wants your book to sell and be publicized as much as you do.

Susan said...

Self-promotion of books does seem to be a focus these days. I'm hearing this a conferences and on listserves. Here are just a few things some childrens literature authors have done lately. Check out the Class of 2K7, a group of first time authors who have joined forces to create their own promotional website. Or, how about the author of Lemonade Mouth who shrink wrapped his van with his book cover and drove his family across the country on a National book tour he set up himself. Interesting stuff!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, yes, but effective? I live in a major book-lovin' city and I've gone to readings by pretty well-known authors and illustrators and seen about five people in attendance. I guess what I'm trying to sort out is this: which efforts are really worth the time and money and which are sorta self-promotional busywork?


Unknown said...

Do not discount catalogs and ARCs as marketing.

As someone on the seller's end of things, I have to say that what sells a book is the book itself--its writing, plot, characters, cover, flapcopy, and jacket reviews. And that's because your best publicity, by far, are the salespeople who have read and liked your book and will talk it up to their customers. Catalogs and ARCs are what bring your book to those salespeople and begin generating interest before your book even hits shelves; they are important first-line marketing tools. Ads--and all the rest of those things people think of when they hear "book marketing"--don't matter so much, except to make the salespeople wonder why the publisher's hyping a particular book (which, to be fair, will cause us to assign the ARC to one of the staff to read and report back on, good or bad).

So what can you do, as an author? Exactly what EA says: write well, and make your book the best it can be.

Anonymous said...

I have a book coming out in about a year so I'm just starting to look at the daunting array of marketing options.

What do you think are the three most valuable things an author should do on their own for promotion?

Would those things be different if you were promoting a picture book, MG or YA novel? Would it be different if you were writing something more literary or more genre based?

As an editor is there something you are expecting your author to do in terms of promotion that would be unprofessional of me to neglect?


Anonymous said...

First – and please hear me on this – of course I appreciate the "underpaid, overworked, book-loving people who actually make books happen."
I do, however, include myself and the authors I know in that category. When we've spent months of late nights and early mornings wrestling with our work only to watch it sink without a trace, it's not impertinent for us to wonder why.

We'd be delighted to think of our publishers as mercenary. We only wish they were better at it, since their profit would also be ours.

I haven't heard anyone suggest that authors should be boxing up their own review copies and sending them off, but I've never heard an editor or agent speak who didn't address the critical importance of an author's independent efforts.

I think, EA, you have more faith in the efficiency of enormous, committee-driven organizations than I do. More is not necessarily better where 'making a book perfect' is concerned. Every illustrator I know has war stories about projects that got revised in superficial circles for months before a final state was determined – not by the achievement of anyone's idea of perfection but by the arrival of the deadline.

It's this mad, frequently pointless expenditure of time and money that frustrates. Especially when it gets no follow-up in the marketplace... none that we can see, at least.

And that's where I think your answer is most illuminating: the suggestion that a publisher's marketing is directed less at the public than at tastemakers: reviewers, booksellers, top librarians, bloggers, etc. This is something I hadn't particularly thought of before, and accounts for some of the effort's invisibility to those out us outside the industry's daily communications loop.

Maybe a certain number of books on any list are just plain doomed: by their failure to find their audience quickly, by their marketing, their production or - yes - by their own flaws as literature. Every author should be prepared to face the idea that his or her book simply wasn't strong enough to distinguish itself.

But contrary to your suggestion, money is not the only question. Ideas of culture, of taste, of pleasure, of what ideas are important... all of these have an impact on which books are published and promoted. It isn't a question of purity, as you put it. Those things are part of the business model. They're an aspect of the market for the product and a motivation for the people producing it. If they weren't, why would all those underpaid book people – including you and I – so monkishly slave away? said...

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