Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Which I Form an "Opinion"

If your publishing house acquired a debut novelist with radically ambitious marketing ideas (eg: corporate-sponsored book tour; alternate reality game played by fans in real time around the country; basically, any idea that hasn’t yet been proven effective for the book):
1. How likely would you support those efforts?
You pretty much answered your question with "hasn't yet been proven effective".
You must understand that every debut novelist and writer of any sort has a catalog of ideas about what might be done to promote their special book.

Ideas that may indeed be
  • original
  • daring
  • innovative
Ideas that are also almost certainly
  • based on a fundamental lack of experience in selling books
  • moderately or massively expensive, in cash and staff involvement
It can be easy to think that the equation should be as simple as "I have ideas, publishers have money". Doesn't your publisher want to invest in your book?

Yes, your publisher does. But not in any way that might prove a complete waste of money, because people get fired over stuff like that.

Why in god's name would they invest in a tactic they have no reason to think would succeed, when they have other tactics they could spend that very same money on (please note: the only money they have to spend on that book) that will quite likely succeed?
2. If you found the ideas sound and would pledge support, what form of support would likely be offered (contacts/mailing lists, media training, money…)?
Ok, so let's assume you've somehow given the publisher a reason to think a particular tactic would succeed (outside of "it would be so cool" or "it totally worked on my neighbors"). What support would be forthcoming would depend entirely on the idea and how sound we'd found it.
3. If you would deny support to any ideas outside of those previously tested and proven (eg: book review copies, press materials, author page on house website), on what would you base this opinion?
On what would I base my opinion about "previously tested and proven" tactics?!

Wait, wait, back up. "Opinion"?!?

All right, maybe I've misunderstood the question. I am taking a deep breath.
I don't feel I can really help you understand marketing decisions any more than to say that we do need a reason to think a marketing tactic or strategy would work. Not a guess, not a theory, not an opinion. The tactics we use don't always work the way we'd hoped, but at least we were basing them on previous experience, facts, studies, and a realistic understanding of how the book business works. If you can bring some or all of those things to the discussion of radical new tactics, we'll listen.


Michael Reynolds said...


It's about 1992 in publishing. They're still learning about this thing called the internet.

Know that some of us are beating on that wall. But the path is going to have to be cleared by people with some established cred.

Some publishers are waking up, realizing that the times they are a changin' and all that. But it's tough for them. As EA points out: a really great way to get fired is to launch off on some new and untested tangent.

Anonymous said...

"Alternate reality game played by fans in real time across the country"

cringe cringe

Speaking from the point of view of someone who does a fair bit of blog-surfing ("leave a comment to enter a drawing to win toenail clippings!") and who's also been the target of a viral marketing campaign by a self-publishing neighbor, my observation is that "fans across the country" are slow to materialize outside of a writers's imagination, and that it takes a LOT to move anyone to give up any of their "real time" for anyone else's pet project.

charlotte! said...

This reminds me of Max Barry. He started a web game ( to promote Jennifer Government. The site took off, and years later is still popular. The book... eh. It sold decently, I believe, but I doubt the book sales have covered his hosting fees.

That's the problem with really neat ideas: they might sell books, but they don't usually sell enough books.

Sylvia said...

This question seems to be making the rounds:


Anonymous said...

Hee...timing of this post is fantastic. I'm an editor of academic books for a nonprofit, and I just received a 2-page e-mail from an author team asking me very similar "marketing and promotions" questions. I'm fighting the urge to reply with a simple "You just published with a small, nonprofit, scholarly publisher, dumbass. What do you think?" I'll be professional though...maybe leave out the "dumbass" part.

emay said...

On a slightly less (I hope) out-there note:

I just got my publicity questionnaire from a large house, and I noticed that it doesn't ask questions about specialized publications that might review my book, or specialized awards that my book might be a good candidate for. ("Specialized" meaning specifically related to the topic of the book, as opposed to standard children's lit stuff.) Will they be offended if I share this information? How do I find out if they are willing to follow up on it? Should I give the same info to my editor?

Also, is it normal that the publicity contact would not want to give the author a list of the reviewers who have been sent advance copies?


Deirdre Mundy said...

Does this mean that if my book is accepted, the publisher WON'T hire a blimp painted with my cover image to go from city to city and use a hypnosis ray on the people in the streets to make them run to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy?

Well, shoot. I guess I'll have to come up with a different scheme for world domination. This "Work hard to become an author of children's books" thing just isn't working.

Maybe I should train a swarm of mosquitos to do my bidding instead........

Anonymous said...

Charlotte!, this made me think of Jennifer Government, too.

My question is, When should a writer approach licensing agents?

Last month I got a small deal from a big house for a fantasy novel about were-tigers. I think that trying to push this as a line of plush toys and baseball caps isn't a terrible idea. At least will cost nothing (to make the approach) and might spark some cross-promotional possibilities. What do I do?


Anna Claire said...

Erm. At least the questioner is getting creative, I guess. Now he/she just needs someone to rein in that creativity a bit to look for innovative PR ideas that work within, y'know, the realm of possibility.

Oh, and get acquired by a publishing house to begin with.

Michael Reynolds said...


Ooooh, a blimp! I am so asking my publisher for one. And my giant head would just fit on a nice blimp. I could go from city to city frightening children.

ae said...

Mr. Reynolds you are quite funny.

Tara McClendon said...

Sure, writers focus on writing, the pulbisher has a paid staff that specialized in marketing, and yet some people think they can do the job better? Wow! I'd have to sit on my hand to keep it from slapping someone.

Anonymous said...

Tara said..."...Sure, writers focus on writing, the pulbisher has a paid staff that specialized in marketing, and yet some people think they can do the job better?..."

I think (from personal experience) that unless your book is a lead title, you find you don't "get" much publicity. That's why authors feel compelled to come up with deperate scenarios.

Even though my book was a hardcover from a major house I had no copies available to be handed out at ALA or the Book Expo. None were sent to bloggers. When I talked to my "publicity person" on the phone (a grand total of one time) she very patiently explained -- in a tone of voice that commanded DON'T ask me anything, ever -- that she had a ton of books to promote and to do that she didn't need emails from authors telling her what to do. Which I found odd, since I'd never emailed her.

I offered a list of people for quotes -- none of it was even attempted, and my book had no quotes -- a big box store declined to give it a sell-in because, with no quotes and no publisher push, hell, why should they?

The one media thing I secured and hand-delivered to my publicist was never followed up on. The media person had to contact me about why he hadn't been sent a book and promo packet when he'd been waiting for three months. Ouch.

Yes, publicity departments Do know their job. But they don't do it equally for all books. THAT'S why authors do stupid things. They've done all this work and the only promo they get is to end up in the book catalog, on dusty page 108. You don't know how hard that is until you've been through it.

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