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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Author Self-Promotional Fail # .... Oh, I Forget

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Recently a friend passed along an unsolicited e-mail from an author. Said friend is not a writer, nor is he in the publishing business, but is a reader and hangs out at a few online spots. The e-mail appeared to be asking for a review - or so the friend thinks. In addition to the body of the letter containing some slightly disjointed prose, the author had misspelled the title of the book in the subject line. Hey, this author may have penned a cracking good read, but fiction isn't marketing copy, or vice-versa. This author's publisher should have been doing that job.

I looked at the forwarded e-mail and shook my head. Included was a five-star review from a pay-to-review service, and another review from a bookseller site. This appears to be the only review that particular person has ever left, according to a quick Google search.

Of course, I recognized the publisher right away. No, it's not who you might be thinking. It's a small publisher that has good intentions, but puts virtually all promotion and marketing on the backs of their authors. And this is what happens.

Folks, your publisher is responsible for getting copies into the hands of reviewers. Why? Your publisher should have a marketing department that knows how to target reviewers and get the most mileage out of their stretched budget. They'll know not to send your Western to the SF review zine or your military SF to the romance review publication. Now, they'd certainly send it if either publication happened to request a copy for review. The marketing department doesn't just send a bunch of books and releases scatter-shot and hope one will hit the target. And when the marketing department sends along a quote from a favorable review, they sure as heck won't send one from a web site that takes money for reviews - even if the book was accepted under a non-paid program. That's enough to turn off any legitimate reviewer.

Now, your publisher may give (not make you buy) a few copies to hand out yourself to local publications or clubs that might review your book for their newsletter. They're expecting you to hit the "local author" angle. Nothing wrong with that, especially if they also give you a canned press release to use.

Your publisher will also back up their marketing efforts by making the book easy to buy. If it's an e-book, it shouldn't be only at some obscure web site with ancient shopping cart software. It needs to be at sites e-book buyers trust.

How do I know your book is available for purchase? It's had a favorable review from a reputable source, or it has good word of mouth from people I personally know or trust. They have to find out about it some way, and it's probably from a reputable source. If your book goes viral, nine times out of ten it will be thanks to a marketing campaign started to social networking specialists at your publisher.

Why would you go with a publisher who won't do any work on behalf of your book? The best publishers - from the micropresses on up to the big dogs in NYC - know they make money by selling books to readers. They can't sell books to readers if they don't have content. That means your book. If you're busy out getting people to buy your book, where do you find the time to write your next one? Your publisher is glad for you to book yourself at conventions and signings, do promotion on your blog and the like, but they back your efforts up by getting your works into the hands of readers because that's how they make their money.

I write ad copy. I work my tail off to write the best copy possible - and work with with an editor (creative director) at an agency to make sure the copy is crafted in the best possible way. What they don't hire me to do is go out and sell that ad to magazines, or to get the product into the store. They have specialists who do that. If my writing is good, chances are they'll hire me again.

When I sell a piece to a magazine, I work with an editor on changes. I get paid. What I don't do is sell subscriptions or get the magazines out on newsstands or in the mail to subscribers. The magazine has specialists who do that. (Since I'm also a photographer, I may sell a picture or two to go along with an article, but often they'll hire that out or use stock. Notice I said "sell" a picture. More money for me. I don't buy the stock photo or pay their artist.)

When you or I sell a book to a publisher, we work with an editor. We get paid. We don't pay for the cover art (though I know writers who were so enamored with a painting the publisher commissioned that they bought the original off of the artist later), nor do we deal with getting books into the hands of readers.

When you or I self-publish, we do all of that ourselves or contract it out. We take 100% of the profits (after the tax folks get their share, of course). When we sell a manuscript to a publisher, our advance (and, we hope, royalties) are part of the cost the publisher pays to produce the book. They sell to readers and they take 100% of the profits (after taxes).

The publishing industry may be evolving, but there's no reason we should pay for things the publisher should be doing unless we get a share of the profits representative of the work we do. What does the publisher above pay? I think there are no advances, and 8 or 10% on the net. A large publisher pays that much on the cover price, PLUS does everything. A reputable micropublisher won't pay as well, but just like a big publisher, they're focused on making their money off of readers. I have a strong suspicion that author above may have had to buy those copies that are being offered out for review. I could be wrong, but that author is going to have a tough time getting publicity with that e-mail. I can't think of a single publisher who would let a marketing e-mail go out with the title of the book misspelled.

If a publisher is going to make their authors do the promotional work for them, the least they can do is give them the tools they need to do the job right. Why would any publisher leave their author to flounder like that? Are they truly making their money off of sales to the author, or are they well-meaning, but not well-versed in how this business works? The Pollyanna in me hopes it's the latter. Even though it's still not good news for the author, at least he or she isn't being willfully ripped off.

Tags: Publishing

Filed under: Publishing            
5/11/2010 12:26:30 PM
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