It's not that the publisher doesn't care about your book. They do. Your publisher genuinely wants to see your book do well (or else they wouldn't have bought it). However, like Dick Cheney in the Vietnam War, they have bigger priorities. As you may remember from the publishing lists
episode, the books at the top of the list - for which the publisher has already spent a great deal of money which they need to recoup or heads will roll - are going to suck up the vast majority of sales and marketing attention. Your book, which they didn't spend so much on, only has to sell comparatively few copies to break even.
The publisher's priorities and yours are very different here. They may be sort-of satisfied with small sales numbers, but you can't be. Otherwise, in a couple of books, they'll drop you and replace your books with an author who they feel has a higher upside.
So what kinds of marketing does your publisher do, what kinds do you handle on your own, and what kinds can you (hopefully) work together on?
Blurbs and Bound Galleys
Fairly early in the process, you'll likely be asked if you know anyone who can write a blurb (a brief quote about how wonderful your book is) to put on the book's cover on in the frontmatter. After the first book, in theory the publisher can also cull blurbs from the glowing reviews of your book. This is a time to be creative and call in any favors owed to you by major celebrities. Did you do Tom Clancy's taxes? Were you instrumental in keeping Ann Coulter's latest "Adam's apple" incident in Hell's Kitchen out of the New York Post? Now's the time to call in that favor. Your editor may also ask similar writers that she edits to blurb you. (You may be asked to do the same thing once your books are selling well... but stick to stuff you like, and be honest.) Blurbs don't have to come from other writers, necessarily. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels became a hit after Bobby Kennedy mentioned that he enjoyed them in a prominent interview.
When the book is typeset, your publisher may have bound galleys or advance reading copies printed. These are promotional early versions of the book (which hasn't been proofread yet) that are sent to magazine and newspaper reviewers (who need the book several months before the release date in order to write reviews that come out at the same time the book does), and sometimes to bookstore owners or buyers. If there are local reviewers who should be sent a bound gally, make sure your publisher knows who they are - as well as what your connection to them is. And you'll need to follow through to make sure that those local copies don't fall through the cracks at your publisher.
The Sales Force
Up to a year before your book comes out, your editor and the publisher's sales force are already working on selling it. (Major publishers have their own sales forces, while smaller independent publishers often pool sales forces, or hire independent rep groups.) Your book has appeared in the publisher's catalog for the season in which it's being published, and hopefully your editor and the sales force have come to some understanding on how best to market it. The publisher's sales force will solicit orders from chain stores (and if Borders and Barnes & Noble turn it down, the book's pretty much finished), independent stores, and major non-bookstore accounts such as Wal-Mart, Costco, and Hudson News (the airport and train station newsstands).
In theory, the publisher will look for special sales as well - bulk sales to nontraditional accounts - but in practice, the sales force is not good at thinking outside the box. Their job is to sell boxes; don't assume that a special sale that seems obvious to you will occur to your publisher. If your book is a thinly veiled but warm sendup of a major dental convention which could be happy to buy 8,000 copies with a special cover to put in gift bags for attendees, don't assume that anyone who isn't a dentist will know that. Make sure your editor knows about it. If you're really passionate about the idea, you may need to badger your editor a bit before she gets the special sales folks involved. Once they see the possibilities, most special sales departments are very good at closing deals.
Think about any special opportunities for cross-promotion that your publisher should be aware of - a huge local fair that ties into the book's storyline, the chamber of commerce in the town where your book is set, etc. None of this costs you any money or much time, and it can be a big factor in upping your book's sales.
Get in the habit of stopping into bookstores. Unfortunately, this is where you need to lose your inner Emily Dickinson: Writing may be a solitary profession, but marketing is not. You need to be willing to go to the information desk, ask to see the manager on duty, introduce yourself as a local author, and offer to sign stock. (This isn't the same as a signing. What you're doing is signing the books they have on hand, which the store will then put AUTOGRAPHED stickers on and place up front in the "Local Authors" section.)
Don't be embarrassed if the store doesn't have any of your books on hand. Let the store be embarrassed, act as if it's just an oversight, and offer to come back to sign them when they're in stock. The idea is to get your books on a prominent position on the shelves, not to be a prima donna. Always be friendly to the bookstore staff, no matter how harried they may be: a lot of books are hand-sold by store employees ("Do you know a good book about bunnies?") and you want them to remember you as the cool author who dropped by, not the person who ranted at the manager for half an hour. (Yeah, I put in my time working at bookstores, as many writers have.)
Another thing many writers end up doing in bookstores is quietly facing out books written by themselves and their friends. Books can be displayed on a shelf in two ways, face out or spine out. You can find a spined-out book if you're specifically looking for it (since you can still read the title and author), but only faced-out books catch the eye, because the cover art is visible.
Some gambits may be a little too subtle. I have a friend who used to write horror under the name "Jeremy Kingston," because it meant he would be placed on the shelf right between Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
Readings and Signings
Naturally, when you talked to the manager, you also found out who scheduled readings and signings for that store. (Some books lend themselves more to one format than the other, but the same people schdule both.) For independent stores, it's likely the owner, Barnes & Noble stores usually have someone in each store, which Borders has community service reps who represent all the stores in the district. (That means you can schedule several Borders at once, but also that the reps are almost impossible to reach since they're hideously overworked.)
The brutal truth about readings and signings: Unless you're a big name, half the time no one shows up, and you can spend two hours learning just how lonely the life of a writer can be. (Sometimes for big names, too. I remember feeling kind of down that I'd only sold 6 or 7 books at one store until they told me Dennis Lehane had been there the previous week and only sold 1 book.) Again: Lose the Emily Dickinson persona. You need to do signings anyway, and even signings that seem to bomb at the time can end up selling a lot of books for you when all is said and done.
There are some things that help your odds quite a bit. For signings, make sure the bookstore seats you near the entrance, where you can make eye contact with people entering the store. People like to buy signed books, but they will instinctively avoid coming over to your table unless you get their attention, so don't be afraid to say hello and banter a bit. (If there's already a line there, people will be curious and come over, but they treat an author alone at a table like a Jehovah's Witness who knocks at your door right before kickoff. You may want to bring a friend along as a shill.) The store should make announcements every half hour or so to let customers know you're there. You may need to write the announcement for the employee making it, who may or may not have heard of you; the person who booked the event likely won't be at the store when the signing or reading takes place (since most events are at night or on weekends).
The amount of publicity events get varies widely. I've done signings where there's no publicity beyond the posters in the store window, and I've done signings where the store ran radio ads ahead and coordinated an article profiling me in the local newspaper on the day of the signing.
The main benefit of signings isn't the books you sell that night (which likely won't cover the cost of the trip) but the word of mouth you build up. People talk about the authors they've met and recommend them the friends; bookstore clerks hand-sell a ton of books written by authors they've met, and bookstores continue to promote those authors with favorable placement. Also, while people instinctively avoid book signings, they like to buy autographed books. The day after one mediocre signing, I got a call from the bookstore saying that they'd sold 19 more signed copies of the book that I'd left behind the next day: more than at the signing itself.
Authors love to see ads for their books, and try to push publishers into funding them, but let me be blunt here: When was the last time you bought a book because of an ad? Books ads are most effective for big-name writers, by reminding people there's a new book out there by someone they already intend to buy. For new writers, word of mouth or radio interviews (where you still feel some sense of contact) are much more effective. Many book ads are geared to bookstore buyers, rather than the general public, or are designed to build the profile of a publisher as much as an author. And print ads are expensive.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't take advantage of free ads, web trades, or local ads in venues that your really think will push your book. If there's a strong ad opportunity, your publisher will almost certainly design an ad for your book if you ask them, even if they won't pay for the ad itself.
Significant publicity efforts are often farmed out by publishers to publicity firms that specialize in books, and in some cases you can hire a publicity firm yourself. (Think long and hard if it's worth it; publicists are not cheap, ranging from about $2,000 to upwards of $10,000 depending on the firm and the intensity of the campaign. That's fine if the effort will sell a lot more books for you, but not so good if it's only going to make a marginal difference.) Publicity firms are important if you hope to do radio and TV spots; while publishers are pretty good at getting books in the hands of reviewers, publicity firms have the contacts and knowledge of the industry to book you onto shows that will drive sales of your book. (A great interview on a show that doesn't appeal to your potential readers doesn't do you much good.)
For my most recent Red Sox book, I was able to get a publicity budget, tied to a specific firm (Newman Communications, a Boston-based publicity firm I'd used before) written into the contract, but most publishers will be reluctant to make that kind of commitment. It never hurts to ask, though. And Newman got me on just about every sports talk radio show in New England.
Radio and TV Appearances
While big stations will want a publicist vouching for you, you can probably set up appearances with small, local stations yourself. Radio is a game of sorts, in that the shows have to fill spots with guests, and guests desperately want to be on the shows, with the publicists acting as gatekeepers. Most shows are not like The Colbert Report; the hosts are trying to make you look good, and unless you're inarticulate, they're going to try to do right by you. (Too many bad experiences, and the publicits won't send folks back to them.) On the other hand, on-air personas vary widely and shows are often booked just a few days (sometimes just a few hours) ahead, so you have to be willing to go with the flow and play along with the host's schtick and sense of humor.
While you have to be in the studio for TV appearances, most radio appearances are done over the phone. TV spots for a big station are typically 2-4 minutes, or 10-15 minutes for big radio stations. On smaller stations you may get up to an hour.
Because appearances are scheduled very quickly, the host won't have had much time with your book. You may get a host who's really knowledgeable about the field, or you may not. Be prepared to work with any question and turn it into something you can answer entertainingly; it's likely that whatever chapter of the book the host opened to randomly is going to be what you get asked about. On short appearances, you may only get a few questions, tailored around what the host's show is already doing. On longer apearances you may be asked to answer viewers' calls as well, so be prepared for anything. Stay relaxed though - the host is trying to make you look good.
While book reviews are largely out of your hands, freelance writers for local papers are always looking for people to write features on, and you probably know (or your friends know) some of those writers. In other cases, bookstores will put writers in touch with you. Like the radio hosts, the writer will be trying to make you look good. Expect to be heavily misquoted, even by writers with the best intentions. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory, and when it's a feature story rather than "hard news" there's no real fact-checking to speak of.
Local weekly newspapers are always looking for content, so if you have a book that's easily excerptible, it's not hard to get a column of your own. This gets to be a time sink in a hurry, so I wouldn't recommend it longterm.
Presumably as an author you have a personal site that features your work. You may also be active on other forums specific to your genre, like the bulletin boards on SFF.net. You don't have to spend a lot of money, but nothing says "amateur" like an overdesigned author's site. (You can get away with a very simple site, but not an annoying or garish one.) Take a look at other sites by writers in your field. (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the lovely and talented fellow Kossack at rowena.org who designed my site.)
Don't go overboard having your friends write Amazon reviews of your work, but a few is ok. And for heaven's sake don't review your own work. (I know Walt Whitman did it, but it's still tacky, and looks really vain.)
Time to stop writing, I think... this is already way longer than I intended, and about half a day later.
The Rest of the "How Publishing Works" Series
I do still monitor and respond in the previous episodes, so feel free to post questions or comments in them if you'd like. I'm shooting for one new entry a week while classes are in session, likely late Thursday nights or Friday morning.
Part 1 - Why bad things happen to good books.
Part 2 - Avoiding publishing scams.
Part 3 - Literary conventions (with an emphasis on SF Conventions).
Part 4 - Book packagers.
Part 5 - Submitting a manuscript.
Part 6 - Publishing lists.
Part 7 - Literary agents.
Part 8 - Copyediting.
Part 9 - Marketing and publicity.
Part 10 - Outlining.
Part 11 - Editing.
Part 12 - Ideas.
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