By Colleen Devine Ellis
The days of publisher-sponsored book tours and release parties are over for most authors. That doesn’t mean you can’t have events and other successful promotions for your new book; it does mean that you will need to partner with your publisher and you will probably have to do some, if not all, of the heavy lifting to make them happen.
Traditional publishing is a business that works in advance and by the time your book is released the marketing and selling is mostly finished. If you are publishing with a traditional publisher with a marketing department, remember that they have specific reasons for their planned promotions and outreach which may be different than what you are expecting.
You have a right to information that will tell you a lot about how your publisher plans to publish your book including print run, placement in catalog, marketing plan, price, binding, and if there will be a simultaneous e-book. You may ask these questions when you sign your contract but your editor probably doesn’t yet have specific answers, so follow up on them a few months later. You can find out when you sign with a publisher how they see the book in general – price range, binding, (hard cover vs. PB original for instance), simultaneous e-book, etc. so that you are not surprised in six months to find out that your irreverent look at Roman Emperors that you envision as a book for general readers is being published as a $60 academic title with a library binding and no dust jacket.
Curtailing Miscommunication and Making Real Contributions
A major point of miscommunication between author and publisher/publicist is often a disagreement between what the author’s thinks is going to happen in the course of producing and marketing the book and what the publisher is actually planning. The two plans may have similarities but are probably not the same. Major differences can include marketing budget (it is often smaller than the author would like) and time (there is never enough for the publicist). The time to discuss these issues with your marketing team is several months before publication. If there are big differences between you, try not to think of their plans as in opposition to yours but rather a situation in which they may have set different goals.
What can you bring to the relationship? You should share who you think the audience is for your book, and include media this audience reads or social media they favor. Also consider books that are comparable to yours, if not in subject then in audience and market, even if they are from another publisher. “Comps” are very important in the publishing and selling process. Booksellers and librarians see hundreds of new books each season and being able to compare yours to a book they are already familiar with helps them to place it in their collection or on their shelves, and figure out whom to market the book to.
Your publisher will also create a comps list but with many other books vying for attention from publicity, marketing, and sales, anything you can add will be helpful in fine-tuning the outreach. You and your publisher may both learn something in the exchange.
The Publisher is Your Partner
Remember the following about your publisher: They are inherently optimistic because they invest their resources long before publication including an author advance, editing, design, production, and staff. Even with this outlay of resources, your book is still one of many (or one of hundreds with a larger press) scheduled to be released at about the same time so working with your publisher on marketing and publicity will benefit everyone.
So you’ve done everything right — communication, research, being a good partner — and you are still not getting what you hoped from your publisher. They don’t have the resources or time or they just don’t agree with you on the best ways to promote the book. Work to bring solutions and opportunities to the conversation, not just complaints and problems. If you have a problem, ask specifically how to solve it, or state what your ideal solution is. Then the publisher can respond with specifics on whether or not they can make this happen. They have plans, they talk about them well ahead of time as a group, and their goals may not line up with yours, so be sure to tell them what you have in mind.
Rather than wasting your time complaining to them repeatedly about issues that they can’t (or won’t) change and possibly damaging the relationship, here’s where you go out on your own. You ask for specifics on what the publisher will do and then you let them know what you are going to be doing. They may decide to give you some of the resources (review copies, press kit) that they have planned for the book and let you use them for your priorities. Or, maybe they won’t. Then you will have to consider investing your own resources into review copies and communication if you think there are important outlets that your publisher can’t or won’t cover.
You will get better results with your marketing and publicity if you can partner with your publisher. An author brings familiarity with readers and media for their book and this can make all the difference in promoting the book to the right audience.
Colleen Devine Ellis, a former publicity manager for Barnes & Noble and the University of Texas Press, runs literary consultant and runs Devine Literary Publicity and Marketing in Austin, Texas.