Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Truth About Publishers

You've been hearing it for years: Once you're published, your publisher won't help you market or promote. After the ink on the contract dries, you're on your own, left to sell your books with zero help from the folks who just plunked down big bucks to publish it.

Is this true? Are the dispirited moans of authors at the convention bar---claiming they remain midlist because they were never 'pushed' onto the bestseller list---based on hard evidence?

Here's what I know, based on my experience.


  1. Print up advance reading copies (ARCs)
  2. Send these ARCs to reviewers
  3. Write a press release and send it out
  4. Have in-house meetings with marketing and sales to brainstorm hooks for your book
  5. Assign a publicist to you
  6. Allocate a marketing budget to your book
  7. Place you in their catalogue(s)
  8. Attempt to sell the subsidiary rights they've attained
  9. Edit your book
  10. Ask you to complete an author questionnaire
  11. Help you set up some book signings
  12. Talk about your book to buyers and solicit orders
  13. Get your books into the hands of distributors and onto bookstore shelves and online stores

Depending on the size of your publishing house, the above list is usually the bare minimum they'll do. And chances are you won't ever know how much they've actually done, because you may not get to see most of it.

If you want to be involved, volunteer. I wrote my own press release and catalogue copy. I've set up my own booksignings. My contacts led to a Korean rights sales. I send out many ARCs to reviewers on my own dime.

Hyperion and Brilliance Audio did all of these things for me

  1. Take out ads (about ten so far)
  2. Print flyers (several hundred)
  3. Print coasters/bookmarks (20,000)
  4. Print business cards (1500)
  5. Invite you to events (BEA, GLBA, UBA, etc)
  6. Have a booklaunch party
  7. Send you on tour
  8. Hire a media coach
  9. Send extra things to bookstores (coasters and drink mix)
  10. Provide you with extra ARCs (a few hundred)
  11. Listen and act on your marketing ideas
  12. Take you out to dinner
  13. Get you on local radio and TV (I've been on radio a few times)
  14. Get you interviews
  15. Give away free copies of your books (over a thousand)
  16. Hold contests
  17. Involve you with various promotions
  18. Pay co-op to bookstores for displays and prime placement
  19. Solicit your input on the cover and jacket copy (I wrote mine)
  20. Work with you on the final product (every year I visit Brilliance Audio and lend my voice to their recordings of my books.)

Do publishers treat every author the same? No. A lot depends on their budget. But even more depends on the author. Is this an author who is actively trying to augment their efforts? Someone who is enthusiastic about promotion? Someone who works hard and offers ideas?

If I sat on my duff and whined about not getting enough attention, chances are I'd be ignored. No one wants to work with a prima donna, or an artiste. But I've found that EVERY SINGLE TIME I spend time and money trying to promote myself, my publishers are there to back me up.


  1. Get you on the NYT Bestseller list. If they could, every book printed would be a bestseller.
  2. Get you on Oprah, Good Morning America, etc. Unless you're a celebrity.
  3. Take out a lot of ads. Ads don't sell books for unknown authors (have you ever bought a book because you saw an ad?) Ads are best used to announce a new book from an author with a huge fanbase.
  4. Send you on a huge tour. Tours don't make money. Ever. They are for author egos, building bookseller relationships, and meeting fans, more than selling huge numbers of books.
  5. Be in constant touch with you. Authors who don't need constant reassurance get more attention than needy authors.
  6. Sell your book. A publisher can get bookstores to carry your titles, but they can't make customers buy them. Only one person can do that (hint: you)

Your publisher is your partner. Like a marriage, making demands won't help the love grow. But giving, listening, and actively trying to make your partner happy will be mutually beneficial.

Which brings up the next list, one that new authors (and even many pros) don't ever consider.


  1. Make deadlines
  2. Be courteous, considerate, and enthusiastic
  3. Be accessible
  4. Show them your desire to help
  5. Self-promote by going to conventions, doing book-signings, speaking at libraries, soliciting interviews, maintaining a website, sending a newsletter, and all the other things I preach about
  6. Be thankful
  7. Make them money

In fact, the most important thing you can do in your career is make money for your publisher.

Big advances are nice, but it's hard to earn them out. But if you are earning out your advance, it's a good indicator that your publisher is making a profit, which only happens with 1 out of 5 books.

If they make money, you make money.

So what have you done for your publisher lately?