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?


Adam Hurtubise said...


I made my living generating positive press for politicians for 10 years, and now generate positive press for a non-profit, so let me say...

Every single one of the ideas you throw out there about self-promotion is right on the money.

Every one of those things builds word of mouth, which is key to name recognition and brand recognition, which, as an author, mean one and the same thing.

None of those things will necessarily lead to a sale, except the obvious, "Hi, I'm J.A. Konrath and this is my book..."

But you have that part mastered.

And the word of mouth itself, which you do so well, WILL lead to sales. The key is to do all of it, and be relentless about it.

Good word of mouth begets more good word of mouth, which begets sales.


Anonymous said...

As always, you give us straight-up reality unspoiled by attitude. Thanks Joe!

Stephen D. Rogers said...

I'd like to add two other things publishers do. They design a professional cover and interior. They print the actual books.

Author-Gerald said...

I think too many writers expect someone else to do the work. I remember having an online 'discussion' with another aspiring writer, who said that spelling and punctuation didn't matter in their manuscript, because "the editor will sort that out".

Another post full of great advice, Joe. Thanks. And yes, since I've been reading your weblog, I've ordered your books. Proof if proof were needed.

Bob Farley said...

You have a wonderful publisher, Joe.

Alphabeter said...

So the whole 'toss a few boxes of books in the trunk and go across the country signing and selling them" thing WON'T get me Grisham's numbers?

So much for asking for gas cards for Christmas.

Oh wait, am I allowed to put Christmas on your blog Joe? I'll just add a bit.

Merry Happy ChrismaKwanzHanaFestimaszakahus y'all! Or just lay chilly on the 25th.
Whatever gets you gifts.

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, J.A.

Have you ever thought about getting together with the folks in Lynchburg, TN for some promotion? It seems like your books might sell them some liquor, and their liquor might sell you some books.

Just a thought.

HawkOwl said...

Dude, great blog. I have a question for you. Books cost money. ARCs don't. So how do I tap into the ARC lode and start getting free books - AND someone who wants to hear what I think of them?

(Hey, my word verification is vnvjvg. That's unusual!)

Cornelia Read said...

I've been lurking here quite a bit, Joe, but haven't posted a comment before this. As a newbie to the biz myself, I'm tremendously grateful for all the good info and thoughtful commentary you've shared herein.

I came back today to reread your recent post concerning all the myriad beyond-Amazon-ranking writerly timesuck goodies available online. Since I have no moral fiber and am already a slave to the statcounter for my fledgling website (picture a crackhead lab rat hitting the "More Rock for Algernon" lever), I confess I cursed you for having supplied MORE devil's-candy links.

I bless you, though, for turning me on to a whole slew of Amazon features for authors I'd never heard of. I clicked through to check them out upon reading your post the first time, but couldn't do much as my book wasn't yet listed. Today, however, Google churned up a German book-maven URL with a link to my own tiny campsite on Planet Bezos.

I just wanted to thank you for the great dirt on those promo opportunities before hustling back over to get my tent pitched while there's still some light. Once the campfire's going strong, the first beer out of the cooler will be raised in a toast to you.

Stacey Cochran said...

As a writer who has just started getting his first bookstore, library, and school events, this post was extraordinarily helpful.

My rational for self-publishing was, like your early work Joe, I have about seven novels that publishers have passed on, and I can learn how to get radio and TV interviews (I sent press releases to every NPR station in the American West), learn how major chainstores as well as independent local stores work, learn how library systems work, and also how schools receive writers, how postcard mailings work, how conventions work, how to introduce yourself at all the booksellers' table at conventions, how to make sales calls, etc.

With a book, even a self-published book, you can learn all this stuff.

I can't wait until I get to the point where I actually have a publisher backing me up.

Once again, great post, Joe! Keep up the great work!

Your #1 Fan,

Stacey Cochran

David Terrenoire said...

Something you missed (if I may):

Help your publisher by helping other writers in their stable. They really appreciate that.

That said, you can pick up Beneath A Panamanian Moon (mine), JD Rhoades' Devil's Right Hand, and The Wheel Man by Duane Swierczynski, all three from St. Martin's Minotaur.

emeraldcite said...

Getting out there and having brand recognition is important.

I know that I probably wouldn't have purchased Whiskey Sour if I hadn't stumbled onto your blog.

Your humor here and on your site sold the book. I enjoyed WS enough that I'll soon buy Bloody Mary.

HawkOwl said...

Thanks Susan for the tips!