Authors and Self-Promotion

Posted: November 12, 2010 in books, Braak
Tags: , ,

Here’s an interesting bit about writing and self-promotion by Betsy Lerner.  Her general point — that authors have to work to promote their book, and that getting published isn’t a guarantee of getting noticed is well-taken, and true.  What would be the point of creating a beautiful store with a fine logo, and then just waiting for your audience to come by?

The problem that it presents, of course, is that it means publishers are going to increasingly rely on authors who already have their own contacts, their own social networks, their own blogs and twitter feeds and presences in the industry.  Not entirely, obviously, but if you think about it, it’s just economics:

The publisher makes money according to the number of books that they sell.  They have a finite amount of money with which to market those books.  The more authors can “take up the slack” in terms of book promotion, the more that finite budget can be devoted to the one or two tent-pole titles (to borrow a term from the film industry).  This is especially because the time, money, and effort put into promoting a book doesn’t correspond directly, per se, to the number of copies sold; by which I mean, if you spend eighty thousand dollars marketing one book, maybe you’ll sell eighty thousand copies.  If you spend half of that on two books, you’ll only sell thirty thousand copies of each.

I don’t know that definitely, but I’m willing to guess that it’s true, since so many secondary marketing channels (word-of-mouth, &c.) are reciprocal, the more people know about the book, the more people WILL know about the book.  All other things being equal, you’re going to move more units if you dump all of your money into one title than you will if you spread it out.

Anyway, though, here’s the thing — I can see why authors might become resentful over the idea, even if they did know in advance that they were going to have to be picking up some of the promotional slack.

The idea that authors have is that their work is writing the book, and actually selling it is someone else’s job.

Which is, at the very least, intuitive.  And it’s fair to say, “Nope.  Promoting the book?  Also your job.”  But it does start to beg the question as to what low- and mid-list authors need publishers for in the first place.

As I mentioned in my (hilariously misguided) Booksurge piece, there’s basically three things that publishers provide:  1) editing, 2) marketing, and 3) production.  Now, of course, production is just as easy for an author to manage on their own.  It’s actually easier, in many respects, because publishers don’t print on demand, which means they literally have to invest in a book’s success — guessing how many are going to sell, and buying two hundred thousand copies ahead of time.

But the more marketing the author is supposed to do on their own, the less publishers are offering in terms of the business.  For example:  I know a cat that wrote a mystery book, and got it “published” with a respectable mystery-book-publishing-imprint.  This imprint then provided basically *zero* marketing support for the book.  You wouldn’t know the guy had been published at all — his book isn’t in the bookstores, it never turned up on reviewer websites or in Publisher’s Weekly or anything.

You can buy it on Amazon, but that means it’s exactly as available as MY book.  It’s got exactly the same push behind it as the TQP books, and we all get a substantially higher royalty on ours than he gets on his.  Sure, the editing in his book is probably better (but having purchased — at full price — several books on the Kindle, and seen those books nearly as rife with error as mine, I wouldn’t bet on that), but his numbers probably aren’t.

If you look through the catalogs at any of these imprints, you can see that they publish all kinds of books that you’ll never hear about; stuff in the catalog that never turns up on the shelves, never gets a review, never gets promoted in any significant way.

It’s a serious question:  what’s the point of getting published, if that publisher will expect you to do all of the important work yourself?  (Well, aside from the legitimacy of being able to put an actual, recognizable imprint on the spine of your book.)

Obviously, Threat Quality Press is never going to take over the publishing industry — primarily because it’s run by me, and I’m kind of an idiot.  But I think that the confluence of elements — of publishers expecting authors to do more of their own promotion, and of production becoming exponentially easier to manage on our own — does represent a fairly significant threat to the industry as it stands.

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