Sarah Zama recently commented on My Two Top Tips to an Aspiring Writer, offering her point of view on what a publisher cannot realistically be expected to do. I thought her comment was so interesting, that I asked her for a guest post. Happily, she obliged. Enjoy!
What a Publisher Cannot Do For You
Ever heard authors say, “If a publisher isn’t going to promote my book, why do I need them?”
Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve also heard publishers say, “If authors aren’t willing to promote their own book, why do they expect me to be happy to do all the job for them?”
Aside from writing the book, promoting it is probably the more time-consuming job involved in the life of any novel. The publishing industry has changed dramatically, especially in the last couple of years and it’s still changing at a mind-blowing speed.
Today, publishing is very easy, even without a publisher. Thousands of new titles become available to readers every day. This had produced a paradox: in spite of the increased possibility for discoverability, making readers aware that a title is available is harder than ever. Promoting a book has become more demanding both in terms of time and money.
It’s hard work for an author, but for a publisher this has become a huge problem because promoting not one, but many authors, in the world of today’s communication, has turned into an excessive expense. For a publisher, promoting would be a full-time job not for one person, but for a small army of people. Many publishers simply cannot afford that in terms of money. So they normally give the job to someone who has a different role in the company and who will try to squeeze the promotional work into their own routine, which is tight in terms of time. True, maybe (just maybe) the Big Five can still afford to have people who just look after promotion… but most publishers aren’t the Big Five.
Aside from this, reader expectations have changed to a point that it has made the involvement of the author in the promotional process indispensable for many reasons:
1. Social Media
While once upon a time the publisher was the centre of connection between authors and readers, today readers can get in contact with their favourite author directly from a variety of social media – in fact, they expect to be able to do so.
No publisher can fake that connection, so this part of communication (which is technically promotion) can only fall upon the author.
You need a platform, and there is no going around it. Even when the publisher is willing to promote a book, he needs the author’s platform. Sure, if it is an established publisher, he will have his own platform, but unless it’s a very specialised publisher, this platform will be generic, therefore, effective to a limit.
The author’s platform, instead – which is based on the readers’ desire to be in direct contact with their favourite author – includes individuals who are specifically involved with that author and their work and so highly receptive on any form of promotion centred on that author’s work.
While the job of the publisher is perceived as promotion, the job of the author trying to get the word out that a new book is available is perceived as communication by the fans, who want to learn this kind of news from their favourite author.
It goes without saying that communication is far more effective than promotion.
Help Each Other
I think today literary promotion simply cannot be done without the author’s involvement at one level or another and no amount of ‘it didn’t use to be like this’ will change the fact of things.
This said, I’ve never seen a publisher who, even when he doesn’t do the promotional job on a regular basis, isn’t willing to help authors promote their books.
Contrary to urban legend, publishers do want to sell books as badly as authors do. If an author is pro-active on the promotional side, publishers will help any way they can (provided the strategy is viable) even with means the author might not have access to (contacts with newspaper and local TV, organisation of events, preparation of presentation material). Because, see, the more authors are willing to promote themselves, the more publishers will be willing to help promote.
It’s a team effort. And if it’s true an author may think it isn’t fair, because he still have to do part of the promotion work, it’s also true that if he does his part, he won’t have to do all the job by himself.
Who is Sarah Zama?
Sarah Zama was born and raised in Verona (Italy). Long-time fan of fantasy in all its manifestations, very much into history and anthropology, lover of myths and folktales. Currently seeking representation for the first novel in her Ghost Trilogy, set in Roaring Twenties Chicago.
She’s worked for QuiEdit publisher/bookshop for ten years.
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