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.
Connect with Sarah:
Nice to see you here, Sarah! I love that whole concept of collaboration between the publisher and the author towards a mutual goal – to sell books. Too often it’s perceived as an adversarial relationship.
I’m always surprised by how much people seem to enjoy adversarial relationships. There’s this strange need to divide people into ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’
This is such a great post Sarah! I totally agree — whichever publishing route an author takes, we have to take responsibility and get involved with the marketing side of things as much as possible. And I don’t quite understand why a writer wouldn’t want to get involved really — it’s important to be in charge of your career, and marketing is such an important part of a book doing well. It can also be such an awesome way to meet and interact with readers!
I do love the idea of team work between a publisher and writer. Sadly it doesn’t seem to always be the case, and I do think there’s still quite a bit of work to be done there — on both sides of the equation — but in an ideal world it should really be a partnership. I’m sure things will slowly get to that point eventually!
Great points. Plus, as keep pointing out, it’s fun to meet like-minded people. When I think of the community we’ve built here, I realize it’s probably the best thing about my writing career 🙂
I think exactly the same as you, Celine. Having the possibility to partecipate in our book’s promotion is a gain, in my reckoning (as well as fun, as Nicholas points out 😉 )
As for the partnership between authors and publishers, I think it will be inevitable. In a world where writers can publish without a publishers, publishers need to rethink their role. I’ve read many articles forseeing a future where publishers will be centers of knowledge and the place where to share knowledge, as well as printing books. I do think this is quite likely.
But changing is difficult for a company more than it is for a person. I see it with the publisher I work at. When you’ve gone about the job in a certain way for many years, changing isn’t only a matter of wanting the change, but also a matter of rebuilding everything nearly from the grassroots, and this is demanding and costly, as well as a bit scary.
I suppose the bigger the company, the more difficult the change… but you can’t go back, so… 😉
The bigger the ship, the harder it is to turn it about, I guess 🙂
Oh absolutely, the larger the company, the larger the inertia when it comes to change. It will definitely get there eventually though.
It’s maybe a little oversimplistic, but I do like the idea of every writer basically being an independent publisher who choses to partner up with a publisher or not, who outsources editing and cover design or not, etc. That would be a good landscape for the industry.
I love that thought. Indeed, I’ll drink to that 🙂
So many things to learn! I feel like an insect in a truly gigantic ant hill!
We’ve all been there. And we’re all still there 😉
I’m glad I’m not alone!
Lol – believe me, I know how you feel 😀
Lovely post, Sarah. I often have discussions with my author friends, some of whom have publishers and some of whom, like me, don’t. One of the things we have considered is why, if you are dong so much of your own marketing, would you need a publisher – you can do it yourself. The one thing her publisher has done for a friend of mine is get her into large book conferences or fairs, although except for the entrance fee, my friends pays for everything else. They’ve also gotten her radio interviews. I did ask her if she thought that boosted her sales, and she said not noticeably.
Alex Hurst wrote a nice guest post back in April on the subject of what traditional publishers offer: https://nicholasrossis.me/2015/04/07/guest-post-by-alex-hurst-what-can-traditional-publishing-offer-authors/
Thanks for stopping by Noel. As Nicholas points out, Alex wrote a fantastic article about what a publisher can offer other than promotion.
As for promotion, though, unfortunately it isn’t a perfect science. In fact, it isn’t a science at all, so it never happens that given a situation, you’ll surely have a certain result. But I do think that authors should take advantage of any possibility that presents itself, and if a publisher can give them a few, they can really make a lot out of it.
I’ve seen many presentations, of authors of the publisher I work with too, and I’ve seen it time and again: what makes the difference isn’t the publisher, even when he’s present. It’s alwasy, always the author. As it should be 😉
I’m glad you posted this information, because I was talking to another blogger about this a couple of days ago. This information is very helpful no matter whether an author is self publishing or trying to find a traditional publisher.
Oh, absolutely. There’s precious little to distinguish between the two, when it comes to the amount of marketing an author must do.
That’s what I told the other person.
Although Alex Hurst wrote a nice post on what traditional publishing does offer, back in April:
That post of Alex’s was absolutely fantastic!
Thought you’d like it 🙂
I’m so happy it was helpful. 🙂
Reblogged this on Books and More.
Thanks so much for the reblog 🙂
Great post, Sarah! That’s one of the ideas that writers and agents are pushing out there at conferences and such now: Authors need to be prepared to do the bulk of their promotion, no matter which publishing route they take. It’s something we all will need to take into account once our books are out there in the world. And like you pointed out, communication is crucial. We even do it when we tell the world about other books we enjoyed. That’s how word-of-mouth begins, doesn’t it? 🙂
Plus, it’s fun to make new friends 🙂
That too! 🙂
Indeed, Sara 🙂
And as I mentioned, I think having the possibility to promote our work effectively it’s a gain in my opinion. Sometimes the combined effort of publisher and author is just what it takes 😉
Great post. Expectations around promotion is a great topic for discussion before sighing a book contract. All publishers and authors are different and come with different ideas about what’s going to happen after release. I’ve met authors with publisher-based promotional teams as well as authors who’ve been left to do everything on their own. One author friend just published his first book with a new small press. The publisher was very clear about the promotional commitments for both parties, and I think it’s working well.
“Before sighing a book contract” – a funnier Freudian slip I have never heard 😀
As I was just saying, I think it’s wonderful that publishers explain all that very clearly, as the relationship can sour very fast otherwise.
The fingers doing the talking! Ha ha.
I think clearity on the part of the publisher is very important today. Communication is also very important, so that both parts know what the other have the possibility to do in actuality.
I don’t think communication works as well as it could yet.
Another great post, Nicholas.
Thank you so much, Michelle! Sarah did a great job 🙂
Another super, spot on post. thank you for posting
Thank you! Sarah did a great job 🙂
Great post. I always thought that the publishing company did most of the promotional stuff and the author just wrote or did public appearances. That idea was pretty thoroughly destroyed when I went indie and met people who were in the business.
Do you find that things have changed a lot more because of how social media works? For example, authors are more accessible and have to maintain a bigger public presence than the days where it was all by letter writing.
I do think social media have chenged a lot of the rules in the game. Once upon a time, authors had very little actual possibility to promote their own book, other than attending presentations.
Today, most of the possibilities a publisher has to promote a book, especially online, are exactly the same an author has access too.
Honestly, I see this as a great opportunity for authors, even trad-pubbed authors. Having the possibility to promote my own book actively seems a gain to me, not a loss, on the part of authors.
I see a lot of authors, both trad and indie, taking advantage of social media. One group I never hear about are literary agents. I wonder how all of this has impacted them. Honestly, I keep forgetting about them.
As I understand it (because I’m seeking an agent right now, so I’m into it 😉 ) agents are slowly taking up the place that was once of editors. Or at least, thay’re taking up some of the jobs in-house editors used to have.
This again is due to risen expenses to provide what editors once would.
As many other entrepreneurs, publishers are basically outsourcing many jobs that were once done in-house.
I know, the way and the speed the publishing industry is changing is mind-blowing, I think this is part of the reason why everybody has so much trouble adjusting. Probably today, when the change is at full blast and nothing is certain, is the worst moment to be an author and a publisher, but I have great expectation for the future 🙂
Good point! Same here.
So nice to see you here, Sarah! Great article, and spot-on too. Matter of fact, I received an email (to the entire group of authors) similar to this from my publisher. In a nutshell it stated we’re willing to do blah, blah, blah (can’t break my contract by revealing specifics) but you must also promote and market yourself.
Makes sense. I’m glad they clarified all that up front. Helps clear the air – and nothing can sour a relationship faster than unclear expectations.
Thanks Sue, I’m so happy to be here 🙂
I think it’s a good thing that publisher state this in the contract. Not all publishers do it, I think this might be why some authors are so sour about this point.
It wasn’t “in” the contract. My publisher creates a wonderful team atmosphere and we have a Yahoo! group where we share what works and what doesn’t, as well as periodic emails from the publisher to help us in various areas. It’s a nice touch. I find the group and emails extremely worth-while. One of the benefits of having a smaller press. 🙂
I think this is really GREAT. Personally, this is how I see the world of trad-publishing in the future 🙂
A good article, thanks, Sarah. I agree with you, of course. Platform building and social networking is the author’s responsibility. Better to have control there and interact with readers directly. It is of course not obligatory, but it’s practical and necessary if your goals include finding more eyeballs.
I’ll also add it’s fun 😀
I’ll be honest, I started my platform because everybody said an author needs one. I had never expected I’d enjoy it so much!
Lol – couldn’t have put it better myself 😀
Ultimatly, it all depends on what you’re expecting from your book, right 😉
I think that, just like with our stories, a lot of the result depends on us and how much effort we put into it.
I like the sound of ‘Roaring Twenties Chicago’ as a setting, that sounds fresh, and different. Thanks for the tips and experience, and I wish you success with your books.
Best wishes, Pete.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Pete. I’m having a blast with my Roaring Twenteis experience 😉
Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes.
Thanks for the reblog. Much appreciated 🙂
Thanks so much for having me, Nicholas. Writing this post was a great expereince 🙂
Thank *you* for the great post! 🙂