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How Well Will Your Publisher Market Your Book? (How to Find Out)
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I hope you won't mind one more book-writing post. While it's fresh in my mind, I want to expand on something I said in the previous post:
"Because a publisher has access to markets beyond what you can reach on your own, a book can be a way to reach new potential customers for another business you already have. (Assuming you get good marketing support from your publisher, which is something you should look into before you sign a contract.)"
I thought that idea deserved a little focus because unfortunately, not all publishers are created equal when it comes to marketing support. As always, that's not a case of publishers being nefarious; it's a case of them facing steep business challenges and cutting costs.
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My publishing experience has been a mixed bag so far: I've had pretty good marketing support for one book, almost no support for another, and very good support for my soon-to-be published third book.
Here's what I find interesting about working with a publisher: when I put a book proposal together, I always have to include a section that details all the things I'm going to do in order to market that book. I have to list all the traditional and online media contacts I have, all the online promotion I plan to do, the events I'll put on, etc.
Does the publisher have to provide me with similar assurances that they'll market my book as hard as I will? No, not currently. That's always been treated as a given, but increasingly in publishing, it isn't. I've had so many friends, especially in the last two years, who've gone through the work of making a book only to discover that their publisher isn't doing much to market it. I've even had friends whose publishers ended up eliminating their marketing teams!
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Why is marketing support important? Because marketing is a rather hidden and perfectly enormous part of writing a book. And it's an ongoing job. Many new authors think only in terms of the big launch, but if you want your book to sell and bring you the other benefits we discussed in the last post, then you actually need to be promoting it over and over again, until it's out of print.
…But let's face it, marketing is a very different skill than the skills you used to make your book. Maybe you're great at marketing and don't need anyone's help. But if marketing's not your strong suit, then you need the support of a professional marketing team.
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Things to do way before you have a book idea to sell:
• Subscribe to publishers' consumer email lists. You can go to a publisher's website and look for invitations to sign up for "updates on our new titles." See what kinds of email newsletters the publisher offers, and how targeted they are to a specific audience. Then, subscribe and pay attention to the emails. Is the content interesting to you? Are new books presented in an engaging way? How often do you hear from the publisher? This is all good information to have.
• Follow publishers on social media. Same idea here – what is the publisher saying on its social media channels, how interesting are they being, and how often are they posting? Check for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds. Subscribe, and see what you think of the content as a consumer.
Blogging deserves special mention here. Some publishers are maintaining active special-interest communities through blogs, and some seem to be pasting press releases into boring corporate blogs. You'd have awesome and ongoing opportunities to market through the former kind; not so much through the latter. Subscribe to lots of publisher blogs and see who's doing what. (And incidentally, in many RSS readers like Feedly or Bloglovin, you can even see how many subscribers a feed has, which is good information.)
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Things to do if you're a blogger yourself:
• Become a book reviewer. Reviewing books on your blog is an excellent way to create relationships with marketing people at various publishers. And from those interactions, you learn a lot about how a book of yours might be presented to other bloggers.
Many publishers have some kind of blogger mailing list. Check websites to see if there's a sign-up form, or if not, look for a contact email for marketing and write a nice note to introduce yourself and your blog. You should mention what kinds of books you're interested in reviewing and your blog's current readership. (Another good tactic: post a review of a book you already own, and then email the publisher's marketing contact with a link.)
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• Observe how you're treated as a blogger. Once you're on a publisher's blogger list, you can see how good a job they do at reaching out for marketing. Let me give you two examples from my experience:
- - Publisher A has a super nice publicist who sends me an email whenever he has a title coming out that he thinks is a good fit for my blog. He always offers a cover shot and any other images I might need. He even sends me a thank-you email when my review posts.
- - Publisher B has been sending me knitting books for the past two years. I've tried asking several publicists there to stop, since I don't know how to knit and never blog about knitting. But there seems to be a revolving door of new publicists there, and each one has assured me they'll get the problem fixed. And then they don't.
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• See how good their marketing ideas are. When publishers contact you about blogging their new releases, are they using the same tired blog-tour/giveaway formula for every book, or are they coming up with more interesting promotions?
• Watch the comings and goings. When you have a blogger relationship with a publisher, you have an inside view of how committed that publisher is to its marketing team. Are people getting laid off frequently? Are interns handling the marketing, or dedicated publicists? That's all good information to have.
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Things do to once you have a book proposal:
Backchannel, backchannel, backchannel. The best place to get a good picture of how a publisher handles marketing is to talk to other authors. Go to a publisher's website and look at the books they've published within the last year. Find a few titles that are related to your book idea. Then go to the author's website. find an email address, and contact the author. Explain that you're considering doing a book with her publisher and ask about the marketing support she received. Most authors will be more than happy to discuss their experiences.
• Be freaking direct about it. When you find yourself in conversation with a publisher, ask point blank: How much marketing, and what kinds, can I expect your team do to for my book? See how specific they get in their answer. See if they can give you examples of good marketing they've done for other books similar to yours. See if they offer to put you in touch with someone on their marketing team. See if they HAVE a marketing team.
I hope this is useful, aspiring craft-book authors. I'm not saying you shouldn't work with a publisher who doesn't offer much marketing support. I'm just saying that this is information you need to have before you sign a contract.
And of course, in the 18 or so months it takes to make a book, a whole lot can change. So you're not exactly handing yourself a guarantee. You're just minimizing your future surprises. Right?