The Real Dough is Outside of the Cookie Cutter

Your creativity-your ability to use your imagination to create new ways to promote your books-will impress publishers because they show little creativity when they promote their books.

Large houses publish hundreds of books a year, so they can’t devote enough time or money to creating the most effective marketing campaigns for every book they publish. Even the big books that receive far more attention than the rest of the list are victims of the cookie-cutter syndrome. As each book winds its way through the publishing maze, it is granted the time and attention warranted by its importance to the list.

You and your publisher will have identical interests but not identical agendas. You both want to make money on your book, but your book will be only one of the hundreds of books a large house publishes. They have to pay attention to the whole list; you don’t.

If yours is one of the few big books on your publisher’s list, your book will be looked after as well as possible, given your publisher’s time, money, and creative limitations.

Authors, like their publishers, are prisoners of the system. The publication of any book is a complex enterprise that, at a large house, involves the fleeting attention of more than a hundred people as the book passes before them on the conveyor belt that connects writers at one end of the publishing process with readers at the other.

Publishers publish far too many books to do all of them justice, even if they wanted to. The skill, creativity, and commitment with which books are published vary enormously, depending on how much love or money (or both) motivate the publishers and their overworked, underpaid staff. The result: cookie-cutter publishing.

Limited by time and money, publishers fall back on the old standbys. Trade promotion precedes consumer promotion to book buyers. Four common tools for trade promotion are:

  • Publishers’ catalogs, in which big books take up two pages and little ones take up a page or half-page.
  • Trade advertising in Publishers Weekly, which for most hardcover and trade paperback books consists of being part of a list ad that includes all of the books published during one of the large house’s three four-month-long seasons. (This is all the advertising most books receive.)
  • For the books with enough potential, sending advanced reading copies (ARCs) with a letter from the publisher on the first page and the promotion plan on the back cover to booksellers, key media people, and subsidiary rights buyers. If it’s a fall book, the publisher may give copies away at Book Expo America (BEA), the annual booksellers’ convention.
  • Inclusion on the house’s Web site, which promotes books to the trade.

Some publishers are experimenting with a creative innovation: prepublication tours for their most promising novelists so they can meet reviewers and booksellers.

Publishers’ catalogs are free on request. When you go through them, you will see the same kinds of consumer promotion techniques again for a house’s big books over and over:

  • Ads in The New York Times, USA Today, and perhaps in book-review sections in major markets, possibly supplemented by follow-up ads
  • Tours of major markets
  • Satellite tours in which authors give five-minute print, radio, or television interviews to media around the country
  • Making authors available on publishers’ Web sites

The more publishers have invested in a book, financially or emotionally, the more they will try to design a promotion campaign tailored to the book. But they usually fall back on tried-and-true techniques.

Large publishers spend $25,000 or less to acquire most of their books. This doesn’t give them a financial incentive to promote them. So unless they love a book or think they can build it over time, the fate of the book is in the hands of the author.

Unless a publisher pays a fortune for your book, a promotion plan that convinces the publisher about your ability to devise and carry out creative, economical, and effective ideas for reaching your potential readers will impress them. The more impressed they are, the more willing they may be to help you carry out your plans.

The long-term payoff: Everything you do to promote your books also helps sell you, your future books, and all of the products and services that you will have to offer.

The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.

Excerpted from the book Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low-Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work

By Rick Frishman
Reprinted from “Rick Frishman’s Author 101 Newsletter”
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