FOR WRITERS


MARKETING:

RECRUITING YOUR PUBLISHER


These thoughts originally appeared on MJ Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype blog in August 2005. Click here to see some very interesting responses to the original posts.


It seems reasonably clear to me that a publisher can go a long way to making a book a bestseller if the publisher decides to make it happen. Make the book a sales rep pick; announce a several-hundred thousand copy first print run; talk the book up at BEA and elsewhere; include a letter from the head of the house in the ARC; devote a few hundred thousand dollars to advertising and in-store promotion; send the author on a big tour. The publisher might lose money in the process -- I get the feeling that happens fairly often to first-time authors who get the treatment I just described -- but the book will hit the NYT and other lists.

I say all this to emphasize that your publisher can do much, much more to make your book big than you can. It stands to reason, then, that the primary goal of your self-promotion efforts should be to recruit your publisher -- that is, to persuade your publisher's people to promote you the way you want them to promote you.

The question is how.

Start with attitude: if your publisher's people aren't doing all you want them to, it's not because they're stingy or stupid or mean. It's because you haven't yet fulfilled your responsibility to demonstrate to them that it's in their interest to do more. Look, if you knew a certain stock was going to go up ten percent tomorrow, you'd invest in it today, right? And if there were another stock that you knew would go up 15% tomorrow, you'd invest in that one instead, right?

The point is, everyone wants to invest in something that will give them the best possible return on that investment. If your publisher isn't investing much in you, it's because they don't know yet what a great return you'll offer them. It's your job to demonstrate to them that they'll get that return -- that you're that winning stock.

You start by doing all the obvious, relatively affordable things: genre conventions; drop-ins in all the bookstores near where you live; etc. But what's missing from many of these efforts is a systematic focus on keeping the publisher informed. Does your publisher know what you're doing? Do you apprise your publisher of the efforts you make and the success you achieve? If you don't, you're missing an opportunity to demonstrate: (i) your confidence in yourself (investors are always persuaded by the confidence of other investors); (ii) your initiative -- that is, your ability and willingness to work hard on your own, which is likely to increase the value of whatever the publisher decides to invest); and (iii) the substantive value of investing in you regardless of where the investment comes from (your efforts are paying off, so it's reasonable to assume the publisher's would, too).

A few examples from my own experience:

For my first book, A Clean Kill in Tokyo, Putnam sent me to only a few cities for signings. I'd been hoping for more because I have a lot of public speaking experience and was confident I could connect with booksellers and customers. But I didn't complain; instead I recognized they just didn't realize yet that they'd get a return on investing more in a tour. And for each bookstore I visited, I asked the bookseller to shoot me an email about how the event went -- how many customers, how many books sold, my performance generally. These, of course, I forwarded to Putnam. I also visited a few territories on my own nickel, again keeping Putnam apprised of my efforts and the results. The tour was small but the results were good. That got Putnam thinking, "Hmmm, what if we sent him to a few more places?"

Early on, I decided there were a few hooks in the Rain books that might attract media. I half-jokingly thought of these as the "Three J's:" Japan, Jazz, and Judo, all of which were prominent aspects of A Clean Kill in Tokyo in particular. So I spent a lot of time contacting media and organizations that focused on Asia, jazz, and martial arts. I got some interviews, which I then supplemented by taking out ads at my own expense. I got a few speaking engagements. Eventually there were a few feature articles. It was all useful in itself, but again the primary value was in demonstrating to Putnam my efforts and successes.

I didn't have a panel at my first Bouchercon (Las Vegas), but I went just to get the feel of the whole thing, to meet booksellers and other people, and to have a beer with Victor Gischler 'cause I loved Gun Monkeys. I learned a lot and met a lot of good people. One of the folks I met was George Easter, editor of Deadly Pleasures. George wound up reading and loving the Rain books -- so much so that he kindly featured me on the cover of his magazine. Again, that's great publicity in itself, but I also made sure to send a bunch of copies to Putnam and to tell them how it happened. I also paid for a bunch of reprints, which I distributed in the goodie bags at subsequent mystery conventions (Sleuthfest and LCC). I kept Putnam in the loop on all of it, and they were pleased.

For my third hardback (Winner Take All) and the paperback of #2 (A Lonely Resurrection), Putnam started paying bookstores for special placement. And each book tour was bigger than the one before it -- about five cities for A Clean Kill in Tokyo, ten for A Lonely Resurrection, 20 for Winner Take All, and a whopping 30 for the new book, Redemption Games. On each tour, I worked hard to keep Putnam's costs down, paying for meals and a lot of other things myself (remember, you have to demonstrate confidence in yourself, otherwise why should your publisher be confident?). For the latest tour, I told them I wanted to reduce air travel, do more driving, and eliminate escorts to help control their costs. They responded by sending me to more places (beware of what you ask for...). And on this tour, I felt like we were really getting some nice synergy: I visited many more stores, and most of those stores had the books prominently displayed, increasing the value of the visits and of the impact of the displays. Which brings the conversation full circle to how to get the most impact out of your drop-in signings...

These are just examples. There are others, but the point is that the main value of all my efforts has been that Putnam has decided to match (or exceed) them. If Putnam hadn't increased its promotional investments, my own efforts would have had a fraction of the impact.

So I would argue that your most important constituent will always be your publisher. It seems so obvious that I think a lot of people overlook it.

It occurs to me that all this relates to a model I've been thinking about for some time: the writer as entrepreneur. That's next...

Read the next Marketing article...



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