A Dirty Little Secret of Publishing

The proposals and manuscripts come into my office almost daily.  Many of these proposals are from new and unpublished authors. They expect the publisher to do all of the marketing for their books and their task is simply to write. It’s true you have to write a great moving novel or a dynamic, can’t-put-it-down book. Yet you also have to learn everything you can learn about the way books are marketed. Today I’m going to focus on one of those secrets.

This past weekend publishers poured into New York City for the Book Expo America trade show (now over).  In preparation for the event, The New York Times Book Review included some fascinating articles about the business of books. If you don’t read the online version of The New York Times, then you need to be doing it. It’s free but you do have to register.

Randy Kennedy, a New York Times Arts reporter, investigated one of the open secrets of bookselling—the fact that publishers purchase display space in major bookstores.  The article admits that almost no one would talk about this practice—even off the record. So when you walk into your local big box bookstore (Barnes & Noble or Borders) and see those three tiered racks with a new hardcover or paperback, you should know the publisher has purchased that advertising space. Does it work? Kennedy talked with one publishing executive who said a book with sales of about 800 copies a week when the book was placed in one of these racks instantly increased to 3,000 to 4,000 copies a week. It’s a substantial increase and these displays occur in every store in the country—as an advertising/ marketing expense.

Two paragraphs jumped out as I read this article, “While publishers disagree about the merits of paying for display, one thing about the arrangements is clear: they further concentrate money and attention on the books that need it least.”

“The phenomenon, which has been called a reverse Robin Hood effect, happens because publishers pay huge advances to star authors and then feel they must support that author’s book with substantial promotion money. Of course, this was happening well before bookstore display emerged as a force. But publishers say that display arrangements have made promotion budgets even more lopsided in favor of the Stephen Kings and Danielle Steels of the book world, meaning that new authors or less prominent books are given increasingly little advertising or display help.” (I added the bold).

I encourage you to read the entire article for your own education about the book business.  It will give you some more motivation to include a stellar marketing proposal in your next submission to a publisher. Whether you write novels or nonfiction, you can gain more of my insight in Book Proposals That Sell. If you read the book and following the advice in it, it might help you look at publishing with a different vision and fresh insight.

6 Responses to “A Dirty Little Secret of Publishing”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    With this fact of favor for star authors, does this mean that the relatively unkown author needs to do more of a marketing effort on behalf of thier book?
    If that is the case, then why not go the way of Print On Demand, or self publish?

  2. Terry Whalin Says:

    The key point is that every author has to be involved in marketing–especially the new or relatively unknown author. As for the POD or self-publishing question, sure you can do that–but how will you sell your book? Does it appear in the bookstore? Book publishing is a closed system. Return to this post: http://snipurl.com/bkfacts Key in on the iUniverse statistic–how few books appear in the bookstore and the sales numbers from this major self-publisher.

    For me, I don’t want to go this route because I’m uninterested in a garage full of books that no one reads. Instead it’s better for authors to invest the energy toward the market and understand what they need to do–and shape excellent proposals then their books will go through the traditional publishers (much less the fact that you don’t have to invest thousands of dollars in self-publishing efforts with questionable results.

  3. Angela Says:

    Re: “It will give you some more motivation to include a stellar marketing proposal in your next submission to a publisher.”

    It may also give you the backbone to refuse low offers for your book, because a book without a promotions budget usually isn’t worth the time you spend writing it.

    Angela Booth

  4. Terry Whalin Says:

    I believe it has little to do with backbone–whether it’s your first book or your 40th. You have to have realistic expectations for what the publisher can do and can’t do. Most authors have completely imagined ideas in this area of the business–and lack the understanding of what they need to accomplish in partnership with a publisher.

    The majority of authors can’t expect to have much of a promotion budget. It will take your marketing energy combined with some modest spending from the publisher–and frankly that is often the best you can expect.

  5. Deb Says:

    Small presses are a good training ground, then, for they do as much marketing as they can afford, which isn’t much. They leave the rest of the promo business to the authors.

    That said, it then becomes a stewardship issue: time and money? Do I want to spend time promoting my previous book, or writing the next one? Do I have the funds to promote effectively? If the answer is no, it’s sometimes best to move on to the next project.

  6. Terry Whalin Says:

    Beyond stewardship, it’s also an issue of passion. As the author, you will have the most sustained passion and energy for the book. The publisher will have it scheduled for a season of push and action. The publisher wants to at least make back their investment (production, advance, etc.) so they stay in business for another book. But as the author, you have a different and more fueled agenda–at least you should if you write the book in the first place.

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