The False Divide Between Book Promo and Author Promo

bridge-gap-web-370x229Imagine this:

After years of drafting, critiquing, revising, submitting and watching rejections pile up, you’ve finally landed a publishing deal and your book is coming out in several months.

Over those years you’ve worked hard, too, to build a platform — giving webinars on craft, writing articles that have run in places like the Huffington Post and contributing regularly to a popular blog  (maybe WU?) drawing thousands of readers from around the country.

Yet, when you sit down for the long-anticipated meeting with your publisher’s marketing team, you’re told that despite your strong online connections with readers in cities from Portland, OR to Portland ME, your publisher won’t sponsor a book tour.

You’ve just come up against the false divide between ‘author promotion,’ which spotlights you as an author and an individual, and ‘book promotion,’ which focuses specifically on a given book.  In promoting yourself as an author a book tour can be an important part of leverageing all the connections you’ve built as a voice in the literary world, and doing so makes perfect sense. People who’ve enjoyed your blog posts and articles, whom you’ve exchanged comments and tweets with, may well want to meet you in person when you’re in town.  They’ll come to your talk in the local indie bookstore and possibly invite a couple of friends.  Some might host book club events for you or feature you on their own blogs.  If well-organized, such a tour can spark both sales and a word-of-mouth ripple effect.

On the other hand, from your publisher’s perspective, the link between you as an author — a person — and your book as a product for sale simply isn’t strong enough to justify the expenses of certain author-focused initiatives like a book tour.  There are plenty of compelling reasons: your Huffington Post articles are not about your novel, so their audience and your book’s audience aren’t necessarily the same.  Ditto your blog posts and webinars on craft, which appeal to a broad group of writers who don’t necessarily read your book’s genre.  You might also have another book in the pipeline that your publisher hasn’t committed to; or maybe you’ve already published other titles with other presses.  Any promotional efforts focusing on you as the author will give you a chance to talk about those, too.  Why would your current publisher want to subsidize publicity for its competitors?

Then there’s the simple formula connecting the marketing budget for any given book to its sales.  Expenses for advertising, book blog tours and generating reviews can be directly correlated to the specific title they’re for, while the expenses for an in-person book tour or feature articles about you as an author are harder to assign, specifically, to one title.  So “author promotion” is as good a place as any for publishers to draw the budgetary line.

But the truth is, promoting yourself as an author does help spread the word about your work.  In fact, an author-focused platform will most likely sustain over time far beyond any book’s moment in the spotlight, keeping your name out there and increasing the chances that whatever you write next will have an audience and find a home in readers’ hearts.

So where does that leave you?  There are four important points to bear in mind:

First and most importantly, recognize that that author and book promotion together are essential to both a book’s success and a writing career.  If you’re traditionally-published, this may mean not relying solely on your publisher for promotion.  Instead, you should can take steps on your own, such as:

  • Organizing your own book tour.
  • Arranging other public speaking engagements (for example at conferences, professional forums in your field, etc.).
  • Seeking guest blog posts.
  • Writing articles and opinion pieces for news publications.
  • Making sure your web site’s in excellent shape.

Second, recognize, too, that you’ve got work to do and that you can’t do it all yourself.  Enlist help where you can, whether that means asking friends in various cities to help you set up talks there or hiring an independent publicist.

Third, think like a self-published author (if you aren’t one).  Self-published authors and those published by a very small press typically handle most promotional initiavies on their own with little or no distinction between initiatives that are book-focused and those that are author-focused.

Last but by no means least, plan a budget — in terms of both money and time.  Just like the act of writing your book, shepherding it into the world will require energy, resources and plenty of support.

Have you or your publisher taken steps to promote your book alone but not you as an author?  How about vice versa?

What steps have you taken that you’d place in one but not both of these categories?

 

 

 

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About Sharon Bially

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center, and writes for the Grub Street Daily.

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting post. I think you hit your take-away point toward the ends: authors have to take the biggest role in promoting themselves and their books. If you have a traditional publisher, that publisher’s time and efforts are split among other books and it wants to get the best ROI by promoting its specific titles (especially when an author has published work through other publishers in the past). Self-published authors are automatically in charge of their own promotion.

    You’ve got to take the lead on your own marketing. And that doesn’t mean being pushy or changing your personality such that you are walking up to strangers just to tell them about your book (I’m the classic introvert, so that’s just not going to happen; this is true with many writers). Sharon, I think you offer some good suggestions about blogging and using the contacts you know to try to leverage promotion for you as an author and your specific books. Of course, as you sell books, you should try to cross promote your other books (sticking also by this author info in the back, mentioning blogs you write for, mentioning your books in your bio on your blog sites, etc).

    Ultimately, though, I think we also have to remember that adage: slow and steady wins the race. Platform building rarely happens overnight. People need to do the promotion they can, and as long as they’re seeing some steady improvements, it doesn’t matter if they’re slow. It matters that they’re building their audience, and they can promote to that audience as they build it.

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  2. says

    The lesson I’ve learned is essentially a good life lesson as well (especially in marriage): Give of yourself and you’ll receive back much more than you put in. I try to help other authors promote their books, join their “street teams,” post reviews after reading ARCs, etc. Naturally, I help out authors I’ve built relationships with via their blog, facebook, even face to face (crazy, I know). Now I have a small team of friends who are already published and ready to help when I launch a book. Not only is it fun to help out other authors, it’s a great way to build friendships that will last a lifetime. We gotta stick together, nobody else understands us.

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  3. says

    If you figure out what kind of promotion and publicity will actually sell a book right now, you better jump on it. A) a lot of industry pro’s are trying to figure it out… and B) it will change quickly.

    Traditional publishing generally uses publicity/promotions to support books that have already received strong pre-pub orders. In fiction especially your sales level is known before the book is printed and the size of the print run will match the level of orders. If Barnes and Nobles is going to carry your book, for instance, you’ll likely get a larger print run than if they pass… all of which is determined prior to publication. Library orders are already in.

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  4. says

    I’m far from the point where I have to figure this out, but you’ve given me something to think about in the meantime as I slowly build my author platform. I’ve heard before, and I’m glad to hear you reinforce this, that building a successful promotional presence is all about how you connect to your readers, how they get to know you. Thank you, Sharon, for your points – more useful things to keep in mind.

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  5. says

    Sharon-

    I’ve been in this industry for not a short time. May I add the following:

    The utility of the book tour for fiction writers is misunderstood. It’s purpose is not to sell units or win fans, but to allow existing fans to connect with an author they already like and to alert them to a new title.

    Given that, it’s no wonder that publishers award $50K+ tours only to best selling authors with existing fan bases.

    Keeping that in mind, you can see that for a debut author a traditional reading and signing tour of bookstores in multiple cities will have only a limited effect.

    Social media also does more to put a friendly face on an author for fans; it does not really sell individual titles. Statistical analysis has proven this.

    The most effective means of swaying consumers to buy a given title are the following (in descending order): Existing fans buy a new title, front of store display, friends recommend, reviews, e-mail blasts, websites (author sites for romance, publisher sites for SFF, who knows for literary).

    Like I say, I’ve been involved in authors’ careers for quite a while. For debut authors I would any day, hands down, trade a tour for a BEA giveaway, review push, and front of store incentives.

    My advice to debut authors: Sure, get out and promote. You’ll feel better for making some effort. But don’t spend too much time or money on it. The better bet is to write a killer Book 2.

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    • says

      Hi Don, and thanks for these spot-on comments. You are right to point out that book tours and even social media don’t necessarily sell books. That’s the topic of another post! As for the power of a front store display and a BEA giveaway, access to those options lie very much in publishers’ hands, especially when it comes to big book stores like B&N, and there’s little that an author can do to make these happen. And feeling better for making a promotional effort can go a long way toward boosting energy for making that next book happen!

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      • says

        Sharon-

        There *is* one things debut authors can do to influence publisher spending on front-of-store and similar boosts: Write a book that utterly compels them.

        I saw that numerous times at BEA two weeks ago: “buzz” books, booth signings, ARC giveaways…and long lines of booksellers to get those goodies.

        Did publishers throw darts at their falls lists to decide which debut titles to push? They did not. They read them and collectively said, “Yessss!”

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        • Priya Gill says

          Thanks for the post Sharon. It has generated as good discussion. As for me, even though I am a little ways away from this point. But like R.E, I have never been to a book reading event. The one time I was “forced” to be at a book signing event was when I was at business school and an author (a very famous business leader) came to promote his book on leadership. After listening to him, I decided against buying the book (which I might’ve otherwise).

          I am an avid reader of fiction (been so all my life) yet I’ve never ever made an attempts to meet any author. (Or have ever met anyone who has tried to meet their favorite author). So I think the demand for book tour (especially for a first time author) might be more of a heartburn over something that might not be such a good use of our time.

          I agree with Don, that for a debut author the best thing to focus on is the next book and the next one. Dan Brown was on book 4 when he hit the best seller list which then pulled up the sales of all the previous books. And there are so many such stories…

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  6. says

    Thanks, Sharon. The key lesson for both traditionally published and self-published authors is that the onus is on the writer to market his/her books. I used my skills as a former newspaper reporter to get a lot of free media and I spoke at libraries and did guest blog posts. All of these activities helped create brand awareness, but did not lead to any direct sales. I am still trying to figure out the most effective ways to reach readers and sell books. As far as promoting the book vs. the author goes, I’m not sure in my own mind how productive it is to spend a lot of time making that distinction. By promoting yourself as an author, you are promoting your books. If you are marketing different types of writing or services you offer, then you need to make some targeted efforts toward promoting your fiction vs. editing services or non-fiction or whatever it is you want to market.

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  7. says

    I have to say I agree with Randy, especially for fiction. The pros are struggling with trial and error too and the landscape is ever changing in what works as a trend and how fast that trend burns out. It’s a tough slog! There is no silver bullet. DIY social media, blogs, web sites, articles, and speaking engagements/book tours have there limits and often produce small returns. Twitter and Facebook used to be pretty good in stimulating book sales some years ago. Now it’s so saturated that this gravy train has long left the station. In the past few months I’ve attended a couple of book signings for debut authors at bookshops and libraries: I was the only attendee in the audience. But I was so happy to be there! One person is better than none at all. For fiction, I tend to think the more you write and keep putting books or short stories out there, the wider the recognition. After all, at the core, this is about writing, so keep doing it.

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  8. says

    What I’ve learned after traditionally publishing two books simultaneously is: Forget about hitting the long ball, just try and get on base. As someone recently said, “The big traditional publishers only make noise about a few books so it turns out that everyone is reading the same 20 books.” And if you are not a known brand, forget it. So build the brand, publish two, then three, then four and on and on until you’ve built a readership. That’s the way Dan Brown did it, and it took Grisham two and a stroke of luck to get launched.

    As for book tours, once you’ve faced your crowd of one at a Barnes & Noble, you will quickly get the idea that book tours have their limits for first-time authors as Sharon and Donald point out. I’m doing seminars at B&N and that’s slightly more successful but building your brand digitally should be your first priority.

    I’ve also discovered the “bedside table” syndrome. Everyone has a stack of books next to them and until they work through those, they are not going to buy yours. So there’s a built-in lag time–if they remember to buy them at all.

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  9. says

    Am I a dinosaur? It has never occurred to me to do an author tour, nor have I done a book signing, even in my home town. I think it’s because in all my years as a reader, as much as I’ve enjoyed a book or series, I have never been motivated to meet the author.

    Granted, when I had completed my first novel, on the way to my first Bouchercon I was tickled to be sitting beside Tony Hillerman, and I did attend a writing workshop given by Elizabeth George, but to go out of my way to meet an author and hear them read a passage from one of their books? Not something I would do.

    It comes as no surprise to me that many of my readers assume that I’m a man, according to reviews. They obviously have so little interest in the author that they don’t even read the bio at the back.

    But times are changing and people are changing; there seems to be more interest in “celebrity” now than ever before and people become famous without having to accomplish anything other than drawing attention to themselves. Honey Boo Boo, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton come to mind. So maybe I am just behind the times.

    In spite of that, I’ll be at Bouchercon in Long Beach. I don’t expect to meet many fans there, because I’m still struggling to build a decent fan base, but I am looking forward to meeting mystery fans and fellow writers, plus being in Southern California in November won’t be such a bad thing.

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  10. says

    The question is, can an author survive without marketing, but purely thru talent? What if an author disregard marketing and just focuses in participating in Literary Contests?

    What happens to the authors that are not from United States? In Latin America there is little marketing for authors. So, does the rule apply to everyone?

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  11. says

    I am published by two smaller houses, and have found that they support everything I do, because I tend to lead by creating marketing and promotion opportunities. I organise my own book releases, book signings, newsletters, and work hard through social media to promote both my work and myself as an author. Someone recently compared marketing a book as a marathon, and I really believe this is an accurate analogy. The work really starts once you have a release date with pre-launch promotions and building excitement and anticipation. Every day I commit to quality communication with my fan base, not just about my book, but about the areas of interest that are indicated through the available social media diagnostic tools. Then when I have something exciting to say about one of my books, a launch, a great review, or a new sneak peek book reading video, I get a lot more engagement. My publishers then build on this by creating opportunities for me to speak to media, get reviewed, create a podcast etc and it all helps to build momentum. I have a long way to go and a lot more books to write, so hopefully my fan base will travel that road with me and keep buying and reading my work.

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  12. says

    I’m wondering if there’s a magic formula for working out your promotional budget, given that you don’t know in advance how successful your campaign will be and (therefore) how many books you’ll sell. Hmm. Perhaps I should add ‘psychic’ to the list of personality traits I need to develop. LOL

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  13. says

    Great post, Sharon. I wrote a piece about budgeting for PR and marketing for novelists recently. The thing that struck me as I was interviewing various professionals in the buzz business, was that many authors have an inadequate grasp on their publisher’s pans for their work.

    I’d also add that buying targeted ads, on places like Goodreads, for example, is one possible investment writers can consider.

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  14. says

    Sharon: the big takeaway for me from your excellent post is this: “Think like a self-published author….Self-published authors and those published by a very small press typically handle most promotional initiatives on their own….”
    Although commercially published long ago, I find myself these days in the same position as the debut novelist. But if I should take it for granted that the burden of promotion falls on me, what earthly reason is there for wasting years chasing after trad anything? Don Maass invokes the mantra of everyone in his business: devote your energies to writing great books. If I follow this solid advice, and at the same time generate initiatives for promoting my work, I really can’t see much point in not being my own publisher. Even if, as Don Maass has wittily remarked, that makes me a “freight-class” writer in the minds of the establishment.

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    • says

      Barry,
      I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. As authors we need to learn to think more strategically about our work, and think of the marketing phase, which let’s face it will be much longer than the writing phase, as equally critical to our success.
      From the public’s point of view, if they are buying online, it is hard to tell a mainstream published book from a self-published book. With all the tools Amazon now offers on Author Central we can be the masters of our own destiny.

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