A big publishing house equals more clout, more marketing, more sales… right? I thought so, until I moved jobs from a small indie publisher to a publishing giant. Turns out, the answer is more nuanced than I thought. Here’s what I figured out:
A bigger publisher does not mean bigger sales.
My friend, a fellow editor who sat opposite me at our decorated desks, handed me an innocent piece of paper.
‘Depressing’ she said.
She’d just received the standard, weekly sales sheet. This was my first one, as I’d just joined Random House from a then-indie publisher called Quercus (now part of Hachette). I scanned the sheet — author names on the left, number of books sold that week on the right. We all had to sign it to show that we’d read it.
Not good. Only a few stand-out authors had sold books in the thousands, but they were the outliers. Some newly launched authors had sold well below a thousand copies, some sub-100, some weren’t even on the chart. On weeks where a new John Boyne or Jacqueline Wilson launched, obviously the sheet would look different, but that only happened a few times a year.
If you plotted all the sales on a graph it would be a hockey stick for the big hitters and a long tail for everyone else.
These figures didn’t look that different from the sales I had seen at Quercus. Back when I started there, there were just three of us, setting up a brand new children’s list for a startup publisher. And our Sales Director was snooty about children’s books. Yet the sales figures at Quercus were only mildly lower than what I saw at RH. (Maybe we just punched above our weight at Quercus.)
Publicity is down to the tenacity of the publicist.
I had the privilege of watching Nicci Praca at Quercus lead the campaign to get an unknown Scandinavian writer in front of reviewers, bloggers and journalists. The author was doing well in his home country but the UK was (back then) notoriously uninterested in translated fiction. But Nicci’s obsession for Steig Larsson was infectious, and spread to the point where I was having a competition with the marketing director about who could read the unpublished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest first. We were all talking about this great series we were publishing, and soon the obsession was too big for just our company; it spilled out everywhere. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit the bestseller charts worldwide, won awards and was made into a film with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. I make it sound simple, though obviously it wasn’t.
At the smaller publishing house, Quercus, the Publishing Director questioned me about the publicity plan for every book. At Quercus, I worked with Nicci to push hard for every single book on our children’s list. I called TV networks and radio stations; I befriended bloggers and threw them parties. I even tried to hire a wolf for a party for a paranormal book about werewolves–a ridiculous stunt but there was nothing I wouldn’t try.
At the larger publishing house, I was only ever questioned on the big-name authors. It was easy for the mid- to lower-list books to get lost and de-prioritised.
At the larger publishing house, I fought with time-deprived publicists to help my authors spread the word of their upcoming books. Sometimes we managed to get traction, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we were allocated zero budget to publicise a book, ZERO! Just because my authors were published by one of the largest publishers didn’t guarantee them anything other than the basics.
Marketing is a multiplier effect. [Read more…]