To be a truly successful author, you have to treat book publishing, sales, and marketing as your own business. The same holds true whether you take today’s supported self-publishing route or go with a traditional trade publisher. If you enter into this venture with the expectation that you won’t have to invest much of your own time or money—or that your publisher is solely responsible for that investment on your behalf—you’ll most likely be disappointed by how few books you sell. But if you go into this with an entrepreneurial spirit, you may just find your wings.
I’m baffled by the writers who staunchly defend the antiquated notion that no author should ever have to drop a dime to promote themselves because it is the responsibility of their publisher to take care of them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trade publishers are business people, too. Like any smart business people, they will focus their efforts on the books that bring them the best return on investment—their frontlist and the few backlist titles that continue to sell over time. Having worked with one of these publishers in the past, I can tell you firsthand the only backlist inventory we moved were the titles being actively promoted by the authors themselves. (Why should any publisher invest in authors who are unwilling to invest in themselves?)
It is true there are some added perks to having your book picked up by a trade publisher: they produce and distribute catalogues to libraries and other distributors; they will submit copies of your book to reputable reviewers on your behalf; they represent their popular titles at industry trade shows and book fairs; and they produce frontlist press releases for the media each time they publish. This extra exposure is wonderful for sure, but let’s not mistake “exposure” for “sales” for these are two very different things.
Just because a reviewer receives a copy of your book does not mean it will be reviewed. Just because a librarian receives a catalogue with your book in it doesn’t mean it will be purchased. Just because your book is displayed on a table among other books at a trade show does not mean it will be noticed. Just because a television station receives a press release doesn’t mean it will receive focused attention. Think about all the books and catalogues and press releases these people have to sift through on a daily basis. Think about your own mail box—all the flyers and offers you receive there on a daily basis. Do you read them all every day? Do you have the time?
You don’t move books by hiding behind pieces of paper and email campaigns and websites. You move books by getting in front of your customers and talking to them; and you do this by setting up book signings, readings, craft sales, art shows, media tours, and speaking engagements whenever and wherever you can. You “pound the pavement” as we say in the sales world. You do the work that’s necessary to make yourself stand out among all the rest.
For all kinds of helpful advice on book sales and marketing, I strongly recommend you revisit the PPG Publisher’s Blog from time to time. It’s free, it is updated regularly, and it was created with the entrepreneurial author in mind.
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