Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pimpin' Your Book:
What is publicity & marketing, anyway?

Time to answer some more questions about book publicity and marketing. I thought, however, that before I get to answering more of the questions y'all submitted, it might be useful to first provide you with a (very simplified) definition of what book publicity and marketing actually is. (The above may very well have been a grammatically disastrous sentence, thus the reason I never worked in the editorial department.)

The first thing to understand about the publicity and marketing departments is the difference between them.
  • The publicity department primarily focuses on free (or nearly-free) promotion for the book and author: reviews, interviews, TV & radio appearances, feature stories in print periodicals and online, public appearances and - when warranted - bookstore or media tours.
  • The marketing department focuses on paid promotion of the book and author. There are variations of marketing.
  • Sales marketing focuses on putting together the sales conferences (where the marketing department "sells" - ie, pitches your book to the sales force and tries to get them excited about it), in-store placement (also known as co-op, ie, those big stacks of books you see on end caps and tables in bookstores), sales materials, and special discount promotions geared toward large chains, jobbers, clubs (Sam's, Costco, etc) and indie bookstores.
  • The trade marketing department (the one most people think of when they think of marketing ) also includes online marketing, and focuses on consumer promotions, contests, book clubs, supplementary materials (reader's guides, bookmarks, t-shirts, etc), online promotions, website creation, email blasts, newsletters, etc.
  • The advertising department is an arm of the trade marketing department that focuses on paid newspaper, television, radio, magazine and online advertising.
  • There are also academic (aka school) marketing departments and library marketing departments (self-explanatory), but for the general purposes of this post, we'll be focusing on the retails market.
To make it easy, just remember this formula:
  • focus on the author + media +/- book tours = publicity department
  • focus on the book + consumers + online + sales force = marketing department
The second thing to understand about publicity and marketing is that not every book gets equal treatment. Basically, the more money the publisher pays for your book, the more money they will put into promoting it. The majority of first-time authors - particularly debut fiction writers - will fall into the category of mid-list. (And contrary to popular belief, mid-list isn't a dirty word.)

With some rare exceptions, most new books will get galleys created (also called an ARC [advanced readers copy] if the marketing department has gone to the trouble of having a fancy cover slapped on it) and mailed to the trades. These are the publications that are considered the most essential to the book trade; in the United States, these include Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Booklist. A later mailing will go out to additional magazines, newspapers, and online reviewers. Your book will most likely get a finished copy mailing with a press release or press kit that goes out to additional reviewers, local and/or national media, and - if the publisher has a website and/or email newsletter - placement on that as well. Depending upon the book and author, the publicity department may try to set up phone, online and print interviews as well.

What most new authors won't get is a bookstore/media tour. The vast majority of new books being published will have a publicity budget of less than $500. Unless the publisher feels the need to send an author out on a media/bookstore tour or spend money on a TV satellite or radio drive-time tour, then there is no real reason for a book to have a publicity budget. The truth is that, for the most part, bookstore/media tours are costly and ineffective, both for the publisher and the bookseller. They are especially ineffective for fiction.

Marketing is less set in stone and is more geared toward an individual book. The marketing department may arrange for you to do book club telephone tours. They may create a special tchotchke for the publicity department to send out with galleys, something that they hope will be talked about and created buzz. They arrange for the book to be featured at any appropriate conferences and book/media conventions. And although online marketing falls into this area, you shouldn't expect your publisher to build you a website or pay for you to have one built. The marketing department's sole purpose is to come up with creative ways to promote your book to consumers and booksellers. But they tend to spend a lot of time on a very few lead titles, so the chances are that you may never even speak to anyone in the marketing department.

The third thing to understand about the publicity and marketing department is that they are not your adversaries. What they are - like most publishing departments these days - is under-funded and under-staffed. Your publicist may be working on as many as 40 titles in one three-month publishing span, possibly more if he or she handles a great many trade or mass market originals. Likewise, the experience of the publicist assigned to your book may depend a great deal upon the size of the advance you've received and whether or not your book is considered a lead or sub-lead title. An inexperienced publicist can still be a passionate advocate for your book, however. But even the most experienced, competent, and/or passionate publicist has only a limited amount of time to spend working on your book; the best thing you can do is make it as easy as possible for the two of you to work together so that your publicist can make the best use of his/her time on your project.

Tomorrow I'll talk about how you can help make that happen.


Jeff Crook said...

Let me just say how humiliating it is to be at a convention, sitting there while people line up an hour in advance to see the next author. In my case, the author following me was R.A. Salvatore. I did have several people wanting me to sign their books, but the other two hundred people in line were not there to see me.

Mr. Salvatore, by the way, was a tremendously decent guy.

Unknown said...

Jeff -

Bob is a sweetheart. I was his publicist for several books at Del Rey and he's really a pleasure to work with. And a lot of fun to hang out with after a convention!


Sharon Lynn Fisher said...

very helpful primer - thanks for taking the time to post

Stephen Duncan said...

Great post. Seriously, great post. Entries like this are unbelievably helpful for a guy like me. As fast as this publication thing has been going for me, lately I feel as though I've been dropped off in a foreign country where no one speaks English.

This was very helpful. Thanks so much. Now, hopefully, I won't sound like a total idiot next time my agent and I have a chat.

Is there a New Author's Anonymous Group somewhere? If not, there ought to be.

Gawain said...

Thanks for this, there was some really surprising info here. A $500 budget for the average book? I expected to spend several times that out of pocket - err, on a credit card. Speaking of which, I'm wondering if the marketing team would object to an author engaging in that sort of shameless self-promotion? I was actually thinking of posters and personalized trinkets that relate to the book in some way. Or would that be considered stepping on their toes?

Also surprising to hear that book tours are pretty much useless for fiction. One of my fears as a reclusive writer-type was that I would be forced to do this if I ever became successful. (Ironic, considering the odds of that happening.)

JKB said...

What a fantastic post, Colleen. I LOVE this information! I really really appreciate you doing this series...because that is what it ought to be.

Thank you again!

Lisa Iriarte said...

Great post. Everything I've heard from author friends implies that the author will spend most of his/her first advance on self-marketing that first book. I've seen them create fantastic websites where they have frequent contests to promote. I've seen posters and postcards promoting the first (or second, or fifth) novel. And many will volunteer to speak at smaller writing conferences, giving workshops and thereby promoting their books. I'm a teacher and musical theater performer, so public speaking really isn't an issue for me. If, no, WHEN, I finally do get published, I look forward to doing that kind of self-promotion.

Anonymous said...

"the best thing you can do is make it as easy as possible for the two of you to work together so that your publicist can make the best use of his/her time on your project."

I hope that you will go into how to do that! I mean, balancing not being a "pushy, unreasonable author" with not being a doormat who gets forgotten... It sounds tricky!

(And thank you for *this* post, too, of course!)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jeff - the first signing is a humbling experience. I was just glad someone showed up for me! I wonder if those handful of readers know just how grateful I was to see them...

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Wow. I'm just waiting to get published first. Then I'll jump into the publicity scene. Sounds like a scary experience - but rewarding if it turns out! Thanks so much for your info!