C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Book promotion: I was wrong

I used to be a book publicist and, as a book sales rep, have worked with book publicists. Gotta say: not impressed with the breed. Most have a shiny coat, bark loudly, no teeth. I expected a lot of them. I don’t think I was wrong then, but now that the tech and culture have changed, I realize I’ve expected too much from publishers and their publicists.

In the old days, publicists organized events, book tours, mailed out advanced reading copies (ARCs) and hoped for reviews. The publicists I knew were pretty smug and full of themselves, especially considering how frequently they were unsuccessful.

The other wrinkle in the mix from an author’s point of view is, if you’re with a trad publisher, the publicity department has little time to get attention to any one book or author. The other continual complaint is, besides the small media/promotion window, most of the promotion budget always goes to the author who seems to need it least. That’s the publisher trying to maximize profits (rather than pimping a mid-list author.)

The world has changed and authors need to shift expectations: Publishers don’t publicize your book much and mostly download marketing duties to the author. That annoyed me. Now I think that’s the way it should be.

My reasoning is that the author/reader relationship has changed. Readers don’t want to interact with your publisher. They want to interact with you. Who cares about publishers. With the exception of Harlequin—the one company where you always know what you’re going to get—publishers don’t have brands. Authors have brands.

Old model:

Send stuff out (press releases, ARCs, bookmarks, catalogs, book tours) hoping media will bite.

New model:

Engage readers directly with Twitter conversations, blogger reviews and blog tours and hoping they will bite.

Yes, there’s still room for old model tactics, but they are either limited, outmoded, less effective or costly.

So nevermind that your publisher’s publicists aren’t returning your calls two weeks out from your book launch. Chances are they’re busy with another book and have expended your promotional budget. You can do better for yourself over the long run, anyway. (Or you can hire your very own publicist and do it up right for a longer time.)

Publishers unloaded marketing responsibilities to authors for budgetary reasons. Authors should shoulder that responsibility for a better reason:

Your readers want to talk to you, not them. 

Filed under: authors, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, , , , , , , ,

Book Information Centre Blues

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Occasionally, you will run into someone who either expects you to know the unknowable or dismisses what you do know. When I worked at The Canadian Book Information Centre, it happened all the time.

Case #1: One fellow, so very arch and British one might think he was sent over from Central Casting, asked what Canada’s top cookbooks were.

You might be able to google such information now, but back then we were expected to somehow pull the numbers and titles from the ether. Or from our asses.

I told him I didn’t have those numbers.

“I would have thought that would be general industry knowledge,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “The publishers don’t supply us with those numbers. Only their accountants know the truth. You could go back through old Globe & Mail newspapers and find the top cookbooks by going through top ten lists, I suppose.”

“You can’t do that for me?”

“Uh, no. Head to your local library.” Where people are actually paid to help you find the data for your book proposal, I thought.

He hung up in a huff before I could explain that I worked for publishers as an editor and publicist. My title was Project Manager, not Phone Monkey for Anyone Who Owns a Telephone. (Did you know they’ll give just about anyone a phone? I know! Exactly!)

Case #2: Another aspiring author asked me about copyright. He was desperately worried some evil editor would steal his idea.

This is a common concern, but it’s a nearly invalid one since it happens so rarely. As it happens, I knew a lot about copyright. And so:

No, you can’t copyright an idea alone. If you could, the guy who got to Good versus Evil and Boy Gets Girl first would be rich, rich, rich.

No, you don’t have to send your manuscript to some office in Ottawa or Washington. You wrote it. Your name is on it. It’s yours worldwide (except for parts of Asia.)

No, putting the copyright symbol on a manuscript is considered unnecessary, amateurish and insulting to the editor or agent who receives it.

No, you don’t have to mail your manuscript to yourself. The idea is to get the post office’s official stamp on the sealed envelope containing your treasure (as if that couldn’t be faked.) You can if you want to, but the trick is having something worth stealing. Besides, to my knowledge, any plagiarism case that’s ever made it to court doesn’t hinge on whether you’ve got a stamp on a sealed envelope.

“Well, I assure you my manuscript is worth stealing and I will mail it to myself!” Click!

Me to fellow harried Project Manager: “If he had already made up his mind what he was going to do anyway, why call us?”

The misunderstanding of our role wasn’t the callers’ fault. We were named The Canadian Book Information Centre. However, we worked for publishers to promote their books to media.

We cut the wayward calls in half the following year by getting our listing out of the Yellow Pages.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Unintentionally hilarious, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

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