Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"If Only I'd Known!"

The penultimate question in my Author Publicity Questionnaire was:
What do you wish you'd known about book promotion/publicity, but had to find out the hard way?
I got back a wide range of responses.
  1. From a nonfiction author:
    Book publicity is a full-time job for the author if done right. (Which is hard to swing if you already have a full-time job to support your writing habit!)

  2. From business writer Cynthia Shapiro:
    I wish I’d known that everything you read about or see on TV about being an author is not the way it happens. I thought all you had to do was write a great book and the publisher would take over and make you a millionaire.

    It was really shocking to discover that the publishers don’t do anything for you. My editor didn’t even edit my first book; my wonderful agent had to do it. I was stunned when my publisher looked blankly back at me and said, "What publicity do you have planned?" "Publicity? I don’t know how to do that, I’m a career expert!"

    I wish I’d known that I’d have to learn how to be a PR professional, a publicist, and a media guru beforehand. I may have still gone through with it, but at least I would have had time to prepare. Now that I’m on the other side of it and I’ve got things in place for my second book, I’m happy that I now have this amazing new skill set that will serve me well throughout my career, but it was definitely trial by fire. Lots of stress, lots of tears, and a LOT of hard work to get where I am today.

    Even though I continue to spend 40-50% of my time UNPAID doing publicity and PR work, I’m now an international bestselling author with my first book translated into seven languages, and a second book that’s launching onto a solid platform (the kind I thought the publisher would be giving me in the first place).

  3. From a novelist published by Signet:
    Publishers, even big publishers, do not generally do publicity for their books, beyond listing them in their catalogs and making the requisite filings with B&N, Amazon, etc. unless they have a large amount of money at stake as a result of paying the author a large advance.

  4. From a self-published novelist:
    Nothing, really. I'd read a dozen books on book marketing and promotion and had an extensive marketing plan. The problem was lack of time.

  5. From a novelist published by Bantam Spectra:
    I thought Bantam would do more, but in hindsight realize that was wishful thinking. I’m midlist if not lower midlist. I’m also a former news reporter so I had a fair amount of experience in promo/publicity.

  6. From a debut novelist with Simon & Schuster:
    Getting a bigger advance means the publisher putting more money toward advertising. [Alas, it ain't necessarily so!] Also, I should have hired a publicist.

  7. From a fiction writer with a small press:
    That you have to follow up on contacts in a systematic way. That if you don't hear from a contact, go on to the next. But on the other hand, be persistent. Do readings in places where you have some local contacts.

  8. From a YA author:
    That you don't see instant results. You've got to do all these things, and hope they each pay off a little--but it's cumulative, and it's slow.

  9. From a brilliant nonfiction writer who attended Book Promotion 101:
    I know this sounds funny, but because I took your workshop, I really haven't been surprised about anything I've encountered.

  10. From an author who got no respect from a small press and the outside publicist it hired:
    That freelancers can also suck. (I'd had a great experience with Meryl Moss previously, and would love to work with her again.)

  11. From a nonfiction author in New England:
    I’ve worked with over half a dozen PR firms in addition to my publisher. I think some of my best money was spent with local PR firms regionally.

  12. From professional speaker Debra Fine:
    Three firms that cost a great deal of money but got lousy results taught me that I know my audience as well as anyone. A publicist that tells you what to do and doesn't solicit your expertise on how to craft the message is not the right type of publicist for me. Until I found a publicist that viewed me as a partner, I did not find success.

  13. From a YA author who presented at book festivals, only to find none of her books:
    The no books at fests thing was AWFUL. I'd even triple-checked with my house to ask them to be sure books were there. From then on, I've checked and double-checked myself.

  14. From brilliant novelist Kathryn Jordan:
    Book Promotion 101 prepared me for what to expect and what to do. I'm glad I took the workshop nearly a year before my book came out so I had time to work on my ideas. I now know firsthand how grueling it is, how much time and money one has to invest, but also how fun and gratifying. Hopefully I'll go at it with the same energy next time. And hopefully I'll get a bigger advance so I can spend the necessary money.

  15. From brilliant travel writer Arline Zatz:
    I learned a tremendous amount from attending Book Promotion 101 and it has helped tremendously. I've vowed to go over the excellent handouts a couple of times a year.

  16. From cookbook author Brian Yarvin:
    Shirts count! At several cookbook events, I was the only author not wearing a shirt with the name of my book on it.

  17. From a debut novelist with a NY house:
    My publicist has been wonderful. The publicist I had prior to her was neglectful, unresponsive and generally a bad time. I'd heard nightmare stories about inhouse publicists, and just presumed she was par for the course. I should have spoken up earlier, as she let quite a few things slip through the cracks (e.g., various long-lead magazines and prominent radio shows had shown interest in my book and nothing ever came to fruition).

    This is a long-winded way of saying that some publicists are great, others are not (like all people in all professions). But to presume that your publisher is going to give you the short shrift is probably not the best attitude. If you serve as your own advocate and give them a little direction, I think they are more than happy to help you out.

  18. From an author with several novels from a renowned publisher:
    That these people may be friendly but they are not actually your friends.

  19. From a nonfiction writing team with a small press:
    Although we knew not to expect much from our publisher, we were not prepared to be misled. In more than one instance, people in the publicity department made promises and failed to deliver. We started to feel like Charlie Brown.

    Hard lesson #1: Don't be too trusting and keep your expectations low, no matter what you're promised.

    Hard lesson #2: Mentions in magazines like Redbook and Jane don't necessarily lead to sales.

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