I recently spoke with "Jane," a well-established author with a lengthy track record, who got a low-six-figure advance for a nonfiction book from a Big Publisher. A few months before pub date, Jane and her agent sat down with BP's editorial, publicity and marketing folks and asked, "So, what's your plan for the book?" The answer, with averted eyes and foot-shuffling, was, "Well, we're going to send out review copies and see if that builds some word of mouth." Once she'd recovered from the shock, Jane, who has oodles of contacts, got herself national media attention, including morning TV and an excerpt in a major weekly magazine. Even so, BP wouldn't bump up print runs, push its sales force to get the book into more stores, pay for prime placement at the chains, or even send Jane on a regional tour. The paperback came out a couple months ago (with a blah cover and cheap paper) and--surprise!--BP let it languish. As you might imagine, Jane is feeling a wee bit angry and resentful toward BP. Meanwhile she has to play catch-up and figure out how to push the paperback so it will 1) reach its intended audience and 2) not end up in remainder bins in six months.
Another author, "Amy," got a nice two-book deal for her YA novels. The first one did OK, with minimal support from the publisher and maximum effort from Amy. Novel #2 came out in April, with good reviews but zero mention in the publisher's monthly email newsletter about forthcoming releases. Just today--ONE MONTH AFTER PUB DATE--Amy's editor (not inhouse publicist--WTF?) has finally gotten around to discussing publicity/marketing efforts. However, Amy, unlike Jane, had prepared a marketing plan of her own and put it in motion in good time. So she had a bang-up launch party, set up a regional tour and advertised through AuthorBuzz. Now she's scouting out publicists to help reach out further to media, librarians and schools. (YA fiction has a longer grace period than adult.) All this while Amy's working a demanding day job and writing novel #3.
Then we have "Regina," who, also unlike Jane, didn't need to live off her advance from a BP imprint. So she plowed most of the mid-five-figure advance back into her memoir: on consultation sessions with yours truly, fantastic website from an ace designer, top-drawer campaign from the Best Publicist in the West, media training, super-duper launch party, fancy cookies to editorial & publicity departments (that was my bright idea). All this made BP--and others--sit up and take notice. One of the chains is featuring Regina's memoir, for which BP obligingly moved up the pub date by a week. And instead of "local author appearances" (aka signings in her neighborhood), as originally planned, BP is sending Regina on a regional tour.
To sum up:
- You MUST have a marketing plan for your book, no matter how big the advance from your publisher.
- Start working on your marketing plan by the time you've signed off on final manuscript edits.
- Have your plan ready to go at least four months before publication date (six months if you want coverage in long-lead magazines).