Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's Your Plan?

Time to let sleeping dogs lie for a while, and get back to one of the stated topics of this blog: publishing. I know I should be shockproof by now, but I am ever appalled at the stories I hear from authors who get decent--or even hefty--advances for their books and little to no publicity support from their publishers.

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).
For a handy-dandy, reassuring guide to writing a marketing plan, see PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK! by Jacqueline Deval.


Polly Kahl said...

Hi Bella, very helpful post, thanks. A new edition of Publicize Your Book is coming out in July if your readers want to wait for the update. Since the original is now five years old it might be prudent to wait.

Bella Stander said...

Thanks for the news, Polly. I knew that Jacqueline was working on an update but didn't know when it was coming out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bella,

Regina here!

You forgot to mention I would have had NO blurbs if it weren't for you, as I figured BP would be doing that, until you set me straight. You told me to print off my own galleys at Kinko's (they were late from BP), found me a couple of great blurbers, and I got a few more of my own.

Bella Stander said...

I don't want to sound like I'm boasting, so I count on my surrogates to say such things.

Polly Kahl said...

Thanks Bella, I hope I didn't sound like a smartypants. It just would be a shame to buy one now and miss the updates in two months. Good luck with your surgery. I'm recovering from my second hip replacement (osteoarthritis due to car accident) and it's no fun. May I recommend lots of NetFlix, deliciously trashy reality TV, snacks, and of course a huge pile of good books? Pets for cuddling and a partner who is willing to serve are also quite beneficial for swift healing.

Bella Stander said...

Thanks, Polly! Very glad to have the info re update. Hope your recovery goes well.

I became a Netflix dependent 2 years ago, when I spent much of 6 months in a rented La-Z-Boy. I can't abide reality TV, but I'm sure will have quite the pile of books after BookExpo. Max long ago set up camp on my chest, once I'd trained him (violently) not to get there via my broken arm. Darling Husband is the best caretaker ever, though may be supplemented by a home health worker when he has to go on a biz trip in late June. The Boy Wonder (19) will be around too, but no way is he aiding me in the shower.

Phil Myers said...


We're just about to release our new book through a major publisher and feel just as lost as Jane and Amy. A friend of mine extolled the virtues a self-publishing and I'm beginning to wonder if the market hasn't changed so much by now that it's the best alternative. Forget all the book tours and expensive mediums, the real marketing plan for a book should include what David Meerman Scott refers to as the New Rules of Marketing to connect. We've taken a step back and focused our launch almost completely online and through the blogging community. Traditional BP's aren't even thinking that way yet.

Bella Stander said...

There are virtues to self-publishing. Also major drawbacks, such as limited distribution, media attention and reviews. But thinking about self-publishing doesn't do you any good right now. Your book is with that publisher and you have to go along for the ride. Good for you for reaching out online. Some BPs are beginning to do the same--though not always with finesse.

I just got an email pitch from an inhouse publicist asking me to review a forthcoming series mystery on this blog. If she'd bothered to look, she'd have seen that I've never run any reviews--and when I was a reviewer, I only wrote for print publications. Moral: Do your homework!

Anonymous said...

Here's another reason to do your own marketing plan: BP publicist tells you she plans to do all kinds of things. You relax thinking you're in good hands. BP publicist disappears. By the time you try and scramble to catch up, it's too late. Happened to me.

Bella Stander said...

My sympathies, anonymous! This has happened to several authors I know and likely will happen to many more, given the recent round of layoffs at Harcourt and ominous tidings from Random House.

Remember the Boy Scouts' motto, and be prepared with your own plan for action.