The No. 1 Disappointment of Published Authors–And How You Can Avoid

While all authors’ situations are unique, they tend to experience the same disappointments during the publishing process.

The most common disappointment (and the one that can have the most damaging effects on the author-publisher relationship) is:

(Real or perceived): Lack of marketing and promotion support

This disappointment is becoming more and more common as publishers pull back on marketing resources.

All the old buttons publishers used to push don’t work that well any more when it comes to making consumers buy books. (Read this if you don’t believe me.) And there’s a whole new set of buttons that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.

So let’s tell the truth: No one knows what sells books these days, though I would boil it down to the following:

  1. Great content in the perfect package
  2. An author who knows and reaches their audience
  3. A publisher who places that book in every appropriate retail outlet

Given the importance of the online world these days, I’d also add: that book needs to be a better vehicle for delivering information/entertainment than what may be competing with the reader’s attention online.

If you’re still unpublished:

  • Begin to establish your online presence (site, blog, social networks) and develop relationships with your target readership as well as opinion makers who recommend books. Make a dream list of online venues where you’d want your book reviewed or mentioned; start cultivating relationships with those sites or people.
  • Identify groups or organizations that would be most interested in your book, and start a database of e-mail addresses and snail mail addresses. For instance, let’s say your book is going to appeal to surfers. Develop a contact list of every surf shop and club.
  • As you write and revise your work, think of ancillary materials or products that complement the work. Think of competitions or giveaways or fun diversions that would be interesting to someone who enjoys the book. In the future of publishing—which will not be restricted to paper—ancillary materials and experiences can add value, appeal, and something special to your work.

If you’re working with a publisher on an upcoming title:

  • It’s vital you cut through the fog (with the assistance of an agent if necessary) on what the publisher will and will NOT do to market your work. If you’re lucky, the publisher will be honest with you.
  • Come up with your own marketing plan that you can execute on your own. (There are many wonderful books and sites that can help you; see the end of this post.) Remember: Marketing is not about shilling. It is about reaching people who would benefit or enjoy your work, and letting them know it is available. This often doesn’t take money (e.g., advertising), but an authentic means of connecting with your target audience. You, the author, are the best person to know how to forge that connection. Your publisher may have professional inroads, but authors usually know the audience better.
  • Tell the publisher what you will be doing, and identify areas where the publisher could be of great assistance to you. Publishers are much more likely to be helpful if you proactively show them your plan and ask them for what you want (as opposed to you calling up and demanding to know what they’ll be doing to support your book).

Keep in mind:

  • Publishers are most receptive to marketing your book during the 3 months before your book launch, and the 3 months after your book launch. Much longer before or after, and you may get ignored (though everyone will feel bad about it).
  • Publishers will not be offended if you hire an independent publicist or firm to assist you. Yes, this can be a worthwhile investment if you have a very focused and realistic set of goals.

Resources to help:

Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz
The only book I know of that can help you avoid the disappointment before it’s far too late.

John Kremer’s Book Marketing & Book Promotion

Marketing Tips for Authors

MJ Rose: Buzz, Balls, & Hype (look for her AuthorBuzz service)

If you know of any good online resources, or have tips to share on book marketing, please comment!

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9 thoughts on “The No. 1 Disappointment of Published Authors–And How You Can Avoid

  1. adisonadolf

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  2. Cathy

    For those who self publish, establishing contacts and retail outlets are difficult, altough you have great content I only wish I had a publisher or an agent. My first book, just released, has all been my own process, my next step is marketing. Thank you for your information, it is greatly appreciated.

  3. Daniel E. Pritchard

    Good post — very true, although I think that marketing techniques are getting better as a younger crowd starts to fill the seats in publishing. You know, the intertubes aren’t as scary to us.

    The only thing I’d disagree with, or that I think might be misleading, is that "You, the author, are the best person to know how to forge that connection." The author knows the ideal reader, but they should be open and willing to suggestions by their publisher as well: sometimes a book strikes chords with communities of readers that the author never even considered, for any number of reasons. It can be jarring. Authors balk because that community doesn’t fit into their predetermined image of the book’s readership. Finding readers is a real team effort.

  4. Jane Friedman

    @Jonathan – Thanks for sharing another resource!

    @Livia – Stay tuned. Alice Pope, our children’s/YA expert at Writer’s Digest, is asking someone to write a guest post on this very topic for her blog at In the meantime, I heartily thank Greg for his very excellent advice on the issue. Much appreciated!

    @Kimberly – Couldn’t agree more, always a learning experience!

  5. Kimberly Davis

    This is excellent, levelheaded advice, before or after a book deal. These days we writers, fortunately or unfortunately, need to take responsibility for reaching our own readers, however we do that. And with the technology changes, it’s a learning experience every day, isn’t it?

  6. Greg Pincus

    For another good online resource, I like Shelli Johannes-Wells’ Monday interview series that she calls Marvelous Marketers. Each week she features a writer, editor, publicist or someone else talking about marketing – their experiences, ideas, what’s worked, etc. The different perspectives are really helpful to see. Her blog is here: (the interviews are linked on the right, I see!).

    And Livia – if you want to reach a YA audience, you have to learn how teens use the net (which, in general, is not reading blogs of writers who aren’t major known quantities!). The work of danah boyd ( can help a lot in that regard, as can studying sites that have found that audience already. It’s not easy… but some (like Readergirlz at have done it.

  7. Livia

    "Target readership" is huge, and often overlooked, I think, when people talk about author platform. We hear so much about how writers need blogs, but most writers blog about writing — and attract other writers! I’ve been struggling with this alot — as a YA writer, I’d ideally like to be able to reach a YA audience, but I’m currently still mystified as to how to do that.