Why Don't Publishers Market & Promote the Books They Publish?

Author:
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Over on my Facebook page, I
shared a quote from David Ogilvy:

In
the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original
thinker unless you can also sell what you create. Management cannot be
expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a
good salesman.

Publishing falls into the modern
world of business, and it's always benefiting through and from creative
original thinkers (one hopes).

The mediocre writer who can sell
is usually more successful than the talented writer who cannot.

Aside
from all other hard truths about publishing, this is the one that many
writers find most difficult to accept. While I was at AWP,
I heard a small press advise the audience: "Writers should stay in a
room in write." Clapping erupted.

Writers certainly can stay in
their room and write if they want to remain in obscurity. That aside,
the thoughtful writer does wonder: Why don't publishers market and
promote their own books? Wouldn't they benefit from it? Wouldn't it make
sense? Aren't THEY supposed to be the experts here? All points well
taken.

Here are a few reasons why publishers don't market and
promote all of the books on their list:

  1. They don't have
    enough money, time, or staff.
  2. They have no means of directly
    reaching the target readership to let people know a book of interest is
    available.
  3. They can't measure the impact of their efforts, thus
    resources get pulled away from marketing.
  4. They hope the book
    finds its audience by simply being available and in stores. (Publishers
    are excellent at physical and retail distribution.)
  5. Did I
    mention they don't have enough money, time, or staff? Now, you would
    probably advise: That means publishers should publish less. I agree! But
    are you, as a writer, ready for even HIGHER rejection rates?

Publishers
are known for putting most of their efforts behind A-list authors, or
behind authors who receive a very large advance, or behind the book that
receives the best response/commitment from the chain booksellers.

Every
other title gets the "standard" treatment, and who knows what THAT is, since it's changing daily given the transformation of media and bookselling
(advertising is often ineffective, reviews and awards don't ensure
sales, press releases are unopened, tours/signings aren't attended,
etc).

What still sells books? That's the nut everyone is
trying to crack. Ideas:

  • Authors who already have established
    followings and can reach their readers directly.
  • E-mail
    promotions to a very targeted list (either a list that the author has
    cultivated or that the publisher is lucky enough to have).
  • National
    media coverage or appearances on TV/radio/magazines, sometimes
    newspapers (tougher and tougher to secure as media outlets consolidate,
    disappear, and carry less authority).
  • Word of mouth resulting from readers who LOVE the book. (Great content, great quality.)

Everyone
in publishing acknowledges the system is not ideal. It is in fact
broken, especially when everyone widely admits that 70%
of books don't earn out their advance.

And now with
publishers facing a digital transformation that will disrupt the
business model even further, we're seeing experimentation and
suggestions of what the future might be like.

Predictions from
others

  1. Publishers will only be able to attract solid
    authors by contractually committing to a certain level of marketing.
  2. Publishers
    will attract solid authors with profit sharing deals, to incentivize
    both sides to market and promote. See this report on a Digital Book
    World panel, "Back-Loaded
    Book Deals."
  3. Publishers will become niche-focused so
    they can more successfully direct market to specific communities. See
    this post from Mike Shatzkin that explains.
  4. Publishers
    will draw down their lists (already happening) and only publish books
    they can fully market. (See HarperStudio as one example,
    sadly now defunct, as well as Karp's
    Twelve
    .)
  5. Publishers of all sizes will make better use of
    their author bases and community power to cross market and promote for
    like gain. See Hay House as an example.

What
do you see happening? Or what marketing efforts HAVE paid off for you
or your publisher?

Also: Here's
a book that helps you be an empowered author no matter how your
publisher markets and promotes your work.

Photo
credit: Troy Holden

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Camille Aubray: Understanding the Nuances of Human Nature

Author Camille Aubray discusses her recent novel The Godmothers, including what prompted the book, why writers should write everything down, the importance of understanding the nuances of human nature, and more.

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soul Mate

How Personal Writing and Journaling Is Good for the Soul and Why Your Journal Is Your Soulmate

Bestselling author Laura Munson shares how journaling lead to a breakthrough in her fiction writing and how you can use journaling to do the same.

From Script

A Fond Farewell to Netflix’s Lucifer, Writing Video Games, and Do Experts Stand in the Way of Your Writing Goals?: From Script

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, exclusive interviews with Lucifer TV writer Chris Rafferty and video game writer Ian Ryan. Plus, learn about screenwriting trailblazer France Goodrich Hacket, who co-wrote It’s a Wonderful Life, and advice on when and when not to approach a writing expert to reach your writing goals.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Misusing Dialogue Tags

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is misusing dialogue tags.

Poetic Forms

Boketto: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, Walter J. Wojtanik shares his relatively new form, the boketto.

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

Paul Neilan: On Implementing Dark Humor

In this article, author Paul Neilan explains how he came up with the idea for his mystery and dark comedy novel The Hollywood Spiral.

WD-Poetry-2020-WinnerGraphic

Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Author Kerry Winfrey wrote her latest romance, Very Sincerely Yours, during the 2020 pandemic to comfort herself. Here, she's explaining why that tone is important for readers.