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

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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