Help Them Help You

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Hi Writers,

One of the most important things I want to accomplish with this blog is to help answer the questions that arise when working with your publisher to promote your book. I work with authors every day who are confused about or don't really understand exactly what goes on in our marketing and publicity department, and therefore are confused about how much time, effort and resources typically go into promoting their book. If you're already published, then you probably have an idea what I'm talking about, but if you're soon to be published or are shopping your book around then I'd like to help you know what to expect.

One harsh reality you should prepare yourself for is that most publishers don't have a lot of money to work with for advertising. The reason for this is that the results of advertising are hard to prove. Sure you can know the circulation of a particular publication that a book is advertised in, but that doesn't really tell you whether or not the ad convinced someone to buy the book or not. It's simply hard to link a sale to an ad. This all means that when budget time comes around, justifying a lot of money for advertising isn't that easy to do and lots of "big sky" ideas end up getting cut or scaled back.

For this reason, a lot of promotional work that publishers do relies on publicity—which is to say that they try to come up with creative ways to get positive reviews for books in newspapers, magazines, blogs and work to get mentions in other media. This, as you can imagine, can be very hit and miss. Publicists find themselves at the mercy of the publications they're soliciting for reviews.

Which brings me to the second thing you need to keep in mind (especially if you're working with a larger publisher): publishers have a lot of books to promote and therefore have to divide their time and resources amongst many titles. In my own day-to-day work, this seems to be the primary cause of frustration with authors that I talk to. It's easy to feel forgotten or neglected when your publisher has a few main initiatives planned for your book when you’re brimming with lots of great ideas.

So where does that leave you, as an author? First of all, I advise any author to do a lot of their own work promoting their book. Whether your publisher has a large marketing plan or not, anything extra you can do helps. Try to set up some local speaking engagements and promote your book on your website or blog. Keep your publisher apprised of everything you are doing. This will help them to coordinate their efforts with yours. When working with your publisher, expect them to do a few key things to get the ball rolling such as:

1. Pitching the book to bookstores for seasonal or theme promotions

2. Executing an initial review copy mailing to publications and media relevant to your topic (if you have your own list of publications that you have in mind, particularly if you have contacts, it's a good idea to let your publisher know)

3. Work with authors to help set up local bookstore signings (don't expect to be sent on a large scale book tour, but if you are a frequent traveler, let your publisher know about areas you will be in—they may be able to help arrange something)

After that, you'll want to keep the momentum going on your own. If you're very ambitious, you might consider hiring an outside publicist. That, however can be an expensive proposition and if you do a little bit of work on your own, you can still get great results. Stay active on online message boards and forums relating to your topic. Consistently update your blog or website with new content. Attend conferences or events relating to the subjects you write about (if you write fiction, attend writer’s conferences and book festivals).

The main thing is to keep open lines of communication with your audience as well as with your publisher. By being open, positive and easily accessible, more opportunities will open up for you.

I’d love to try to answer any more specific questions you have about working with publishers and look forward to your comments.

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