I started this blog for readers and writers because I wanted to share my experiences of wading through the publishing morass, hoping others can learn from them. Most of the time, I try not to rant, but today’s post contains a little bluster and perhaps enlightenment for those who are new to promoting their books.
In July 2018, Pen-L Publishing will release Freefall: A Divine Comedy, my third novel. Pen-L is a small press that can’t offer its authors much help in marketing their books, though it is wonderful in every other way. Nor are the owners able to pay advances. But they have editors that carefully copyedit each work, they create attractive covers and quality books, and the publisher operates a lively FB page, posting articles that inspire and educate. Its authors also have formed an online community, collaborating when they can by reading and reviewing each other’s work as well as sharing helpful marketing practices. Small presses, heroes in the larger publishing scene, struggle to survive, barely making a profit. Most of them do it for the love of literature and the satisfaction of midwifing good books.
In contrast, most larger publishers have publicity people in-house that help books bearing their imprint to gather nationwide attention, depending on the author’s fame. However, these days, even writers that have contracts with bigger presses are responsible themselves for marketing much of their work. So not only do we writers need to constantly sharpen our craft and produce new narratives, but we also must sell ourselves and our creations, sometimes going into debt to do so.
When my first novel, Fling! was released in 2015, I was fortunate that my stepdaughter, a professional PR person, helped me create a press kit and sent out ARC’s (advanced review copies) to relevant sources. She also did some follow up phone calls that initiated a few readings and contacted a Canadian publisher that wrote up Fling! in her literary magazine. In many other ways, my stepdaughter was very helpful, initiating me into FB and Twitter, and recommending that I monitor my time on social media so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. If she had been charging me for her services, I never could have afforded them. Since I’ve now discovered just how costly publicists can be, I’m even more grateful for the efforts she made on my behalf before she left PR work to become a full-time mother.
As a result, I’ve learned a lot about book marketing, but I still had hoped to hire a professional publicist before my next novel is released who would introduce me to a larger audience and give me more exposure. I’m assuming a good PR person has access to promotional venues and databases that I don’t, giving her the inside track in reaching TV/radio shows, as well as editors of specialty magazines and newspapers. However, when I began to research various PR firms, I was shocked at their fees.
Most publicists want authors to sign up for at least three months and often longer. Their monthly rate starts around $5000 and rises. I mean RISES! It amazes me that some authors actually will put out those amounts when there is no guarantee of the results. And while I understand that PR people need to make a living, their fees seem excessive given the small amount of money that writers make from selling books. Let’s say you get 10% of the retail price and the book sells for $15.00. That means you are making $1.50 per book and would need to sell 1000 copies before making just $1500. Most newly published authors don’t sell 1000 copies, and that’s one reason why it’s so difficult for “debut” authors to sign on with the major publishing houses.
On the other hand, I could argue that hiring a dynamo PR person might lead to higher book sales and you’d make back part of your investment, but it’s too great a risk. So writers that want to find a larger readership for their books are easily exploited, caught up in the dream that a publicist will somehow magically transform their experience. While I can’t change this scenario, I can at least recommend an alternative that I discovered in my research.
Some professional publicists have written how-to books that are invaluable for writers like myself who are willing to take the necessary steps to promote their books. One PR person that I stumbled across is Natalie Obando, a journalism and PR graduate. She has written a self-help book that covers most of the bases for marketing one’s own work: How to Get Publicity for Your Book: A Do It Yourself Guide for Authors. I purchased the Kindle edition for $5.99 (it’s also available in paperback for $13.99), and while there is considerable work involved in creating a media kit and all that goes into it, I’m willing to put in the time, and I’m also learning in the process. It isn’t ideal. But it’s better than going into debt.
I would love to hear from others about their marketing experiences!
8 thoughts on “My Dance with Book Publicity”
As someone who does PR for authors, I can tell you I would never dream of quoting $5k a month – you’re talking big agency fees. But with 3000 books a week arriving at the few remaining mainstream media outlets every month and marketing budgets of probably less than $500 per book from smaller publishers (I’m talking less than 10 books a year), the chances of your book being reviewed by anyone but a book blogger are slim to nil unless you’ve written something truly exceptional (which you’ll know when your book starts being nominated for awards and you started getting invited to writers’ festivals). So if you want reviews and you want a bigger advance and a bigger, better publisher for your next book, you need to figure out how you’re going to get your book reviewed and how you’re going to build your author platform, which social media outlets to focus on, and how to position your book so it finds its audience. This is specialized work that I believe is worth paying for.
Thanks for bringing in your perspective as a publicist, Ruth, though I’m still not convinced that the money paid out equals the returns in many instances.
And perhaps I’m wrong about fees – came across this article, which backs your assertion. I would say, however, that the three book PR people profiled sound like they’re at the top of the games. And that the article was quite inspiring. https://www.pw.org/content/the_art_of_publicity_how_indie_publicists_work_with_writers
Yes, I had read that Poets & Writers piece. It actually started me on my search!
What’s in it for the prospective reader? That’s how I see book promotion–or any other promotion such as that done for a museum or a theme park. So, in some ways, the new author with no name recognition is up against widely known competition with a long track record. That’s like opening up a place called Bob and Jennie’s pastoral park in Orlando and expecting to compete with Disney.
As a reader, I am seldom influenced by the rash of free books and 99-cent books offered by unknown writers unless I’m about to purchase the books anyway. Why? Because reading a book is more a matter of an investment in my time than my money. Like most avid readers, my to-be-read list is almost always overflowing with books by authors I know a lot about. If I can’t ever finish those books, what are the odds I’ll have time to read a small press or self-published book? Slim to none; unless the author gives me a good reason to add the book to my list.
So I view with skepticism the idea that any publicist charging $5,000 per month is going to stem the tidal wave of famous writers’ books and earn me enough to break even. Their how-to-books are sometimes pretty good, but at other times are written as come-ons by PR people who want to entice me into their publicity programs after reading the book.
Another problem unknown authors face is that of being asked (by self-help books and related articles) to do things that mainstream authors seldom do. While such things as blog tours can get your name better known that it was, the blog tour thing itself just screams INDIE. So, the author looks more like an amateur than s/he did before going on the tour.
Whatever methods they use, new writers need to prove there’s something in their books for the reader rather than wasting time telling people who they are. Prospective readers really don’t care whether I outline my books in advance or just start writing to see how the plot ends up. Focusing on purported interview questions like that makes the publicity “all about me” rather than “all about the book.”
Thanks for giving your take her, Malcolm. Well put!
You are so right. The industry is rife with opportunists who count on authors who are willing to go into debt for the tiniest chance that their books will be acclaimed.
Thanks for your comments!