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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Why Do Many Book Publishers Disappoint Their Authors?



Let me preface this by saying there are many good publishers out there, but even the best ones will fall short at producing a successful book every time one presses the print button.  But why does it seem that so many authors and literary agents feel disappointed at book sale totals?

Maybe you’ll gain some insight by looking at an exchange of emails I recently had with a large publisher.

I introduced myself to them online and he wrote back that all book publicity is done in-house.  This means they don’t use freelancers or hire a public relations firm to help them promote their books.

I shot back that they can’t possibly promote all of their titles nor give even a select number the depth of service that the book publicity firm I work for could provide.

They didn’t go for it – wouldn’t even explore how they could at least refer some of their authors to us, even if the writer foots the bill.

Folks, this is all a numbers game.  The more titles that receive publicity and the more publicity each one receives, the likelihood of an increase in book sales.  Not only that, the media exposure builds the brand of the author and publisher, and generates a positive message to others, maybe even influencing policies, behaviors, and beliefs.

There are many reasons why authors feel disappointment over how the book publisher handled their book. Here are several reasons why this happens:

1.      Expectations, Egos and Lies
Authors can be delusional or wildly optimistic that everyone should love their book. Literary agents may be more cautious, but don’t always share their views with their authors, for fear of alienating them or turning them off.  Book publishers will scrutinize a manuscript before acquiring it but once an author’s on board, the publisher’s ego gets in the way of admitting it needs help on book publicity.  Even when it encourages authors to do things such as be active on social media, offer a pre-sale to their connections, and to participate in book signings, it doesn’t directly encourage the author to hire a publicist nor will it admit that it does very little, on average, to support its titles in regards to securing media coverage.

2.      Resources
Book publishers do not share their resources equally amongst their books.  Titles are rated A, B or C and depending on a book’s ranking, the allocation of resources will be divided.  So authors not only compete with books from others, they compete for love within their own house.  The publisher is limited in its human capital, media connections, and marketing budgets as to what it can and will do for any book.

3.      Duration
Most publishers, if you’re lucky, will work on your book for a few weeks before your book is released and then 4-6 weeks afterwards.  Then they move onto the next set of releases.  But a book needs attention from 4-6 months prior to its release right through the first three months of its release.  So much needs to be done – often months in advance – that to do a short campaign will severely limit the potential results they can achieve.


4.      Turnover and Experience Gap
Many publishing departments are run by veterans of publicity, people with 10, often 20 and 30 years of experience.  But everyone under them seemingly is under age 30 or even right out of college.  Youth is inexpensive – plus they’re eager to prove themselves and they bring a more tech-based approach to things.  But they are not as experienced as you would hope.  Publishers have high turnover rates and often books get lost when people come and go.

5.      Lack of Vision
The publisher sees you as an author and the seller of a product -- your book.  But you really are an expert with a brand, and as such, must seek off–the-book-page media exposure.  Further, you must go beyond the library and bookstore market and seek out bulk sales to pertinent groups, associations, schools, non-profits, businesses, etc.  Unfortunately many publishers remain focused on selling a book to the book community and not a brand to a targeted segment of the greater population.

6.      Failure to Clearly Divide and Conquer
Publishers need to tell authors they can’t do all that could or should be done when it comes to public relations, marketing, and advertising.  It should tell authors what they need to do and collaborate.  But one reason people go with a publisher, aside from prestige, is the belief their publisher will handle everything.  That’s a mistake.

7.      Interesting Book, But Not Worth Buying
Sometimes a book is terrific – and it gets decent reviews and media exposure – but it doesn’t sell well.  Some authors and their books make for good TV appearances or feature stories but consumers don’t feel they need to buy that book. Sometimes acquisition editors misread the marketplace or guess wrong.  No one’s to blame.  Shit happens.

If you have been disappointed by a book publisher, you are not alone, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on working with a book publisher.  It just means you need to approach the relationship a bit differently in order to produce different results.

In the end, whether you self-publish, hybrid publish, go with a university or small press, or land a gig with a large house, just understand that you will need to be active on the book marketing front and that you should expect to drive the book publicity campaign.  Get what you can out of the publisher and work synergistically, but don’t expect your publisher to fully take ownership of things.  You are the author of your book’s success.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. 

1 comment:

  1. Everything you say is true, but there is more to the dismal performance of even big Publishing houses these days. Back when my father was writing, there were twenty or more major publishing houses; they accepted unsolicited mss (although they gave preference to ones submitted by prestigious agents) and, as you say, they had stables of experienced editors and PR people to do the grunt work of making a book a success. Then came the merger craze and guess what--bigger is not better. Agents have become the gatekeepers and they do no represent you--they won't touch a ms unless they think it an automatic mega best seller--they really represent the editors. Even worse, with a few exceptions, unpaid interns who haven't even graduated from college usually read the submissions instead of the agent. As you say, why hire a high paid, experienced editor or PR guy, when you can get a neophyte fresh out of English lit class? Also, as with music industry did several decades ago with disastrous results, the Big Five don't want to support mid-list authors and cultivate them until they achieve bestseller status. Blockbusters (real or imagined) only get the love needed to even make a book profitable, much lest bestsellers.

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