Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WHAT PUBLISHERS DO TO MARKET YOUR BOOK (..and how you can help them)

If you weren't lucky enough to attend the New England Crimebake in person last year, here's a taste of the Bruce Harris marketing seminar that you missed. Bruce will be available to answer questions on Jungle Red for the rest of the week so come back and pick his brain.

While traveling with Rosemary, I’ve heard many writers wonder aloud “What do publishing companies really do to help market books? What happens at all those meetings they’re always attending? Why isn’t my book getting more attention?”
I’ve had a 40 year career in publishing and maybe I can answer some of these questions.
Most publishing professionals are smart, dedicated people who work long hours without huge salaries or expense accounts.
Traditional ways of marketing and selling a book are giving way to new digital paradigms but at the same time print on paper books are by far the biggest revenue producers for almost every publishing house so everyone is concerned with increasing market visibility for each and every title.
What happens after your agent finds an editor who loves your book? It’s a lot like learning you’re about to have a baby.
FIRST TRIMESTER (9-7 months before pub. date)
The editor and publisher structure a deal to put your book on an upcoming list. Most publishers now have 3 lists: Spring : generally May-August; Fall: September-January and Winter: Feb-April . (There are many variables - Random House may do it differently from Macmillan or Little Brown and, just to complicate things, other publishers have only two seasons.) Find out what your publisher does.
Once a book is on the list, the marketing process begins. Most publishers have a launch meeting where the editor presents your book to people from publicity, sales and marketing. The editor is your voice. It really helps if you have provided some ammunition he/she can use to make this book stand apart from the other 30 or 100 books being presented at the same meeting.
It can be a great quote or tagline, the fact that you know Oprah, or that you have 100,000 friends on Facebook - anything that will make them remember you and want to read your manuscript.
Many publishers send out author questionnaires. Take this seriously. They’re are asking these questions to elicit who and what you know and how to pitch you to buyers.
Some houses (like Penguin..) have created digital marketing guides helpful to both new and established authors just getting their feet wet with blogs and websites. Ask if they have one.
If you haven’t already, at this time the author or publisher should register the domain name for the title.
SECOND TRIMESTER (6-4 months before pub. date)
The art director is creating the perfect jacket for your book – give them ideas. They probably won’t have had the time to read your book so anything you can offer will likely be appreciated.
A preliminary budget and first print quantity have probably been set. By now, there may be a galley or advance reading copy (ARC) of your book. Now is a good time to have a frank and productive talk with your editor about realistic but optimistic expectations. Your cheerful enthusiasm and energy is a plus that can make a huge difference in-house.
Sales people will be selling your book to bookstores three to six months before publication date. Find out who your local sales rep is and try to meet them.
At this time, you should be working with your publicist on your book tour (or blog tour.) Most publishers don’t compensate for tours but bookstores and libraries still want authors and these are worth doing even if you only travel within a 50 mile radius of your house. It’s likely there won’t be any advertising for your book so publicity will be the main marketing engine to generate sales.
THIRD TRIMESTER (3 months-pub. date)
Get media coaching and do some role playing before you speak in public about your book. It will help you refine your pitch. Try it out on your editor and publicist (and friends) to get feedback.
Your book will usually ship 4-6 weeks before the publication date to allow for reviews and get books into stores across the country.
Now, your book is ready to be born and make its way into a difficult world. You and your publisher have a common interest; you both want your book to succeed and thrive. Keep your editor and marketing team up to date with all the things you’re doing. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice and help but realize the pressure your publishing friends are under and try to be considerate of their time too.
I’ve had some wonderful adventures in the world of books and publishing and I hope that you’ll all keep writing and reading books in the years to come.

Bruce Harris

(Bruce Harris has worked at Random House, Crown Publishers and Workman Publishing and has been involved in the marketing of dozens of bestsellers from Martha Stewart to Maya Angelou and from Ram Dass to Ruth Rendell. He is currently retired but, consulting for small presses and individual authors.)


  1. ...can I just say I can't I posted this hideous pic? Why didn't I crop myself out?

  2. You're hard on yourself Ro!

    Bruce, thanks for sharing all that--oh how I wish I'd had that info for my first book:).

    Would love to hear your best guess about what the industry will look like in five years? What are the traditional NY publishers thinking these days?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It's anybody's guess since the publishing business is in so much flux. I think there will be fewer big chain super stores and that will be an opportunity for more independents. There will probably be fewer major publishers as well but the amount of titles will increase because it's getting much easier to self-publish.
    I don't have a crystal ball but I think E books are going to continue to gain market share but print on paper books will probably still be very important and represent more than half of publisher's revenue. Meanwhile, certain genres like mystery are doing quite well in E book sales and it's easier for readers to say yes to new authors.

  5. Hey Bruce! Lovely to see you..

    And whoa, I know. Since getting a kindle, I'm buying books much more often than I did's so easy! And it kind of

    I'm wondering whether chat and discussion over the internet will replace the hand-selling that independent bookstores do...having an internet presence is such an all-consuming project.

    How important do you think that is?

    And hey, good choice on staying away from the bears..

  6. Hi, Bruce -

    So good to see you again! Perfect timing, this - since I'm in that first trimester with a new book coming out in April. So glad you don't think 'books as we know them' are going away - neither do I.

    What's your take on the value of radio as part of book promo? Or podcasts?

  7. Hi Bruce,
    Thanks for coming here and Ro, thanks for coming up with this idea It's a great blog topic and we are lucky to have this inside look at publishing.

    It's refreshing to hear a positive take of the industry in flux.

  8. Hi Bruce--I'm the one Jungle Red who hasn't met you yet and I'm in the middle of labor pains--book due out Sept 7th. I'm doing an intense month of book tour after that and I think Penguin does a lot for my book.
    Any thoughts of making the NYT List? I've been so close...
    And thoughts on hiring an outside publicist. I've done this, got lots of radio, some TV but I haven't seen a jump in sales ever from it.

    And how amazing--my word to type for my comment is REESER!

  9. I think bloggers and reader reviews are key in today's bookselling world. As newspaper and magazine book reviews disappear the internet chatter on books becomes ever more important.
    It's interesting that the latest James Patterson paperback has more blogger reviews than newspaper quotes on the cover and inside.
    I don't know that radio has much effect unless it's NPR or Imus.
    As far as outside publicists are concerned, I guess it depends on who you hire. It's always good to ask what other books she might have worked on and how successful was the campaign. Publicity is very much a realatiuonship business so check and see just who she knows and what media she's been able to get for previous clients.

  10. I think it's an uphill battle getting press for something which is essentially not newsworthy. It's fiction. Unless you're already famous, writing about someone famous or have overcome some devastating tragedy it has to be a slow news day for people to want to read/talk about someone that nobody knows - no matter how great a book she may have written. That's why there are so many of these bogus memoirs.

  11. Bruce -- if you're still hanging out... what do you think accounts for the extraordinary success of the Stieg Larsson books? When I was traveling, it seemed like everyone in the airport was reading one of them.

  12. Hi Bruce,

    Thank you for sharing these details. It's great to see a little of what goes on behind the scenes for the build up of a book release.

    You mention in the 2nd trimester that, "By now, there may be a galley or advance reading copy (ARC) of your book."

    Who do you think are some of the best "people" (newpapers, book reviewers, etc.) to whom ARCs should be sent.

    Any numbers on the typical amount or ARCs sent out for authors (mid-list, small press pubbed, etc.)?

    Ann Charles

  13. No one really knows what makes an author or a book click like the Stieg Larsson trilogy has.
    But here are three things that probably helped:

    First: The title...
    The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a great title...once you hear it, you don't forget it It's very mysterious and evocative.

    Second: the quality of the book itself. A lot of people like to read Stieg Larsson books and talk to their friends about them.. The books seem to mix just the right blend of politics and sado-masochistic sex that keep readers coming back for more

    Third: Sonny Mehta and AA Knopf
    There isn't a better publishing house in the business and Sonny has a nose for books that really sell. Knopf is famous for plucking books from Europe and making them into huge bestsellers in the US. And they've been doing it for over 75 years.

    As to ARCs ..don't just send the ARC and a publicity release, send
    personal letters to the 25 people who you most want to read the book:
    local booksellers, local media, local libraries and maybe a few infuential bloggers and mystery bookstores...
    Your pubicist should be sending to major media so authors should think of other targets of opportunity closer to home.

  14. Bruce, I was one of the lucky ones at Crime Bake last year. I think you and Rosemary did an outstanding presentation.

  15. Hi Bruce -

    Just curious about a point from an earlier topic. If an author wants to write something different than what she's been known for or slant her series in a different direction a) is a new pen name a good idea or b) can she hope to bring her readers along with her, maybe lose some but maybe gain some? Or both? Does Famous Author writing as New Name signal readers that one of their favorites is trying something new?

  16. Thanks, Ruth...we had a ball doing it. We gave the talk once before at the New Haven Free Library and it went pretty well. Bruce will be around later today to answer any more questions. All good ones, btw.
    My .02? on ARCs - Ann, your hit list will not necessarily be the same as anyone else's. Your personal details, where you work, live, what you write about, went to school, etc. will determine who should get the treasured ARCs. Publishers are stingy with them because they cost so much to produce, but you could consider creating an excerpt (with cover) for distribution with your press release. Harper did an incredible thing at ALA this year. Instead of (or maybe in addition to) printing ARCs, they gave away a piece of cardboard that depicted the cover and on the back there were instructions and a code to access a download online.I saw it for Kate White's Hush and Joe Hill's latest. I'm sure it was way cheaper.

  17. If an author is going in a different direction then a new pen name isn't a bad idea.
    Publishers and booksellers look at previous sales under the author's name so a new name gives a writer a fresh start. Also, "first" novels sometimes get some extra attention from both libraries and reviewers.

  18. Thanks Bruce and everyone for a great and informative post.

  19. Thanks, Bruce and Rosemary, for your responses to my ARCs question. Bruce, the personal touch will be a definite addition. Rosemary, I love the idea of the quality print book cover with the instructions on where only they can go to find a download or excerpt. That will help track numbers of who is reading it, as well.

    I'm taking notes!
    Ann Charles

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