What Marketing is Your Job

And what is the publisher's job?

Hi friends,

I’m SO EXCITED about the Fifty Queries Club—a new feature for paid subscribers where you submit information about your query and submission list, and I give you (kind!) feedback. Check out more information here and subscribe here if you want to take part!

Ok, on to the meat of today’s newsletter. I’ve talked before about how publicity works, and why a platform is important, and I’ve been meaning for a while to write about what to expect from a traditional publisher when it comes to marketing. There isn’t, however, a single master list of Things a Publisher Will Do For Your Book in terms of marketing, though there are some common elements, and also, those standards vary from book to book, genre to genre. For example, school and library marketing is way, way more important for kids books than it is for, say, a new historical novel about WWII spies. Will that spy book get into libraries? Yes. But that part of the marketing plan is not as big as it would be if it were a YA novel about WWII kid spies. Why? Because school and children’s librarians are strong conduits for books to kids.

And since there is a good bit of variation between what a publisher can or will do for one book vs another, a lot of authors are in the dark about to expect for their book, and only have other books to compare their experiences to. Which leads to a lot of well, that book got X and I did not so therefore my book sucks/my publisher doesn’t care/my publisher did a bad job. Do publishers do a bad job marketing books sometimes? Yes! For all kinds of reasons! Getting the word out about a book might be the hardest job in the whole publishing process. Yes, sometimes even harder than writing it. (I know that will make some of you mad! I understand! You’re allowed to disagree with me!) That doesn’t mean we give all publishers a pass on doing the barest minimum when it comes to marketing a book, but my goal here today is to put some of this in context.

First, I like to give writers this shorthand: Marketing markets the book. Publicity publicizes the author. Not sure who to ask about a marketing/publicity thing? Start there. Author interview: publicity. Book review: marketing.

Second, here is a list of very general things a marketing department will do for your book, at the very least. REMEMBER: the marketing team’s job is to put these things out in the world and make them available. They cannot guarantee that anyone will pick them up. (Some of these things sales and/or editorial creates, but still, this is a general list.)

  • Back cover copy, marketing copy, book summary, etc online at retailers and on services like NetGalley and Edelweiss (for reviewers, retailers, buyer, etc).

  • Press releases, one-sheets, other quick-look overviews of the book’s info for retailers, reviewers, buyers, etc. You may never see these things and that’s ok.

  • Social media assets like banners, graphics, quotes, images, short bits of animation, etc for you to post online and/or to go on their feeds/retailer feeds. (If your book’s audience isn’t on social media much, this might not be important for your book.)

  • Galleys or e-galleys or final copies mailed out to influencers, reviewers, and press. They will ask you for help making these lists because you may be in touch with specific people they don’t know. They will do the mailing for you! You may even be able to include a personal note. Sometimes influencer mailings are fancy boxes full or treats and sometimes they are just copies with a nice note. Fancy boxes are nice! But expensive. Marketing dollars might be better spent elsewhere for your book.

  • Bookmarks, postcards, foam-core backed signage of your book cover for in-person events or mailings. This, obvs, is better utilized when we can go to in-person events again, but the publisher will sometimes produce reasonable types of swag for events.

  • Advertising—sometimes that means paid advertising in relevant media, other times that means things in trade publications, in-house newsletters or sales materials, or catalogs.

  • Conferences and awards—if there are relevant awards or conferences you could participate in, they may pitch you for those things! Some awards cost money to enter, and that limits who/how many get submitted for that. If you know of a conference or award you want to be considered for, tell your editor/marketing contact.

(Remember things like morning shows and magazine features are usually publicity, not marketing.)

Maybe your book has come out and maybe you got some or few of these things. Nine times out of ten, you’re not going to see these things get made or distributed or mailed. You won’t see the award submissions or the whole list of press or review mailings. You won’t get a week by week update on who has passed on reviewing etc your book. (That would be so depressing! Most people will pass and that’s normal!) You will probably only get an update when something good happens, and frankly, I don’t blame the publisher for that. The majority of marketing outreach on any given book is not going to stick. Not every press outlet will cover the book, not every influencer will tweet about it, not every place will review it. It’s just statistically improbable. And the publisher can’t make anyone do any of those things. And those places are inundated with other books and authors and marketing people wanting all the same thing! It’s harder now than it was even a few years ago because media outlets have reduced their books coverage, so fewer books are getting reviewed and fewer reviews/articles are running. lol/sob But we’re all in the same boat. This is not just true for your book.

Where has all the marketing efforts gone, then? You guessed it—social media. Which is why so much more of the heavy lifting has shifted to the author when it comes to marketing and promotion. Wanna know why? Because few to no readers follow publisher’s social media feeds. I love it when a publisher says they’re going to tweet/insta/etc about a book when the author and I have like 100x more followers than they do combined. I’m glad they’re tweeting! But it hardly matters if no one is looking.

Readers are more likely to follow the authors they like or other people who talk about books in their favorite genre on social media. Sometimes the author knows those big media people speciifc to their genre/topic better than the publisher does. Hence, again, why the author is much more involved in all of this. The author is not doing more because the publisher is slacking off (which of course happens sometimes in a business run by failable humans in a capitalist society) but because the flow of information from the publisher to the reader has fundementally changed in the last like ten years.

The worst part is, I think, is that authors can only see what worked, for themselves or other authors, and not the effort behind all that. Maybe their marketing team sent out 100 books and got 10 smaller hits, while an other writer’s team sent out 20 and got one big one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ No one will ever know. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again—comparison is the thief of joy. What one book got is not a signal of what another book didn’t.

My point here is not to say all authors should shut up and be happy with whatever crumb they get from a publisher’s marketing team. It is not to say to authors you better get used to doing all the work whether you like it or not. Or this is all hopeless so give up now. It is not to say that publishers are prefect and blameless and never do anything wrong. It’s to remind everyone that each book is an individual product launch. It’s a new flavor of Coke every. single. time. The places to promote those individual products shrinks every year. There are only so many resources—on both the publisher’s and author’s side. No two books are alike and are not going to get the same marketing hits—even by the same author. No single missed marketing opportunity, perceived or actual, is going to tank any single book or career. I’m sorry again to be like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ nothing matters! because that’s not actually true either. Sometimes we don’t know what worked or didn’t until months and months later. It sucks but I don’t have a fix for that either.

My advice to authors going through the marketing/publicity gauntlet is to decide what you can and can’t do, and then to try that. Know that there is not one single thing you MUST do or HAVE to do that will guarantee success. There is no list of DO ALL THESE THINGS AND YOU’LL BE SET because every book is different. Or, if there was one such list and it always worked, then everyone would do it and all books would be best sellers? No, of course not. There is no single thing a publisher can do that proves they love your book. Work with your publisher. Ask questions. Follow up. Be a kind, generous, understanding squeaky wheel. Don’t despair. Think about how you and your readers find books like yours and aim THERE. Very few people are picked for some celebrity book club. Don’t put all your eggs in that kind of basket.

And keep writing. Aim to have something else to promote in the future. Keep going. Marketing sucks for everyone. You are not alone. Stay strong.

And don’t read your Goodreads reviews. Save your sanity.

Now, speaking of the many ways to market a book, how about a link round up?

  • Did you catch TAKING UP SPACE author Alyson Gerber’s conversation with model Martha Hunt about scoliosis, self-worth, and body image in Ms. Magazine? Such a powerful conversation!

  • Check out Nicole Korhner-Stace’s feature in Bookpage, which says her novel FIREBREAK, “breaks the mold. Part Snow Crash, part spy novel, part Twitch stream, Firebreak raises serious questions about the power of corporations and the potential to shape public sentiment through virtual reality.”

  • Alix E. Harrow’s next book, A SPINDLE SPLINTERED, is one of tor.com’s 30 most anticipated SFF books for the rest of 2021!

  • New Deal Announcement! I’m THRILLED to work with Who? Weekly co-host Bobby Finger on his debut novel, THE OLD PLACE, with Gaby Mongelli at Putnam!

  • Available for pre-order now! Dana Middleton’s middle grade novel NOT A UNICORN out in September from Chronicle Books. “Jewel's your average eighth grader. Awkward relationship with a cute boy, ex-BFFs with a popular girl, mom issues at home. You've read it all before. Except for one thing: Jewel has a unicorn horn on her head.”

Stay safe and get vaccinated, friends.