Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What Do Publishers Bring to the Table

Everyone knows that first time authors are expected to do anything and everything they can to promote and market the book, but authors, agents and publishers are in this together. So what do publishers typically bring to the table on the publicity, marketing, promo front, especially for a first time author? What's the most you've seen from a publisher, least you've seen and what is average?

This is a great question with a not so very clear answer. There are a lot of “it depends” in this answer. It depends on the publisher’s vision for your book, it depends on the publisher, it depends on the type of book you’re writing (fiction v. nonfiction, genre v. non-genre, etc.), and it depends on what you’re bringing to the table that the publisher can jump on or the suggestions you make.

My most basic answer is going to be, “not much,” and by that I mean if you don’t expect much you won’t be disappointed. The reason I say that though is because I think when authors think of publicity and marketing they think of only those things that they can see or that are tangible to them, not realizing how many more things the publisher puts into play that no one even thinks of.

The very first thing every debut author can expect is catalog coverage. Universally this used to mean a bound paper catalog that publishers would send out to bookstores, libraries, reviewers, etc., to entice them about the upcoming season’s list. The catalog page will include your book’s cover, a brief description of the book, an author bio that usually includes your web site, and information on who owns the rights to sell your book throughout the world (in case foreign publishers or agents ask to see a copy of the book as well). Believe it or not, this is an important piece of marketing and a lot of time and effort go into making the catalog and promoting it to those who can increase sales. Previously I said that it used to mean a bound paper catalog, and that’s only because more and more publishers are going to electronic catalogs. Less of a cost for them, but still equally effective (and environmentally sound).

Most debut authors (and all authors) can also expect cover flats. Cover flats are just want they sound like, a flat, unfolded version of your cover. Typically the cover flat is the final art and copy version of your cover. It’s laid flat so the receiver can read the back cover copy while viewing the cover art. On the back of the flat (the blank side) the publisher will again include information on the book, promotion they intend to do, an author bio (if not included on the front of the flat) and rights information. Most of the time a few flats (somewhere in the range of five) will be supplied to the author. This gives you the opportunity to use them for your own promotion or to create promotional materials.

Review copies are almost always provided by the publisher. In some cases these are bound versions of the book (cover art included), in other cases they are bound versions of the book (often in a trade size) with no cover art, and just as often they are simply photocopied 8 1/2 x 11 page version of your page proofs. All review copies are “uncorrected proofs,” which means that some editing errors may still be found. Reviewers are aware of this and ignore such errors. You can almost always expect that your publisher will send out review copies to all of their standard reviewers for your genre as well as copies you might suggest they send out on your behalf. This is why I so strongly suggest you work with your publisher on publicity. They don’t know that your alumni newsletter or former school newspaper does book reviews of alumni unless you give them the information and ask them to send the review copy.

Press releases are also fairly standard from publishers. These will usually go out with review copies, but can also be done as a way to encourage interviews or articles with a local author or an author of interest to a certain community (the author of a knitting mystery to the knitting community, for example).

There are other things most publishers will do, like help get quotes for cover copy or work with you on unique publicity ideas you might have. As for the most I’ve seen from a publisher and the least, those differences are great. A smaller publisher might not do any of the above or might have big limits on the number of review copies they send. Larger publishers with a larger vision for the book might spend money to get key placement in bookstores, pay for ads in magazines or newspapers, tour an author, etc.

The best piece of advice I can give any author, debut or otherwise, is try your hardest to work with your publisher on marketing and publicity. Knowing what they are doing and keeping them apprised of your efforts makes a big difference in how successful your campaigns are.



Anonymous said...

I'm new at this, so pardon me if the answers to these question are obvious to some of you. Are authors responsible for scheduling book signings and other publicity events(ie.interviews, advertisements) on their own? Are there any marketing restrictions placed on them by their publisher or do they have carte blanche? If so, do authors still need to suppy publishers with their scheduled events etc...? Also, how do you know which bookstores to target (which ones affect sales records)?

Unknown said...

This is great information. I've just begun submitting manuscripts and proposals, so I still have a way to go before being published, but it's always good to gain knowledge in advance so that when the time comes I'm prepared.

Julie Dao said...

This is really good to know. I had the same question that was asked by one of the above posters: do publishers help with the PR side of things, i.e. book signings? And is there a way to do research on different publishers beforehand to see what will be offered and what won't, or do the authors usually jump in and take what they can get? Thanks so much for an informative post!

Christine Fletcher said...

Anon, authors certainly can (and do) schedule events on their own. I'm not aware of any restrictions but maybe Jessica can speak to that. In my experience,the publisher expects to be and is appreciative of being included in the loop; even if the event is one that the author schedules, the publisher can provide support (ie, promotional materials, etc.)

As far as which bookstores to target, what I've found is that you really want to develop a relationship with your local booksellers. They're your "home team," so to speak. (Not to mention that booksellers are fabulous people!) The size or type of store doesn't matter, in my experience; a bookseller who is enthusiastic about you and your book can handsell dozens or even hundreds of copies to his/her customers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback Christine. This may sound silly, but my local grocery store sells tons of romances, category and all. Are grocery store sales significant and do authors of such novels actually speak to their grocery managers?

Anon 8:38

Heidi Willis said...

I'm both relieved to read this, and at the same time still overwhelmed.

I'm being published with a small press that provides all of those services you mentioned, which makes me realize I'm not sacrificing a huge publicity blitz by going with them.

On the other hand, I am in the midst of the marketing part of the journey right now, and trying to come up with reviewers, publications, local radio, TV and news spots as well as people who could write a blurb is overwhelming. I have a good list going, but I have no idea how many of those will pan out.

Does it ever feel like you've got enough?

Dara said...

Wow, this answered a lot! I honestly didn't know the publishers did any of that, except for the review copies and the catalog.

Thanks for such a detailed explanation :) I'm learning more and more about the industry every day.

PatriciaW said...

It used to be true that all review copies were uncorrected proofs, but not anymore. Publishers send out finished copies for review, by way of book blog tour coordinators, and more recently, direct to book bloggers. They almost never send out an uncorrected proof, likely not trusting the book bloggers to look past any errors. I'm sure this plays into the FTC's recent ruling that the books are compensation for the review, if kept by the reviewer.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

anon (and others):

Authors should definitely feel free to schedule what you can however, I would always be in regular contact with your publisher throughout the process. Some of the major chains will not book directly with the author, but prefer to go through the publisher. Always talk to your editor and/or publicist about your plans to make sure you aren't stepping on toes.

Typically there are no restrictions placed as long as the author behaves. The minute the author starts offending people like bookstores (and it does happen) the agent and editor might be asked to have a conversation and yes, restrictions might be placed.

Honestly, I'm not convinced book signings are the best way to go for your publicity dollar. I think, as some published authors might attest, they can be tedious and difficult and selling books is a rarity.

Do you need to supply publishers with your schedule of events? Why wouldn't you? How is a publisher supposed to use your publicity efforts, and that includes everything from signings to magazine or newspaper articles to promotion items, to entice bookstores to order more books if they don't know what you're doing? On top of that, how will the bookstores get enough books for your signing if you haven't told the publisher that they are going to need to make that happen?


Mira said...

This is really interesting! Thanks Jessica. This information is really helpful.

I wish publishers did more for marketing. You mentioned ads in magazines and newspapers. I haven't seen many of those - maybe for a best-selling author, but other than that.....? Maybe I'm missing them.

I basically think what publishers bring to the table is you can get your book in bookstores. That is, without a doubt, a very real advantage. They can also create some industry buzz which can help sell your books to bookstores. That seems like the main advantage of publishing as opposed to e-publishing or self-publishing.

Of course, in exchange for that, the author gives up alot of control and 90% of the profit. They do gain a team, however, which is hopefully supportive and helpful. So, I think it's a complex mix.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thanks for the breakdown, even if there are lots of variables that affect how much publicity support an author will get from a publisher.

Nicole said...

Christine F. is right Anon - especially about the booksellers part. *wink*

As a bookseller for B&N, if we like you and we like your book, we'll handsell it long after you're gone. Some of us (like me) will sneak around the store and face out books of authors we know or like (as opposed to spine out).

Book signings are a little risky - if you don't sell everything, eventually pretty much every copy save one or two will get sent back to the publisher. If it's in mass market form, it will be stripped and recycled. In the end it's up to you whether or not you feel you really can sell your books and whether it's going to be worth it.

Peta Jinnath Andersen said...

Jessica, thanks for the detailed post!

I've been thinking about book trailers lately (I just wrote a post about it actually), and am wondering how many publishers get involved in the production of those? I've also noticed a lot more television advertising (and Hulu advertising) for mystery, crime, and romance novels - does anyone have any thoughts as to how well this works?

Rick Chesler said...

Helpul post, thanks.

Jemi Fraser said...

I always learn so much from reading your posts! Thanks so for the great information :)

Pen said...

This is such a helpful post, thanks.

Kate Douglas said...

Peta--personally, I love the trailers for book and so does my publisher, but they've not offered to have them done for me. I go through COS Productions for my book videos/trailers because of their distribution. It's one thing to have one made, another to get it out where people will see it. They make sure it goes to the major chain bookstores, shows up at conferences and at all the online viewing sites. I also post mine on MySpace where they're often picked up by my readers and posted on their sites, which turns them into a tool for viral marketing.

Regarding book signings, however, I would suggest you think twice before doing them. When you figure the value of your time vs. the number of books you sell or people you'll talk to, they're hardly worth the effort, IMHO. I've had much better success planning scheduled meetings at bookstores with my readers through my newsletter. I'll show up at a scheduled stop, meet with readers I sort of know as online contacts, and we spend the time visiting and talking books rather than my trying to snag some unsuspecting soul out of a mall to come and look at my books. Signings are more fun if you can get a group of authors, and those group signings will generally draw a worthwhile crowd, but doing one on your own and expecting a huge turn out can often be a disappointment.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Late to the party, here, but about grocery stores. It's my understanding just about all groceries' books are stocked by one of two major companies--Anderson or Levy. The grocery doesn't do it's own book buying. Book sales for mass markets at non-traditional outlets (Walmart, esp, but also groceries) are significant.

Peta Jinnath Andersen said...

@Kate--thanks!I've never heard of book trailer distributors. What a fabulous idea! I've not seen book trailers in a bookstore, though. I'll have to have a look the next time I'm near a B&N.