Thursday, November 06, 2008

Don't believe everything you hear Pt. 2

Sorry this is so late, everyone. I have been swanning around Devon with Miss Caitlin Kittredge, doing awesome things like taking pictures of gravestones and eating chips by the river. Yes, we rock.

Okay. On Monday we talked about the Big Myth--usually spread and perpetuated by vanity presses who are trying to convince you either that there's no difference between vanity publishing houses and major NY houses or legitimate small presses, or sometimes even that vanity publishing is SUPERIOR to those (often along with the other bullshit they'll throw in some crap about how NY editors will change your Golden Words and not give you a say, which is also Not True)--that you have to give back a NY advance if the book doesn't earn out. This is a lie.

Today's lie is even more widespread and insidious; I see it everywhere. Even people who should know better spread this one, and it is:

That a major house will do nothing to promote you unless you're a bestseller anyway. First-time or midlist authors are left to twist in the wind.

The reason this one is so widespread and insidious is there is some truth to it. No, first-time or midlist authors don't get the same kind of ad push that Stephen King gets, of course not. Stephen King gets full-page ads in People or Entertainment Weekly; most new or midlist authors don't get that.

But you know why? It's because in the main those ads do not work. It might help get a writer's and book's name in front of readers, but if it's a writer they've never heard of they don't really care or pay much attention. Magazine ads are effective to readers for whom King is an auto-buy, and it's a good way to let them know a new book is coming. But in general, ads for books don't really work for new authors. People don't buy books because the ad is neat; they but it because their friends liked it, or they read an interesting review, or because it attracted their interest in a book store and they flipped through it and liked it.

And that is where a publisher comes in.

The idea that a publisher publishes a book and then leaves it to languish is just silly, if you think about it. WHY? Why on earth would they publish a book and then let it sit around doing nothing? You do realize that by the time a book goes to press the publisher has already spent thousands of dollars on it, right? Between the advance, and the editing, and the cover design? (We'll get to ARCs in a minute.)

The only chance a publisher has to recoup that money is to sell the books to readers. That's it. So on what planet would a company produce a product and then stick it in a warehouse and forget about it? Is that a sound business plan?

Publishers need to sell their books to readers. The way they do this is to get the book in stores. That doesn't happen by chance. There's no guarantee every book printed will be in stores, far from it. This is where the publisher's sales team comes in. They sell the book to stores. They push the book; they talk it up. They arrange end-cap or front-table shelving (and pay for it; well, not the sales staff personally, but you know what I mean.)

So. Your publisher isn't paying to send you on a multi-city tour? Okay. But is your book in stores? If it is, then you have already received promotion--far more promotion than author-cheating scamsters PublishAmerica or any other vanity/subsidy press can provide. Their books do not get shelves in stores; they do not have a sales staff that will tell the bookstore buyers that your book is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The only way a vanity press like PublishAmerica gets books in stores at all is if their authors personally visit the stores and beg the managers to carry the books (I say "beg" because most bookstore managers know that PA books do not have standard discounts and return policies, so a lot of the time they refuse to shelve it or make the author provide copies to sell on consignment.)

If your book is in stores, you have received promotion.

Publishers--real ones--produce ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) of books to send to various reviewers (and you as the author get copies free, too; how many is usually specified in your contract). These are free books; nobody pays the publisher for them. ARCs are sent out at least three months before publication, because publishers know reviews sell books. They do. Nothing else sells books like reviews and recommendations, nothing.

Did you get ARCs? Did your book get pre-release or release-day reviews?

If so, you have received promotion.

Yes, of course in this day and age writers are expected to do a lot of promo themselves. It might not be a contractual obligation, but frankly, both publishers and readers expect you to have some sort of online presence, even if it's just a basic website. They want to be able to find you. If they see a review of your book they want to be able to learn more about it. If they find your blog and like it they want to read blurbs and excerpts. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.

But the difference between the promo you do for a professional house, and the promo you do for a vanity press, is huge. With a professional house you do what you enjoy. Don't like blogging? Don't blog. Personally I love blogging. You might not. You might love doing loop chats instead. So you do those. That's fine. You're just getting your name out there a bit.

With a vanity press? YOU have to convince managers to put your book on the shelves. YOU have to work 2-3 times as hard to try and get signings because nobody wants a signed vanity-press book. You have no one helping you; big publishers have PR people who work with authors to set up events, and on other forms of promo. A vanity press will not offer you this.

To put it another way, a novel published by a major house gets promotion. It gets in stores, it gets reviews, and you get respect.

With a vanity press, all you get is your book, and you have to do even more work to attempt to make people read it.

That's not to say all vanity presses are scame or that vanity or self-publishing is always a bad idea; there are some markets, and some people, for whom it can work very well (maybe I'll talk about those next week.)

But anyone who tells you a major house is going to print your book and then not lift a finger to sell it is lying. Publishers HAVE to sell books; that is their business. It's the only way they make money. Why in the world would they not want to do that?


Charles Gramlich said...

I suspect there's a lot of variability in authors' experiences, and that coupled with exaggeration probably lead to the development of certain myths.

The Man said...

Money and fame are bad motivators for the production of art. Major publishing house, vanity press, what is the difference? The artist is the difference. Not everyone who writes does it for profit and fame. Art is art, even if it only sells one copy (by word of mouth).

BernardL said...

The publishing house is taking a real gamble in bringing an unknown all the way to the book being stocked for sale. It makes sense as you point out they would not sabotage the effort just for kicks.

Robyn said...

I'm trying to think of the last time a print ad made me buy a book...nope, can't remember a single time. Occasionally a tv interview might. I haven't been to signings for an author I don't already know, save a few happy accidents.

I buy mostly on the recommendations of friends and blog buddies.

Marian said...

I'd like to link to this article on another board where I post and where there's quite a bit of misunderstanding regarding commercial publication. Thanks for writing so well and clearly on this topic.

There's just one thing, though. You said,

The idea that a publisher publishes a book and then leaves it to language is just silly, if you think about it.

Did you mean, "leaves it to languish"?

writtenwyrdd said...

It may feel like you're in a publicity vacuum, but I've always figured the "no publicity" talk was about a lack of quanity and not a total lack.

December/Stacia said...

Oops, lol, Marian, yes I did. Sometimes my fingers don't translate my meaning exactly. Doh. I'll fix that now.