The Business Rusch: Advertising, Print Editions, and Traditional Publishing (Discoverability Part One)
The latest buzz word in the publishing industry is “discoverability.” Everyone’s worried about the “mountain of crap” that self publishing will (has?) brought into the industry—including self published authors.
Everyone ignores two important facts: one person’s crap is another person’s beloved book, and publishing has always produced books in great volume. The newly merged Penguin Random House (or Randy Penguin as one of my favorite PRH authors calls it) will publish 15,000 new titles in 2014, not counting everything in its backlist.
I’ll be dealing with discoverability for the next few weeks (unless some publishing news appears in the holiday season that I simply can’t ignore). And I’m going to begin with the default position that most writers have:
Writers believe that if a writer wants a lot of readers to discover her work, she needs to be traditionally published.
In other words, traditional publishers are much, much better at helping the writer find an audience than the writer is herself.
That assumption was true, back in the olden days, y’know, about five years ago. Books got discovered through bookstores, and the only way to get a book in a bookstore was to go through a traditional publisher.
Then e-readers hit, along with the easy Amazon publishing platform, quickly mimicked by Barnes & Noble. Apple followed, and then Kobo, and now a book doesn’t have to be in paper at all in order to find readers. Nor does that book need to be in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Lots of writers are gaining a lot of readers without ever producing a paper book of their latest novel.
Still, a lot of writers, from old timers to beginners, say the reason that they want to stay with traditional publishing is discoverability. Writer after writer tells me that a traditional publisher will promote their books.
For some writers, particularly huge bestsellers, this is absolutely true. For others, particularly midlist writers, it isn’t true at all. And honestly, it’s always been that way.
But it’s getting even more dicey now.
Traditional publishers are buying ebook-only contracts. I know a lot of writers who are taking those contracts, and expecting big publishing promotion, without ever asking themselves how that promotion will occur.
In fact, even writers who take print-only deals believe that traditional publishers will do a lot of advertising for their work. And by that, most writers mean actual ads. In magazines. Online. In newspapers.
These writers believe firmly that they will benefit from an ad campaign without a contractual guarantee to it. They believe it will come with the territory.
We all know why the only author whose books we see advertised on television these days is James Patterson. We all know that national television advertising is expensive. Writers don’t expect television advertising for their books.
But they expect print advertising, and even that expectation is wrong.
Let’s look at actual advertising for a moment before we get to the other ways that traditional publishers actually advertise books.
Take a look at the ads from a recent issue of RT Book Reviews. RT Book Reviews is not an industry bible, like Publisher’s Weekly is.RT is a magazine that’s dedicated to readers. It got its start about thirty years ago as a mimeographed sheet put out for romance readers, back when romance was considered the lowest, most disreputable genre (besides actual porn novels). No reputable publication—from newspapers to magazines—would ever advertise, let alone review, a romance novel. Most romance writers used pen names, so that they wouldn’t have to admit that they wrote “that crap.” (I love how definitions of crap change from generation to generation. Think about that when you worry about “mountains of crap” that the industry is publishing.)
RT started to give romance readers a community, and it evolved into a glossy magazine with tens of thousands of subscribers, and a huge ad revenue stream. It exists to inform readers of entertaining reads in all genres. Not the latest literary novel or the novel most likely to impress your friends, but the novel most likely to help you while away a few hours on a particularly difficult day.
Publishers have figured out that the popularity of RT translates into book sales, so those publishers advertise, often with more than one ad in each issue.
So, a quick examination of the display ads in RT which show book covers by more than one author generally include a phrase at the bottom of the ad which goes like this:
And Don’t Forget Our Ebook Imprint Really Cool Books Featuring These Titles!
A handful of book covers run along the bottom with very little to say what the book is about or why I should download it today! like the ad urges me to do.
Because so many authors I know are taking those ebook-only contracts, I was paying attention to the ebook-only promotion. And discovering this: those ebooks are getting a weird kind of also-ran promotion. It’s almost like face-out windowing in a closed bookstore. You see the book in the window, but you can’t touch the book or even look at the back cover. Because the shop door is locked.
Windowing—the practice of putting a book on a real brick-and-mortar bookshelf—works because the reader can pick up that copy, read the back cover, and decide to buy.
To buy these ebooks, advertised as also-rans in RT, the reader would have to haul out her e-reader then and there, or remember the title of the book, or the author’s name. If she did all those things then maybe, just maybe, she might buy the book.
But that seems like a lot of work for the potential reader, doesn’t it? Would you do it? I don’t think I ever have.
If you want to see what I mean and you’re a subscriber to RT Book Reviews, check out page 23 of the November issue. There’s usually an ad like this in every issue, always from a major publisher. In this particular ad, the paper titles get a quote from an RT review, and the ebook titles are shown by the cover only.
I’m pointing this out, not because I think RT ads are bad—I don’t. I think they help sales with the right project, when that project is available and done in the right way. Obviously traditional publishers believe RT ads help sales as well, because as I looked online for the ad that I was thinking of, I noted how many traditional publishers put money into RT every single issue.
Traditional publishers put advertising money into many magazines. From Entertainment Weekly to Esquire to Vanity Fair, publishers spend a small fortune on book ads. Those slick glossy magazines do not have an authors-only rate the way that RT does. (RT is author-friendly, and long before e-publishing and indie publishing became a big deal, it offered ad rates for authors whose publishers refused to put any support behind a book at all. Which was, by the way, and is what publishers do for most titles by most authors.)
The other thing to note about RT publisher ads, however, is that most of them focus on a single title. In that November issue, Kensington bought four ads for single titles, and ran them on separate pages. Harlequin had two single-author ads, Avon had one, Penguin had three. The thing that marked a difference in the November issue was that it was one of the Christmas ad issues, so some of the publishers did group ads of Christmas-themed books.
Why is this important?
Because writers see these ads and expect the publisher to buy ads like that for their books. Not every book by every writer gets an actual ad. In fact, most never get advertised in print or online publications.
However, writers who say that the traditional publisher will advertise their books are correct. The traditional publisher will do a few things that will raise a book’s visibility—if and only if that book is published in print format.
Print books will appear in a seasonal catalogue that booksellers will look at. That’s advertising, folks. The print book might—and I stress might—get sent out for reviews. Reviews are advertising, folks.
The reviews won’t get readers to pick up the books as much as they’ll get booksellers to pick up the books. And booksellers, to a store, buy print books, not ebooks. (Which is why publishers only advertise print books in the industry bible, Publisher’s Weekly.)
A lucky few print books will get single-page display ads in magazines and newspapers. But I can guarantee this: unless you’re an author who has already hit a major bestseller list and/or your book is the most important book being published by that traditional publishing house’s imprint and/or you got paid an advance of $50,000 or more (in small genres like sf or westerns) or $100,000 or more (in larger genres like romance and mystery), your book will not get a single title ad. It won’t happen.
In other words, from the moment the publisher offers you a book deal, you can have a pretty good guess as to what kind of advertising budget your book will receive. Most five-figure advances won’t get any advertising, unless your book is the third book of a three-book contract, and the previous two books did waaaay better than expected.
Chances are, however, that even if that little miracle happened, you’re not going get your full page ad.
Ad placement also matters. By that, I mean, where the book gets advertised.
For example, only the really big titles—the ones that will sell millions—get advertised in Entertainment Weekly. Why? Simple. A four-color full page Entertainment Weekly ad costs $189,400. And that’s for one ad that is in the magazine for only one week.
Think it through, folks. If your publisher buys your novel for a $5,000 advance, they’re not going to spend nearly $200,000 to advertise your book. You’ll note, if you read EW like I do, that very few books get the full-color one-page treatment. Most books get a one-third page full-color ad, which is still mind-bogglingly expensive at $85,300 for one placement. One placement.
Contrast that with a one-time full-page full-color ad in RT, and you’ll find something a bit more affordable. A one-time full-page full-color ad there costs $3,800. That $3,800 will keep the book in front of potential readers for one month instead of one week.
That’s a considerable savings. But it’s still almost the cost of that $5,000 advance, and not likely to happen for a mid-list book.
The RT ad is targeted to heavy readers, but it also goes before significantly fewer eyeballs. The most recent listing for subscribers to RT that I could find with a quick web search showed 150,000 subscribers (2004). I’m sure that number is larger now, with the magazine’s web presence, but I can’t imagine it being much more than 200,000.
By contrast, Entertainment Weekly’s subscription base was nearly 1.8 million as of 2012. An EW ad will reach 9 times the number of readers—also focused on entertainment, I might ad—than an RT ad.
Even cheaper are the in-genre ads for a publication like Locus Magazine (for science fiction) whose most expensive ad is $1050 for a one-time placement, in a magazine that comes out every month. Locus has fewer subscribers than RT by a long ways. It currently lists a 6,000 copy subscription base, and somehow takes that to mean 18,000 people read the magazine. The rule of thumb when I was editing for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction was that two people read each copy of the magazine, but Locus claims three. I sincerely doubt that.
Sure, a publisher might spend that $1050 to advertise the latest book in a growing series, but that ad will be viewed by a few thousand readers instead of a couple million. (And that’s still one-fifth of that mid list advance.)
Suddenly, the print/online ads seem less likely for a traditional published book, don’t they?
Here’s something else to remember: It’s not that hard for an indie author to reach 6,000 readers, through Amazon or Good Reads or a dozen other venues, which traditional publishers badmouth or ignore.
Then there’s the expectation side of advertising. Book publishers know that book ads are informational only. The ads do not increase sales at all.
The publishers buy the ads to inform the consumer that a new book is out. The consumer must see references to that new book several times before the book ever makes an impact on a consumer’s consciousness.
Now, remember, there are a bunch of different ways for the consumer to see an ad for the book. The ad might be in multiple media (not just EW, but Vanity Fair, for example, or The New York Times). The book might get reviewed and remember, that review is…drum roll…an ad. The consumer might see the book up front in a bookstore. Or the consumer might see the book cover on the home page for Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Those spots are also paid advertising, by the way. Ain’t no way an indie published book would show up there without someone ponying up a great deal of cash.
After several sightings in various places from magazines to bookstore shelves, the consumer might (and I mean might) be convinced to buy a book she wouldn’t normally buy. If she’s a fan of the author, she’ll buy the book as soon as she finds out about it, or put that book in her wish list or on her to-be-purchased pile. But convincing readers to buy a book through an ad just isn’t possible. Readers must find other ways to connect with the book.
Usually that means picking the book up, holding it in their hands, and interacting with the book. Such interactions used to happen in bookstores. Now, often, they happen online. Which is why the “Look Inside This Book” feature is so very important to book sales.
Advertising specialists argue over how many ad views it takes to sell a product to a consumer. Specialists spend years and a mountain of money trying to figure out what the most effective advertising dollars are. The numbers vary, and they’re hard to measure. As I did a quick search, I found statistics that ran from 2% of all ad viewers (for something with a coupon) as a good return rate, to a low of .01% of all ad viewers for repeat advertising. In other words, the experts don’t have a clue either.
So think this through as a reader. Did you ever buy a book because you saw an ad that told you the book was out? Or did you buy it because you love the author’s work, and the ad was just the first place to inform you that the book was out? And how in the hell can anyone measure that?
And why, if book ads are informational, are publishers spending tens of thousands of dollars to advertise their books, especially if there’s no way to know how effective the ads are?
Because all advertising dollars in publishing are spent to educate the consumer that a book exists. Publishers do a full-court press on their biggest titles in the week of release so that consumers go out and buy that book immediately. The more places that mention the book in its week of release, the more chances a consumer has to see the magic number of mentions and then act on the purchase of the new book.
This is exceedingly important to traditional publishers because they measure everything by sales velocity—how many copies the book sells quickly. Why? So that the book will hit a bestseller list—which then gives the book more advertising. (And that advertising is free.)
Traditional publishers can spend upwards of half a million dollars advertising one special title in one week of its release. Of course, the author of that special title got a minimum of a mid-six-figure advance.
Writers who got a four-figure advance will never ever ever get that kind of advertising. And writers who sold their book to a traditional publisher for a percentage and no advance only to see the book come out in an ebook-only edition will be lucky to be displayed on the front page of the publisher’s ebook website for a week.
If a writer is going to a traditional publisher for discoverability only, then the writer needs a few guarantees before signing her contract.
First, she better get a mid-five figure advance or higher on that book. Any less, and she won’t get the kind of discoverability she wants.
Second, her book better come out in a print edition. Otherwise she’s better off publishing the book herself.
Third, (and least likely), she needs a guarantee of certain levels of promotion in that contract. Without it, the publisher could spend $50,000 on that book’s advance, release the book in paper, and still not do the kind of basic promotion a book needs. No reviews, no catalogue copy, nothing.
Because no traditional publishing contract that I have ever seen for a writer who is not a bestseller guarantees that the publisher has to do anything except “publish” the book. And the definitions of what “publish” means are changing. In one contract that I saw recently, the definition of “publish” was that the publisher had to make certain the book was available for sale on the publisher’s website and nothing else.
Earlier this week, Digital Book World published an interview with traditional publishing digital guru Mike Shatzkin.
In that article, Shatzkin, who is a big defender and advocate for traditional publishing, said this:
As sales move online and concentrate at Amazon, a publisher can’t really make a huge difference in Amazon compared to what an author can do on their own. So, the publisher has to make a difference in a diminishing part of the market, which is everything else.
He wants traditional publishers to figure out how to have a presence in the market. Honestly, so do I. I’d love to see traditional publishers continue—with good author contracts and with an acknowledgement that they work in partnership with authors rather than believing that writers are necessary idiots.
I have an opinion on what will happen to traditional publishers in this area, and I’ll write about it eventually.
But the point that I want you to see from Shatzkin is this: he sees how unimportant traditional publishers are becoming to the very thing that writers used to need them for—selling books to readers.
Traditional publishers have their place. Right now, that place is producing blockbuster novels and getting them out to readers in a coordinated way.
Writers need to see that place for what it is, not for what it was. Writers need to protect themselves going forward, making certain that if they partner with a traditional publisher, then the publisher will actually work for them, rather than put them in a mill that churns out books to make the publisher’s bottom line possible.
Because traditional publishers had a stranglehold on the market, they used to have a lot of power in getting books discovered. As Shatzkin said, that world no longer exists.
But the myth does.
Going with a traditional publisher will not guarantee your book’s discovery. In fact, it might guarantee that your book gets forgotten, particularly if you do an ebook-only deal.
There are other, better ways to make sure your book gets discovered, and I’ll deal with one of them next week.
This industry used to be so stable that the idea of blogging about it weekly would have been almost impossible. The blogs would have repeated within two years.
Now, things are changing—sometimes daily—and what was true two years ago is no longer true. As long as this remains how publishing works, I’ll do my best to share my knowledge with you.
However, that sharing does take time away from my fiction writing, which is what I prefer to be doing. (Wouldn’t we all?) Your comments and emails keep me writing the weekly blog. So do your donations.
So, thank you all for returning. And thanks for the support.
And please, if you learn something or value the blog, leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: Advertising, Print Editions, and Traditional Publishing (Discoverability Part One)” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
SPECIAL NOTICE: I’d like to put out a call to those of you who are traditionally published. I need to update my Deal Breakers book for 2014. I have quite a bit of material, but I would like to see what I’ve missed.
So if you received a traditional publishing contract from a major publishing house and/or an agency agreement from an agent, please black out all the personal information and send it to me. I’m interested in the contract clauses you negotiated away and/or that you walked away from.
I also would like to see the clauses you’re proud of getting. The ones where you feel you triumphed in your negotiation.
I need the entire contract, because a contract is a living document, and what it says on page 13 has an impact on what it says on page 2. Please black out your name, the name of your agent, the advances, etc., and send me the file.
I promise, I will not use your name or any personal information, except that I might say something like “a first-time author” or “an author who has published novels for fifteen years” or “a bestselling author.” I won’t even use a personal pronoun to give your secret away. And I’ll be the only one who looks at this document.
Please use the contact form on this website to get in touch with me, and I’ll let you know how to send me the contract.
If you want to see how I do this, look at the Addendums post from earlier this year. (And yes, that will be in Deal Breakers 2014.)
Thank you! I appreciate all of the help.
This still seems very relevant. I am interested to see the more recent posts.
All of this posts have just come out in book form, with everything updated–if you’re interested. Thanks for the comment.
This is all good intel, and I’m looking to your next installment, Kris! Personally, I pick up books by word-of-mouth recommendation, and by reading the first chapter or two and getting hooked. Libraries are great for browsing. My husband and I have bought books (either e-book or paper) that we have read at the library first, and that applies 80% to cookbooks and 20% fiction. We really miss having a book store other than HalfPrice Books near us, and use Amazon a lot.
I feel really over-satured by all those self-promos and guest blogs I see on my FB account. Of course, lots of writers populate my f-list, but… I feel worn down by my ad exposure. It’s a tricky line to walk, capturing the audience without irritating it and I end up taking note of only those things that are in my comfort zone, such as the series I already read. Goodreads reviews by friends carry more weight, and I’ve picked up books with only 2 or 3 star reviews (after reading the sample) because it sounded up my alley.
So, as far as the future of publishers in the 21st century…does your notion look anything like this?
Really curious as to whether my ideas make sense to people who’ve been watching this publishing game longer than I have. Wouldn’t convince me I was either right or wrong, but this is what the current situation looks like to me.
I just filled out a survey today for Writer’s Digest via Survey Monkey. It really got me thinking about what I’m doing and why. Right now I have a top agency shopping around one of my series to the big five(?) but for the rest of my books I’m going straight to self publishing.
One of my best forms of marketing is giveaways on Goodreads for print books, then offering my print books to bloggers in the genre that have more than 300 followers each. Everytime an interview or review runs with them, I see an uptick of seven or eight sales.
Another form of reaching readers indirectly is through my Indie Author Chat web TV show I do with co-host romance author, Samantha Fury and the pod casts I’ve done with various radio shows.
Because of the way these free avenues are reaching readers, I’m going to upload all my past “Eye on the Paranormal” articles as mini web TV shows. I have over two years worth, almost a hundred of them. At the beginning and end of each show, I can showcase my name (brand) tag line, and covers of all my books and soon to be released books, with clickable links in the description.
How much will this cost me?
Time to slap on some makeup, upload, and pay for the intro/exit (maybe a one time fee of fifty bucks to a designer?)
Right now I’m running a Facebook ad for thirty days, to reach those interested in the War of 1812, who are college educated, in the cities of Baltimore and D.C. to let them know the paperback of The 15th Star is out. I already have several museums and sutlers that have agreed to carry it. I’m selling those direct, so they don’t show up on my sales, but that’s okay because the money is green in my bank account.
The thing is—I don’t care *how* books used to be sold. I know how to find my readers, and will cater to them for almost no cost to me. I just have to work smart, not hard.
Great article! I’m newly published via a small press and I’m trying to do a crash course in how modern book marketing works. I attended marketing workshops and writing workshops a over a decade ago, and while some of that stuff is still true, a lot of it has obviously changed. As they say on some of the online Yahoo groups for indie and small press authors, what’s true 2 years ago isn’t true now, and what worked 3 months ago may not work well now. It’s kind of maddening, but your article here made a lot of sense.
It was great to get a bit of historical sense of how things unfolded the way they have, as well as numbers around how much advertising at that high level can cost. I’m looking forward to future posts!
As a reader, right now my top three places to discover new books are: 1. Recommendation from a friend, 2. Browsing the new releases at the library or my local indie bookstore, 3. The Big Idea feature on John Scalzi’s blog.
Of those three, I think I actually buy the most from the third one. I’ve made kind of a silly number of impulse buys after reading about a book on that blog.
This is really enlightening, thank you so much. I am just at that stage – published by a tiny New Zealand publisher, about to release my fantasy novel as an ebook and dreaming about being ‘discovered’ so that my physical book will be available worldwide and everyone will know about it! Okay, back to the drawing board and planB. Now, what was planB? Looking forward to next week’s blog.
Timely article, Kris, for a number of reasons. I’d looked at the marketing plan for the third book in my recently completed series and wondered why my publisher wasn’t putting as much ooomph behind it (or so it seemed to me). Come to discover that the sales on the first two were going so well, they didn’t feel it needed that extra push, thinking the book would sell itself (and I can understand the reasoning in this era of tight budgets). Doesn’t mean I was happy about it, and I’m still getting emails from fans wondering when the third book is coming out :<P And this is after Goodreads giveaways, blogs, guest blogs, etc.
So for the next book in the next series, I'm already wondering what I can do to maximize visibility/discoverability on my own because I don't think the publisher sees it as a BIG or lead series. I doubt the marketing will be very substantive. So I've started talking about it out loud a lot sooner before I would have, for one, in a recent Q&A that got eyeballs and then replicated it on my blog for my tens of fans. So I'm interested in what comes next, particularly since I'll likely be putting this out on my own for the foreign markets.
One thing, though: I HAVE picked up books on the strength of ads, and not necessarily because I knew the writer. In cases where I do, ads still jog my memory, because you can maintain a wish list on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever; you can put release dates on your calendar; but that doesn't necessarily translate into something that reminds you to look for the book if you haven't checked your calendar that day or don't use the device that sends you the alert–and I've yet to see the usefulness of Amazon's wish list in terms of a memory jog.
And I still hate the inability to flip through a physical book, regardless. I don't think I've yet to buy a single book on the strength of an Amazon sample. I HAVE, on occasion, done so if I've used Google preview, which frequently–not always–allows you to skip around a book. (Sometimes, if you can figure out key phrases or characters, you can plug that into your search and see even more of the book. Works, sometimes.) But this parsing out of what you're allowed to see is a serious limitation, for me at any rate. Hope you address that, too.
I do have a question, too, about book trailers. I know they're marketing tools and, essentially, a different way of making a sales pitch. I know they were the rage a while back; I know that several companies have recently come at me and suggested that not only will I do better with trailers, I'll *EVEN* reach Hollywood producers. (I would add an eye-roll, but since I have no data and could be wrong, I'm afraid you'll bite me.) I've done a VERY cursory search on this and found only a few articles (one in the WSJ about five years back, another in the Huffington Post). The HP guy thought it helped HIS book; the WSJ folks pretty much pooh-poohed the whole thing and said there's no data, but that was an old article. Me, I'm really wondering if anyone truly buys a book on the basis of a short promo film (though it might be equivalent to a TV ad, I guess–but then it's as you said about print ads: most often, you're buying the author brand, not the book). I know what I pay attention to, but I'm an n of one. I *DO* know that kids have sent me their book trailers inspired by what I’ve written, but when I’ve asked them if they’ll pick up a book on the basis of a trailer, they say they don’t. The trailers are usually projects for school. They read on the recommendations of friends–and librarians.
So I’ll be interested in all this. Nice post, Kris.
What an informative article! Thanks so much for sharing your up-to-the-minute report. It puts things in perspective.
What marketing you do get from publishers’ is at the beginning, immediately before and just after publication. After that, it’s in the long tail and fends for itself. I once rang a publisher full of excitement because there was a big news story that fitted with my book perfectly. Surely they could use that to get a bit of extra publicity. But they weren’t interested. My book had had it’s time in the spotlight, its budget was spent and they were too busy with the newer titles. They assured me it would be impossible to get any newspaper interested in a book that had already been out several months, but I ignored them and got an article in The Guardian by myself. So they were wrong and they’re the people we’re relying on to be right. By the way, this was one of the big companies – not some tiny publisher who might not have known any better.
Kris, thanks for the numbers.
It seems to me that publishers have put the bulk of their marketing dollars exactly where they need to be for their distribution model. And that’s in marketing to various retailers and libraries. Of course, distribution is changing, but that’s been their market for decades.
Publishers sell mostly to retailers. Kris has written about this before. Publishers don’t sell to the general public. The publisher model has been to get display space in stores. If they can get into stores with lots of foot traffic, they can get lots of customer eyeballs on their products.
There are variations to this. Scholastic also gets its books and other juveniles straight into schools. Lots of eyeballs there. Book clubs have offered similar services in the past, although I think Amazon did most of them in. But most of the advertising are the eyeballs produced by foot traffic in retail stores.
It’s a model lots of wholesalers use. Hey, get your lamp or lawn chair into Costco or BestBuy, and you’re likely to sell lots and lots of them.
And so publishers spend their money on things that work with those retailers. Or those who sell to the retailers.
A sales department works just as it does with every other wholesale company that relies on a channel to get their product out. So the sales people visit the buyers directly. They also go to annual book conventions. There are big national and worldwide conventions for all retailers and others just for indie retailers. Publishers send sales folks, authors, ARCs, and stock out to these events, hoping to get attention of the retailers that attend.
But you can’t send them out empty-handed. A sales force needs collateral—marketing materials. That collateral is usually a catalog, which includes a number of things retailers use to select books. And ARCs.
What goes in the catalog?
Endorsements, including pre-publication endorsements from places like Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times etc.
And a statement of planned general advertising the publisher might do that would drive customers to seek out those products. This includes things like review copies being sent out to newspapers, radio programs, and others organizations. Or any PR efforts. If you’ve got a radio tour that includes NPR and 15 other radio shows in big markets, retailers will see that book as something customers will buy.
Another element in the catalog is an image of the cover (if it’s finished). A good cover and jacket blurb will attract retailers just as it will attract end customers.
All this costs money. All of it should be considered marketing dollars.
I think this quote from Shatzkin sums it up nicely:
“Over the first couple of decades of my time in the business — the 1960s and 1970s — the sales department grew in importance and influence. It became clear that the tools for the sales department — primarily the catalog, the book’s jacket, and a summary of sales points and endorsements that might be on a “title information sheet” that the sales reps used — were critical factors in a book’s success.”
More here: http://www.idealog.com/blog/marketing-will-replace-editorial-driving-force-behind-publishing-houses/
Not all books get the same push for endorsements, general advertising, and covers. As Kris pointed out, it doesn’t mean every book gets the super deluxe wax job. When you have 15,000 unique items to promote each year and a limited budget, you are going to have to allocate based on the products that are the money makers or hopeful money makers.
Furthermore, you have to also think about fulfillment. It doesn’t matter if you get a commitment for floor space if you can’t deliver the books. So publishers have put money into paying folks to warehouse and distribute physical books. Although POD has helped a great deal.
What about libraries?
There are 9,000+ public libraries in the US. For some genres like SFF, selling into libraries can make up a significant portion of hardcover sales for new and midlist authors.
What attracts them?
They rely on a lot of the same things retailers do, including pre-pub reviews. Here’s my report of a Gallup survey of librarians, asking how they find the books they add to their collections: http://johndbrown.com/2009/09/how-libraries-select-books/
I think libraries also receive catalogs. I know they have national and local conventions. And I know publishers will put money into getting their books and authors in front of librarians at those events. I was in one event where four other authors and I signed 300 ARCs each for a huge hall of people that attended our presentation. All paid for by the publisher. Of course, the sales force is there as well, along with all their collateral.
So it seems that publishers have been following a model that makes sense for their old distribution model.
Now almost half (or is it now more than half) of book buying occurs online. It’s a new and different channel. If publishers only do what they’ve done in the past to serve the Brick & Mortar channel, then simple math shows that their value to authors has indeed diminished. But I have to assume they have people trying to figure this new channel out. They are businesses, after all.
The wonderful thing is that it seems right now that the barriers to entry for the rest of us won’t be as high as they are in the brick & mortar channel (who has the money to pay for a sales force?) Notice I didn’t say there will be no barriers. There will still be barriers to getting those eyeballs. For example, I believe Barnes & Noble sells co-op on their website. To the big dogs. Not to little indies. Still, there are other ways like BookBub. Another neat thing is that the online distribution channel lends itself to testing—you can actually start to learn what does and doesn’t work.
I’m going to be very interested to see the methods Kris shares with us in the next posts.
15,000. That is a mind-boggling number. And they dare complain about self publishers putting out so many books? It sucks to have someone else get a piece of your pie I guess, but I’d rather be just me running my own show than one of a crowd that size. A friend of mine won the Amazon Breakout Novel Award in YA last year and still has to hawk her book to local stores to get them to carry it–the publisher wouldn’t even send them a letter. That blew me away. it suddenly makes so much more sense. Obviously you can’t put an actual marketing budget behind 15,000 books.
Fascinating post, Kris, as always.
As someone that has spent the last 7 years studying advertising and marketing, I can answer some questions, for you. Most advertisers have no idea “what works,” because of the way ad agencies work (or actually don’t work). “Creative” people are hired to work on a particular account, and if it “leaves,” they are let go. There is no training, and no continuity of what works. The “people in charge,” are more interested in winning “creativity awards,” than making it work. Finally, there is ZERO connection between sales and amounts of money spent.
Agencies are paid based on how much they spend, not on any positive effect. (An you thought publishing was F’d up.) Most theory is still based on “research” done in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. On the other hand, direct mail advertising has an excellent idea of what works, or doesn’t.
One of the “ideas” that work, is tell people the reasons why the product (book) will solve their needs. Sounds like a good cover blurb, doesn’t it. 🙂
I’m learning a lot here. Thanks for the post, Kris.
Fantastic post, Kris! Next time somebody asks me why I’m not submitting to publishers anymore, I’ll just send them to this post instead of trying to explain it to them.
Thank you for this. I look forward to part 2.
I’m wondering if one of the reasons publishers buy the rights to so many books, even though they’re really only interested in the top earning ones, is to curb additional market flooding. After all, you mention that so many of those books don’t get any kind of advertising, and indeed, some won’t even get any kind of shelf space at all!
So I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of times those publishing houses are buying the rights to books cheaply, knowing they won’t do anything with the book, just to avoid those books being flooded into the market and distracting people’s attention away from the few books that they truly do care about? It’s something that’s done regularly in other businesses, so it struck me that the corporate book companies could do the same.
Of course, I imagine that if a book turns into a bestseller despite the book getting virtually buried, they would then take credit for it and say they knew all along it was a great story, etc.
PS: I really love all your Business Rusch posts!
Oh, heavens, no, on the marketing flood, Alessa. There are business reasons for having midlist books that have to do with steady earnings and stock reports. Too complicated to deal with here. But suffice to say that each book is an asset in the company with earnings potential.
I think publishers do not buy books to avoid them competiting with their top earners. But historically, publishers wanted shelf-space. When you have 120 books of Nora Roberts on a Barnes & Noble, or hundreds of books of the same publisher in one bookstore, or coop, it seems difficult to deny there’s a flooding strategy at work. In the mind of a publisher, one shelf space you have is one your competitor doesn’t have.
It still works that way in bookstores. It’s just no more the only game in town, thanks to ebooks.
And that vision is in no way contradictory of what says Kristine, “each book is an asset in the company with earnings potential”. One does not prevent the other.
As someone who has run my own business for a while, I don’t worry much about discoverability as an author, but I do worry about missing wonderful books as a reader.
Back in the day, the Washington Post book review section on Sundays exposed me to many writers and topics that I would never have found otherwise.
Search can only answer the questions I know to ask.
Steven, if I may suggest two methods of discovery: 1. Goodreads–look for the books you like, look for people who like those books, and friend or follow them. They will read and review interesting things and you will learn from them. I know there’s a lot of fuss lately about shenanigans there, but I rarely encounter it as I don’t read much YA, and it seems most of it is happening in that readership. 2. Book blogs! There’s a zillion of them! Find some that review the same kind of books you like and check back often. Many book bloggers get books sent to them by publishers, so they will review the latest stuff. And some also review indies/self-published/small presses.
” The newly merged Penguin Random House (or Randy Penguin as one of my favorite PRH authors calls it) will publish 15,000 new titles in 2014, not counting everything in its backlist.”
Does that figure also include all the books RP subsidiary Author Solutions will “publish” in 2014? [snark…]
No, it doesn’t, James. I’m not even sure it counts e-book only books that got a traditional contract versus an Authors Solution one. (And I’m not being snarky.)
I’d love to see traditional publishers continue—with good author contracts and with an acknowledgement that they work in partnership with authors rather than believing that writers are necessary idiots.
This. Why is the author made to feel like a non-entity with trad publishers when without authors writing books, they wouldn’t exist?
A hazy remembrance of a joke with monkeys at typewriters seems appropriate here. 😉
I don’t know about New York so much, but in LA writers are considered idiots because everyone who can read things they can write. They view the step betwen “I can write sentences” and “I can write screenplays” as an incremental one, at most.
Of course, the difference between a professional storyteller and an English-speaker is more like the difference between “a kid who can manage to stay upright on a bicycle” and “professional motorcycle stunt racer.”
I suspect, also, that the general aversion that artists (of all sorts) exhibit toward business matters plays into this too. When entering an arena where self-interest dominates (like business), most people tend to develop contempt for those who are willfully naieve–it forces the ethical person into a situation where they must either to take advantage, or assume the responsibility for representing the other party’s interests. Frankly, that’s a crappy thing to do to somebody, and contempt is a pretty natural response to that kind of passive-aggressive behavior (and, of course, for the unethical businessperson, contempt for the mark is the watchword of the day).
With power shifting in more equitable directions, I suspect we’ll see a lot more stratification of authors along lines of who’s up for taking responsibility for themselves vs. those who aren’t, and the former may actually garner more respect than contempt.
It is a dream I have 😉
TV ads: I had sort of a meeting with a friend in the Spanish movie industry, such as it is, some days ago. He was pretty insistent on considering youtube (and similar, but very specially youtube) a TV. Without rehashing his points, that would make youtube commercials “TV advertising”. While I haven’t seen them on youtube (and they might be there, but I _really_ skim ads), I have seen a bunch of them on book/writer sites. So I’m not sure that “no TV ads” is no longer, at least, a subconscious expectation.
E-book windowing: I _have_ done that (searching samples of an unavailable book) with my readers, or my PC, but I am weird that way. Don’t they provide a link to, say, the first two chapters? Ever heard of hyperlinks, New York Pubs?
I never quite grokked Locus, though I considered subscribing in the 90s (yes, I’d learned to read by then). I don’t see how their ads compare, as an investment, to almost a third of RT’s.
I’m also unsure information doesn’t increase sales. Lack of information would diminish them, yes?
Also, publishers might be spending money on that because it’s an operating expense. It requires jobs, space… It reinforces the meme that you need them and that things are done that way. In NY prime space, of course. They don’t directly/immediately hurt from that expense: the book does (or, rather, the next one). Process vs. goal, which rather captures the industry, does it not?
Your 3 bullet points on guarantees are worth a plaque.
On the whole, though, what you’re saying is that publishers should *publish*, not simply disseminate, yes?
Thanks, Ferran. Good point on YouTube. Hadn’t thought of that.
Information does increase sales, otherwise publishers wouldn’t invest in things like ads. I thought that was clear from the piece. However, one expensive ad will not increase sales noticeably. It must be done in concert with many, many, many other things, like reviews, bookstore availability, being on the home page of Amazon, etc.
In relation to the Shatzkin quote: At Amazon, the publisher is only one of the “product details” – and like the release date, it isn’t hyperlinked.
I’m quite sure the people of Amazon never got an email from a customer: “I need to know about all the other books published by XY, please hyperlink publishers like you do authors!”
I guess maybe publishing house names meant more in the olden days, when each house had a different emphasis, and you had powerful editors with vision like Maxwell Perkins.
Nowadays, there’s 5 of them and they all publish everything from Snooki to Alice Munro.
So whether I’m buying a book online or in a store, I don’t care about the publisher, I’m interested in genre, author, and plot. I don’t care if it’s being brought to me by Random Penguin or whoever.
The only attention I pay is to whether a publisher is specifically Christian or not. I like my romances smutty, thanks, and prefer my hero and heroine to talk about sex instead of Jesus. Others prefer the opposite.
Wow! Thanks for this. And I’m really looking forward to next week’s blog post. I need to do something to make readers aware that my books exist.