I began my publishing career as a college textbook editor, working with business book authors, most of them college professors. I nurtured books in management, office automation and finance to successful publication, but perhaps the most interesting of them was a book I had inherited from my predecessor: a principles of marketing tome by Thomas Ivy and Bill Schoell. We were meeting in their home town, New Orleans, circa 1985, to discuss the changing content for the new edition. I remember quite clearly one of them saying we as Americans in general, and specifically as progenitors of change in collegiate curricula, were on the cusp of radical change. Marketing was about to become the “Next Big Thing.”
Wow, how right they were. It’s hard to imagine something – anything – besides marketing as the dominant force in our lives, mostly due to high tech and the internet. I stopped for gas today and as soon as I pressed the button, a video screen came to life, whereupon one marketer after another started yelling at me like carnival barkers. Blessedly, I soon discovered the MUTE button.
I’m currently helping a colleague, the owner of a small indie press, with marketing strategies. When we last spoke, we commiserated on how difficult marketing books is – not only for indie publishers, but in particular for authors. I mentioned how, in the former, more formal nature of publishing, the author was charged with creating a good manuscript. The publisher edited, designed, then had the book printed, along the way making all the gestures of distribution with a dash of publicity. After that, the book was cast afloat to sink or swim on its own merits.
That was then, and this is now: the publishing landscape has widened significantly due to the rise of self- and indie and hybrid publishing. The number of books published today boggles the mind. Last year, I indie-published my fourth novel (and 19th book, I might add), Bridge Across the Ocean. The published book is beautiful. The website is head and shoulders above anything any other author or publisher has done. I envisioned it as a marketing tool, but to get traction I need to market it more. Yes, I need to market the marketing tool.
I applied the knowledge and experience of my nearly fifty years in publishing to emulate what the most progressive and marketing-oriented publisher in New York City might do for an author’s book. It was a great ride for me and my associate editor, applying all our efforts to rouse the reading public’s interest. The reviewers loved the book and wrote astoundingly positive reviews. I hired an experienced, talented publicist, who scored several coups. Yet for all that, thus far Bridge has sold fewer than a hundred copies.
There are three matters increasingly left on the author’s desk: publicity, marketing and sales. Each is a profession itself and I don’t think an author alone can successfully manage all three. You need help from others but even with it, there is no assurance of your book selling well. But the old axiom is true: do nothing, and nothing will happen. If you don’t make an effort at one of these three means of getting your book before its audience, it’s “my bad” on you. But to do so means learning a new skill. And that’s most likely marketing. How to go about doing that is a subject I’ll pursue in future blog posts.