Here’s the problem with traditional publishing, whether located in NY or not (though there are only 5-6 major publishing houses in world which own almost all others except independents): about 98% of all authors who are published by those houses (and I’ve been with them) get $0 for publicity.
You read that right: $0.
I was told, for my first novel, that I wasn’t “important enough” to get any publicity $ and asked to pay for my own tour (which I saved $ for a year to do because I thought it was important to get out there).
Same with second novel despite critical acclaim, awards, and 10 foreign sales of 1st novel: asked to pay for own tour. Got one stop (to LA) reimbursed because famous actor who’d optioned 1st novel asked if I could come there & do reading for 1st & 2nd book & meet him to discuss 1st book (agent then negotiated that publisher pay for LA portion of plane ticket and motel, though I was at a Holiday Inn, not anywhere fancy). By the way, though the movie was funded, it was never made, for Hollywood political reasons, so I never got the option $ for the book (you only get it if movie gets made or actor/director buys option anyway in hopes of making film after 7-year option expires: most books are released after initial 7-year option period).
Authors, even when published by NY, either hire their own publicists, or do everything themselves anyway; so, really, self-published or Indie authors (by the latter, I mean those who know business or have been previously pub’d by NY) are doing the same as authors at big houses already have to do but keeping money from books for themselves instead of giving it to agents and NY houses.
In return for that, however, authors have to either do copyediting, design, etc themselves or pay to have it done (since that’s really all NY does for most of us).
For marketing and getting audience attention, I would say that the social media helps tremendously, as does having e-books, since NY is being slow to adopt them and is rather hostile to e-books, e.g., seeing all authors whose books have been taken out of print by NY and who are putting them up for sale as e-books as “self-published” authors, which has negative connotations to it.
Since bookstores don’t do readings anymore (my small house used to rely tremendously on the “local” B&Ns since they made $ off my own books & so I had corporate approval for my authors to do readings at their local B&Ns), you can’t sell books that way.
Now, I can’t even get a reading for myself at a local B&N (11 of my own books published, plus my authors’ books), though bookstores make 35-55% of cover price on each book they sell (B&N makes 49% on each book, I believe).
The bookstores claim that, even with cafes, they make no money on bookstore readings, though the NY publishers pay for all the advertising, travel, etc., and it costs bookstores nothing to host the event (okay, maybe $5 if they have a Starbucks cafe and they buy author a coffee grande).
Publishers do not pay bookstores to have their authors do readings since it’s understood that bookstores make up to 50% of the cover price for each book sold: that’s how they stay in business.
So, whom does NY pay advertising for? People like Stephen King, John Grisham, Anne Rice, etc. who’ve received millions of dollars in Advances which must be made up in sales, but even they don’t do readings any longer.
How are the rest of us supposed to do it?
Reader reviews (I know you can’t beg them, but they help or hurt), places like GoodReads, Twitter; blogging regularly; giving readers a way to feel connected to you (website, blog) and contact you if they have questions (public email – not private ones, website URLs, agent/publicist phone # or mail).
Amazon Author Page is a great idea, since people can find you and all your books in one place, which happens to be a “bookstore” – couldn’t get shelf-space like that in a brick&mortar bookstore, not even before e-books.
Goodreads is great since readers can contact you with messages/questions and you can respond to them.
A backlog of titles helps, since sales will be like they were in bookstores: by word of mouth from readers. Even Stephen King didn’t start out as Stephen King. Nor did Anne Rice: both used pseudonyms and got rejected and wrote other genres until suddenly they started to make it big in horror. Then they got publicity budgets; said budgets don’t do too very much any longer since the advent of e-books.
In short, 98% of authors never have had big NY marketing machines behind them anyway; those authors made modest if any sales, got their books taken out of print, and had day-jobs their whole careers.
Now, most of us are turning to e-books as a way to take our power back. And to put our books back out there so readers can get them (it’s impossible to resell an out of print book to another publisher, no matter the reason it went OP, since NY always assumes that an OP book “lost $”, i.e., it didn’t earn back (earn out) its Advance $; my own 1st novel earned out its Advance 6 months before it was published, but was taken OP when HarperCollins “released” all its “literary authors” – then HC bought Ecco, a literary house, acquired its authors, like Erica Jong, Joyce Carol Oates, etc. which it had declined to publish in the first place: go figure…)
The only thing NY publishers can offer authors now is an Advance against royalties (and that’s the only money you can guarantee getting), and authors have to give 20% of that to agent, & much of remainder to taxes. In return, authors give up all power and control over book, including title, cover, editing, rewriting (if editor feels so inclined, though most are only marketers to their own houses, not to public at large), e-books, foreign sales, etc.
I’ve had postcards made, with book covers on front, description & purchasing info on back, to send out to magazines, newspapers, libraries, universities, schools; to pass out locally, etc. I’m on Twitter & Goodreads, have a website, etc.
A backlist helps, since rarely do first books make authors rich (unless they win the Oprah lottery, as we used to call it, but stats show that no author ever chosen by Oprah made it to the bestseller list again: they just didn’t have to worry about it because the $ they made from being chosen by Oprah set them up for life, if not for guaranteed publication: each book is judged anew or only by book immediately preceding it, so if that book didn’t do well, NY editors will pass on it).
Staying the course & the distance is most important, staying visible, keep turning out works so readers who do like you can find other books, tell their friends, write reviews etc. Being an author is not a get-rich-quick proposition, nor is finding an audience, but slowly, if your work is good, you’ll build up an audience with each book, and with social media in place, you could end up being one of the lucky ones who makes it big and can quit her day-job.
One of my agents once told me that less than .5% of published authors make their living solely from writing: all the rest have day-jobs, though some make enough to do writing conferences all the time (that becomes their day-job).
Think word of mouth, from readers, and do everything in your power to connect with them; keep producing books regularly to feed their appetites; stay yourself (but professional, of course: each author has a public persona unless s/he’s a drunk and doesn’t care); help other authors (they’re generous people in helping to promote fellow authors); and don’t give up.
Never give up.
If you must write or die, then you’ll likely be an author, but being an author doesn’t mean you’ll make your living as one: it means that, somewhere, you have an audience and it’s reading your work.
In the past, before social media, the only way to know who your audience was and to connect with it was through bookstore readings or writers’ conferences. Now we have the Internet & its various social media venues to connect with your audience.
Those are your marketing tools. There was never any “marketing machine” for most of us, and, unfortunately, we only hear about the huge success stories, like Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Amanda Hocking, Scott Nicholson, etc.
So just keep writing your books, and get involved with your audience with social media. Keep your fingers crossed. You’re doing what you love already by writing, I assume: if you have any sales at all, then you have an audience already, and it will grow with each book.
Originally posted on Goodreads, 15 July 2012