I don’t know of any author who doesn’t long for the days when they could focus solely on their writing while publishers provided a marketing staff to promote their books. Unfortunately for both sides, it doesn’t appear that those days will return any time soon.

So what happened? Why did the publishing industry decide to turn writers into marketers?

I remember a time when publishers were less focused on profits and more focused on publishing quality work. (Yes, I’m that old.) They were proud of each book they published and they spent more time nurturing the author’s career, assigning at least one marketing professional to work with them on advertising and promotional efforts. They also published far fewer books back then—around 75,000 per year versus close to 900,000 today. There were 8 Big New York Publishers (down to 4 now) and the University presses rounded out traditional publishing. Then there were the companies that charged authors for publishing their work.

So, a few things happened.

printing pressModern technology made it possible for almost anyone to get into the publishing industry—and they have, from mom & pop shops (and often just the mom or the pop) to small and mid-sized publishers. These publishers do not have deep pockets. For the most part they are focused on selecting books that fit into their strategic planning and on the production process. This means their budgets are allocated toward the editorial staff and production overhead.

Marketing budgets are often twice as high as editorial and production costs, and often even higher if the publisher is printing on demand or primarily in eBook formats. The smallest publishers often have no marketing budget at all. It’s counter-intuitive and you’ll see these publishers struggle to stay afloat.

calculatorThe largest publishers have become increasingly leaner. Because marketing costs are so high, their focus on profit makes it necessary to focus those dollars on sure sellers. This means the top ½ of 1% receive the bulk of advertising and promotions. Ironically, they are the ones who need it the least: those in which the authors already have millions of fans and previous bestsellers and celebrities who have a platform that reaches millions.

During the shake-up in the publishing industry, some bright bean counter decided that an author should be responsible for the success or failure of their own work. Never mind that the skills required to write a book—whether fiction or non-fiction—are decidedly different than the skills required to market, promote and sell.

So how can you spend more time writing and less time marketing? Here are five things you can do:

  1. Select one genre or closely-related genres. While it’s true that a good author can write in multiple genres, each one requires a different market approach. If you spend the time and effort growing an audience for your romance and then switch to action/adventure, you’re going to have to grow that new market segment. It isn’t impossible; it just takes time.
  2. Ask what marketing and promotional efforts a publisher provides before signing. Some offer absolutely nothing while others provide a 3-to-6-month launch and still others mail catalogs to thousands of book stores and libraries. Publishers should also be willing to help with press releases as well as preparation of marketing materials or the press kit.
  3. Team up with other authors of the same genre. Writing is a lone experience but there are definite advantages to working with others for promotion, as each author brings in their own audience. You can set up blog hops online, use social networking for promoting as a group, set up physical group signings or participate in book fairs together. If you choose your team wisely, you can create a supportive group that generates excitement. You can also pool your resources and create an annual Christmas catalog or summer reading catalog that is mailed to each of your mailing lists or available for downloading online.
  4. Forge relationships with booksellers, libraries and special interest groups. If you can establish a good relationship with a local book store, you can be rewarded with powerful advocates that sell your book when you’re not there to do it yourself. Libraries will often purchase multiple copies of your books, particularly if they have several branches. Contacting a large city school system or county-wide system can result in book purchases for multiple schools. Special interest groups can include historical societies or museums that could carry your books as well as schedule a talk to their members.
  5. Understand the differences between book marketing, book promotion and selling. Book marketing is raising awareness of the author and/or their titles. Book promotion is a campaign whose goal is to drive book sales. Selling is talking someone into considering a purchase.

Classic Ford TruckThink of it this way: when you see a generic advertisement about Ford trucks, that’s marketing. When you see an advertisement where the truck is discounted or interest rates are reduced, that’s promotion. When you visit the lot and the salesperson assists you, that’s selling.

Unlike publishers who must pay staff to market (and salaries are generally one of the highest expenditures a company can make), an author can market, promote and sell with little to no overhead.

Our 52-week Marketing Plan covers all three components: marketing, promotion and selling. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that in this digital age, you already have many of the skills required to be a successful marketer—such as writing compelling copy. Check out this information or visit our contact page if you have specific questions.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books in several genres. Her first book was published in 1984 and she became a full-time writer in 2002. She has mentored authors for more than 15 years and is the co-founder of The Book ‘Em Foundation and the founder of the Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair. For more information, visit www.pmterrell.com.