Monday, June 21, 2010

An author's responsibility

by Jane

The other day I came upon this piece about bestselling author M.J. Rose and it made me realize that there are still many authors who don’t take the bull by the horns and accept responsibility for the process of publishing their books especially in the area of promotion and marketing.

So often I hear clients say that the publisher is postponing publication of their books yet again, and I wonder why they don’t realize that publishers won’t put a book into a final publishing schedule until the final manuscript has been accepted. When the author is late with either his initial delivery or returning his edits, of course his book’s publication is going to be affected.

Then, there’s the author who hates the cover art for his or her book but then doesn’t suggest an alternative. This is part of the authors’ responsibility and it’s why we insist that there be language in the contract offering them consultation on the cover, and while it can be challenging it can also be fun. Ditto for the title. So many authors hate the titles their publishers like; they object, but they don’t come up with any alternate suggestions, and as a result, they are often truly unhappy with their work’s title.

Finally, of course, comes the promotion and publicity and it is here, as M.J. Rose so correctly says, where the author really needs to take full responsibility. No longer are most publishers willing to foot the bill for extensive publicity campaigns for two reasons: 1) they don’t have the money in many cases and 2) most of the methods that were once effective in publicizing a book are no longer working. Today, it is the author’s “job” to promote and sell his or her book—by using social media like Facebook and Twitter, by blogging, by calling on independent bookstores themselves and by doing this every day, especially for the initial six weeks after their book’s publication.

No more can or should an author complain about his or her publisher. This is counterproductive. Instead, the author should take charge in every way possible to get his or her book out into the marketplace and reach a wide reading audience. Only when that has been done effectively can the author become a writer again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so let me know.

13 comments:

  1. Since publishers can't, and writers don't know how, I'm hoping a new field opens up that teaches writers how to promote their work. Blog or website consultant, as well as PR :)

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  2. This is actually refreshing to hear. I have titles for my works, obviously, but I also have ideas on how the covers should look, merchandising ideas, my own blog, and twitter accounts, etc. From other articles, blogs, and so forth I've read online, it was starting to sound like once an author hands over their "baby" it becomes someone else's and they get little to no say in titles, covers, or promotions. I don't mean to say that I would be a complete control freak--I'm easy going by nature and would be willing to find alternatives if the publishing experts thought my ideas would never work. Obviously, I like to write...but the promoting aspect also sounds like a lot of fun, so yes, I'm glad to hear that authors are expected to be a part of all of that too!

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  3. I completely agree Jen, it's nice to hear.

    I would take the initiative and be my own PR. It would take some working up to (since I'm the shy, recluse type) but I would do it. It makes me sad that some authors don't see that, and they are really missing out on the experience of meeting new people and getting themselves and their book out there.

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  4. Suzi has a point; if publishers don't have the money, and most authors don't know how that too is counterproductive. Not to mention there are many 'promotions' out there that simply don't work. I have no problem being active in promotion, but I wouldn't want to waste valuable time on things that don't work either.

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  5. Thanks for posting about my interview. And for all you authors who don't know how - we have a really intensive class every January. Limited to 25 students - all online. You can find out more about it here: http://www.bksp.org/content/view/141/2/

    It will updated this week for the 2011 schedule. You can also write me about it at MJRoseAuthor at gmail dot com

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  6. "No more can or should an author complain about his or her publisher. This is counterproductive. Instead, the author should take charge in every way possible to get his or her book out into the marketplace and reach a wide reading audience. Only when that has been done effectively can the author become a writer again."

    Only when a writer becomes a completely different thing -- i.e., a marketer -- can the author become a writer again? This is nonsense.

    And, it's the complaining about publishers abandoning their proper marketing role that's counterproductive, and not the abandonment of that marketing role by publishers? Seriously?

    I'm sorry, but in no other entertainment field is the creative class forced to be marketers and salesmen for their own creative product. This is bad business, bad reasoning, and simple bad form.

    Authors can and should complain, because being able to write a marketable book and doing the actual marketing have no more to do with each other than automobile engineering and race car driving. Their agents should be standing by them and representing their clients' interests rather than enabling publishers to continue this nonsensical, incompetent practice.

    And, when publishing execs live in the same tax bracket that the majority of authors do, then I'll buy the "we don't have the money" argument.

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  7. Also, I think there should be definitions of what exactly 'marketing' entails, and what 'promotion' entails. Too often those terms are used synonymously, and many authors and industry folks I've read say they're not the same at all.

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  8. Contracts outline precisely what's expected of the author and publisher at the pre-publication stage, they talk about money and timeframes and duties and penalties.

    If there's a new set of things a publisher expects an author to do, and this is a bone of contention, then perhaps modern contracts should also spell out exactly what authors *and* the publisher are expected to do to market their books.

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  9. "I'm sorry, but in no other entertainment field is the creative class forced to be marketers and salesmen for their own creative product."

    Anonymous is obviously not a musician.

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  10. "Anonymous is obviously not a musician."

    Or a graphic designer.

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  11. "Authors can and should complain, because being able to write a marketable book and doing the actual marketing have no more to do with each other than automobile engineering and race car driving. Their agents should be standing by them and representing their clients' interests rather than enabling publishers to continue this nonsensical, incompetent practice."

    I totally agree. Marketing is a skill and it is a totally different skill from being the content producer and it shouldn't be the authors job to market their own book.

    Look at all the publicity surrounding the release of Justin Cronin's The Passage. This is a "The Stand" style post-apoc vampire novel. It is everything that most mainstream publishers are telling us doesn't sell right now, but Stephen King gave it a nice cover blurb and the publisher did a multi-million dollar publicity campaign around it.

    I've read it. It is good, but not great. It isn't any better than any other horror novel available.

    If they put 1/10th the effort into marketing other novels that they put into The Passage, they might find that some of those novels were also big sellers.

    If you feel that the author is going to be the one responsible for marketing their own book -- I respectfully suggest that the author might as well go balls to the wall and become their own publisher.

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  12. "I'm sorry, but in no other entertainment field is the creative class forced to be marketers and salesmen for their own creative product."

    Anonymous is obviously not a musician.

    Or a photographer, actor, or painter. Or anything creative, really. In fact, at least someone else is publishing the book. I've been an actor, and was married to a painter and am currently married to a photographer/musician. We do all kinds of publicity for everything. At our own expense, no less.

    That said, I have a background in arts marketing and as someone who has just spent the last five months doing marketing for my debut, Restoring Harmony, I frankly don't know how people without that background pull it off. I kind of like marketing. I like creating buzz, but some of my writer friends really are at a loss, and I do agree that writing is the reason we got into it, and it's a shame to have to do all this marketing if it's not your thing.

    While it might be necessary and true that we have to do our own publicity, I think it's sad. I've had fun, but honestly, I would've rather written a new book over the last five months. Luckily, FedEx is on its way with my new edits and so it's back to work. Yay! Great post.

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  13. Of course the author should promote, same as the other creative’s listed in comments. But the time to promote is about 1 month pre-publication and 2 months after. From agent query to publication I believe is about a year; what I don’t get is why an unpublished author is expected to have half a zillion followers on twit-face-blog-book before he/she types out; Once upon a time.

    Though it must be expected that the author promote, surly it is for publisher and agents to arrange promotion events and interviews.

    As for cover and title; if an author can’t think of an appropriate and interesting title, it doesn’t inspire that the content will be any different. Cover, I would say a suggestion by the author should be listened to, but the marketing guys should know best and have last word.

    Also, as when anyone gets a deal, they will without a doubt have to sacrifice writing time for promo, I would suggest the writer has a good second manuscript ready for publication before the first one finds ink.

    Do I have any misconceptions here? Please put me right where I am wrong.

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