Monday, September 25, 2006

Jane Dystel asks, "Where has all the planning gone?"

Where has all the Planning Gone?

One of the biggest issues I see with the books I sell to publishers these days is that there is no planning beforehand for promotion, publicity and advertising. Most of the time, the book is acquired with absolutely no thought as to how the Publisher will sell it. Oh sure, there is a sales estimate sometimes supplied by the sales department and sure, the author and agent are grilled about the author’s credentials and platform, and sure there is an author questionnaire that the author fills out (and is often never read by anyone) but after that – nothing.

And so when the publishing date approaches, publishers scramble to put some kind of plan together for the book’s launch and way too often, I find that plan is insufficient and not at all thought through. And shockingly, the publisher almost never consults with the author as to what they think might work. And then, when there are no initial results, the publisher says, “Well, I guess the book didn’t connect with the reader.” And, they move on to the next title.

This last season on two books I have represented and sold very successfully, we were very disappointed in the promotion, publicity and advertising efforts of the publishing houses. In each case, the publisher spent a significant amount of money trying to promote the book; in one, they promoted the book with the totally wrong message and didn’t involve the author (a major media person) at all; and in the case of the second book, there was no thought out strategy about exactly what to do, where and when. Not only did the books suffer; the publishers, I fear, lost significant money and the relationship between the publisher and the author went south.

In my opinion, promotion and marketing mishaps could be avoided by planning carefully for a book’s launch from the very beginning. Why don’t publishers think out of the box more in terms of internet and special events marketing? One of my clients got himself invited to give a talk about his book and its message at one of the giant churches that have cropped up all over the country in recent years. The congregation’s reaction was overwhelming and, as a result, he has been invited to deliver a number of other similar talks. Why couldn’t this have been done by his publisher?

At the time of acquisition, there should be some kind of initial idea as to how the book will be sold to consumers. This should then be followed immediately after the manuscript is accepted by a more elaborate plan developed in collaboration with the author and with the editor who, after all, is more familiar with each book than anyone else in the company.

In this day and age, when there is so much competition for the consumer’s attention, it is in all of our best interests, I think, to improve this part of our business drastically. In that way, every one of us will win.


  1. Great post, thank you! I agree with David, it seems many authors are writing with a particular market in mind. Recently at the RWA convention it seemed that the big talk was niche markets. Such as writing for NASCAR fans.

    Writing with such a particular group in mind seems like a good way to build loyal readers, but also limiting in reader numbers.

    On a related note, I've wondered something related to publicity on the author side. If an author has a promotions/marketing/PR background, would that be useful information to put in a query letter for an agent? Especially if a writer falls short on publishing credentials for fiction.

  2. Welcome to the blogosphere!

    Your post is the reason why I've developed my own marketing plans. Publishers are production and distribution and little else it seems.


  3. Welcome...welcome...welcome. I hope you guys all enjoy the blogging experience. As a writer I really appreciate your willingness to share things from your side of the fence. Thanks so much.

  4. This lack of marketing foresight on the part of publishers seems to be such a well-documented phenomenon lately that I wonder why it isn't being met more agressively and head-on by the houses. I know it's all about the bottom line, but good marketing (or lack thereof) has such an effect on the bottom line that it doesn't seem logical to neglect promotion once the acquisition has gone through. I often wonder what it will take to cause the kind of sea change that seems necessary in the world of book marketing (especially in my genre of literary fiction).

  5. First, I'm glad to see an agency that's also interested in publicity. I feared it was just us writers.

    Second, I know publishers (at least some of them) still have marketing and PR departments, so what are they paying these people to do? Or are the PR budgets so skimpy they can only afford to promote the BIG titles, which are going to sell anyway?

  6. Jane,

    Sorry to respond so late after your posting, but I just discovered your agency's blog.

    Thank you for this post, because you confirmed some fears I had developed regarding publishers and marketing. I've gone to several writers conferences over the past five years and each time the outlook becomes bleaker and bleaker regarding what publishers are willing to do for manuscripts in regards to editing, and also marketing finished products. This makes it almost incumbent upon authors to develop their own marketing strategy and possibly pay for their own publicist.

    Last April my writing club had a local publisher as our guest and he spoke on the topic of marketing and what he finds attractive in marketing plans in book proposals. He imparted a lot of useful information, but I was struck on how he seemed to be behind the curve when it came to the internet. One of his authors would write online articles online, then they would get transmitted and reprinted in a myriad of places. The publisher said he could always tell when this author had done something like that because it caused an immediate uptick in sales.

    And yet, he still seemd to think of the internet as a passing fad instead of an evolutionary trend that he was going have to understand and either Adapt or Die.

    He also used "platform" in his talk, but there is another term that I think should be part of the publishing lexicon if it is not currently. That term is "fanbase."

    Platform describes someone's expertise on a subject, but fanbase is a legion of people who are committed to buying books once they hit the shelves.

    One of our club members has a popular blog on AOL and has had over 100,000 hits in the last year. She's not an expert on anything, but she has fans. If she made a collection of her blog entries and it came out in book format, there's a good chance her fans would buy it - even if they've already read the stuff for free online.

    Because a nice shiny book on your bookshelf is something different than something on your computer screen. You can snuggle up with a book in bed, or take it with you anywhere, etc. Books are different than any of its digital counterparts.

    And that's why I belive books will continue to be important far into the 21st Century and the Information Age. However, marketing has dramatically changed from the 20th century schemes of snail mailing press releases or "if you schedule it they will come" book signings.

    Nope, online chats with fans or author call-in Q&A's with readers are really the wave of the future. Donna Woolfolk Cross and her success with the paperback version of Pope Joan is a case in point. (I go into detail about that on my blog if you want to know more about Donna and Pope Joan.)

    Thank you again for sharing,

    Linda McCabe