word craft


Promoting Books

promoting books

In the Sep­tem­ber 2 issue of The Econ­o­mist, in their “Cul­ture” sec­tion, there is a long arti­cle about the pub­lish­ing indus­try in both the UK and the USA.  The gist of the piece is that while pub­lish­ing likes to pro­mote its devo­tion to “lit­er­ary fic­tion” what­ev­er that means, the books that pay the publisher’s bills and make a prof­it are over­whelm­ing­ly romance nov­els and thrillers. More­over, authors of such books are pro­lif­ic. James Pater­son is cred­it­ed with writ­ing 340 books albeit some with oth­er writ­ers. Danielle Steel has writ­ten over 200. 

But—the point of the article—the pub­lish­ing world doesn’t like to talk about this. 

These days it costs, appar­ent­ly, between fif­teen to nine­teen thou­sand dol­lars to pro­duce a book, and to earn that invest­ment back a book must sell at least five thou­sand copies. In Britain only 0.4% of titles sold that num­ber. (No ref­er­ence to USA num­bers in that regard but it’s prob­a­bly not so different). 

Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly the world of pub­lish­ing is going through a major change in regard to the way books are being pro­mot­ed. When I first start­ed pub­lish­ing in 1970, the pub­lish­er did almost all of the marketing. 

[That said, years ago I pub­lished a book and the pub­lish­er belat­ed­ly let me know they had for­got­ten to send out any books for review or marketing.} 

Back then, the only mar­ket­ing writ­ers did were in-per­son book tours, con­fer­ences, book­stores, libraries, and schools. 

Almost all of that is gone. Social media has become the chief mar­ket­ing tool, and much of that comes from the writ­ers them­selves. The covid pan­dem­ic did much to induce that, but it was begin­ning to hap­pen pri­or to that. A pub­lish­er let me know that even the num­ber of book reviews in pub­li­ca­tions has rad­i­cal­ly declined. 

Not long ago a pub­lish­er bragged to me that one of his recent best­sellers became so with­out any pub­lish­ing mar­ket­ing at all—all social media. 

To me, the most inter­est­ing part of the Econ­o­mist arti­cle are com­ments by such peo­ple as Markus Dohie (the head of Penguin/Random) and Jonathan Karp (head of Simon & Schus­ter) that “Tak­ing cred­it for a best­seller is like tak­ing cred­it for the weath­er (Karp). And “Best­sellers are ran­dom.” (Dohie). 

I am remind­ed of what the British writer Som­er­set Maugh­am was once quot­ed as say­ing, “There are three rules for writ­ing a nov­el. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, no one knows what they are.” 

The mes­sage to writ­ers is clear. The best you can do is write your best. And then see what hap­pens. But do keep in mind what writer G.K. Chester­ton said: “A good nov­el tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad nov­el tells us the truth about its author.”

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