Indi publisher’s jobs: marketing

As I’ve said a time or two, I think the publisher of the future has to provide a range of benefits for the author if he wants to get hired.

I’ve written a few word about editing, and I’ve touched on covers once or twice. I think today I’m going to mumble through a few words on one of the more useful things the publisher should be bringing: marketing. In fact, I’m going to say that marketing should be the biggest thing the modern publisher brings.

The American Marketing Association has a long-winded (even for me) definition of marketing. I’m going to colloquialize it a bit. (Yes, it’s my blog and I can make up words if I want to.) Marketing is the variety of activities that gets your product noticed and preferred by potential customers.

The cover is part of marketing. So are blurbs. Both are end-point marketing, however. They are very important, but they basically only pull people already looking for books, and often only looking in the shelves/genre area your stuff occupies already. That doesn’t mean you should half-step it mind you. Because if your open area marketing is great but you can’t bring them to the finish, you can’t close the deal.

Using a very clumsy analogy, if you can get them to come to the car lot but the cars are muddy and poorly arranged they’re not going to see that there’s a real gem over in the corner under your name.

But I’ve talked enough of covers for now that I’m not going again. Instead, let’s look at some of the thing a publisher should be doing for you, the author. Again they’re things you can do, if you’re willing to spend the time and the effort — and while you’re at it build up some of the necessary skills so you’re not a ham-handed hack.

An indie publisher is not wealthy. As a consequence he or she should be looking heavily at high-payoff plans and procedures.

The big buzzword is social media. Facebook and myspace, twitter and tumblr, even somewhat old-fashioned (grin) blogs should be part of the retinue. They’re cheap and popular. They are subject to some real stupidities, mind. I’ve mentioned why I personally will never use Twitter for myself. However, if I started Kirk Publishing (not the name I’d choose by the way) it would be a regular part of my day’s activities.

The whole social media marketing deserves (and has) books – and even some specifically oriented to the publishing. So I’m not going to detail it. Instead I’m going to point out basic markers. For example: you should be getting on groups that follow your genre. And when you do, don’t just say “Hey, I’ve got a book you’ll like.” You need to take time to be part of the community. A general guide: you should probably have at least a week of posting (more than “me too”) before you push your stuff. If the format you’re using (forums, not twitter, for example) allow, a good signature block that happens to point to your publishing firm can be quietly beneficial.

Advance copies for reviews are great, but remember you’re paying for the copies. The classic, and still useful, method is to send them to known reviewers. I’m of mixed opinion of this for the indi. On the one hand, if you can afford it it’s a big payoff when the reviewer accepts. On the other, they get so many that it’s a bit of a gamble that you’ll get anything. One of the lesser known routes, however, is to return to your social media. Identify who on the lists and discussions everyone seems to be following and hearing. Contact THEM about reading and reviewing the books.

If you’re an author self-publishing this means every book to all your contacts. If you’re a publisher, one of the dances you’ll have to do is deciding who to ask in regard to THIS book, whatever the book might be. You don’t want to ask a particular person to read and review Every Single Time. First, it gets old for them. Second, other people notice and begin to wonder if the reviewer is a shill. Well, as a pre-copy reviewer of course he or she is, but they wonder if they’re just a sock puppet or someone you’re paying (in more than books) to write nice things. Over use destroys effectiveness.

That said, unless you’re publishing a hundred or more books a year and they’re all in the same genre, you’re probably not going to reach these limits as fast as you’d think. No, you’re more likely to get “not this time” from the potential reviewer.

Another opportunity for reviewers is authors in your genre(s). Payoff time: midlisters are better than toplisters. Oh, sure, the top lister will have more people listen. But at the same time we’re back to the lottery effect: if ours is the one chosen out of the hundreds offered, we win.

Announcements and reviews are obvious. I’d also like to mention two or three not-so-obvious things that, frankly, every publisher should be doing (and several are).

There’s reason to think that as publishing goes into the future, the imprint will be less important. However, less important does not mean non-existent. As a publisher you want customers and retailers both to at least somewhat recall that you do good books. Part of this is advertising and sales, not of a few books, but of the books you publish even if it isn’t all of them every time. Part of it is simple presence.

And I guess I want to give a specific example. Over the past two or three years, publisher presence at conventions has gotten smaller and smaller. Let me rephrase that: BIG and MID publisher presence has gotten smaller and smaller. And indi publishers aren’t going. Hello, meet your friend opportunity.

I need to remind that the opportunity is not just to make potential readers aware of your books. In fact, as an indi/micro publisher I’m going to suggest that should be your secondary purpose. Instead focus on the potential authors, and plan your booths, presentations, and panels along those lines. Meet every single book retailer at these conventions. Oh, sure, grab readers if you can. Have a “convention sale” with every business card/flyer you made for the convention have a code that will allow a discount for the upcoming week. Toss some books into the ubiquitous raffle (don’t forget to make them noteworthy with author signature or other special.) But concentrate on looking like a publisher who focuses mainly on the writers.

I could go on and on again. In fact I probably will. But the main thing I want to point out is that marketing takes a LOT of time and unlike editing it doesn’t have an end-state. It is, however, the multiplier for sales. As an indi/micro publisher it should be the main thing you offer that your author doesn’t want to do or can’t do.

Oh, one last thing. If you as a publisher say it’s the author’s job to market — to run a blog and/or twitter, to appear at signings on his/her own dime, to ensure that everybody knows the book is there — then you failed. Sorry, you did. The author’s job is to create a story. Your job is to get that story in the hands of the readers. This isn’t to say you can’t arrange signings and appearances, that you can’t have your writer contribute to blogs and other social media. But know your writer, know what they can do and want to do, and use that as supplement to the marketing scheme instead of the primary focus of it.

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