On the subject of marketing and promotion, I’m saddened to hear that some publishers don’t get back to their authors in a timely manner concerning promotional events. Sometimes it’s beyond their control and a matter of bad timing, but if it’s a regular occurrence, that’s really unfortunate. And as an author, you may feel hamstrung in your efforts because there is probably a clause in your contract somewhere that says you have to have all promotional pieces and marketing efforts approved by your publisher.
There is a reason for that clause as illustrated in this story about Nathan Newauthor. Nathan is a soon-to-be-published new author whose book is currently at the press. In his enthusiasm and inexperience and without permission and approval from the publisher, Nathan decides to get very creative with his marketing ideas. Having read a book on guerilla marketing for writers and being encouraged to push the envelope by friends and family (who know very little about the publishing industry), Nathan creates and hand distributes a promotional piece at an event with nearly 1,000 attendees that are HIS TARGET AUDIENCE.
Wa-hoo! Those orders ought to start rolling in.
Here’s what Nathan doesn’t understand.
- Although he and his mother thought it looked quite attractive, his marketing piece was very unprofessionally done. It looked like it had been copied at Kinko’s and hand-cut and assembled. Which it had been. Now, let’s think for a minute. Does an ugly promotional piece encourage or discourage someone to go purchase a product? Do the people he gave promo to know that Nathan lovingly slaved for hours to create this? Do they give him an A for effort? No. They think the publisher did it–and if that’s the best the publisher can do, why would they think the “real” book would be any better? Nathan most likely just lost 800 of the 1,000 people in his target audience.
If Nathan’s publisher had been involved, the promo would have been professionally designed, using appropriate fontage and color and white space and all that other graphic design mumbo-jumbo that most people poo-poo, but which has an actual, measurable impact on the buyer.
- Nathan spent way too much money on the project, so he decided to just do a few in color and the rest in black and white. Color says, these people know what they’re doing; black and white says, these people are working out of their garage on a shoe-string budget.
Had Nathan’s publisher created the piece, it would have been in color and printed at a much lower price. Because we have connections.
- Nathan thought it would be great to get advance notice out for his book. Good in theory. But if you market too soon, you lose momentum. Since his release is over a month away, it’s too soon to market to the end customer.
Nathan also thinks people will pre-order his book. No, they won’t because his name is not J.K. Rowling. They’ll go to the bookstore or website, decide to wait to get the book when it’s available, and then FORGET about it.
Publishers understand this. We time our advance notice.
- Nathan didn’t know (because he didn’t bother to ask) and the publisher hadn’t told him (because it clearly states in the contract that Nathan has to approve all marketing efforts and since he didn’t, the publisher had no way of knowing he was planning something like this) is that there was trouble at the printer and his books are going to be delayed by several weeks past his scheduled release date.
Publishers know that release dates can be tentative and they plan accordingly. New authors believe the release date is carved in stone.
- Nathan thought it would be a great thing to let all the people at this event know about his upcoming release. What he didn’t know is that the event coordinators have a very strict policy against distributing promotional pieces at said event. In fact, if a publisher does that, they are very often asked never to return.
If Nathan had asked his publisher, the publisher could have prevented this serious faux pas.
- Nathan thought he was doing his publisher a favor because the event coordinators are one of the publisher’s largest bulk buyers. But they don’t like what he did. They are not happy. If they are severely unhappy, not only will they NOT buy Nathan’s book, but they may also stop buying other books from this publisher. Nathan thinks he was only promoting himself and his book, but in reality, since the publisher’s name was all over the marketing piece, he was also indirectly representing the publisher, and by default, all of their other products as well.
Again, the publisher could have prevented Nathan from not only shooting himself in the foot, but also from shooting the feet of the publisher and their other authors.
- Nathan thinks marketing and promotion is all fun and games, and that anything goes. As long as he’s paying for it, what’s the harm? What he doesn’t realize is that he’s created a situation that could cause a lot of potential harm, for himself, for his book, for the publisher and for every other author the publisher represents.
Because the event coordinators are a major buyer of the publisher’s products, the publisher has to keep them happy. This is especially important in a small market like ours, where there are only so many distribution channels.
If the buyer is ticked, and the publisher blows it off, they lose credibility with the buyer. If the buyer is really ticked, the publisher may have to choose between Nathan Newauthor’s not-yet-released book and placating the buyer. Since Nathan’s book is one teeny part of the publisher’s product line, and the buyer is a huge part of the publisher’s income, what do you think the publisher is going to do? The choice could literally be between dropping the author like a hot potato or going out of business.
Worst case scenario: the publisher decides Nathan’s mistake puts them in a high-risk situation, cancels the contract with Nathan, destroys the book, and sues Nathan for loss and damages due to breach of contract.
Best case scenario: the publisher gives Nathan a harsh talking to, holds the release of the book until everything is smoothed over with the big buyer, and is now very reluctant to consider future projects with Nathan.
Point of the story: Just because an author doesn’t understand why a publisher has a certain policy or clause in their contract, it doesn’t mean there’s not a very good reason for it. When an author disregards that, they are asking for trouble.
Another point of the story [for those of you who still don’t quite understand this concept yet]: Yes, for the publisher, the bottom line IS ABOUT THE MONEY. If we don’t make money, we won’t be publishers for very long.
One last point: If this is too restrictive for you, then you are free to self-publish. No one is preventing you. But if you choose the traditional publishing route, you have to be willing to play by the publisher’s rules.
P.S. This is not a fictional story. It is based on true events, but the names and a few small particulars have been changed to protect the… well, you know.
P.P. S. Fortunately for Nathan, the publisher was able to smooth things over with the buyer and he got the best case scenario.