Ever since I became part of the mystery community, I’ve been hearing that having the support of your publisher is one of the essential factors in success, along with writing the very best book you can, being persistent at every stage of the process—finding an agent, persevering till you can sign that elusive contract, and being proactive in promoting your work—and creating buzz through word of mouth. But it took going through the experience with a couple of books to get it at a gut level. And unfortunately, sometimes it's the luck of the draw rather than the quality of the work that determines how much support you get.
Here are some of the things an author needs the publisher to do:
1. Your editor has to be a powerful advocate for you in house with marketing, sales, and all the decision makers regarding your contract, distribution of your book, and how long they give your series a chance to build.
2. Promotional dollars, especially for coop in the chain bookstores. The publisher won't pay for your book tour unless you're a bestseller or a celebrity, but that's the way it is for everyone. More important, you need those face-out copies and dumps and endcaps and front-of-the-store position, and that only happens if the publisher pays. If your name begins with Z and you're shelved spine at the end of the last Mystery shelf at floor level, readers will have a hard time finding you, and browsers won't find you at all.
3. Distribution: your publisher has to be proactive in making sure your book gets into the stores, especially in a timely fashion, ie at the time of publication, when you're doing your book tour (including drop-in stock signings as well as scheduled events), and in the two, three, or four month window before the stores start thinking about returns.
4. Signs of support like good coverage in the publishers' catalog, eg one or two pages vs half a page (compared with how the other authors are being presented) and content that presents the book in the most advantageous light. The catalog tells booksellers and librarians whether the publisher thinks your book is a must-have, and the catalog blurb for your book will eventually appear all over in the catalogs of libraries and all over the Internet.
5. Open communication and respect. Can you or your agent call or email your editor every time you feel concern about something and know that you'll be heard? If you spot a typo or erroneous change while the book's in production, are you given ample time to get them to change it, and are they responsive to your requests in cases where you're right and it's important? Are you seated at the publisher's table, both literally and figuratively, at public mystery events?
If all this doesn't happen, it's likely that your book will languish. Sooner or later, disappointing sales may lead to cancellation of your series no matter how you throw your heart and your own funds into your part in promotion.