Thursday, April 22, 2010

How important is the publisher to a book’s success?

Elizabeth Zelvin

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.


Diana J said...

Really interesting comments. Empathy abounds! As a novice author on the block I was given some essential advice that it was the personal approach from the writer which would have the most positive impact. Talking to people and bookshops, forging links with interested groups and societies and making phone calls, I was told, would be the most effective way to find my way 'out there' with Riduna. This approach is costly in terms of time, and of course resources, but it is so rewarding and many people I have met along the way are so supportive, they have almost become friends.
The timing hasn't always been easy, but I agree wholeheartedly that keeping good communications with your publisher is vital, even when things don’t go to plan, which happens of course. Realising that we are all working as hard as we can in a difficult market and continuing to believe in your writing are in essential keys to a hopefully more successful future.

Sheila Connolly said...

All too true.

Communication is important. Don't be afraid to ask questions of your agent and editor, and your in-house publicist. Don't bug them all the time, but let them know you're interested and ask for relevant information like sales figures.

It's often hard for shy writers to walk up to booksellers and push themselves and their book, but it's necessary. Build relationships--it helps. As you said, word of mouth and buzz matter.

Sandra Parshall said...

All very true, Liz, but as you know many of these are things the writer can't control at all. If the editor is lukewarm about your book... if an enthusiastic editor leaves the company and you're assigned to an editor who simply isn't interested... if, like the majority of writers, you don't get co-op money from the publisher... how does the individual writer overcome any or all of those circumstances?

The writer is often completely in the dark about what the publisher is doing -- if anything -- to promote their book(s). I've heard and read many times that promotion budgets are closely held secrets and the writer may not ever get an accurate figure, regardless of how persistent she is with her questions. Even top-10 bestselling authors might wear out their editors' patience if they're on the phone frequently asking questions. Those who are much lower down on the totem pole run a real risk of being considered too much trouble to work with.

However you look at it, the writer gets the short end of the stick.

KK Brees said...

I've had that same thought about the hapless author whose name is Zinda Zymnbrywski. Ever notice how many authors' last names begin at the early letters of the alphabet? Maybe that was why I married a guy with the last name of Brees! Somehow, 40 years ago, I just knew that someday.....

kathy d. said...

Oh, gosh, have sympathy. Have heard about these difficulties from another author personally; she has to really push her publisher and is somewhat disapppointed.

So one bookstore has her book in the window of the store and another bookstore three blocks away hadn't even heard of the book.

And this in a big city!