Today I am honored to have as a guest blogger Seymour Garte, PhD. Dr. Garte is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh PA. He is also the author of Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of the Planet. Dr. Garte writes:
You’re still jumping up and down, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Your agent has sold your book! After all the work writing, editing, rewriting, editing again, entering contests, sending queries, finally landing an agent, suffering through rejections, and being almost sold, the time has come. Your book is going to be published. You made it!!!
Well, actually, not really. Of course being published is wonderful. Only a small fraction of people who write get published. But that is a small fraction of a very, very large number. At any given time there are about 5 million books in press. So a lot of books are getting published. And now that you have joined the ranks of the elite, you are about to come face to face with an issue you might not have thought about much before. How to get your book sold. Not to an agent, not to a publisher, but to readers. Lots of readers. Readers who will buy your book.
Some people don’t care a lot about selling their book. The joy of seeing their baby on the store shelves is enough. But most writers like the idea of other people, strangers even, reading their words. And the phrases “best seller” “New York Times” “Oprah” etc. have a magical ring for most writers. Fame, glory and wealth are really bad reasons to want to be a writer, but . . . hey, if it happens, groovy.
So how do we sell our books to the public? There are two major players in getting a book sold, the publisher and the author. The author’s role is always crucial. Even well known, famous, best selling authors must spend lots of time and energy selling their books. And if you are not famous, and this is a first book, you will find yourself wishing for the easy relaxed days, when all you were thinking about was writing, editing, querying, and submitting.
The first thing to understand is that all attempts to sell a book come under one of two headings — marketing and publicity. Marketing is defined as anything that costs money, like advertising. Most publishers spend very little if any money on marketing new, first author books, so don’t count on a full page ad in the New York Times for your first book. The extent of the publisher’s investment in paid advertising will depend on how successful the publisher thinks the book will be. Since selling a book is expensive, publishers will only invest an amount of money they think they will get back. Of course this is often a self fulfilling prophesy, since the more publishers spend, the more books will be sold, but that does not always follow.
Publicity refers to free advertising, and this is where you will be spending all of your efforts. Publicity includes book reviews, interviews, book signings and readings, blogging, other online discussion of the book, web sites, and if you are lucky, news items or talk shows.
You will not be doing this alone. Publishers hire publicists, generally young, highly overworked people, who will be in charge of all the possible ways to get your book noticed. The first job of the publicist, which starts well before publication is getting the book reviewed. Many writers don’t realize that the vast majority of books are not reviewed. Getting anyone to agree to review a book is a major coup. Then if the review is good, that’s just gravy.
This timing of the review process is very important. No one will review a book published longer than 3 to 6 months ago. And it takes time for reviewers to read the book. This means that review copies need to be sent out to potential reviewers months before the publication date, so that the review can be out around the time of publication. Sometimes the publicist will send out galleys instead of a review copy, if the book has not actually been printed yet.
The period of two months before to three months after publication will be a whirlwind for you as an author. You will experience considerable pressure to complete galley proofing, and getting endorsement blurbs in, so that the book is ready for the press, and so that copies can be sent to reviewers. Delays in the printing and reviewing schedule are bad, because the publisher has already promised to ship printed books to Amazon, and the major bookstores, who could already have gotten advanced orders, and a delay means that they have to tell their customers to wait, which they hate to do. And publishers hate to get booksellers upset at them. All of which means your editor, your publicist and the marketing and sales departments will be calling and emailing you until you get it done. And I mean constantly.
So clear your schedule starting two months before publication. And while you’re at it, keep it clear for the 3 to 6 months also, because as your release date approaches, you are about to really get to work. You will get to know your publicist very well during this period. I had on average about 15 emails a day from my publicist at the peak, and was on the phone with her at least twice a day. I could not imagine her life, since she was actually working on 10 books simultaneously.
So what does the publicist do, and what do you need to do to get your book sold? Selling Your Book to Readers — Part II discusses this for a non-fiction book based on my own experience, and on talking to publicists and others in the bizz.