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8. You Have a Publisher–Now What?

(Eighth and final in a series)

Having gotten a workable idea, done the necessary research, outlined the manuscript, written the first draft, edited and revised it several times, researched the potential markets, and pitched the book to those publishers, you’ve finally won a contract for your book! Now what?

You begin what is, to me anyway, the hardest part of the whole process. It’s harder for me than coming up with ideas, researching, writing, editing and revising, and pitching all rolled up together. It’s the marketing of the book.

Many people think that once an author writes the book and the publisher prints it, his or her work is done and the publisher takes over from there. I’ve learned that that is the farthest thing from the truth. The brutal fact is that publishers today expect the author to do the bulk of the hard work of marketing his or her book. And I think that stinks! But it is what it is!

The publisher might send out a few review copies of your book to the people you identify as prospective reviewers. The publisher will possibly include a photo of your book’s cover in a catalog (that includes hundreds of other books, of which yours is only one), along with a brief written description of its contents, the text for which you have written. They might even send out a press release to a few select bookstores or libraries, which you have listed for them. But they will not sell your book.

Those were the lessons I learned when my first book was published. The publisher was an academic publisher, and their sole method of “selling” books was to send out to libraries seasonal and subject catalogs several times a year. It is a passive form of selling. Put a tiny photo of the cover and a two- or three-sentence summary before the busy, harried librarian in charge of acquisitions, and let things turn out however they will.

That publisher refused to contact bookstores because they didn’t get good responses from them. I later discovered it was because the publisher did not offer the stores a favorable return policy on unsold books.

Thinking that I would take a proactive approach to get around that problem, I visited the two Barnes & Noble stores in my area, introduced myself as a local author, showed them my newly published book by a traditional publisher (as opposed to an independently published book), and offered to do a book signing and/or reading and Q&A session in return for their carrying my book. Both stores agreed to stock my book and gave me the name and address of the event planner. I contacted that person and offered to do the signing/reading/Q&A session at both stores. And then I waited.

While waiting to hear back from the event planner, I returned to both stores and checked their shelves to see if they had ordered my book as promised. They had. Each store ordered two copies. But they didn’t place it in the “Local Authors” section with other new books by local authors, where one might expect them to feature it. Instead, they buried it, spine out, on the next-to-last shelf from the floor in the Civil War History section. I was tempted to carry them to the front of the store and place them, cover out, on the eye-level shelf of the “Local Authors” shelving. But I didn’t. I settled for turning them cover out in the Civil War section where they were. (Even then, one can see how they are lost among the many other books around them.)

I returned to both stores one week later, and all four copies had sold. But neither store bothered to restock it. One would think that if all copies sold that quickly the store would see the demand for the book and reorder a few copies. Local author. All books they ordered sold. Logical to reorder, right? Especially in an age when brick-and-mortar stores are already struggling in competition with online book sources? But they didn’t. I decided then and there that if they weren’t interested in making money from my books, which had proven to sell, I would not be interested in helping them by buying any of their books. I haven’t bought anything from B&N since that date and doubt if I ever will.

I’ve shared that experience to illustrate the fact that if you expect your book to sell, you can’t depend on either the publisher or the bookstores to do it for you. You, the author, must do your own marketing. And that’s the hardest part for me. I’m not a salesman. When I sold my pickup truck, I found myself pointing out all the things that were wrong with it. (Thankfully, it sold in spite of my poor salesmanship!) I don’t like to talk about or promote myself. It forces me far, far beyond my comfort zone. In addition to not having the personality necessary to sell, I lack the funds to engage in serious marketing. My book would have to get on the NYT Bestsellers list just to pay for a single 1/4-page ad in a trade publication. I know that this (self-marketing) is the area I must work at the hardest if my books are to sell. It’s a rude awakening!

Meanwhile, I returned to doing what my temperament does best. I began working on other projects, following the seven steps we’ve discussed in this series. That led, over time, to three self-published works designed for very limited markets and a contract for a second traditionally published book. I’m not going to sit twiddling my thumbs, waiting on editors and publishers and marketers to do their jobs. I’m getting busy working on other writing projects, and you should too.

I’d be interested in learning of your own experiences in writing, pitching, and marketing your work. Share your thoughts about this series of blog posts, or any one of the posts, in the comments form below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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