Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Slow Burn or Wildfire

I’ve seen that starry-eyed look from a new author with a new book. They are dreaming about becoming the next bestselling author. I applaud their enthusiasm yet if you took this little quiz, you learn that bestsellers are a small percentage of the overall market. Yes, everyone wants their book to catch on like wildfire and soar into the marketplace. Except too often the author doesn’t want to do anything to reach that market and delegates the responsibility into the hands of the publisher.

Publishers spend their days trying to educate their current authors and also locate authors who understand the importance of marketing (besides the key quality of creating an excellent manuscript).  You’d be surprised how few authors understand and appreciate the ongoing work to let people know about their book—and encourage them to purchase it. With the volume of books published each year, it’s fair to say that some good books simply don’t make it in the marketplace.Publicize Your Book cover

I have a fairly worn out marketing book on my shelf called Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval. Several years ago I met Deval and listened to her at a seminar in New York City. The publisher at Hearst Books Jacqueline has worked inside a number of general market publishers as the director of publicity. She’s been on the inside track to watch how books enter the marketplace. I love the realistic view which begin this book, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book. This means that some books will get publicity campaigns and budgets while others will go without.”  I continually turn to this book because it helps the author mount realistic plans to promote their book alongside their publisher.

When I worked at another publishing house, I worked with the marketing department and we purchased several boxes of Publicize Your Book! and sent them to new authors. It was a small investment in author education but a hopeful one to encourage the authors to be proactive in their efforts.  As for the results of this effort, I’m uncertain since I’m no longer connected to this publishing house but if even a few authors used the methods in this book, I believe the publisher received a solid return on this investment in their authors.

It’s true that in general a book gets it’s greatest publicity push in the months ahead of its release then three to six months after the release. But what about after that period passes? Does the author press on to other books (probably) and stop promoting their book (hopefully not)? The effort to tell people about your book and get the word out is ongoing.

After you pass through this initial period, look for other ways and other methods to spread the news about your book and encourage people to purchase it. Some of the strongest books at different publishing houses are their backlist or previously published books. These backlist books click along year after year with steady and increasing sales. These books may never appear on any bestseller list yet publishers love the consistent sales (and earnings) from them. Can you tap a sector of the market that will have a continual need for your book? I’m thinking of schools (which use textbooks) or conferences (ongoing needs) or even a church Bible study group.

Many books are more of a slow burn than a wildfire and slow is OK and works—for the author and the publisher. My Book Proposals That Sell just returned to second printing. I cheer because this event happened in less than a year (always a healthy sign for any book) and gives me something else to trumpet and promote. Yes all of us want to become pyromaniacs yet it takes consistent effort from the author.  You have the greatest passion for your book—much more than any publisher.

Something new in this area is Amazon.com Connect. If you haven’t seen it, it’s another way for authors to connect with their readers in a consistent basis and involves one of the largest retail spots on the planet.  I recommend taking a few minutes to check it out and learn about it. It might help you spread the burning enthusiasm for your book.

12 Comment:

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Mary DeMuth Left a note...


I used your brief agent article today to teach writers here on the French Riviera! Thanks!

And, as to Amazon connect. Yep, it's a great resource. You can see how I've utilized it here:


It's a great way to stay in touch with readers.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger David A. Todd Left a note...


You wrote: "Except too often the author doesn’t want to do anything to reach that market and delegates the responsibility into the hands of the publisher."

I'd like to give another view. How in the world does a new writer even know he is supposed to be the primary marketing force behind his book? I sure didn't till I went to my first writers conference, when I was rudely (and I do mean rudely) awakened to this concept. The speaker who said this did so most abruptly. The session was mostly filled with new writers who couldn't believe it, and his answer boiled down to, "Well, you dummies, how could you not know that?" I left that conference totally demoralized and wondering how, if I should ever be so fortunate to have a book published, could I squeeze marketing and writing around my 60 hour a week job. One woman was so demoralized by this concept that she was in tears at the end of the first day of the conference. I wasn't far away from tears, believing my writing "career" was over.

I sure wish the speaker could have found a gentler and more positive way to break us into how the publishing industry works.


At 2:17 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


If I was a little blunt in my post. I'm sorry. It's a careful balance--the writer has to show great craft and the ability to put together a terrific manuscript and book proposal. At the same time, they have to understand that they will have the greatest passion for the marketing of their book--and not assume they can let the publisher take care of those aspects.

I've written about this aspect many times in these entries about the writing life but as a publisher, I'm going to spend somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 on your book. Those real numbers were a rude awakening to me as an author when I got inside a publishing house--the author never sees those financial numbers. They are real--with zero marketing dollars, a modest advance to the author (say $5K or less) and the rest are production, sales and editorial costs--getting your book printed and in the marketplace.

I was probably writing with a bit jaded view. I've met many authors who don't think they need to do anything in the marketing area. It's a balance--like many things. There are time effective and cost effective ways the author can be involved in the marketing process.

Hope this extra comment helps you, David, and provides a bit of balance to my post.


At 2:21 PM, Blogger Sam Pakan Left a note...

Great articles, Terry. I've been away from my computer for a few days and am catching up on the amazing amount of information you've proffered since my last visit.

Thanks for the great info.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger David A. Todd Left a note...


There was nothing at all wrong with your post. It just brought back the memories of that 2003 conference. I guess I don't blame that speaker. He's been writing fulltime for 25 years, and that concept was second nature for him. He was so far removed from the world of the beginning writer he had forgotten what it is like to be one.

I guess I'm just having a bad day. Evening meeting for work tonight (second night in a row), so I'll have to miss writers guild.


At 7:05 PM, Blogger Heather Ivester Left a note...

I have Jacqueline Deval's book, and it's full of great ideas. I think it's helpful for new writers (like me) to know about the importance of marketing because we need to make sure we're passionate enough about our topic to follow through with the marketing required BEFORE we begin pitching it.

As a book reviewer, I've agreed to review several books that were more than a couple of years old. It didn't matter to me that they weren't brand new; what mattered is that the author approached me with enthusiasm and pitched an idea that I found interesting. There are all kinds of creative ways to keep the book topic fresh, as I'm in the process of learning.

At 6:23 AM, Blogger michelleu Left a note...

I'm just back from Mt. Hermon and attended a critique group, so I didn't get caught up into the marketing discussion this year, but it troubles me, as well. There is a reason why I write and don't work for my family's rep business--I don't have marketing skills. (My brother got all the sales genes!).

Because of that family business, however, I'm sensitive to all the expenses a publishing house goes through to put out a book--I just wish the movement was towards a happy medium, rather than what feels like pressure for the writer to do it all.

I have to agree with David on this one, when are the writers supposed to be writing if they're trying to reinvent the marketing wheel?

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Unknown Left a note...

Thanks, Terry, I'm taking this all in for future use. Appreciate the information.

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I understand the reluctance to be involved in the marketing aspects. I did very little to help my books until I got inside the publishing houses and understood the types of authors that really get the publisher excited--and many of those authors are involved in at least some aspect of marketing their own books.

The writing or prose or storytelling will be key to a book getting published. I can't stress the critical part of becoming a good storyteller and communicator. But if you want to get your manuscript out of the lower levels--even of the material published, you will have to address some of the marketing aspects--even if you go kicking and screaming into this arena. I say these issues understanding the author's complications and reluctance--yet from my seasoned perespective and more than twenty years of involvement in publishing.

The Writing Life

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Cindy Thomson Left a note...

It's a balance--like many things.

That's so true. As authors we should do whatever we can to promote our books (I know some authors who aren't willing to speak to a small group about their books), but many of us are not marketing experts. God equips whom he calls, and there's a matter of trust in all of this. Do what you can, learn all you can, and leave the rest to God. I still believe what Donald Mass says in his Writing the Breakout Novel. What sells books is word of mouth. Of course, we have to let people know about our books. Like Mary, I used Amazon Connect: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/082546112X/sr=8-1/qid=1144855827/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-2089355-1660722?%5Fencoding=UTF8

At 6:12 AM, Blogger R. K. Mortenson Left a note...

I've become a sort of schizophrenic regarding my books. It took me eleven years from dreaming of publishing to seeing my first book published last fall. In those eleven years I read tons of books both on writing AND on publishing, that is, about the business side of writing. I had my "rude awakening" to the necessity of marketing while reading one of those books. I cringed and utterly resisted the thought of marketing. Anathema! But eventually it sunk in and I absorbed it. By the time I received my first contract, I had been "converted" and was ready to do all I could to promote my books.

I really am schizophrenic now as a writer. When I'm in "writing mode" I behave very (very!) differently than when I'm in what I call "promo mode." Yes, promoting takes a lot of time and energy. But I now see it as an investment in my career. To generate word-of-mouth you must somehow, some way first get word of your book into a person's ear.

By the way, my books are the Landon Snow fantasy/adventures with biblical themes, available at your favorite book store. :-) (Never miss a chance!)

R. K. Mortenson

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Reviewer Left a note...

Great post. New authors are always looking for an edge in the marketing and promotion arena. Thanks for the pointers


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