8/28/07

The Horrible Story of Nathan Newauthor

On the subject of marketing and promotion, I'm saddened to hear that some publishers don't get back to their authors in a timely manner concerning promotional events. Sometimes it's beyond their control and a matter of bad timing, but if it's a regular occurrence, that's really unfortunate. And as an author, you may feel hamstrung in your efforts because there is probably a clause in your contract somewhere that says you have to have all promotional pieces and marketing efforts approved by your publisher.

There is a reason for that clause as illustrated in this story about Nathan Newauthor. Nathan is a soon-to-be-published new author whose book is currently at the press. In his enthusiasm and inexperience and without permission and approval from the publisher, Nathan decides to get very creative with his marketing ideas. Having read a book on guerilla marketing for writers and being encouraged to push the envelope by friends and family (who know very little about the publishing industry), Nathan creates and hand distributes a promotional piece at an event with nearly 1,000 attendees that are HIS TARGET AUDIENCE.

Wa-hoo! Those orders ought to start rolling in.

Here's what Nathan doesn't understand.
  1. Although he and his mother thought it looked quite attractive, his marketing piece was very unprofessionally done. It looked like it had been copied at Kinko's and hand-cut and assembled. Which it had been. Now, let's think for a minute. Does an ugly promotional piece encourage or discourage someone to go purchase a product? Do the people he gave promo to know that Nathan lovingly slaved for hours to create this? Do they give him an A for effort? No. They think the publisher did it--and if that's the best the publisher can do, why would they think the "real" book would be any better? Nathan most likely just lost 800 of the 1,000 people in his target audience.

    If Nathan's publisher had been involved, the promo would have been professionally designed, using appropriate fontage and color and white space and all that other graphic design mumbo-jumbo that most people poo-poo, but which has an actual, measurable impact on the buyer.

  2. Nathan spent way too much money on the project, so he decided to just do a few in color and the rest in black and white. Color says, these people know what they're doing; black and white says, these people are working out of their garage on a shoe-string budget.

    Had Nathan's publisher created the piece, it would have been in color and printed at a much lower price. Because we have connections.

  3. Nathan thought it would be great to get advance notice out for his book. Good in theory. But if you market too soon, you lose momentum. Since his release is over a month away, it's too soon to market to the end customer.

    Nathan also thinks people will pre-order his book. No, they won't because his name is not J.K. Rowling. They'll go to the bookstore or website, decide to wait to get the book when it's available, and then FORGET about it.

    Publishers understand this. We time our advance notice.

  4. Nathan didn't know (because he didn't bother to ask) and the publisher hadn't told him (because it clearly states in the contract that Nathan has to approve all marketing efforts and since he didn't, the publisher had no way of knowing he was planning something like this) is that there was trouble at the printer and his books are going to be delayed by several weeks past his scheduled release date.

    Publishers know that release dates can be tentative and they plan accordingly. New authors believe the release date is carved in stone.

  5. Nathan thought it would be a great thing to let all the people at this event know about his upcoming release. What he didn't know is that the event coordinators have a very strict policy against distributing promotional pieces at said event. In fact, if a publisher does that, they are very often asked never to return.

    If Nathan had asked his publisher, the publisher could have prevented this serious faux pas.

  6. Nathan thought he was doing his publisher a favor because the event coordinators are one of the publisher's largest bulk buyers. But they don't like what he did. They are not happy. If they are severely unhappy, not only will they NOT buy Nathan's book, but they may also stop buying other books from this publisher. Nathan thinks he was only promoting himself and his book, but in reality, since the publisher's name was all over the marketing piece, he was also indirectly representing the publisher, and by default, all of their other products as well.

    Again, the publisher could have prevented Nathan from not only shooting himself in the foot, but also from shooting the feet of the publisher and their other authors.

  7. Nathan thinks marketing and promotion is all fun and games, and that anything goes. As long as he's paying for it, what's the harm? What he doesn't realize is that he's created a situation that could cause a lot of potential harm, for himself, for his book, for the publisher and for every other author the publisher represents.

    Because the event coordinators are a major buyer of the publisher's products, the publisher has to keep them happy. This is especially important in a small market like ours, where there are only so many distribution channels.

    If the buyer is ticked, and the publisher blows it off, they lose credibility with the buyer. If the buyer is really ticked, the publisher may have to choose between Nathan Newauthor's not-yet-released book and placating the buyer. Since Nathan's book is one teeny part of the publisher's product line, and the buyer is a huge part of the publisher's income, what do you think the publisher is going to do? The choice could literally be between dropping the author like a hot potato or going out of business.

    Worst case scenario: the publisher decides Nathan's mistake puts them in a high-risk situation, cancels the contract with Nathan, destroys the book, and sues Nathan for loss and damages due to breach of contract.

    Best case scenario: the publisher gives Nathan a harsh talking to, holds the release of the book until everything is smoothed over with the big buyer, and is now very reluctant to consider future projects with Nathan.
Point of the story: Just because an author doesn't understand why a publisher has a certain policy or clause in their contract, it doesn't mean there's not a very good reason for it. When an author disregards that, they are asking for trouble.

Another point of the story [for those of you who still don't quite understand this concept yet]: Yes, for the publisher, the bottom line IS ABOUT THE MONEY. If we don't make money, we won't be publishers for very long.

One last point: If this is too restrictive for you, then you are free to self-publish. No one is preventing you. But if you choose the traditional publishing route, you have to be willing to play by the publisher's rules.


P.S. This is not a fictional story. It is based on true events, but the names and a few small particulars have been changed to protect the... well, you know.

P.P. S. Fortunately for Nathan, the publisher was able to smooth things over with the buyer and he got the best case scenario.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it acceptable to blog about or announce on your website, an upcoming (6 months or so from now) book release?

Is it acceptable to continue to blog about the book release?

Do most publishers provide bookmarks or other promotional items if the author asks for such?

Bottom line: an author should obtain permission for all promotion, including blogs?

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Ouch!

Anonymous said...

Here's a question -- what if your publisher doesn't do promotion themselves, and they do not get back to you when you contact them about your own promotional ideas? I've had scads of wonderful ideas that never got off the ground because they wouldn't enter a dialogue with me about them, and I've even had book signings where I was scheduled, the store had printed up advertising for me, only to find out one day before the event that the publisher wouldn't work with the store and I was to have no books there, even though I'd contacted the publisher about it six weeks in advance. I feel like I'm doing everything I can to promote but my publisher seems to be fighting me on it.

Josi said...

for Anon 1--I talk about my upcoming books on my blog and website, but I do not include excerpts and I make it clear that until it's accepted by the board, it's a work in progress and only MY work. I get permission from my publisher to post first chapters or excerpts once the book is accepted.

for Anon 2--that sucks. I've found the most helpful part of marketing is a marketing plan, in writing, that I submit about three months before the book is released. It takes a few weeks for us to talk back and forth about what parts of that I will do. I have never been asked for a marketing plan, I just do it anyway so that we both have clarity. The publisher will then tell me what they are doing, so that I can plan accordingly. In your case, you might want to have a face to face meeting with your publisher and present the marketing plan in writing so you can both iron things out. Sounds like a lot of crossed wires--definitely frustrating.

Good luck.

I have never thought of things in this detail, LDSP--thanks for sharing. Some things I've had questions about are much more clear now.

Carole Thayne said...

Thanks for opening our eyes to some harsh realities.

Heather B. Moore said...

My publisher encourages self-promotion. I've been blogging about my writing--during, before, and after publication. I don't think it's ever too early to promote, J.K. or not. I'm continually asked when my next book is coming out. I reply "Fall", but as it gets closer and I know the book is at press, I'll say "September."
I had to get ARC's out in May for a September-release. An author can always use new readers. If you're posting something that's copyrighted by your publisher, you definately need permission. I've investigated many promotional opportunities, and I talk about them with my publisher. They'll tell me whether or not they think it's a good idea. I print my own bookmarks in conjunction with the ones my publisher prints. I send them to a professional designer and have them professionally printed and cut. Any additional marketing you do needs to be professional. If you aren't a self-published author, don't make yourself look like one. Whether or not you have a marketing clause in your contract, you need to communicate with your publisher (even it it's just to let them know you're working your tail off). Open communication is the key. You should be proofing the final galley, bluelines and backliner. You should be asking questions regularly about the release of your book. You should know when it went to press. Find out when it ships from the warehouse to the stores. Stay involved and stay informed.