Q and A edition: in which I discuss disappointing publicists and publicity campaigns; the eternal "memoir or novel" quandary; and the ever-simmering agita created by noncompete clauses
I go particularly deep on the publicity one.
Last week, I told you you had until tomorrow to ask me questions for this week’s Q and A.
I, um, lied. I am sorry! It’s just that I got three nicely meaty questions in advance of today, then started answering those, then looked up and realized I’d spent all of this week’s newsletter time budget and then some answering just these three questions. SO HERE U GO.
If you planned to write me a question sometime in the next 24 hours and now want to kill me, ask it anyway—I’ll do another Q and A soon and answer your question then.
B.: Why oh why don’t publishers spend more time and effort publicizing their books? After all, without sales, there’s no profit.
I recently took part in a holiday book signing event with multiple authors across genres, and the common complaint was the utter lack of publicity for our books. After all of the love and sweat that we—and the editors and designers—pour into these volumes, shouldn’t the machine to garner sales be robust? What about all those production and shipping dollars spent—doesn’t the publisher want to recoup?
Is there a way to guard against this in a contract? And why are publishers’ publicity/marketing departments consistently overworked, underpaid, and poorly staffed?
A.: I’m going to start by validating you here. No matter who your publisher was, B.—and to be clear to the rest of you reading this, I don’t know who it was—you’re not alone in feeling frustrated with their publicity efforts (or lack thereof). This is a disappointment authors share with me—and I daresay every legit agent—all the time.
Yes, and: were we talking one-on-one about this at, say, a conference, I would proceed to ask you a bunch of follow-up questions.
First, I’d want to know what exactly you meant by “utter lack of publicity.” If you’re being literal: UGH. YIKES. BARF.
I for one have never seen that particular nightmare scenario at a Big 5 publisher or larger indie. If you had no in-house publicist or even a publicist-marketer of some kind assigned to do so so much as a single rote media pitch on your behalf, my guess is that you must have had a regional, academic, or tiny indie publisher—in which case, sigh, they probably just didn’t have the budget or bandwidth for a publicity department.
If not, I’m afraid you experienced major-publisher malpractice on a scale I have literally not seen once in my career—in which case, it might be time to change agents.1
If you did publish with a bigger company, I think it’s more likely you’ve used the phrase “utter lack of publicity” figuratively here—as in, to convey the depth of your disappointment in your publisher’s publicity efforts vs. indicate that they literally didn’t exist.
Such disappointment is very, very common and tends to be caused by one or more of the following developments:
You were assigned an in-house publicist, but they ultimately delivered few to no media hits for you and your book.
Perhaps the few media hits you did land were from leads that you referred to this publicist. If so, I imagine you might have been expecting things to flow primarily in the opposite direction.
You wanted to do a book tour or other live events; bookstores or venue owners you knew seemed interested in the idea, but your publicity department wasn’t. (Guessing that holiday author signing was not a gig your publisher got for you.)
Your publicist claimed they did “due diligence” pitching relevant media outlets, but they refused to share a list of where they actually sent their pitches.
Your publicist did share their list of pitched outlets, and it struck you as vast, unstrategic, spaghetti-on-the-wall blah exhibiting all the savvy of a first-year intern. Did anyone in the department even read your book??
Your publicist did share their list of pitched outlets. However, you noticed that the majority of the outlets didn’t pass on the pitch; they just never responded…and it’s not clear anyone ever followed up to make sure they got the pitch at all.
Your publicist failed to follow up on one or more leads you sent them. Perhaps a couple of journalists asked you for review copies, and you forwarded the requests along, then weeks later the journalists told you they never got anything.
I’m going to spend the remainder of my answer here assuming that your disappointment was caused by some combination of the above (or similar). Here’s hoping I’m not wrong!