Monday 12 October 2009


Let's get positive today. Imagine you're about to be published  -  hooray! I see the frisson of excitement rippling across your face. You can't stop grinning!

Of course, you'll grin when it happens. You may well do some leaping too, but ideally in the privacy of your garret, since an author leaping is not usually a pretty sight. But what else can and should you expect on P-Day? Specifically, what should you expect from your publishers?

This post was prompted by a question in the comments after Networks and Platforms  -  Must I? David Griffin asked about advance copies and who was responsible for these, author or publisher? That's a simplish question (answered below) but it leads to other issues about expectations. 

So, what should an author expect? That is not to say that this will always happen, but you should expect it, with details and extent depending on the nature of your book and publisher. And how useful the activity would be. (Not how much you'd love it to happen...) 

Important things to get into your head:
  1. Publishers want to sell as many copies as possible. Obviously. They have borne all the cost and they want to recoup it, quickly and fully, and more than fully. So do you. You are both on the same side. Never forget that, even in the dark moments when you wonder what the hell they're doing. (Note to lovely Walker Books: of course, I have never wondered that in your case.)
  2. That does not mean that money will be thrown around. Nor should it be. Every book has a marketing budget. That budget may be zero. A zero budget does not mean zero publicity / promotion, however. Also, some things must be done regardless of marketing budget. (Advance copies being one).
  3. The budget and effort expended will relate to a judgement about how useful that spend will be for THIS book. It will be pointless to chuck masses of dosh at a TV campaign which your potential readers won't see. Yes, it will make you feel glorious, but that feeling will soon fade when you sell no books and your publisher makes a loss and stops liking you. 
  4. You must work with your publisher. Take a look at some of the stuff I did around the publication of Deathwatch in June this year. (There are also two posts above and one below that one, but that gives you a reasonable idea.) I worked my butt off, broke a world record, made two videos (myself, at zero cost, though using a fab screensaver which my publishers made in-house), sold loads of copies and generated goodwill. I nearly died. Everyone was happy because we squeezed every ounce of value from the budget and we worked together perfectly. This is not always easy  -  it requires tact and respect, on both sides. I am lucky. But I worked. Boy, did I work ... Chocolate supplies in Scotland dipped that month.
  5. You don't ask what the budget IS  -  you ask what it will allow. "Do we have a budget for...?" And if we don't, go back in your box and think of something cheaper. Cheaper is not less good.
  6. Marketing costs money, but publicity and promotion need not. Clever people don't need lots of money to sell something. So, don't measure your potential success by the size of your marketing budget.
 What's the minimum you should expect  -  and ask for if it doesn't seem to be there?
  1. A structured plan. My main publisher, Walker Books, sends every author, at least six months before publication, an outline of what will happen at each stage. One of these stages allows the author to meet the marketing team. (If it's a very "small" book, say part of a publisher series rather than an author series or stand-alone, this won't happen. But you should still be able to be involved.) If you have an agent, make sure he/she is there at the meeting and has seen the plan.
  2. A request from your publisher for you to provide relevant info  -  list of contacts, ideas, things you feel happy doing (eg talks)
  3. Six-three months before pub date, your publisher should decide the details of promotional activity. Eg, lists of newspapers, magazines, events. At this point, contribute your ideas (tactfully ...)
  4. The publisher will provide, at their cost, a certain number of copies of the book to send to potential reviewers and booksellers. These will be Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). They may be "proof" copies  -  ie not the real version but a cheaper one, usually with a plainer cover, and not proof-read. But proof copies are expensive and don't always cover their costs  -  if yours is a book that hard-pressed reviewers are unlikely to choose to read, for example. So, publishers may produce a version more like an MS (so, a pile of A4 sheets vaguely bound  -  I hate this. I have done a lot of reviewing for the Guardian newspaper and I only once chose to review a book sent in this format  -  it's just not compelling when you've got 200 beautiful books to choose from). Or the publisher may simply order lots of real copies of the book extra early  -  my publishers ordered hundreds about 6 weeks before publication. These advance copies can be used when appropriate and costs tailored to demand. As to how many  -  it depends how many they can use. A hundred to a thousand. In answer to David J Griffin's question about this, wonderful Lynn Price helpfully replied with the US perspective:

    David, any trade publisher - small fry like me, or large like Random House - sends out about 100 - 200 ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) to reviewers, bookstore managers, and media.

    Any publisher over here in the US who says the author must do this is more than likely a Print On Demand company. ARCs are an upfront expense that PODs can't risk because trade magazines won't review them.
    NB: What you should absolutely NOT expect is your publisher to ask how many copies you plan to buy  -  see the excellent recent Writer Beware post here. You may buy them at author discount, and you may give those away, but a) you should never be encouraged to and b) you should never, ever, ever, be asked to sell them. That is not your job (though, by agreement with your publishers, you may choose to. I think I need to do another post about selling author copies  -  it's not simple...).

  5. The publisher will send them out, at their cost. Whatever the size of your publisher, it's worth asking to see the list of who has received advances. And add to it  -  you give the publisher the names, they send them out. Obviously, you can't just use this to get your friends free copies  -  this is all solely to generate sales. Remember that. Be canny.
  6. The publisher should work hard to get you any relevant media coverage. But be realistic  -  is your book important enough as a story? It's not enough that you've written a great book  -  what's the story behind it? An example I've used (often...) is the story of a school helping me promote or write a book. Think about it: AUTHOR WRITES BOOK is not a news story, but AUTHOR TRUSTS KIDS WITH BOOK LAUNCH is. 
  7. You should also expect inclusion in the publisher catalogue for that season/month/whatever.
  8. And a press release to go out with review copies. (I strongly recommend that you ask, very tactfully, to see this and perhaps have some input. You are unlikely to be shown it otherwise, and it will have been written by someone who very possibly hasn't read the book... I have seen some terrible, truly terrible press releases. (Not you, lovely Walker Books  -  don't be paranoid!)
  9. Events  -  again, this will depend on your book and you, but the publisher should make an effort to get some "gigs". Any help you can give will be crucial. Events will probably be local, at first. Your publisher should, where possible, pay travel expenses for these peri-publicational events  -  but you will need to ask. And they may not be able to, or offer you fewer gigs if they see you'll need expenses  -  so, think about what you can do yourself at minimum cost. At the very least, they should organise all the book-selling (including supply) at these events.
Things you can't take for granted but could discuss:
  1. Marketing materials  -  expensive and not always well-used. Posters, for example  -  where are you going to put them? Children's and teenage authors like me can use posters very well, as schools love to paper decaying library walls with them. But other authors may not use them well. Bookmarks  -  again, expensive and not always going to generate sales. (Consider getting your own postcards or small cards / stickers made with a cheap on-line company such as vistaprint.)
  2. A launch party? Not necessarily. Again, they don't usually convert into enough sales, though they make authors happy. You'd be surprised how many launches are organised by the author, though with support from the publisher. Organise it yourself and ask for a publisher contribution.
In your dreams:
  1. Flowers, sparkly wine, chocolate? Dream on! Of course this sometimes happens. A card signed by the whole team is one of the loveliest things to get on pub day, and is quite normal. But don't be offended if it doesn't happen.
  2. Anything expensive if it's not likely to translate into sufficient sales. Be realistic. It may sound reasonable to say, "But the more you do, the more books we'll sell." Yes, but a) that doesn't mean that the more money you spend the more likely you are to recoup costs and b) the publisher has other authors and other books and you are not the only fish in the sea.
(For your interest, but at a slight tangent, blogger and author, Caroline Dunford, blogged here at the weekend about her very recent launch and publication. It is an eye-opener for those of you who are dreaming of your launch and signing! A great insight into the mind and emotions of each of us in this position.)

Also, do take a look at this vg post from the BookEnds literary agency. 

In short: all writers have to promote their work, and knowing what to expect from publishers is the important first step. It's not just debut writers: if you want to know how enormously successful writer, Andrew Crofts, goes about working with his publishers to sell as many books as possible, come back on Oct 16th, because I have an interview with him. Andrew is the UK's top ghost-writer, with many huge best-sellers  -  being known at all as a ghost-writer speaks volumes for his success on the platform-building front! He contacted me recently and introduced himself. By chance, I'd been wanting to do a post about ghost-writing (not something I know about, though it fascinates me) and wouldn't have had the courage to contact him, but there he was, contacting me and saying nice things (fortunately). In his interview he gives fascinating advice about the business of being a writer and talks about his move from ghosting into his own fiction. If you think that getting that elusive first deal is the end of the story, mountain climbed, sigh of relief time, you're in for a surprise... 

Andrew's interview is going out on Friday 16th, 8pm UK time. Can't be earlier as I'm away doing more talks again and my train doesn't get back till then. I don't want to miss your comments and questions for Andrew. Join us there, and if you have any questions, he's most kindly agreed to answer them ...


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Excellent post, Nicola, I am so glad I found your blog. I like that you emphasized more money is not necessarily better. Online reviews and interviews by bloggers/readers is an effective means of getting attention for a title, and it doesn't cost anything. In fact, many will even BUY the book to review, if they have an interest due to an online relationship. Also, some will agree to read an emailed pdf. version rather than an arc.

After dealing with traditional avenues with my first book--a publicist, tv, radio interviews, and then newspaper reporters--I was thrilled to experience the ease and success of the online blogger. Granted, many of them are not professional reviewers, and there many not be quotable quotes or have the cachet of a newspaper review, but they can be an effective means to get the word out to potential readers. And for no money.

Sulci Collective said...

Nicola, the bit I'm most interested is the 2 videos you made. Where did you post them and what was the audience figures like in terms of numbers and right target market?

I'm about to make 5 short animated readings (akin to the pop video's relationship to the song it is there to promote) and just want to know what the outlets for viewing are beyond YouTube and my personal sites?


Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, Karen. Agree re online reviewing in good blogs - I just wrote an article for The Author on the subject. Sadly, it's not online (!) but it's generated a lot of interest.

Sulci collective - ah, thing is that I am not interested in measuring things. I just do things and gauge their worth by what feels like success. (In a marketing team I'd be the one generating the ideas and everyone else would be completely drained by me!) If you look at the link to my other (occasional) blog and scroll down, you'll find one of the videos, a cartoon one. I posted in on you-tube and my blogs, but it was picked up and repeated by loads of other people both in and out of my target audience (btw, I like to think of my target audience as anyone who might like my books, which I like to think is anyone...). There were even professional animators who loved it and blogged about it. I haven't a clue how many extra people bought copies, but I do know I got fantastic feedback from a load of people who had not been my readers before. And I had fun. There was zero cost (other than my time). But the only reason they were, in my little way, successful, is that people wanted to see them and then passed them on. I have seen the most dull videos that were simply the author reading beside a roaring fire. Cringe. It has to be more than that. There's too much competition. One of mine (the funny one) just started as fun but became a way to create new readers; the other was more straightforwad, for schools, illustrating the free screensaver they could get and providing a free chapter reading that they could play to pupils. Both were useful, in different ways. But I can't measure any of it, and really don't want to. It's just not me (which is not meant to sound disparaging).

catdownunder said...

This all sounds quite terrifying. What if purr-formance does not come naturally?
I am (almost) thankful that I am never likely to be in heady position of having something substantial published but I do wonder how some authors cope. It is a timely reminder to purr nicely at authors who look nervous!

Sulci Collective said...

Thinks Nicola, I will check them out. Couldn't agree more about paunchy middle aged authors reading to camera from MS/Book in hand. You've got to give the viewers something visual. Hence my inference of the relationship of pop video to pop song.

Rebecca Knight said...

What a great post! I popped over to the links you mentioned and loved the one about the author signing. I definitely feel like, as a newbie, the more information I have and the more realistic my expectations, the better off I'll be.

I'm always one to Be Prepared, so thank you! :)

Nicola Morgan said...

Rebecca - yes, Caroline's insight into signings was interesting, wasn't it? People are so scared of authors, and often doon't go and speak to them, but now you know how much authors value someone coming to speak to them, even if not buying.

emma darwin said...

Nicola, this is fantastically useful. I know of several relationships between a publisher and an author (not you, oh lovely Headline) which have gone sour from the gap of understanding about what happens and doesn't, what works and doesn't. Publishers forget we don't necessarily know (unless we have been checking in with The Crabbit One regularly) and we don't know what we should be asking. Though if in doubt, ask your agent. It's easier to admit to being an ignorant newbie to them.

I confess, though, I'm totally baffled by the video/YouTube thing, and admire anyone who does it.

Vanessa Robertson said...

WRT what you said about authors having input into the press release that goes out with review copies... Puffin have a tendency at the moment to send this out in the form of a letter to the bookseller from the author and although this is well intentioned, I've yet to read one that didn't make me cringe. I'll get my coat just in case any of those authors are reading this!

Anonymous said...

Great post as always, Nicola. I wanted to add a little something about Caroline's post and the art of getting shy people to approach the signing table without fear they'll be guilt-tripped into buying the book.

Whenever I do a reading for my own books, I always have handouts over at the signing table - and food. For my novel, I had handouts of local doctors who incorporate complementary medicine in their medical practices.

With The Writer's Essential Tackle Box, I have several handouts. One has a breakdown of what each of the current publishing offers to writers. Another talks about the elements of plot and a sample query letter.

The idea is to get people more interested in getting the handout. Once they discover you don't bite (much), they're more than happy to stand around and talk to you. It breaks the ice.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! One thing I'd add is, publication of your book is a great time to send a gift basket to your editor and your publicist, and maybe the marketing people. It shows you appreciate their effort, and it's a morale-booster for them, since most are overworked and under-appreciated.