Saturday, September 20, 2008
Self-promotion and distribution
I recently read most of J. A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. I say “most” because it’s long*, but it’s very enthusiastic on the topic of self-promotion. There was also information about Konrath’s novels, characters, book covers and so on, but because the guide was well-written and provided plenty of advice, it never came off as simply an advertisement.
Then a few days ago, I went to the library and decided to check the mystery/thriller section to see if there were any Konrath books. Sure enough, there was a copy of Rusty Nail, so I checked it out.
And that got me to thinking. Konrath’s self-promotion made me interested in checking out his books, but what if I’d gone to the library and the book hadn’t been there? I might have looked in the local Indigo bookstore, but what if it hadn’t been there either? I wouldn’t have plunked down money on Amazon for something I hadn’t read through first, especially if I had to wait for it to be shipped.
If publishers don’t made books available to wholesale buyers and to libraries (e.g. making sure the books are reviewed, have LOC CIP data and so on), the only way I’d have access to those books will be if the authors talk stores into carrying the books, or if authors donate them to the library. Konrath is a tireless self-promoter, but I don’t think flying to Canada to drop off copies in individual stores would be very cost-effective.
In other words, self-promotion doesn’t go far without the muscle of the publisher’s marketing department and distributor backing up the author’s efforts. That’s one reason POD or vanity presses wouldn’t work for me (and why I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone wanting an actual career in writing). Vanity presses derive their profits from the author, and therefore don’t need to put books in stores. POD presses rarely if ever have the funds to support a marketing department and salesforce. So most of their book sales are made to the authors instead.
Authors who have been printed through vanity presses or PODs sometimes defend these business models by claiming that word of mouth is all that’s necessary to make a book a success. But what’s the point in being aware that a book exists, if you can’t obtain it? Or if, to read it, you need to shell out $25 for the paperback (yes, POD books can be this expensive) and then wait for it to ship? Unless the book is something the readers really want, how likely is it that they’ll spend and wait patiently?
An author who wants more than local recognition (i.e. within the family/community/town) is nearly always better off with commercial publishing. All the self-promotion in the world won’t get an author past the stumbling blocks of POD or vanity publishing.
*It has some funny moments, though. I especially like the part where Konrath stayed in a friend’s house, ate all the food and built a fort with the sofa cushions. :)