Saturday, February 05, 2005

Every book deserves a fighting chance

It's a shame I don't rule anything but this little blogdom, because if I had the power to do it, I'd sure make some changes in the publishing industry. It's not easy to stand by and watch book sales continue to decline not because people don't enjoy reading anymore but because of the breathtaking cluelessness of publishers who don't realize they are selling products to customers and ought to act -- and advertise -- accordingly.

Here are some snippets from an excellent blog post by author M. J. Rose on the stupidity of our current system of book promotion. This should be required reading for everyone in the book biz:
...No other product/commodity/thing spends a year in
development and then gets three weeks on the shelf.

Over the years I’ve explained publishing to everyone I
ever knew in every other business and get back blank
stares. From CEO’s to marketing mavericks, no one gets
the logic of what we do. Especially when they hear that
the way we do it doesn’t work with the majority of books.

Even in the film industry – and movies are probably
closer to books than anything else – each film is
promoted for months to the CONSUMER before it’s
released. And what’s more about hundreds of thousands
of filmgoers see every film FREE before it’s released to
get buzz going....

Word of mouth takes at least 12 - 14 weeks to build. Yet,
the publishing industry continues to give a book – at
best – 3 to 4 weeks of promotion and co-op. What’s more,
there is no pre-promotion of the book to the READERS.

Are you beginning to get the feeling the average 12-year-old with a lemonade stand has a better grasp of successful marketing principles than the majority of book publishers do? Back to M.J.:

...the number of readers in the US has not increased in
the last six years but we have managed to double the
number of novels we’re putting out there. Meanwhile
we’ve lost 50% of our review sources and we’ve increased
competing sources of entertainment (DVD players,
wireless computers, pdas, ipods, 300 chancel cable boxes
on our TV’s, services like Netflix). And the cost of books
has gone up and up. And used bookstores online

Where is the logic?

Sorry, M.J., but if it's logic you're looking for, I don't believe you're going to find it in the publishing industry.

Book publishing is sinking under the weight of its elitism. Common-sense marketing strategies are deemed just a bit too, well -- common for publishing. Oh, those approaches are fine for the plebeian industries, but publishing has its own way of doing things.

Yeah, we've noticed. And how's that been working out for you, guys?


Camy Tang said...

Thanks for posting portions of this blog, Brenda. It really made me think differently about the aspect of promotion. I guess that means for writers to start promoting their book as soon as the contract ink is dry, right? And once it's published, giving away free books to get people to spread the word about how wonderful the book is? That makes total sense to me, especially when you compare it to how the movie industry promotes films. Of course, that also means I have to SELL a book, hmm? :-)

Brenda Coulter said...

Camy, I should have mentioned that I wasn't ragging on my own publisher, but the industry in general. ;-) I believe Harlequin/Silhouette/Steeple Hill actually does a pretty good job of promoting their "category" books. But they promote lines, not authors or individual books. When my book came out people didn't rush out to buy Brenda Coulter's Finding Hope. They just wanted to snag one of the latest "Love Inspired" books. That worked in my favor because Love Inspired is hugely popular and I'm a nobody.

But try selling a single-title book when you're a nobody and the publisher's putting all of the promotional dollars behind their big-name authors. As M.J. Rose reported, the number of books published has doubled in the past six years, while readership has not increased. We're seeing more and more books offered to the reading public, but fewer and fewer of them are being promoted. It makes no sense.

Interestingly, judging solely by the amount of e-mail I'm getting, my book (which has been out of print for well over a year now) is selling very well in the secondary market. Of course I get no royalties on those sales, but I'm glad that word-of-mouth buzz is still going. I've always been eager to build a good reader (not "customer") base because when books are cheap or free, more people will read them, and surely that will translate to more demand for my next book.