Writers’ lives are tough enough these days without their publishers treating them like idiots. So: working on the principle that happy authors (or at least not-furious ones) are easier to work with, here’s a really basic checklist of things that publishers should never again do /say to authors.
Because—guess what—WE ARE NOT IDIOTS!
Have a marketing person talk to the author without first looking at the author’s website, Facebook page and Twitter presence. And say things like “We find having an active Twitter account helps” without knowing the author is already followed by 5000 people.
Talk about the power of all forms of social networking—the authors’ blogging, Facebook, Twitter—when what you really mean is, you’dbetter be engaging in social networking, because you can’t expect any actual marketing on the publisher’s part.
Ignore the amount of stress you are putting on the author by turning them into self-promoters. Only a few authors are genuinely fantastic at it. Yes Jennifer Weiner and Neil Gaiman have great web presence. But for every Neil there are 1000 authors for whom the most charming and clever things they have to say are to be found within the pages of their books. Being entertaining in 140 characters is tough. Try it yourself.
Tell midlist and debut authors that ads and other marketing efforts don’t work when you are doing those things for your bigger lead titles all the time.
Tell Author A “Oh we really don’t print up more than 25 or 50 ARCs for anyone these days” while you are busy printing up 2500 for Author B.
Explain how an author page on your publishing website is as just good as buying coop at Amazon or BN.com.
Brag about things like galley giveaways on Goodreads on the marketing plan—efforts that experienced authors know cost you nothing.
Tell the author you can’t help in getting blurbs while you are actively getting blurbs for another author on your list. Word gets out.
The reason you can’t keep saying these things is trust. There is almost none anymore. The truth is better than disingenuous half -truths or obfuscations. Especially because in the end they help no one. You wind up with an unhappy author with a stillborn book and a career that went from promising to life support in the time it took to say – we aren’t giving you any coop.
Authors know you don’t have enough money to spend on all the books you’re publishing. We know we can’t all be lead titles. And we want to work with you to help our book sell. But we need to be treated like equals.
But what we can’t do is pick up all the slack from what publishers should be doing. We can’t be writers and markers and spend our money on ads and websites and book tours and publicists and also pay for our own tours and hold down a full time or part time job and still write a terrific book a year.
But if we do manage to – it would be nice to show us appreciation. Many of us pour 20% of our advances or more back into promotion/marketing. Acknowledge it.
At the recent TOC Margaret Atwood gave a wonderful keynote speech illustrated with hand drawings. “Authors must now Tweet, Blog, and Facebook… if we’re expected to do all this other work, we should the get more of the pie,” she said.
We have to figure out a way to do that and find a better way to work together. Here are some ideas I’ve suggested in the last few years.
If I’m going to put real money in marketing and promoting my own book – then that money should come off the amount I have to earn out. It’s not fair for me to spend three, four, five times the $ the publisher is spending and still have to make it back.
Or at least there should be some sliding scale for a bonus based on that money. Authors are often spending $10,000 and up on all the combined efforts they do. We are helping the publisher make money on us. Should we have to earn that $10,000 and up back?
How about publishers coming up with a program where bestselling authors can help get the word out about mid list and debut authors. Not push the bestsellers to do it – not force them – but come up with some in house mentoring programs with incentives.
In 2010 on her own, Jennifer Weiner came up with an idea to help debut author Sarah Pekkanen. She offered her own legions of fans -a paperback of her own last novel if they bought Sarah’s.
It gave Sarah a push and a start that no advertising, no publicist, nothing else could have given her.
How about sending authors on tour together. I know tours are almost dead except when they aren’t. And they aren’t a lot of the time. They work for a lot of authors and with Border’s foreclosures Indies can become more relevant – especially if we help them. If we reinvent tours a little and put fabulous author teams together it will benefit everyone.
E-books offer amazing promo opportunities at almost no cost to publishers. How about cross promotions with ebooks – buy bestseller Author A’s book and get midlist or debut Author B’s books free.
I can hear the naysayers already:
We can’t ask the our giant bestselling author to do this!
Yes you can ask. You can talk about the challenges of being an author today and ask. The worst that will happen is he or she will say no. All authors started out as debuts and – except for Lee Child – on the midlist. (Lee by the way did one of those amazing tours himself- unasked for – he took Cornelia Read on his tour with him when she first got published. And launched her career all because he loved her novel. )
We can’t figure out how to recompense authors for the money they invest back in their own books – how will we evaluate its relevance.
Yes you can. Most authors spend money in the same ways. They hire publicists whose names you know, they do Google or Facebook ads and use services like mine or others that you are aware of. If they claim they took out billboards on the moon for $25,998.56 – you can ask to see the receipt.
In the same keynote Atwood showed a dead moose drawing: “Never eliminate your primary source.” and explained that one dead animal feeds a broad ecosystem. Then, she showed a drawing of a dead author. “Although dead authors can be lucrative,” she said, “No authors, no books.”
And that’s a sorry scenario to contemplate.