Sunday, August 9, 2015

Let's Talk Frankly about Book Marketing - Publisher Style

by Kristi Belcamino

Let me start by saying that my publisher does do SOME marketing of my books.

And let's face it, it could be worse - but like every other author out there, I want MORE. Way more.

To be fair, I knew when I signed with Witness Impulse - a smallish HarperCollins mystery imprint that focuses on marketing your eBook and basically does a print run to appease my figurative elderly aunts who refuses to read digital - that my books would be low priority in the HC world.

So I was pleasantly surprised after I first signed my book deal to hear the publishing company say that in their eyes a "book is a book is a book" meaning that they intended to treat eBooks the same as their print books. And to be honest, they have done this extremely well -- in some areas:

I have a publicist. My books go through a detailed developmental edit from possibly one of the best editors in the business. My book is also sent out for copyediting and fact checking before it is printed. My covers (at least the last two) are fantastic. My publicist is a true gem. She is incredibly helpful in spreading the word about my books, but the fact is, her hands are tied, as well.

The true power lies in the marketing department, not the publicity department. The marketing department decides where to spend the money and sadly, so much of a book's success depends on this money being spent.

And here's where we speak about the obligatory catch 22 - the publisher will spend money on you if your sales warrant it. But for a debut author, I need that marketing money to garner those higher sales.

This paradox is nothing new. But it really hurts if you  are a debut author trying to figure out how to let people know about your books.

Because here is the cold, hard truth: Unless you have a publisher willing to invest in you, and by invest in you I mean spending MARKETING money on you - if you are a brand new author out the gate - the odds are you will have mediocre sales.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course, but this seems to hold true.

I've seen the difference between authors at my level who have a large monetary investment from the publisher and those who don't. It's a HUGE difference. In sales numbers.

This week, a very disheartening article came out that revealed something new to me that I've suspected - sometimes publishers promise the world and then don't deliver. Here's what one author, Steve Hamilton, did about it—spoiler he ditched his publisher.

Read it here on Publisher's Weekly or since it is short, I'll also post it below, although the comments on the PW article are worth reading on their site:

And four days later, after I wrote a rough draft of this post, Hamilton had a four-book deal with a new publisher. Read more here or below.

Hamilton Ends Deal with SMP Claiming Lack of Support

Disputes between authors and publishers are not uncommon, especially when it comes to marketing and publicity efforts. But rarely does an author make a preemptive move, and pull his book before a publisher has a chance to publish it. Which is why thriller author Steve Hamilton's move to end his relationship with longtime publisher St. Martin's Press has highlighted a growing issue in the business: Are traditional publishers doing enough to support established authors?
On Tuesday it emerged that St. Martin's imprint Minotaur Books was canceling Hamilton's October-slated novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The sudden move, for a book with strong word-of-mouth, seemed odd. St. Martin's issued a terse statement saying only that, "after many years" of publishing Hamilton, it "had a parting of ways" with the author.
Hamilton and his agent, Shane Salerno, said the publisher's comment was deeply misleading and, contrary to what SMP implied, it was Hamilton who chose to end the relationship. The reason? A lackluster plan from SMP to promote The Second Life of Nick Mason.
A two time Edgar-winner, Hamilton, who has been at SMP for 17 years, said the publisher's statement "wasn’t right factually, and it wasn’t right in principle, not after such a long relationship." He added: "This was my decision and mine alone. And any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous."
The Second Life of Nick Mason, which follows an ex-con unwillingly plunged back into the underworld of Chicago crime after he's sprung from prison, had received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. (Now that the book has been shelved, that review will not be running.) The book also received blurbs from, among others, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Don Winslow. Additionally, SMP had said that it was planning a 75,000-copy first announced printing. It also claimed, in galleys, to be committed to a number of major marketing efforts, such as a national author tour for Hamilton, and a national ad campaign for the book.
Hamilton, however, said none of those claims are true. "There was no national campaign," he wrote via email. "None at all." Staying with his publisher, given what they were doing, was unthinkable, he added. "The catastrophe that would have transpired for a book with extraordinary advance reviews would have been unfair to me, to my book, and to every bookseller."
When asked about the statements made about the supposed marketing plans for the book, SMP again declined to comment. However, it is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade--about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts--can be gross exaggerations. This fact has begun to spread beyond the confines of the industry, though, as more authors and industry experts take to the Internet with posts about the realities of what Big Five publishers actually do for most authors on the marketing front.
For Hamilton, the focus now is on getting a new publisher. His exit from SMP was negotiated by attorney Richard B. Heller of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz (who also worked on Janet Evanovich's 2010 departure from the house). Having paid SMP a sum to cover his advances on four books, along with delivery and acceptance fees on the first book, Hamilton and his agent are now fielding offers on print rights for The Second Life of Nick Mason, as well as film rights.
"In the end, I just want to work with a publisher who’s passionate about my work, and who has a real plan for reaching the widest possible audience," Hamitlon said. "That’s all I’ve ever wanted. But I didn't feel like any of that was in place at St. Martin’s Press, or that it ever would be."

and four days later this:

NEW YORK (AP) — Prize-winning crime writer Steve Hamilton has a new publisher just days after leaving St. Martin's Press over what he cited as lack of support.
Hamilton has a four-book deal with G.P. Putnam's Sons, the publisher told The Associated Press on Thursday. Hamilton's "The Second Life of Nick Mason," originally scheduled for release this fall by the St. Martin's imprint Minotaur, will come out in the middle of 2016.
Earlier this week, Hamilton had startled the book world by breaking with St. Martin's, his longtime publisher, and openly criticizing it for not properly backing "The Second Life of Nick Mason," the debut of a series featuring an ex-convict trying to break from his criminal past. Authors have long complained about lack of attention from their publishers, but it's rare for one to leave at the start of a multi-book deal and so soon before a novel's release.
More than 10 publishers "aggressively" pursued a contract with Hamilton, according to his literary agent, Shane Salerno.
"I am overwhelmed by the response to my decision to leave St. Martin's and grateful to have had so many passionate publishers pursuing my work," Hamilton said in a statement issued by Putnam, which is part of Penguin Group USA.
The Nick Mason novel was supposed to have been the first of a four-book deal reached last year with St. Martin's. In a highly unusual step, Salerno said he paid nearly $250,000 to get the author out of his contract (authors traditionally absorb the cost). Salerno added that the deal with Putnam was for substantially more than the near-seven figures Hamilton was to have received from St. Martin's.
Salerno, who besides being a literary agent is a screenwriter, filmmaker and author who in 2013 released a widely publicized documentary and book about J.D. Salinger, said Hamilton did not have the money on hand to buy out the contract himself. He added that he wanted Hamilton "to be completely free of St. Martin's" and able to find an enthusiastic publisher "who would support his work."
St. Martin's issued a statement this week saying that "After many years of publishing Steve Hamilton, unfortunately SMP has had a parting of the ways and will not be moving forward with the publication of 'The Second Life of Nick Mason.' We wish Steve all the best with his new series and his future endeavors."
St. Martin's spokeswoman Tracey Guest said Thursday that the publisher had no additional comment.
Hamilton, 54, is a respected and popular author known for his 10 Alex McKnight books. In 1999, his McKnight book "A Cold Day In Paradise" won an Edgar Award, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, for best first novel. Hamilton's "The Lock Artist" won the Edgar in 2011 for the best book overall.
Hamilton's contract with Putnam calls for two McKnight novels and two Nick Mason novels. "The Second Life of Nick Mason" has received early blurbs from Harlan Coben, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly and was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the fall's most anticipated books.
"With two Edgars to his name and story-telling chops to beat the band, we're convinced readers will love his new character Nick Mason, and our whole team's aim and focus will be to bring him to a much larger audience," Putnam president Ivan Held, who along with editor Sara Minnich acquired the book for the publisher, said in a statement.


Kristopher said...

Book marketing is so important and sometimes it does seem to me that publishers don't understand this. I realize that they are money-making entities, so I know they have budget concerns.

For me, I would rather see them sign less books, but devote resources to all those they sign, rather than publish "everything." Of course, this is hard for authors to hear, as it could mean the difference between being published and not, but I think the end result would be better support for the authors who do get a deal.

It seems to me that smaller publishers, Henery Press, Polis, etc., are getting it right. As an outsider, I see them as invested in their authors whereas, I don't always feel that with the larger publishers. And I think the difference is volume.

Kristi said...

That's what I've noticed, as well. I knew that by signing with a smaller imprint of a big five publisher, I would be low priority and so I shouldn't be shocked. But I do get jealous when I see my peers at smaller presses who are treated like rock stars. I suppose to be fair there are pros and cons on both paths. And yes, Henery Press, Polis Books and Seventh Street books are some of those who totally get it right.

Alex Segura said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kristi. I have to disagree with one thing, though: "The true power lies in the marketing department, not the publicity department."

Some call PR "free marketing" or "marketing without a budget." As a publicist, I won't call it that, because I think PR is an art unto itself.

But I do think it makes a big difference when the marketing dollars don't exist. Good PR can bring in readers who otherwise didn't know about your book or weren't aware you (the general "you") had a new one. The issue is, PR is not easy to generate. It's also vastly different to get a lot of "press" with the core outlets than it is to get mainstream attention. There are definitely outlets that will sell copies of a book - a review in a mainstream magazine, attention from a daily newspaper, NPR/public radio - these things, to varying degrees will help move the needle. Is it the same as a double-page spread in PW or front-of-table placement at a bookstore? No - not exactly.

There are things that can be done on zero marketing budget that will, at the very least, raise awareness and create traction. Doesn't change the fact that money IS important in promoting a book. I just don't think it's the only tool in the box. - Alex