Thursday, January 18, 2007

To Market, Pt. 2 or Publishers Behaving Badly

A lot of authors think that they may have to market themselves at the beginning of their careers, when they are unknown, but once they have a few books under their Amazon listing, and larger advances, things will change. They dream of book tours, publishing parties and readings at the 92nd Street Y.

It's a dream. Wake up!

This is unfortunately a true story, that really taught me that writers have to do everything themselves, if they care.

I had an author who had collaborated on nine books, some of which had gone into multiple printings and foreign editions. This was the first book she was going to do on her own, and it was an awesome, commercial idea. We got a sizable advance. The publisher agreed to match the advance with an equal publicity budget. We thought we had it made. We were so wrong.

We met with the publicity department where we were made to feel that they knew what they were doing and our contacts (even though my author had been published and interviewed for over a decade) were meaningless. We were told not to interfere.

My client had an in at a nightclub that was willing to throw her a party to tie in with the book. We kept on asking if they wanted to do something. First we were told that publishing parties were a waste of time and money - that nothing ever comes of them and that they were just a means to massage the author's ego. Then, suddenly, the party was on! Invites were printed so quickly that we couldn't invite any of the publishing professionals who knew her work. We were told it wasn't really up to us. The good news: We got articles in the New York Times Style section and Cosmopolitan out of the party, and had a great time. The bad news: between food, drinks and invitations, they spent a quarter of the p.r. budget.

Suddenly more bad news: The assistant who was in charge of sending out the galleys (bound copies of the typeset manuscript without a real cover that are sent to reviewers) was fired because a closet stuffed full of said galleys were found two weeks after she said they went out. The galleys were sent out very late.

My author was sent on a five-city author tour. Some events were grand, some no one showed up to. They flew her around the coutnry and booked her into $500 suites for the night. The p.r. budget was gone in less than two weeks.

My author was told by the p.r. department that she was not to book her own event on the big day that tied into her book. She had been featured at events on this annual day for the past five years. Two weeks before the big day, she called to tell me they had been unable to book an event and now she would have to play catch-up to take advantage of this opportunity. I asked what she wanted to do that night. She said she wanted to do a book signing at a big store. I called them. They knew who she was and had a display of her books in their window, and said she could have the night before. I called the P.R. honcho to inform her of this, and she asked me how I managed to get the reading. I told her I called the store. She said,"Well, you must not be a very successful agent, if you have the time to book readings for your authors." She eventually got fired.

But the publishing company considered my client's book a failure, because even though it earned out it's advance, they had spent so much money on publicity, they didn't see it as profitable.


Adrienne said...

Wow. It's so tricky, I mean how do you know when to take the bull by the horns yourself, or sit back and let people do what they claim they are going to do. It's like a game of russian roulette.

Man I really hate incompetent people!

BernardL said...

Your experience conveyed enough frustration to fill a career. The publishing company took the right steps. Unfortunately, for their profit, and your author's success with her book, it was far too late. On top of it all, you get insulted for doing your job. Thanks for the insights.

Anonymous said...

What a nightmare! I can imagine myself in that author's shoes, thinking, "The PR department must know what they're doing. I'll leave it to the professionals."

Thanks for the warning, and the reminder not to take anything for granted. I'll focus on my own legwork, and if the PR department can pull off something spectacular, it's just a great bonus.

Stacia said...

Ohhh, what a nightmare!

s.w. vaughn said...

Oh dear Lord. Good thing I wasn't planning on retiring, like... ever!

Thank you for this. I love these marketing posts. I'm determined to be ready to promote! (And it seems you and Joe Konrath would get along famously. :-)

Nicole said...

So, did your eardrums melt from all the angry steam passing through, or is this just par for the course when it comes to pub. PR departments? (<-shuddering at the the thought)

Anonymous said...

On behalf of the wannabes who read this moral tale and believed every word possible and true, allow me to be the first to say:

Oy vey.

In-frickin'-credible. You expect that when the beam of sunlight finally falls on your head, you'll be supported by knowlegeable professionals throughout the industry. Wow.

Aprilynne Pike said...

*She said,"Well, you must not be a very successful agent, if you have the time to book readings for your authors."* Ha! *Indignant Snort*

*She eventually got fired.* Good!

What a story. Make me a little bit more nervous about my agent shopping my book.:)


Mitch said...

You know, I hate hearing about things like this. I had it happen to me in college, until I learned that people will tell you things, you listen to them, then do it your own way anyway, for reasons just like what you described. I'm sorry it didn't work out for your client with that publishing company, but it sounds like they really weren't the ones for you to begin with.