The hook I see self-publishing presses use more often than any other is to claim that the major publishing houses no longer promote the books they publish. They suggest that authors are all on their own even at the big houses to arrange their own publicity, so you might as well go with a self-published press and get a bigger share of the pie. It’s a tempting line of thinking but one which can sometimes prompt a decision a writer later regrets.
Harold Underdown has an excellent post on the things a traditional publisher does for your book here. This is my take on the issue. I have a novel out this year. It’s one that I’ve worked on for more than 15 years and is very dear to me. My publisher, Random House, is not sending me on a book tour or buying product placement for me in the chain bookstores or featuring me at the big book conferences–BEA and ALA. And am I upset? Not in the least! Here’s why.
Nobody expects this book to be a blockbuster, not my publishers, not my reviewers, and not me. We all know that what we’ve got here is a solidly written book that will be of interest to fans of historical fiction and useful to teachers and librarians. It’s exactly the kind of book which never gets attention in the self-publishing market which is a great place to discover a highly commercial book like Fifty Shades of Gray but a dismal venue for a literary children’s novel. But with a traditional publishing house we don’t need Written in Stone to be a blockbuster. We just need it to reach it’s intended audience. And to that end my publisher has done a number of extraordinarily intelligent (but not highly visible) things in the marketing of this book.
1. Editorial Process
First and foremost I have the expertise of an editor with lots of experience and a heart for what makes a book work for a kid reader. He also knows what the school and library market is looking for so he made sure I got all the room I needed for a detailed authors note. And did I have to pay him? Nope. Part of the package.
2. Cover design
I love this cover! It does everything a cover needs to do and is a work of art besides. Did I have to find the nationally known artist Richard Tuschman and convince him to do this work? Nope. All that coordination and design work was done by the talented cover team at Random House. They took the few reference photos I sent and their own love of story and made magic happen.
One of the hardest things to do as a self-published author is to get review attention for a book, even a really good book. I don’t even have to think about it. Part of the package.
4. Teacher’s guide
Pat Scales made a gorgeous teachers guide and my publicist has been great about sending copies of it out to bookstores doing fall teacher previews. Even better, you can download it for free. Because I’m a teacher I could have made this on my own, but it would have taken weeks of research through the common core to do it properly and then there is the design and layout–an entirely different skill set which I do not possess.
5. Sales Reps
Because my book is of regional interest the local sales reps at Random House featured the book in their meetings with the largest library systems in the northwest. It not only encourages book purchase but highlights the title to the group of people who sit on award committees and choose state-wide reading lists. It’s a very smart move and not something I could ever set up on my own for just one book.
Here is the best part: they didn’t send me on a book tour! A tour is expensive and puts a lot of pressure on the author to recoup the expense in book sales. Instead they’ve let me set up my own book events in venues where I know I can generate interest, with book sellers who have supported me in the past, and at schools who are invested in bringing me to speak to their students. I get to pick a schedule that works with my family’s commitments. I can take advantage of family or sports events travel and couple it with speaking engagements. I can pull together something at last minute to do a favor for a friend who is suddenly without a speaker at their conference. I can plan a whole year in advance for a week long author-in-residence. Yes, this is a lot of work, but the payoff in terms of relationships built in the business will benefit me for years to come so it’s time well worth investing.
Even though they aren’t flying me all over the country, they are supporting me in my travels with timely responses to my communications, and on time shipments to the bookstores where I speak. They’ve never missed a shipment–not once. They keep my back list in good supply. I never have to worry if the books will be there. This reputation is one of the reasons bookstores are willing to have me in. They make it look easy to have a seamless supply and delivery of books, but I bet it isn’t.
8. Prompt conversion to paperback
About half the schools I contact for visits want to wait until my title is in paperback so that they can afford a full classroom set and the students can afford to buy their own book. No problem! The paperback comes out in a year. We can go ahead and schedule into next school year knowing an affordable book is on the way. And just like all the rest, it’s part of the initial contract I don’t have to make it happen all on my own.
None of this is intended to disparage self-published work. There is outstanding craft in self-published books. I’m very excited to see a new book award from SCBWI for self-published work. But I’m also sad for people who have been swan-songed into going it alone on a book that would be better served in a traditionally published venue. So before you decide to go it alone, think about what you are turning down with a traditional publisher. It might be worth the wait and the careful rewriting and polishing of your story to get your foot in the door.