This post, from literary agent Chip MacGregor, originally appeared on his blog on 6/24/09. While Mr. MacGregor isn’t a supporter of self-publishing, his advice here is equally useful to mainstream and self-published authors.
I’ve received a bunch of marketing questions from authors over the past few months. Let me take a stab at a random sample…
Jennifer wrote to ask, "What is the most important thing I need to know about marketing my book?"
To me, the most important thing for you to grasp as an author is that you are responsible for marketing your book. Not the publicist. Not the marketing manager. Not even the publishing house. YOU. Think of it this way: Who has the most at stake with this book, you or the publisher? (You do.) Who is more passionate about it, you or the publisher? (You are.) Who knows the message best, you or the publisher? (You.) I think an author should work with his or her publisher’s marketing department as much as possible. Make yourself available. Say "yes" to everything they ask. Express appreciation every time they do something that helps market your book. But then go do everything as though it all depended on you, because it does. Whatever the publicist does for you is gravy. YOU are responsible for marketing your own book. Don’t leave it to some young college grad who has 17 other projects to market.
Clatrice asked this: "If I publish my book with a smaller publisher, will they set up radio and TV interviews for me? And can I expect them to set me up with newspaper interviews or book reviews?"
Here’s my suggestion: When you first begin talking with the marketing department at your publisher, tell them how excited you are to work with them, explain that you’ll do everything they ask of you, then ask this question: "Can you tell me what you’ll be doing to market my book? I’ll be working hard at marketing, and I don’t want to duplicate efforts." Just try to get some sort of explanation about what they’ll do — even if it’s minimal. Some will focus on media, others will send out review copies. Once you find out what they plan to do, you can begin to fill in the gaps with your own efforts. And don’t have huge expectations of your publisher — a smaller house may not have the resources to do a lot of marketing. The fact is, they are expecting the author to help them sell about half the copies of the book that will be sold. Half. No kidding.
[And this is the perfect time to share my favorite marketing story. Years ago, when I was releasing one of my own books, I asked a very brainless marketing manager what she was planning to do on my book. "First, we’re going to give it a great cover and title." I was VERY pleased about that, since I’ve noticed books without titles and covers don’t sell. "Second, we’re going to stick it in our catalog." This is something that only goes to bookstore owners, so that doesn’t make a big difference when it comes to convincing readers to buy my title. "And third, we’re going to give it to our crack sales team." I’m not making this up — those were her three points. My response: "So… you’re not really doing anything?" Which was fine, since I just wanted to know. Again, if you can find out what they’re doing, you’ll better know how to manage your own marketing plan.]