How I Got A Big Advance From A Big Publisher And Self-Published Anyway

This post, by Penelope Trunk, originally appeared on her blog on 7/9/12.

I have a new book out today. It’s called The New American Dream: A Blueprint for a New Path to Success. You will notice that the link goes to Hyperink. They are an independent publisher.

I sold this same book, two years ago, to a mainstream publisher.

I have been reporting on research about on how to be happy for almost a decade. It’s important to me that everyone learn what I learned, which is if you want to have a good life, you shouldn’t focus on happiness, but rather, on making your life interesting. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled. Searching for happiness is making us crazy. And creating an interesting life is actually intuitive to most of us, it’s just that we feel like somehow we are doing something wrong. This book explains why you are probably on the right track, and all that stuff you hear about the pursuit of happiness is from another time. A time of ignorance, when we knew a lot less about what makes us human.

So I sold my book to a mainstream publisher and they sucked. I am going to go into extreme detail about how much they sucked, so I’m not going to tell you the name of the publisher because I got a lot of money from them. I’m just going to tell you that the mainstream publisher is huge, and if you have any respect left for print publishing, you respect this publisher.  But you will not at the end of this post.

To be clear, I wrote my book, and they paid me my advance, in full. Three months before the publication date, the PR department called me up to “coordinate our efforts.” But really, their call was just about giving me a list of what I was going to do to publicize the book. I asked them what they were going to do. They had no idea. Seriously. They did not have a written plan, or any list, and when I pushed one of the people on this first call to give me examples of what the publishers would do to promote my book, she said “newsgroups.”

I assumed I was misunderstanding. I said, “You mean like newsgroups from the early 90s? Those newsgroups? USENET?”

“Yes.”

“Who is part of newsgroups anymore?”

“We actually have really good lists because we have been working with them for so long.”

“People in newsgroups buy books? You are marketing my book through newsgroups?”

I’m not going to go through the whole conversation, okay? Because the person was taken off my book before the next phone call.

At the next phone call, I asked again about how they were going to publicize my book. I told them that I’m happy to do it on my blog, but I already know I can sell tons of books by writing about my book on my blog. So they need to tell me how they are going to sell tons of books.

“LinkedIn.”

“What? Where are you selling books on LinkedIn?”

“One of the things we do is build buzz on our fan page.”

I went ballistic. There is no publishing industry fan page that is good enough to sell books. No one goes to fan pages for publishers because publishers are not household brand names. The authors are. That’s how publishing works.

“You know what your problem is?” I said, “Marketing online requires that you have a brand name and a following, and the book industry doesn’t build it’s own brand. But I have my own brand. So I’m better at marketing books than you are. I have a voice online and you don’t.”

I scheduled a phone call with my editor’s boss’s boss to tell him that. I told him his business is online marketing and his team has no idea how to do it, and he should hire me.

He told me, “With all due respect [which, I find, is always a euphemism for I hate your guts] we have been profitable every year that I’ve run this division and I don’t think we have a problem.”

Then he told me he really needs me to work well together with the marketing and publicity team, so they flew me to their office to have a meeting. There were five people in the meeting.

Here’s what I learned at the marketing meeting, where I sat through an interminable set of PowerPoint slides on the book industry.


Read the rest of the post on Penelope Trunk’s blog.

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