As I look back, I am stunned that the ignorant inquiries I made to my traditional publisher and literary agent did not create waves of guffaws and rollicking cackles. Upon the release of my first book by a traditional publisher, during a conference call, I queried the publisher and her henchmen about their promotional plans. Would there be some sort of tour maybe? A round of book signings in a few large cities perhaps? A few flights and hotel stays, at the publisher’s expense, of course, in the pursuit of boosting book sales? Silly me. The nerve! A publisher spending money promoting a new author’s book? Ha! Now that I recall the episode, perhaps they reveled in a rousing round of derision and ribaldry at my expense.
I quickly learned that all promotional activities on my traditionally published book would be at my expense. Now I know that traditional publishers take a few chosen books – more like works from a few chosen authors – to promote to any degree. The rest get tossed against the cinder-block wall, like Dalmatian dung. The chosen few that stick get the tout treatment.
The laughter that now rings in my ears is my own…over my naivety. Arranging for an advertisement to run in a major trade paper or magazine? No way, no how, they said. In fact, I arranged for one to appear in a monthly publication. All I needed was a properly formatted, high-resolution photo of the book from the publisher. They had weeks to plan and prepare. Weeks. And, only at my repeated insistence, and final demand, did it even get to the editor in the 59th minute of the 11th hour. That’s right. My publisher had a hard time getting a copy of my cover ready for print advertising!
In that conference call, the one salient item broached by the other side was a potential interview spot on a major television show that provides over-the-top coverage of my subject’s industry. That was the very last I heard of the possibility. The idea seemed to die the very moment it had been given life. A Mayfly lives longer.
I went about my business, conducting interviews and signings on both coasts, and had vinyl posters and bookmarks printed to promote the book at signings – every penny of which came out of my own thin wallet while the publisher pocketed the lion’s share of the money for each book that sold do to MY efforts and MY marketing investment.
I conducted about 75 interviews – television, radio, podcasts, newspapers, etc. – and how many do you think the publisher’s PR lackey had directly arranged? Take a guess, I’ll give you time to ponder…hey, how do you think the Dolphins will do this season? Okay, ready? Less than 10 percent. And, I’m being kind. It all came down to who I knew – the connections and networks I (not they) had cultivated and nurtured for nearly 30 years.
It soon became blatantly apparent that it was Us (new authors) vs. Them (traditional publishers). The advance had been decent but I now mull what I had yielded, and the control with which they orchestrated everything – until the book actually hit the market anyway. I know it sounds just too crazy to think, or say, or type…but it seemed as if they wanted the damn thing to fail!
To greenhorn authors, believe a third of what you are told (at best), have savvy intuition, and heed every ounce of it. You also need to carry a keen sense of humor. Your sanity will thank me.
My literary agent could have provided much more insight than she did, may have been immensely valuable in getting answers to questions I had no idea to even ask, and might have proven her worth by being diligent and thorough, and displaying the experience and leadership of a supposed veteran. Instead, when I visited her (on my dime), she could barely look me in the eye.
I soon realized that traditional publishing in those few busy blocks of that big city is one (bleeped)-up little fraternity, the joke being on every outsider or visitor. Strained eye contact speaks volumes. Upon my departure, the laughter in her office must have been rich. Alas, however, that’s fodder for another feature.
Traditional publishers seem to wonder why their industry is failing. It’s no surprise to those of us who have seen their business models (or lack thereof) upfront. Needless to say, I am using BookLocker.com to self-publish my next book. The publishing process goes much faster (it only takes about a month to get a book to market), I’ll earn far higher royalties on each copy sold, and I will maintain 100% control of my book.
Anonymous has been writing in his specific field for 25 years. The above experience directly relates to the publication of his first book…and that publisher is implicitly responsible for Anonymous exploring self-publishing options.