This blog post appeared today on Lindsay Downs’ blog. Thank you to her for hosting me!
As my frequent readers know, I’ve been in the publishing industry, as both a publicist and marketer, for more than a decade. When I first arrived on the scene as a young publicist in 2001 the term “self-published” did not exist as far as I can remember. If you wanted to get published, the traditional route was the only route. Write manuscript, get agent, sell book. Endlessly promote. Things have changed a lot—except the “endlessly promote part.”
In 2011, we live in a world where we’ve seen people make big names for themselves through self-publishing, whether using POD, a distributor or going straight to the e-book. We’ve even seen many big name in-house authors go out on their own, realizing they can make more money if they self-publish in a world where advances are dwindling and royalties for e-books are at stake.
In July 2004, I went off on my own and did PR for a wide array of things, mostly in the lifestyle arena. But authors were always a part of my portfolio/client base. Many a self-published author, knowing my experience, came to me asking for my help and I gladly oblige. Being a lover of books, a lover of stories and a lover of a “self-made” person, I simply had to! Though these authors were not my clients, they were my friends and I wanted to help them promote their work. In 2004, social marketing had not yet taken off. Reviewers wanted no part in it. And to my surprise and chagrin “self-published” was a bad word, a one way ticket to isolating yourself as an author.
My, how times have changed! When I officially re-launched my company, RTC Publicity, in January 2010 as a book publicity firm, I was still isolated by my support of the self-published author in a field of old-school, traditional book PR thinking. I used my big house skills, gained at Penguin and other houses, and expertise to help out small publishers. I also began working with authors directly. As the fall of 2010 grew near, I was getting approached by more and more self-published authors realizing that “one thing” that hasn’t changed: endlessly promote and you have a winner.
When I first started at Penguin back in 2001, traditional publishing was already in crisis. There was not yet debate about the e-book but publishers were publishing more books than in the past, albeit with lower print runs, to cover their bases and make profit with bare bones staff, leaving many in the industry handling more titles than ever before in the history of publishing or the history of their careers. That crisis still remains—only now it’s being blamed on the lack of predictability of e-book sales or determining exactly what the promotion is that goes into publicizing an e-book.
In looking back at my history, in-house, out-of-house, on my own and as a voracious reader, it struck me last year. Self-published or not, the key really is to write a good book. The playing ground has evened out and those authors—of any category—those authors that realized it was up to them to take promotion in their own hands have prevailed. I consider myself a good publicist with unique experience but in order to be successful myself, it takes a client deciding that investing in promotion is the way to go. The smart ones do.
There is talk in the industry about gate-keepers. It used to be agents, editors and publishers. Now, in many ways we are all gate keepers. With the click of a mouse we can choose what we read and sales is the real answer. As a company owner, I am responsible for establishing and maintaining the RTC brand. I, as marketer, have become a gatekeeper in the industry. Before I sign any new client, self-published or not, I read the book and make my own decision if there is a market for it. What I publicize I put my name behind and in the fall of 2010 I, after much soul searching on an industry in crisis, took on my first self-published work of this new era. A non-fiction book and I made a rule: I would do non-fiction self-published only where the self-published author was already gaining credibility and had somewhat of a presence. THEN in the spring of 2011 more fiction self-published authors were approaching me and I realized—actually, it’s all fair game. A good book is a good book and regardless of who publishes it – the truth is, it’s still a matter of promotion: Public Relations: getting people to read that book.
There is one frustrating stumbling block – a hold-over from the more traditional PR/old-school thinking: reviewers will not review self-published fiction. I’ve had the conversations, it’s not because they don’t believe a self-published book can be good. There’s simply too much being published, they have to draw a line somewhere to save shelf space and keep their book pages going. Ergo, for the self-published author the traditional route is not the way to go. The way to go is social marketing, endless hours logged. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, Shelfari, Library Thing. They’re all free and properly used, very effective in creating buzz.
We have been given a great gift in the latter years: the immediacy of social marketing and direct access to the reader. In this new era, in 2011, the reader is the real gate keeper. The reader is the one that determines your book sales so it’s MORE than time to engage them in conversation. The dedicated self-published author realizes that one thing that hasn’t changed: promotion rules. They either hire a professional or learn the game themselves.
There is no cookie cutter promotion approach for the self-published author-or any author for that matter. What is important is that we reach the reader—in as many ways as possible and give them a choice. Have faith in the work and put it out there.
I actually think that’s a beautiful thing, don’t you? The gatekeeper of publishing in 2011 is the reader. Isn’t that how it should always have been?