Take book publishing for example. Traditionally, a writer had to find an agent. The agent took the writer’s manuscript, read it (or at least parts of it), and decided which publishing “houses” (companies) would most likely publish it. Then, they would “shop it around” (submit it for possible acceptance) at various publishers. The big names were Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins and so forth, followed by hundreds of smaller firms.
If one of them agreed to publish the manuscript as a book, a contract was drawn up and the publishing company went ahead to publish the book. They had a staff of editors, cover designers, artists, photographers, typography and layout people, print buyers (books are printed by printing companies contracted to publishing houses), distribution managers, and publicity agents.
Now, you can still do it all that way, of course. But chances are extremely slim for a first time author with no prior claim to fame. And just shopping around and working out a contract can take months or even years, even after the manuscript is “done.” If a title happens to become a best seller, then the process can be sped up for subsequent books by that same author, since the publishing house now knows they are a good bet.
But for the rest of us (without a best seller track record) ... everything has now changed. There are new technologies for designing and printing books, and clearly new technologies for publicizing books, or publicizing anything for that matter. “I could write a book ...” about how to publish a book today, but let’s wait on that. Especially because everything in this industry will probably change again soon, rendering my advice stale soon enough!
The key thing here is what happens when a book has been written, edited, designed (both the cover and the book “block” - the pages inside), assigned an ISBN number, and is finally available for sale.
If we go back to traditional publishing for a moment, big publishers talked to big newspapers and magazines, as well as established radio and TV stations to issue press releases, buy ads, and otherwise promote their books. They might arrange for other well known people to read the book and then write a review, or pay to have the author travel around to promote the book in person, giving readings and signing copies at bookstores or in other venues.
Now, enter social media. Exit big newspapers and even established magazines, radio and TV stations. Sure many of those still exist, but their influence is waning in the face of the literally millions of web pages, blogs, podcasts, facebook posts, YouTube and Vimeo videos, and so on.
So, now it’s easier for the little guy, with limited finances, to get the word out about his book, right? Uh, well, not exactly. For example, when there were 3 TV networks, it was hard because very few people could get their message out on one (in the form of a news story or an ad). Before the internet, direct mail was expensive (printing, addressing, postage, etc.). Now there are millions of “channels” so millions of people can get their message out without getting approval from anyone? No problem, right?
Well actually, there is a new problem. Instead of a trickle or steady diet of conventional media, there is a now a gushing firehose, a literal flood of information! And each writer (or anyone promoting anything) is trying to get attention. We’re all like siblings in a huge family with lots of children, all vying for attention. “Pay attention to ME!” we are all crying. “Buy MY book!” “Read MY blog!” And there are literally millions of us.
So, here I am, feeling quite exhausted, and rather stressed out. That’s because it’s really hard to determine how to best spend my time and limited money to introduce people to my book. There is so much “noise” from everybody else out there, how can I be heard? Oh, my friends are full of suggestions. The problem is, I’ve already thought of 90% of what they’re suggesting. And there are only 24 hours in a day. I can’t follow them all. I have to decide where to best spend my time.
And the clock is ticking. Why is it ticking? Well, because there are so many books being published today that bookstores are in a bind. On the one hand they are facing competition from online sales (can you say “Amazon?”) and on the other hand, they have limited shelf space. So, how do they stay in business and get people in the door? We all seem to have such short attention spans by now!
So they concentrate on what’s new. What’s just been published? If it’s last year’s book, let's forget it. We’ve moved on to newer titles.
So, here I am with a book copyright 2017 and it’s almost November. I have two more months to schedule readings in bookstores before it’s 2018 and my book becomes “last year’s title.” Next time, I think, I should publish in January. That way I’ll have the other 11 months to schedule public appearances!
But that’s not all I’ve learned. Bookstores, at least the ones that are still in business, are not uniform in their responses. Some of them are managed by very quirky people, as you might imagine. So sometimes I am welcomed, sometimes I’m rebuffed, and sometimes, I’m just ignored.
Most of them don’t have time to discuss my book over the phone. And I can’t just say “see my web site and call me back,” because they’ll probably never get around to it. Too much is going on at their end. So it falls on my shoulders to send them an Email, keep it sounding friendly and personal (not like a form letter), and follow up with each one in a few days to see if they are wiling to schedule me to do a reading.
It’s tedious, full of unexpected challenges (oh, the guy who schedules readings isn’t in today), often boring (writing the same kind of thing over and over in slightly different ways), and frustrating (oh, she didn’t get back to you yet? I’ll put you through to her voicemail).
In all this, I’m not trying to blame anyone, and I’m not saying this just to complain to strangers. It’s all part of the learning curve. I’m not exactly re-inventing the wheel, but learning the hard way how much work and tenacity doing good publicity takes. And how many skills I have to bring to bear on it, including research, perception, writing, public speaking, event management, and so on.
Fortunately, everyone who has actually read my book, so far, has really liked it. Back during the summer, while I was working with my editor to get it ready, I had a choice. I could either devote more effort to publicity (hey, everybody, I have a new book coming out soon!), or to hold back on that and really concentrate on the quality of the book itself. I chose the latter. Somewhere inside me, I knew that making my book high quality was job one. How did I know? Let's just say, "I felt like it."