Author-publisher marketing responsibilties

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

The other day I was talking with one of my clients who has been in the biz for decades. She was lamenting how her publisher expects her to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to publicizing her upcoming release. That conversation made me realize, once again, that authors haven’t grasped how publishers view each party’s role in announcing a new book.

The publisher’s job

The publisher sees its assignment as working the discoverability side of the equation. In other words, the publisher seeks ways to help readers discover you and your new book. This often is done in ways inaccessible to authors: developing shelf talkers and offering them to bookstores (these are the little cards or ads that appear below titles on a bookshelf, drawing attention to the book. Here are two generic shelf talkers Scholastic provides to bookstores and libraries to make recommendations for specific holidays. Publishers often create the shelf talker to be a mini ad for a title by using a tagline and art that match the book’s look.

Some publishers bring book chain buyers to the publishing house to present new releases.

Publishers also can place Facebook or Goodreads ads targeting readers most likely to enjoy your book.

Publishers can buy space at the front of a bookstore such as certain Barnes & Noble stores. Endcaps, which are displays that appear generally at the ends of aisles, also are produced by the publisher and the space is “rented” for the endcap. (These efforts generally are reserved for titles expected to sell extremely well.)

Buying a spot for your book in a book chains’ newsletter or creating a catalog of the publisher’s newest titles to showcase them to library buyers are additional ways in which a publisher can work on discoverability.

And, for those titles that are likely to be of particular interest to the media, the publisher might hire an outside publicist who specializes in approaching significant talk shows about having the author interviewed.

Sending books or ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to bloggers who attract the author’s type of reader and asking for reviews (as well as submitting ARCs to significant publications such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal) help with the discoverability challenge.

Offering copies of the book for the author to use in his/her publicity efforts is another role the publisher plays. And often the marketing team will offer bookmarks, flyers and posters for the author. One of my clients, who wrote a book with a knitting theme asked her publisher for and received hundreds of knitting needles with the book’s title on them. (She had several publicity ideas she planned to use the needles for.)

As you can see, the publisher is concentrating efforts on widening your sphere of readers and providing you with the materials you need to do your own publicizing.

The author’s job

The author is responsible for the care and feeding of his/her readers. In other words, once the publisher has convinced someone who has never read a book of yours to “discover” you, it becomes your job to make a personal connection with that reader. Seth Godin would talk about this in terms of building your tribe. Some authors think of it as tending their flock. And Wendy uses the phrase “building your congregation.” How ever you want to think about it, this is where you should concentrate your efforts. Welcome the readers to your website, maintain those relationships through social media, invite these readers to get to know you and open your world to them. Talk to them like they’re your new best friend in your newsletter. (Because they are.)

So there  you have it. The marketing/publicity folks at your publishing house have certain areas they’re expected to take care of, and you, as the author, have yours. It really is a team effort. And if both do their jobs, that means sales will multiply.

Do these two marketing job descriptions make sense to you? How does this perspective change your view of how the system works? What do you want to do differently as you take these roles into consideration?

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67 Comments

  • Anne Love says:

    Makes sense Janet. Thanks for the write up. I wonder about how many hours a week the average published author spends on their side of the equation?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      I hope some of our regularly published authors will comment on the time spent publicizing. I would think it varies, with the commitment largest leading up to and during a book’s release, when much more time would be committed to marketing.

      • Dear Janet: Actually I was quite surprised how much a publisher is willing to do. Thank you for the information.

        Being a self-promoter is probably one of the most important things I feel I need to do as a writer.

        I love my stories. I love my characters. And I want you to get to know them and love them too. So, as a writer, I need to budget my time to include not only writing but promoting.

        If there is a special topic a writer is addressing, maybe that topic has a group that can be contacted. People who might otherwise never stumble on you.

        And it doesn’t hurt to chat up your work to anyone and everyone….you never know who it will appeal to. And chatting up can include Facebook or blogging.

        This is a time to put shyness to bed and come out to play with your characters and your story. After all, isn’t the writer the biggest fan?

        Thank you for your great comments.

        Warm regards
        Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild

  • Shauna says:

    This weekend I told someone, “From what I’ve read, authors are almost solely responsible for promotion.” After I said it, I panicked! So your post was timely, and a tiny bit of a relief : ) Reason #286 why I need an agent.

  • Right on time with this one. Thank you.
    This is the first time I’ve had any clarity on these roles… discoverability and building a tribe. Good stuff.

    If an author were to hire a publicist, what might be some top priorities in that relationship?

    Speaking with one today (Nancy), in fact.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      An outside publicist should offer more intense reach into areas publishers sometimes skim over the top. That would include online marketing and connections with the media, running contests,etc. Nancy creates a.unique marketing plan for each book based on its intended audience.

  • This clears up my fog of how-in-the-world-does-anyone-ever-sell-books, Janet. It makes perfect sense that the publisher would interact with the bookstores, etc., and the writer would interact with the readers. Those are the connections that each party has. Your instruction to treat readers as your new best friend so simplifies it for me. We’re just trying to form relationships. Okay, sometimes relationships can be incredibly difficult, but today I choose to bask in my new understanding of the division of responsibilities.

  • I’m actually pleasantly surprised the publisher does so much. I’ve been hearing the publisher doesn’t do hardly anything in the way of getting your book out there anymore. It makes sense to me that an author would need to “tend to the flock,” since so much is about connecting with the author nowadays. The publisher CAN’T do this part for us. Readers want an actual connection, not just a generic email thanking them for their interest, etc.

    • Lindsay, we read each other’s minds now. ha. First confetti cake and Skittles and now this response. When I read Janet’s great post today, I was thinking the same thing – “Whew! I didn’t know publishers still usually do all of that!”

      We’ve heard so much of what authors must take on, but it’s good to know it’s still a team effort! :) Thanks, Janet!

  • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

    Lindsay, you’re so right that only the author can make that direct connection with the reader. It’s hard to envision feeling warm and fuzzy about a publisher, but an author who naturally touches our emotions through his or her book is another thing altogether.

  • Thanks, Janet, for clarifying! (And I appreciated Bill’s question,too. Something in addition to think about.)

    I like people and I genuinely enjoy making that “human” connection. My husband often teases me that I must have an invisable bullseye on my forehead…(the one that shouts, “Talk to me. I want to be your friend!”)

    Interacting with future readers should be the fun part of an author’s job. :)

  • Great overview, Janet! Out of curiosity, when a publisher is introducing a new author, how big a role does cross-training, cross-promotion play? For example, Author A has a relatively small following and signs a three book deal with Publisher B. (one can dream) Does Publisher B set a team to examine and restructure Author A’s social media portfolio, blog, etc. in an effort to increase traffic/sales, or is this the sole responsibility of Author A?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Kathryn, the publisher pretty much leaves that job up to the author. And nowadays so many unpublished writers are setting up stunning websites, have good traffic on their blogs, etc. before they are contracted. For the author who hasn’t done those things, hiring a social media specialist with part of the advance would be a good investment.

  • Lori says:

    Wow, I am glad that the publishers do so much. I was afraid that they would do so little based on my mispreception of marketing a book.

    I would think in today’s day and age making at least an online connection with one’s reader is better. However, about the personal connection, I was wondering how much time an average author spends with reading groups, or a table at a book store, or even at a book convention? Does it take away time from their writing, their family, or their regular job?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Lori, an author’s greatest challenge is balancing writing the next book, reading the galleys on a book about to be published, and publicizing a new release. It generally takes an author awhile to find the right rhythm. Personal appearances such as at bookstores tend not to reap much in the way of benefits unless you have a very recognizable name. But using Skype to talk to a book club, now that’s a different story. You have a guaranteed size of audience and people who already have read your book. What a great chance to establish a personal connection.

  • Having done time in retail, I’ve had a bit of an insider’s view of how marketing and big corporations work. From the person who answers the phone “Hello, Reedikyoolissly Big Publishing Company, how may I direct your call?” to the art department, “you know, that author was rude on the phone, make the cover model’s eyes look closer together”, everyone has a job to do. And when it comes time for me to send my Baby off to publishing camp, I want to have the best relationships possible with the people who dress Baby up and send her into the world.
    While I am aware that not everyone involved will love my Baby as much as I do, I will be certain to be as gracious and Christ-like as I can in dealing with them.
    That is just good business.
    As for me?
    “The care and feeding of his/her readers” is something I, yes me, take very seriously. I had a Navajo contact tell me that the name I’d used in the WIP was not culturally accurate, and should I use that name in the published book, she would not read it. Which means, none of her friends or family would either.
    To offend people on the way to bookshelves is to set my name up as one that is untrustworthy and dismissive of the very people I want fully engaged in the book’s success.

    And I would happily pay my way to and stand in a bookstore in Blue Gap, AZ and shake hands with anyone who came in, knowing I’d taken a bit of Navajo/Dine (Deen-ay) history and used it to tell a story of redemption.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Jennifer, you’re so right that an author needs to be professional and NICE to everyone at the publishing house. It doesn’t mean you can’t express your opinion, but being circumspect pays big dividends. (And if you have a problem, wouldn’t it be grand to have your agent deal with that while you slip off into a corner to write your next book?)

      • Ma’am, I’m hoping that publishing ‘house’ has a kitchen. Cuz as soon as I sign a book deal, I’m bringing my cookbooks and we’re having high tea!!
        Earl Grey and my arsenal of baked calories, fancy china and pinkies in the air. :)

        And just in case anyone is curious, I also make a mean salad.

      • And to further my point, the one about sorta being healthy-ish-like, my other skill is re-finishing large antiques. But, it’s hard to pack a sander in one’s carry-on luggage. So, cake it is.

  • Mindy says:

    Janet, thank you for this post. It’s given me much to ponder and some ideas to work on. I really appreciate all the hard work you ladies do to keep us informed and inspired. :)

  • Larry says:

    Thank you for sharing your insight into the responsibilities writers and their publishers have for making a book a success, Janet.

    However, I wonder how much a first-time writer can benefit. For example, they are not as likely to get their publisher to reserve the end-cap, nor the other valuable space in bookstores and other retailers. A first-time writer is also unlikely to get that push for getting onto a significant talk show.

    Furthermore, this seems to also apply to mid-list authors: for they have a record of meeting only so many sales expectations, that they publisher is less likely to allocate resources to one that hasn’t performed remarkably well previously.

    Some of the other points don’t seem to require much “heavy lifting” on the publishers’ part, either: sending out reviwer copies is a good strategy, only if the author wrote a compelling enough book to begin with, and requires the critic / reviewer to actually write the review!

    Promotional material can be created cheaply with the help of a local colleges’ art student.

    About the only significant help an author can get from a publisher is the relationship publishers have with bookstores and other retailers, making it more likely to actually get the book to a place people can buy it….but with the advent of digital releases, for how far into the future will a publishers’ relationship with brick-and-mortar stores be significant?

    Some of the points that a publisher might (but probably won’t) do for a first-time or mid-list author ends up becoming the responsibilities of the author: getting interviews on local radio and television stations, local newspapers, etc. ; approaching book festival folks about speaking gigs; approaching colleges, churches, bookstores, and other venues for speaking gigs; and much, much more.

    A writer may ask, “Well, if I’m doing all that, will my publisher be so kind as to take some of my duties, and write my next book?”

    Rule of thumb: the ratio of your royalties to the publishers’ also seems to be the ratio to how much effort each party puts into actually selling the book!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Larry, in this blog I was careful not to raise false hopes for writers about what a publisher will do for them, which is why I specified that endcaps and front store displays are unlikely to be part of a new author’s marketing plan. But many publishers do group ads in trade publications and present all new releases to library buyers (if the publisher presents to libraries–not every one does).
      Regarding how important it is for a publisher to work with bookstores, statistics show that, at this point, 60% of publisher’s sales still come from retail outlets. Yes, that number will decline each year, but for right now, it’s a hefty part of sales. So this isn’t a publishing benefit to weigh lightly.
      Of course you can create your own bookmarks and flyers–and do it relatively cheaply–but brainstorming with your in-house marketing personnel is likely to result in the publisher using those items as bag stuffers and in other ways as well. Plus the art department that created your cover will also create these items, matching the look and quality with precision.
      Does the publisher carry as much of the weight to publicize your book as you do? Probably not. No one cares more about your book’s success than you. But does that mean the publisher doesn’t bring marketing value to the relationship? No. Even for a first-time author the publishing house can and will do things for your book that you can’t.

      • Larry says:

        Thank you for your response, Janet. I agree, there are some solid benefits that a traditional publisher still offers: namely, as you mentioned, with buying ads, and depending on the publisher, an established relationship with readers (such as those who are more likely to buy the next book from Publisher X because of the quality or overall enjoyment from other authors the publisher represents).

        However, it seems to me that as the industry continues this era of change, that the idea of a true “partnership” between authors and publishers is actually being fought against: not that writers don’t recognize that there is much they should do for their book after writing it, or that they are incapable of doing so, but rather, writers are demanding that if they are going to do at least an equal amount of work of selling and promoting the book, that they are recognized as being a true partner: and no better place to start than the royalty check! :)

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I’ve always wanted a congregation of my own. I hadn’t thought of readers that way, but with Christian fiction, I think I’d better! It also reminds me I have a responsibility to steer readers as true as I know how.

  • Kiersti says:

    This is helpful, Janet–thank you! As so many other commenters have said, I learn so much from this blog. :)

  • Micky Wolf says:

    A really helpful post, Janet. Helps clarify who is responsible for what. And from the author’s perspective, especially like the idea of understanding the process as making connections and building relationships.

    Thanks so much! :)

  • Thank you, Janet. This is an encouraging post. And I agree with your comment above that getting your book into a brick and mortar bookstore is not something to sniff at. I know that the trend is towards books being sold online more and more nowadays, however, I still buy the majority of the books I read from an actual bookstore. There are still some of us readers who want to go browse in a bookstore, pick books up and glance through them. I have bought many books by authors I’d never heard of before because I was able to examine the book. I find “browsing” through books online a very different experience. Rarely do I get enough information from the synopsis and sample pages to convince me to buy a book that I hadn’t already planned to buy. Admittedly, I am most likely part of a dying breed, but at present, we still do exist. I think it would be unwise for an author, especially a first time author, to ignore a potential audience. So a publisher’s relationship with bricks and mortar type booksellers is one to be valued, especially when the publisher is willing to use it to help get the author’s work discovered by potential readers.

    In regards to the writer’s responsibilities, I am relieved by your post. I can do the social media part (I already am). I enjoy interacting with people through writing. The greater challenge for me will be creating in-person marketing events. I am a bit shy. But as you said, no one cares more about the book than the author, so with God’s help, I can be courageous and do it!

    Thanks again. Blessings!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Christine, your shopping experiences align with what studies show: readers who buy in physical stores often solve the discoverability problem for the book by picking it up and “discovering” they want to buy it. Online shoppers don’t tend to be browers; they go online to buy the book they already had in mind and that’s it. Impulse purchasing seldom occurs online.

  • I call my tribe “The Posse.” But, they are not just there to purchase my book. I put out Posse Posts and I teach them marketing and steer them to sites I monitor, such as this one.

    By not focusing on selling my books but helping others sell theirs and giving authors in my publishing house attention on the Friday Round-Up, I offer something they need more than another bedside read.

    But, this inevitably results in book sales of my novels. In fact, my first novel, “Fools Rush In” is being taught in two college creative writing classes, one in NJ the other in Southern CA. They have neglected genre fiction in the past and now understand that this is what sells.

    There are many approaches to book sales. Why not an altruistic one?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      What you’re doing, Sunny, is adding value to your readers’ relationship with you. And that’s a very smart thing to do. We all get tired of the noise of social media; so authors must think about what they can uniquely offer that’s an additional value.
      I just noticed, for example, that on Facebook Debbie Macomber has an advent calendar with some added value to the reader each day. Today is a holiday planner you can download. Smart–and altruistic.

  • Kate says:

    Thank you Janet. I am happy to learn possible strategies a publisher might use to assist an author. I really thought a new author was tossed into the book-ocean expected to swim, tread water or sink while battling sharks, storms, and giant squids…alone. Ah ha another myth scuttled. Now, time for tea.

  • While she’s lamenting having to do that, there are lines of authors who would love to have that problem. Whatever you can do to promote your book is a win-win situation for you and the publisher. (And higher sales mean that they will be more likely to have you do another book with them.) Don’t lament! Do what you can!

  • Janet,
    When we write our proposals and note all of our sites with contact numbers of followers (i.e. FB, Twitter,ect.), is that really THAT important to the publisher since it seems it’s their role to generate sales?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Leslie, it’s supremely important. Every publisher wants to know how many potential book buyers are in the author’s tribe. The publisher works best at introducing new people to your writing and expects the author to let her tribe know a new book is available. It’s a hand and glove sort of operation.

  • Tim Klock says:

    It would be wonderful if some publisher would do everything for me and send me on nation-wide book signings, pay for all publicity, etc. But I actually look forward to helping to promote my book (if it ever gets published, that is!)

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      That’s great because that nation-wide tour thing is pretty unlikely. (I read an article in a trade publication several years ago written by an author who went on a nation-wide tour. It was utterly exhausting, and audiences of 5-6 would show up for each appearance. So much for the glam of book tours!)

  • Diane Yuhas says:

    Thanks for describing the difference in responsibilities between author and publisher in marketing a book. I have so much to learn.

  • Lori says:

    I have a PR question. To what extent is the author expected to develop her own press releases and media alerts, and distribute them to media contacts, as well as pitching interview ideas to news programs? Is this usually what the author does?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Lori, the only media pitches most authors make is to local media. It’s not effective for an author to try to get a spot on any national programs. The publisher’s publicist or a free-lance publicist hired by the publisher (or the author, if the author so chooses) would write the press releases, do the media alerts, etc. for any news programs outside of the author’s geographic area.

  • Dee Bright says:

    This information is so helpful!

    A few years ago I had a nonfiction published and the folks with my publisher were great–worked with me in deciding where the marketing dollars would go, set up radio interviews, and such. But a big picture about respective marketing job descriptions like this would have been invaluable! I had ideas for my part in the process, but looking back I now realize there was so much more I could have done.

    I’m currently working on a novel, and when I hear creative ideas from authors I try to keep track of them. Building community is key. But I would love to see someone create a book like, “1001 Out-of-the-Box Marketing Ideas for Authors.” Maybe YOU could write it, Janet! Or maybe there could be a blog on the subject and everyone could submit ideas!

    Just a thought!

  • Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Ms. Janet, for the post. It makes sense. I can see how the delineation of roles helps authors not to try to do the publisher’s job, and also not to try to make the publisher do what is rightfully the author’s job :-)

    Quick question about the statement “The author is responsible for the care and feeding of his/her readers.” What is the balance in terms of time and scheduling — especially for new authors who are not yet writing full-time?

    On the one hand, it seems to me that the author has a reading tribe to develop/build, but at the same time, after she has sent off the MS to her agent, she has to go write the next book, which could mean 6-9 months of focused work (on top of her day job). When do authors have time to blog properly with genuine care for his/her reading tribe?

    I would love to hear about an author’s schedule breakdown (esp. during the writing process of the next book) to enable him/her to feed the tribe while not lose focus on the next books you are working on :-) Do you have “ministry assistants” e.g. your social-media-savvy daughters/sons/volunteers/spouses to keep an eye on things for you? TIA!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Jan, you’re the second person to respond to my blog with the same scheduling questions. I see a future blog here! It’s too complex to try to address in a comment, plus each writer’s situation is a bit different. But we certainly can talk in more general terms about how to allocate your time. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • Thank you for this post, Janet! The respective marketing roles between a publisher and author have seemed a mystery to me. I can now envision the distinct spheres of responsibility far more clearly.

    I was interested to read about the publisher getting books out to bloggers. I have gotten a lot of requests of this nature from publishers lately (to review books on my blog), and I’ve been surprised that the publishers handle that rather than the author. But, with the distinction of the publisher handling discoverability, that makes more sense now.

    A question for you: What percent of an author’s followers/platform does a publisher assume will buy a book?

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Natasha, publishers don’t really know how many readers of a blog will buy an author’s book. It depends on striking a fine balance between offering the same type of material in the book as on the blog yet distinctive enough from the blog that the readers will want to buy the book. They need to perceive added value from the book, or they will just read the blog. Publishers and writers are still figuring out exactly how that dynamic works.

  • Tehila says:

    The role distinction between the publisher and the author that you have described so succinctly in your post, has been very helpful to me.

    Reading your words has motivated me to invest, grow, and nurture my current “tribe” through my blog. I am aspiring to form those relationships, build the bonds, and secure the trust that I envision my future book readers to require in me.

    You have provided a challenge that I am excited to take to heart.

  • Reba says:

    Thanks for the information. For me, marketing my own book is harder work than writing the story. I am constantly on the look our for ways to do that.It is also good to know what I should expect from a traditional publisher and what they expect of me.

  • ggcarroll says:

    A question this is, perhaps, coming from left field. Would an agent ask a new author to pay for a publicist upfront (i.e. take the money out of an advance)?

  • Thank you for a valuable post.

  • Thanks for the break-down on this side of the business. It is very important to me that I learn as much as I can as a writer to help promote my book as well as to be part of the team with my agent, editor, publisher etc. to do the best “bring-out” party for the book as possible!!

  • This was all good advise. I work very hard at marketing even though I have a publicist. I have often thought about an agent but am not sure how this differs from a publicist and if it is necessary.

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