Yeah, there is. But it’s not true to say that they do absolutely nothing.

I’ve been hearing this a lot lately in (self-pub) writing groups, “If you’re not a New York Times Bestseller, nobody’s gonna help market your book.”

First of all, if nobody helped you market your book, how’d you get on the NYT Bestseller list? 

This is part of the problem with this argument and it quickly falls apart when you poke at it a bit.

A bigger part of the problem is that people on the internet think that advertising is marketing and they don’t know the difference. 

Marketing is the process of identifying customer needs and determining how to best meet those needs (what publishers do: find books that meet their target audience’s needs). 

Advertising is the exercise of promoting a book, through paid channels.

Advertising is a component of marketing, but marketing encompasses so much more than just ads.

To be fair, traditional publishing is not doing as much as it could to market its authors, and they are trying to push that ball into the hands of the authors more often than is fair or is reasonable. 

So there are grounds for the argument, but to say that they do nothing is a myth.

Marketing is a whole bunch of stuff that happens behind the scenes. Marketing is stuff like…

  • constructing the title and blurb of the book (and other metadata) to attract the right readers.
  • designing the cover to be as appealing as possible so that booksellers will buy the books and put them in their book stores, put them on their Staff Picks lists and put them in prominent places with the face out for customers to see.
  • connecting with librarians and library systems, so that it’ll be available to and in as many libraries as possible.
  • Connecting with school representatives and schools to see if you can get the book onto a curriculum, so that it can sell every single year when new students need it.

This is a good place to note that non-fiction makes up probably around half the publishing industry. So if you’re feeling like the publishing industry is nothing but YA and romance, fret not. 

YA and romance are prominent online, because this is what the internet consumes. We just don’t see a large amount of non-fiction books talked about the way we see fiction books talked about, but they’re still there. 

The world is full of non-fiction books.

Marketing is also getting an author PR opportunities, like interviews with newspapers and podcasts that connect you with a specific audience and know how to sell your work for you. 

Marketing is publishing houses having connections with The New York Times or other big news outlets, getting you on short and long lists for awards.

How do you think big fish in media pick their books? You think they trawl the self-published books of Amazon, digging for gold in the dirt?

Does Reese Witherspoon herself just wander through a Barnes & Noble, picking up books she thinks look interesting? 

No! (Even though, if she did, that’s one reason to get your book into a prominent display at a book store!)

These outlets know the power they have, they know that featuring a book on their platforms can make it shoot up the NYT Bestseller list. 

There are entire marketing teams dedicated to putting these books in the hands of the right people, people who work on theses shows, who’ll read books recommended to them by trusted sources, and recommend them forward to the show if they think it’s a good fit.

Getting into a convention, getting on panels, giving key notes, teaching classes, hosting booths — this is all marketing too. 

And yes, while you as an small-fry author can get into a smaller convention and have your books on a table, getting into the big book expos and conferences requires more than just signing up.

Chasing down bigger authors in your genre to get a blurb for your debut novel is also marketing. 

And those blurbs work a treat, because they’re personal. And they’re more likely to happen in time for the publication deadline so it can go on the cover.

But again, there’s a team of marketers who work to get those blurbs for you.

Agents, editors and people working in publishing also talk about the books they’re working on. 

In meetings, at gatherings, in their social circles — and these kinds of opportunities might lead to you getting a translation of your book in another market.

All of this is marketing. And all of this happens behind the scenes, which is why this stuff isn’t talked a lot about on the internet.

Because the internet knows self-publishing where you, most of the time, don’t have a team of people dedicated to making your book happen.

A lot of publishing isn’t possible without a publishing house and the resources and connections they bring with them. Some of that work can be done alone, and publishers do watch what’s going on in the self-publishing world. 

So, if you can make a business case for your book or build an audience willing to buy a book from you, you’re already off to a good start. (Just look at Andy Weir and The Martian.)

Has traditional publishing pushed more of the marketing work onto the individual author? 

Yes, because it’s more cost effective for them to do so, especially, if you’re just a mid-lister or below. 

It costs a lot of money to make a book; to print it, ship it, store it, carry it around to different vendors, display it and market it.

The internet only sees the outcome; the nice swag, and thinks that’s the end-all of marketing. 

But people don’t first get the swag and then buy the book, they want the swag because they love the book. 

And they can’t read it if they can’t find it. And they can’t find it, if it doesn’t have good marketing behind it.

It is true that being traditionally published means being asked to step in and be part of your own marketing team. Hell, it might even mean being asked to also be your own publicity team. 

It all depends on how much the publisher thinks your book is going to be worth to them. And it can feel unfair when they’re asking you to do all this work yourself, I get it.

But getting picked up by a publisher isn’t a magic bullet.

And if we go back to YA and romance, those books get some of the smallest budgets and least pushing from the publishers, because the individual books aren’t that profitable. 

These genres make money on the runaway bestsellers and it’s less important whether those books are good than whether they’ll sell a lot (see: the likes of Colleen Hoover, ACOTAR, and a whole host of fan fiction that eventually turned into books and movies etc.).

A small publisher is also going to do less for you and ask more of you because they simply don’t have the resources of one of the Big Five. 

But if you do get picked up by one of the Big Five and they write you a $60,000 advance, it’s just not true that they’re going to do nothing for it. 

They want to make money.

And if they’ve paid you money for your book, they are going to invest in it making that money back.

In the media landscape we live in today, the best guarantee you can have is to build your personal brand, no matter if you want to self-publish or get signed with a publisher.


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