Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My BranchLine CAA article for February: The Business of Publishing: It's not just about writing anymore

This article was published in this months CAA newletter the Branchline:

With the demise of the Toronto Book Expo, Canadians now have to run to Book Expo America for representation. Random House and other larger publishers opted out of the Book Expo Canada in part due to declining attendance and are hoping to lure sales through their own literary festivals. However, with budgets tightening and massive layoffs permeating the industry, losing the BEC means one fewer avenue for authors and independent publishers to showcase their books.

With money being diverted from book review publications and less space devoted to books in our national newspapers, the business of book publicity must become an area that is recognized for its worth. Newly published and established authors are calling their publishers and asking, "Why isn't my book selling? Why can't I have more than one copy on the shelf?" As Toronto-based fiction writer Andrew Pyper quoted in a recent Globe and Mail article, the answer to why publishers aren't selling books is " ...the 'machine' isn't as big as some writers might think."

When publishing traditionally, most publishers will pay an in-house book publicist to promote their author for three to six months. Many of these publicists are overworked and can't devote their time solely to one project; they simply have too many titles to look after. Mid-list authors are the first ones to pay the price when there is a lack of book promotion resulting in hundreds of wonderfully written books sinking into the mire of the backlist or becoming lost on the overcrowded bookshelves in the bookstores.

Recently, there has been a surge in self-publishing outlets offering unrealistic press and media coverage for their titles, even going so far as promising spaces on bookshelves in big box stores that simply do not exist. Writers who are seduced by the offers of a quick sell are usually the ones who end up calling a publicist or an agent to try to lower the overhead they have amassed trying to sell their books to a non-existent audience.

So what can authors do to promote their books? It is vital in today's industry that all writers take the time to learn about the actual business of publishing a book. They need to understand that they must now not only write their book, but they have to prepare a budget and put aside money for the promotion of their book. Writers must educate themselves on the pros and cons of traditional publishing and be ready to look at alternative ways to promote their product.

There are benefits to hiring an expert in the field of marketing and publicity, and through education the myths surrounding the pricing of personal publicists can be dispelled. The book industry is at a turning point; the question now is whether authors are willing to switch gears and focus on the business of writing as well as the creative process.

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