Many authors prefer pursuing the path of traditional publishing with an established publishing house rather than delving into indie publishing because of the belief—or maybe hope—that a traditional publisher will do the bulk of marketing for the book. While there are lots of reasons to prefer traditional publishing over indie publishing or vice versa, this view seems to be one that many writers hold so I thought it would be worth sharing some thoughts on it. These thoughts are less about the law than about business strategies but may be helpful to those choosing which publishing path to follow. And I must start out by acknowledging that I am not a marketing expert myself!
It’s also important to appreciate that every book is different, every author is different, and many authors successfully navigate a hybrid publishing path with some of their work published traditionally and some indie published. And sometimes the decision between indie or traditional publishing for a particular project may be influenced by concerns about how to market the piece.
Whether you are traditionally published or indie published, it is VERY likely that you will have to do significant marketing of your own if you want the book to be successful. Unfortunately, the dream of most authors—that their publisher will arrange a multi-city book tour and pay for featured tables at B&N stores around the country—is not usually the reality, especially post-pandemic. Publishing houses have whole lists of books coming out in each season and they have limited PR/marketing budgets and people. They will have a marketing plan for each book and they will typically be sending books to the lead reviewers and other magazines, media outlets etc to see if the book gains traction, but whether they do a lot more will depend on the book, the publisher, the publishing season, the budget etc.
So it’s a good idea to think about your own marketing/PR strategies regardless of what the publisher does and, if you can work in concert with the marketing/PR team at your publishing house, so much the better.
Authors can do a lot themselves at very little cost by utilizing social media tools, reaching out to local bookstores to offer events and/or to offer to sign copies that may already be in the store. Independent bookstores are usually very receptive to these initiatives but don’t be shy about walking into your local B&N or Chapters because you may be surprised how keen they are to feature local authors and to have you sign copies of your book.
You can certainly think about hiring your own marketing/PR consultant, but this can be very pricey and of course even the best PR consultant can’t guarantee significantly increased sales so if you’re thinking about hiring someone to help, talk to them first and make sure you understand precisely what they’re offering to do at what cost (and importantly what they’re not offering to do). Whether it’s a publishing house or a PR consultant sending your book out to review outlets, there is no guarantee that anyone will actually review the book. So go into those discussions with your eyes open and don’t shell out a lot of money unless you’re sure that a particular person or strategy will be helpful for you.
The sad truth is that there is no magic bullet to make books sell in the market. For authors with a traditional publishing contract, it often feels like success is just around the corner as soon as you sign the deal. But convincing readers to buy books is a whole ‘nother piece of the publishing puzzle. The main advance I can give is to make sure you know exactly what your publisher is, and isn’t, going to do and figure out ways to supplement their efforts through the most cost-effective means you can find. Asking other authors for advice is a great idea, and coordinating efforts with other authors writing in your genre can save time and money and avoid re-inventing the wheel