Marketing in the Publishing World: An Interview

Today I am excited to bring to you an interview with my cousin Phyllis, who works in the marketing department for Tor Books.  And why am I so excited?  Because as any author, self or traditionally published, knows, marketing can be the most time-consuming, frustrating, perplexing, and downright mystifying aspect of this whole writing gig.  I was eager to see if Phyllis could shed any light on the subject.  And boy did she!

First, the basics…

How does book marketing work in the traditional book publishing world?

Wow, this is a subject for an entire book! I’ll try to give you a capsule version. As for traditional publishing, I think we need to leave that term behind soon because so much has changed in just the last ten years, and although publishing still employs some “traditional” tactics, we are discovering new approaches all the time.  Book marketing is ideally, like most marketing, a multilayered endeavor, largely involving efforts by the author, the publisher, and the bookseller. For the author’s part, the most important thing s/he can do is write a good book. This is not negotiable. The author must also engage online as much as is possible. And I don’t mean only talking about your book. Writers must somehow build a platform for themselves and try to reach out to so-called Power Readers: people who live, breathe, and talk about books to their friends. If you’re writing topical non-fiction or straight genre fiction, it’s only slightly easier to find an audience than if you are writing literary fiction. One way to address this challenge, and this is something publicity folks do often, is find the non-fiction angle in your story. What real-life issue might you attach your story to that may be of interest to journalists and bloggers that write “off the book page.” The publisher’s role is to choose works that have a strong chance in the marketplace, and to produce and distribute the content through as many sales channels and in as many reading formats as possible. Marketing opportunities at the retail level are: paid positioning (also known as co-op) within the store or on the store’s website, and mentions or ads in retail newsletters that go out to their customers. Depending on the title and on the publisher’s expectations, a marketing plan is created including advanced galley distribution, co-op, publicity efforts, and advertising based on those expectations. At publication time, the plan is executed to a level commensurate with retail commitment. In other words, when the publisher’s sales team has sold a title into the retailers, the number of books out in the marketplace determines the level of marketing dollars committed from the original plan. With eBooks making up more and more of the total unit sale, this may change. But right now, printed books still represent the lion’s share of what is being sold. Booksellers, from the large chain stores to the independents, must make choices on what to carry in their stores (printed books), or on their sites (eBooks), and within those “walls” cater to their customer’s needs (books they know they want) and also to discoverability (books they don’t yet know that they want).

What have been some of the more successful campaigns you have worked on?

MC  A Dogs PurposeI’ll highlight one. We published a book called A Dog’s Purpose (fiction) by W. Bruce Cameron. It was a bestseller for many, many weeks in both hardcover and paper, and it sold a ton of copies in electronic format.

What made that campaign so successful?

Many things went into making A Dog’s Purpose a success:

  • A good story, well-told, and loved by many people at the publisher and eventually by many consumers
  • A NYT bestselling author, although all his previous books were non-fiction
  • A non-fiction angle = dog rescue
  • An extensive advanced galley mailing to booksellers and the media
  • Major co-op placement at every major bookstore chain, through our library wholesalers, and with our online retailers
  • Our publicity team scored tons of media attention in the publishing trades, major consumer media, and major pet media
  • An on-sale advertising campaign including major print and major online, utilizing glowing quotes from Alice Walker, Temple Grandin, and Dr. Marty Becker (Good Morning America)
  • An author who relentlessly promoted the book on Facebook and on his website, focusing on dogs and dog lovers everywhere. He even hosted a contest where people would win dog-of -the-week prizes like signed books.
  • Radio interviews with the author
  • Select author events in his home region
  • The book went on to be picked as a best book by Goodreads, BookPage readers, Rachel Ray
  • Alice Walker blogged about the book
  • Guideposts blogged about the book
  • The book has racked up 1000+ Amazon reviews, most of them 5 stars

What marketing media do you feel gives a book the best chance of succeeding (print media, social networking, etc.)?

A book’s best chance of succeeding is getting it in the hands of people who have the power to influence other people and hope those influencers say something great about it. In other words: WORD OF MOUTH. This is still the most powerful tool in the box because people trust other people: friends, relatives, celebrities, bloggers, journalists, booksellers, etc.  And, you’ve got to start with a good story, well-told. Next is in-store promotion. As mentioned in my first answer, exposure at the retail level is key because, in general, 75% of books are still sold in print format. That said – every book has its own set of parameters that will dictate the media channels that best serve it and the audience to be reached within the budgetary limits that a marketer has available. Many consumers are moving away from traditional media to digital media options, but there is still a large amount of print and broadcast options that reach readers, and as long as these exist, they should not, if possible, be traded for the sexier, cheaper online venues.

What changes have you seen in the way books are marketed?

© Daniel Gilbey |

© Daniel Gilbey |

Some of our marketing dollars are moving out of print and broadcast, and into online options: social networking, search advertising, newsletters, and mobile. This is where the audience is spending a good deal of time and to not be there will limit exposure. Also, authors are a very important element in the marketing mix. They are maintaining comprehensive web sites, engaging with readers on social networks, blogging, and connecting with readers like never before. There are so many online book-club type environments for readers to share their love of reading by listing all of the books they’ve read or will be reading. All of this adds to the rigor of reading and experiencing literature together as a society.

What advice would you give a self-published or small press published author on marketing their work?

Assuming you’ve done the hard work and written the best book you can, now it’s time to devote yourself to marketing. This will feel like a full-time job because it is. While you’re marketing you will (probably) not have time to write. Get the work out to as many people/influencers as possible, ask for reviews and quotes from people with writing cred or who are otherwise respected for their own platforms. Create electronic files of the work to accommodate the various reading platforms. Distribute print galleys if you can afford them and ask booksellers to give you feedback. Post the work to NetGalley (review media is taking advantage of this more and more). Take advantage of relatively inexpensive online ads and online search campaigns. Learn how to conduct a publicity campaign or if you can afford to, hire a publicist or freelance book marketer such as FSB Associates. Stay current on the industry by reading trades such as Publishers Weekly, and bloggers such as Mike Shatzkin. Lastly, engage on as many social platforms as you have time for. Granted, many of the above ideas are easier said than done, but these are some of the essential ways to get a buzz going.

Where do you feel the book publishing world is heading from here?

Wherever the reading public wants to go! From my perspective, we publishing folks are striving to evolve with readers’ tastes and preferences. You may know that Tor recently removed all DRM (Digital Rights Management) from our electronic books so that consumers can decide where/how to read the content they buy from us. I hope that publishing will always be about providing the best possible works of literature to the reading public, in whatever format/platform is preferred.

What are your favorite authors to read for fun?

My tastes are changing all the time. I used to read (and still love) Anne Tyler, Saul Bellow, and John Irving, to name just a few. On the recommendation of a good friend, I recently read Bronte’s Jane Eyre and loved it. Also, just read Ender’s Game (a Tor book first published in 1985) and was amazed at how forward thinking the author, Orson Scott Card, was (and still is!) in the technology he imagined. On my list to read next is Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne – highly recommended by my brainy brother who reads everything.

Thanks so much for answering all my questions, Phyllis!  Anyone else have questions?  I’ll see if I can pass them along and get some answers.


11 thoughts on “Marketing in the Publishing World: An Interview

  1. Thanks, Phyllis and Merry, for such an insightful interview. Like Merry, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the marketing aspect of writing, and it’s nice to have a pro confirm that I’m doing things correctly.

  2. Very good conversation. I’ve spent much of the past year building a platform. Three of my books release back to back to back this fall. At this point, I’m looking for all the advice I can get.

    • Thanks Ella! Yeah, it’s such a high point to release those books … and then you have to sustain them. I’ve learned more by forcing myself through the process than anything else.

  3. Thanks for this! I’m currently in the process of building a platform in anticipation of my book being ready for publishing in 2014-2015. Glad to know I’m at least sort of on the right track!

    • The fact that you’re building a platform means you’re at least one step ahead of the game. Best of luck to you! Let me know when the book is out. 🙂

  4. Great interview! It’s eye-opening to say the least.Marketing is so time consuming but necessary. Thanks for these expert tips.

    P.S. I read Empire of the Summer Moon. Terrific book!

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