P ublishers & Authors Must Unite Marketing Efforts
This essay is part of the 2015 Big Ideas Issue. Find the complete list of Big Ideas essays here.
Survey the landscape, and you will see authors who are taking marketing into their own hands and successfully creating audiences and loyal followings without help from their publishers. Authors have always deployed additional marketing, but new tools and agencies allow them to enact efforts that are at scale and beyond publishers’ bandwidth. Some of these authors are bringing in six-figure revenues by creating ancillary content, selling subscriptions, and creating online education. Most of these authors don’t care about bestseller lists—they care about selling books and building audiences. Publishers need to recognize this trend and figure out how to integrate into their marketing efforts. If they fail to do so, publishers will have abandoned one of the key value-adds they offer: professional, effective marketing.
This idea falls somewhere between a cautionary note and a call for leverage. Let’s address the cautionary note first. Legacy publishers exist because they add value to the publication of a book. Publishers improve a manuscript through editorial expertise, produce it well by using professional manufacturing (and conversion services), package it well, distribute it to retail outlets, and expose it to a receptive audience by enacting targeted marketing. Increasingly, publishers are changing the action word from “exposing” to “activating” an audience through direct-to-consumer efforts (email, social, advertising, reviews, partnerships, etc).
This is a good development. Were publishers to surrender the D2C efforts to authors, then one of the prime value-adds offered by a publisher would be irrelevant. In fact, some authors would argue that they have already exceeded the value of publisher marketing efforts by the use of their social networks, supplemental non-book content production, and/or deployment of marketing and publicity free-agents. I believe that publishers should hold onto every bit of value they contribute to the process, in order to retain relevancy and maximize their success.
This leads to the second part of the discussion: leveraging an authors’ contribution. Some books are acquired and published because they are wonderfully written. For others, the story is moving or important, or the content is so relevant, it must find an outlet (a publisher). But honestly, we all know that many other books are published for the potential of the audience. That’s why developing an external marketing platform is so attractive to authors: They get to own their platform, and it makes their work more attractive to publishers.
This trend is growing, and represents the frustration of authors who feel publisher marketing is inadequate. With expert freelance marketing services and audience development platforms readily available, authors and their representatives are building powerful and effective marketing organizations, which they own—not the publisher. Publishers can’t reverse this development, but they can work to integrate their own marketing expertise with authors’ efforts.
One can find examples of marketing integration with major authors (James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell leap to mind), but the kind of initiative I’m discussing often involves mid-list authors, or authors with lower profiles. Going forward publishers are going to have to find the balance between supporting all author marketing efforts and limited in-house resources. This balance will require different marketing approaches with evolved tactical structures. Those not willing to better integrate their marketing efforts with their authors risk losing one of the most attractive assets they have as an acquiring publisher.
Related story: How Small University Presses Can Gain Scale Through Collaboration
Matt Baldacci has held senior publishing and marketing positions at St. Martin's Press and Scholastic, and he has previously worked at DK Publishing and Simon & Schuster. Baldacci holds an MBA from the Stern School of Business and thinks the future of publishing is bright, as long as we continue to challenge the way things are done.