When I talk to other writers about my experiences with my small press, or about small presses in general, I often get questions about how much they help to market my books. My press offers a reasonable amount of promotion support, especially compared to what I’ve heard from some other authors.
But even so, I always want to tell these authors: Don’t rely on a publisher to do all the marketing for you! Participate in your book’s promotion!
Certainly, it’s always good to have a publisher’s reach, influence and budget behind your latest release. But in addition to that, you always want to do your own marketing, too.
Here’s the thing. Your publisher is a business. And you, as an author—whether you like it or not—are also a business. When a publisher publishes your book, you engage in a joint venture as partners, because your goals for this venture align.
But beyond that, in the bigger picture, your goals are still different.
Look. I’m not saying publishers are evil. They aren’t using authors, and they aren’t predators. (Most of them, at least. Always do your homework before signing a contract.) They’re a business. And that means they’re responsible for bringing in profits.
You, also, are a business. It does not make you less of an artist. You’re still a unique snowflake of a creative with your own voice and stories to bring into the world. But, a business you are. And you, also, want profits from your books. (If you don’t, that’s okay—but you may not need a publisher in the first place.)
When it comes to this one book you are releasing with this specific publisher, your goals align. But beyond that, these goals–well, they don’t necessarily compete, but they do diverge.
For the publisher, maximizing the sales of your books for future profits is driven by reader loyalty to the publisher. That means following their Instagram, visiting their website, joining their email list, discovering other releases they have in the queue. That might include more of your books, or it might not.
For you, the author, maximizing the sales of your books means building your own relationship with those same readers. If you have a multi-book deal, you want those readers to stick around for the next release from the same publisher, sure. But you also want them to check out your backlist. And you also want them to connect to you on Twitter, through your newsletter, on Patreon. Because this way, if you at some point in the future work with a different publisher, those readers will still know about it.
See the problem now? These touchpoint with readers all matter, and if you leave it all to your publisher to market you, they’ll get all the gains of future readership.
So be a participant! Contribute to your own book release.
It’s definitely not a competition with your publisher–when it comes to publishing partnerships, I’m firmly in the “rising tides float all ships” camp. Done right, your publisher’s efforts and yours will work synergistically together. But to benefit from a rising tide, your boat has to be in the water. That means being prepared to market your book.
There are some other ways you stand to gain from participating in your book marketing, too.
Have you ever loved a book so much you Googled the author? You know those authors who only have a profile on their publisher’s site? Those are authors who let their publisher do it all, and didn’t create their own brand.
Your brand as an author helps readers understand what you’re about and recognize you out in the wild (social media, book festivals, guest posts on blogs). It’s an absolutely critical piece of your success as an author, because it makes it easy for your readership to find you no matter where you are.
No one else will do this for you—and they shouldn’t This is yours to own and shape and control. As a baseline, make sure it exists. To really do it right, store it in your own corner of the internet that you personally own (that’s your website).
A book can succeed, and yet still an author’s career can fail. it’s not a fun truth, but it’s a truth. Many authors hit a wall after that first book and give up.
But you are not that author. You have more books in you. You’re in this for the long haul.
And hey, this business is a small, tightly connected world. If you go into your partnership with a publisher with the attitude that you already did your part, and marketing just isn’t your purview, the publisher is probably going to notice. And next time you have a book to shop, and they have other manuscripts from other authors who put forth a good faith effort to contribute to marketing … guess who’s going to look more appealing?
And guess what else. If someone else at another publisher has friends at your previous publisher and asks how you were to work with, they’re probably going to get an honest answer. So when you hop into that canoe with your publisher, you better bring your own paddle. Everyone wants to work with someone who cares enough to participate in the voyage.
By day, E. J. Wenstrom is a digital strategy pro with over 10 years at communications firms. By early-early morning, she’s an award-winning sci-fi and fantasy author of the Chronicles of the Third Realm War novels, starting with Mud. She believes in complicated characters, terrifying monsters, and purple hair dye.