When It Comes to Authors: Part II

Will good authors put up with rough editorial handling? They will, and with enthusiasm, if from the outset you involve them in the development of the marketing ideas that shape the book. The idea is to get them to focus not just on the publication of a book with their name on it, but on the publication of a successful book.

The essential first step is to have your authors fill out a demanding author questionnaire. (If they refuse to fill it out, find another author.) This questionnaire, in addition to eliciting the usual biographical information, should request information on possible special markets, professional contacts, relevant specialized media, sources for blurbs, and possible sales “handles” or angles. What websites did the author use to help research the book? Social media marketing of a title works much better when it is done by an author with an already engaged audience rather than a publisher.

Then, when the book is past the editing stage, furnish the author with a written description of how your company publicizes the books it publishes. This will provide a second opportunity to discuss with the author how the book will be marketed and to explain the author’s role in making the book a success.

Involving the author in the marketing of his or her book is not a cynical means of manipulation and control, but a highly effective strategy. Authors who really know their subjects (if yours doesn’t, find another author) are easily the best source for marketing ideas, especially niche marketing ideas; and the process of winnowing out the good ideas from the less promising will put your author in the right frame of mind to produce not just a book but a successful book.

Including the author in aspects beyond the creation of the book itself have other unforeseen benefits as well. Over the past few years many independent presses have been pleasantly surprised to find authors with fine track records at major houses showing up on their doorsteps prepared to accept a small fraction of the advances customarily offered by the major publishers. Most major houses do not want to hear an author’s marketing ideas, and if offered them anyway, summarily dismiss them. Many authors feel that they are treated like three-year-olds by such publishers.

If we are willing to listen to our authors (and we are crazy if we are not willing to listen) we can maintain their goodwill and cooperation–even when we are tougher on them. Or perhaps because we have been tougher.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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7 thoughts on “When It Comes to Authors: Part II

  1. Mr. Matthews,

    I’ve just read your “When It Comes To Authors” blog posts and wanted say I think you’re right on.

    As an author (my fourth book — third with Triumph, first since Triumph joined up with IPG — “Tom Brady vs. the NFL,” is due out next month), I have always wanted to be involved in marketing my books. I’m a marketing professional of many years, and I have long believed that the most effective marketing strategy for any book is one that involves an author who understands his or her position as a stakeholder in the book’s success. As you know all too well, many authors believe they’ve succeeded when their book is published. Obviously, that’s not the case. Working to dial in authors (I actually think Triumph does a very good job of this) and to get authors to embrace their role in selling the book from the outset of the publishing process, I believe, is the best way to correct that point of view.

    One suggestion I would make to publishers: Be honest with your authors about book marketing from the start. Make sure each author understands that his book is one of many in the publisher’s catalog, and that publishers can only focus so much of their resources on any one book. Tell authors what you can do, what you will do, and what you can’t and won’t do. Authors need to understand that while our books are everything to us, they’re just part of the picture for our publishers. That’s simply the way the business works. That may seem obvious to you, but it isn’t to many authors. I’ve spoken with many over the years who simply don’t get it. And they end up feeling slighted, believing their publisher didn’t really market their book. An author who understands the realities of book marketing from the start will be an author who understands the vital role he MUST play in marketing his own book.

    • Sean makes a great point. It really is awkward for a publisher to explain to an author that his or her title is alas only one among other titles demanding attention. But here is a little inside dope. An author who is doing a great job supporting a book—and lets the publisher know what is going on in detail—will get more attention than the author who is not doing much. I am not talking here about squeaky wheels; I am talking about authors who really do support their books.

  2. You can do whatever you want with your book regardless of success if you already have a career that can support you as your write. Constructive criticism is good, but I will never be at the mercy of a publishing house. I don’t care if anyone listens anymore. I’m going to publish MY work whether it makes me $5, or $500,000.

  3. emily xyz says:

    You sound positively enthused about the “rough editorial handling” thing. Which makes me wonder, what do you have against authors? It sounds like what you really want is people to lord it over. If writers were marketing experts, we’d be in marketing. We’re not necessarily marketing experts, that’s why we seek publishers. We don’t look up to you as gods, and we don’t need rough handling. If you want authors to be involved in marketing, great – treat us with respect. Treat us as though you think we’re at least as good at what we do as you are at what you do. A “demanding author questionnaire” and a high-handed attitude is not what I am looking for in a publisher.

  4. Great article. very informative for both sides of the coin. Thanks for posting.

  5. Jean Huets says:

    Thanks for this post, Mr. Matthews. I’m just starting up a small press (historical fiction, nonfiction, poetry & drama) and am working up a form for authors to fill in with social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon author page, etc), and contacts for local media, book clubs, local bookstores, historical sites and societies, endorsements. Hadn’t thought of professional orgs or sales angles. If you would be willing, I’d love to see a post covering this kind of questionnaire in more detail, any and all ideas welcome.

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