The Problem with Book Advertising

A true bestselling author (not a momentary flash on AMAZON Kindle, which creates “bestselling” authors we will never hear from again) has a large publisher spending piles of money to cover their hefty royalty advance. This repeated and wide-ranging advertising makes people aware of the book release and hopefully locks in sales. It’s an expensive luxury that happens for less than 1% of published authors. When you attend Book Expo, you’ll discover these authors peering down from forty-foot high banners hanging from the ceiling of New York’s Javtis Center. We all want to be the focus of such vanity. I want to be on a forty-foot banner, but for most authors, this type of expenditure will never be a reality.

That is fine. After all, the golden age of the author has ended. It died with authors like Styron, Vonnegut, and Vidal. The authors with forty-foot banners mark the end of this age, but unlike William Styron, the modern, banner-sized authors are not writers of literature. They are entertainers and commodity producers—a different sphere of the written word. And that is fine as well. Styron once said that he was surprised by the celebrity that came his way and not surprised by the general disappearance of it.

Also changing with the times is the way we communicate with each other. Most of us have grown up during the dawn of the Information Age and been bombarded with increased advertising during our lives. For Baby Boomers, the hot new devices were TVs and VCRs that skipped commercials. Millennials now do this subconsciously. Before advertising became super-saturated within our culture, a message was received after only three repetitions. Today, it takes thousands of occurrences if the message is received at all.

This makes effective advertising cost prohibitive for authors. However, annually we contribute a great deal in total to keep these old, tired, and useless modes of book advertising alive. We buy slots in print and Internet publications and the equivalence of e-mail spamming, and none of us see significant results. The total volume of it works against us.

The current generation is savvy about acquiring information, as well as how to separate the corporate appeals from what they desire. To some degree, most of us have adapted along those lines. For example, one premiere publishing trade magazine sells its cover to advertisers. This cover had always been a sign of “making it” in the industry, but I cannot tell you who or what was on the cover last week, much less in the last ten years. News radio stations prattle on about the next great mystery novel redux, but I can’t remember who or what they were talking about. A great article in a top writing association magazine had a large author advertisement on the opposing page, but I cannot recall the book or author. It might have been for the author who was the focus of the article, but I’ve obviously learned to filter out the noise, and so have you.

Some of us don’t want to give up on the big lie, especially new writers. They dream of fat book contracts, bestsellers, and forty-foot banners, but on publisher’s row in Manhattan, we have a better chance of getting hit by a taxi—a much better chance. The same is true for book advertising. Advertisers can provide circulation, visitor, and click data, but no one can provide a success rate (i.e. how it translates to actual sales), because it’s not sincerely traceable. So let’s line up a few realities about book promotion.

Print, radio, and television advertising is a bad bet for authors. Not only is it expensive and likely ignored, the target audience is a mere fraction of the people reached. In general, the reading public has always been a small portion of the entire population. Even if the advertising is done through a reader-specific outlet, we aren’t really paying attention after a handful of ads. Unless the author is a successful stockbroker, he or she will not have the resources to generate enough repetition to penetrate public awareness with advertising.

The author interview has always been an effective way to reach an audience. No matter the medium, readers come to a particular book through the author first. If the author is interesting or provides a compelling story or facts, then the reader will remember the author’s name and seek out the book.

Trusted secondary sources are valued by readers. Potential readers want to hear testimonies about a book from just about anyone but the author or publisher. Readers seek feedback from friends, commentary from known authors, the expertise of valued review publications, and the authority of reputable book awards. Each of these sources adds a layer of authenticity to the author and his/her book.

Word of mouth still works, only the methods of word of mouth have changed. A trusted book recommendation is king in the bookselling business. However, few people still stand on street corners or at cocktail parties and discuss the books they are reading. Social media is the new street corner of discussion, and here too, the personality of the author comes into play. The most compelling authors rarely mention their books. Like the author interview, people remember the author’s name and eventually seek out the book.

Let’s start employing more effective strategies through digital platforms. Leave the ads for soft drink and toothpaste companies. They have the cash, and everyone is interested in those items. An author’s audience is smaller and smarter, too. The goal is to draw an audience to the author and then create a feedback loop, which is the contemporary version of old fashion word of mouth. Within a feedback loop, readers will circulate book commentary that is both organically grown and culled from trusted voices of authority and expertise.

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future. See his popular series on publishing: The Book Killers.

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The Second Best Thing I Learned Before Being Published

While finding a writing mentor was the most impactful factor in my path to publication, learning to obtain good editing was the second most important key to my success. Even more challenging than locating a talented editor was finding the right editor for me, and it wasn’t until that editor/writer relationship was fully evolved did I realize how essential it was for my growth. A good editor not only helps shape my story, he lets me know what I do well and where I need work.

During my twenty-year journey in the publishing industry, I’ve watched the job of proper editing being pushed down from the publishing houses, through the agent’s office (if you are lucky enough to have a good one), and to the author’s desk. While some editing has always rested with the author, a gradual increase in responsibilities has occurred until today where virtually everything but copy editing is thrust upon the author.

This is both frustrating and empowering. While proper editing requires a great deal of work and vigilance, the author has large control over who edits his work. And remember, an author cannot edit his own work. No writer can, and no successful author does. He cannot be completely objective regarding his strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be done with the story at hand.

So the two primary questions are: What does a good editor do? And how do you find one? I’ll offer some advice.

First of all, anyone can offer an opinion of your work, and they will, even if you don’t ask. Anyone with an English degree or even a published book can hang a shingle and offer editing services. However, an unskilled opinion, of which there are many, and the wrong editorial sensibilities can damage your work in progress, not to mention your course and psyche as a writer. Most opinions of your work should be reserved for street commentary on the Internet, and much of it has the value of gum stuck to your shoe.

The right editor will understand your genre, as well as the specific work at hand. There is no exception here. You do not want a great romance editor working on your fantasy novel or biography. While her talents as an editor may span pages, she must be able to prove her experience with actual published books within your genre as the result of her labor. She must also be able to provide references from the authors of those books. Read those books. Talk to those authors. Ask what the editor did for them and what the editor concentrated on during the process. If a prospective editor has little relevant experience, she brings nothing to the table that you can use as an author.

A good editor will understand you and what you need. Like a psychologist, editors tinker with the soul of your work. She must understand you as a person, what you are trying to accomplish, and have the patience to guide you toward the discoveries you need, no matter where you are in the artistic growth process. Schedule a conversation or a series of interviews to see if you want to work with a specific editor. Provide a sample chapter in order to view both her skill and her methodology as an editor. It is perfectly acceptable to pay for sample editing. Do not sign a contract for a long work unless you are completely comfortable and confident that this editor will help you.

Hiring an editor creates both a business and personal relationship that often extends beyond the book itself and lasts for years. For my first four published novels, I returned to the same editor over and over, and each time he was more insightful about the work and me as a writer. In fact, what I was trying to accomplish as a writer was first articulated, not by me, but by my trusted edited. A lover won’t identify your fingerprints as well. A talented editor that understands your work is worth his weight in books and will likely be a long-time friend and advocate for your work.

Useful articles on the logistics of finding an editor:

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future. See his popular series on publishing: The Book Killers.