“True Publishing Includes Marketing… or How I Developed My Book Marketing World View

“True Publishing Includes Marketing… or How I Developed My Book Marketing World View 1024 576 Reader Views

True Publishing Includes Marketing… or How I Developed My Book Marketing World View

by Carolyn Howard Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

I was moving from journalism and marketing to creative writing and writing how-to books about the time digital printing was coming into being. I sadly became involved with a publisher who cloaked their “vanity” status after they bought the micro press I originally published with.

This organization published digitally—which seemed like a great idea to me even back then (and it was, but this was just long enough ago that a digitally printed book wore the Red A of Adultery on its chest as surely as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s heroine.) They did no marketing and didn’t suggest I do any. They required a seven-year contract so, later when they realized how profitable marketing could be for their own bottom line, they bugged me to buy marketing packages—all of them useless—things like sending my book to Oprah at a price—and, one assumes, with fifty of their other poorly edited and formatted books. I was extremely disappointed with this publisher because of the lack of acceptance by bookstores and because of the quality of the book. Similar “publishers” still exist. I put the word in quotation marks because true publishing includes marketing and though you may be expected to participate, you shouldn’t have to pay them more for what they do. At the very least, authors should be able to expect that what their paid-for publisher offers is ethical—meaning it has a chance of being seen by the right audience.

Since then, I’ve been traditionally published and I’ve self-published which is often a misused term. True self-publishing means the author does it for him- or herself and has complete control. He or she may hire help with things they can’t do themselves or can’t yet do themselves—anything from cover design to formatting—but that’s different from handing everything over to the likes of shady publishers because the author doesn’t yet know enough about the process or have enough contacts to figure it out. They, too, have their place, as long as the author chooses them knowing exactly what they are going to get which includes 1. Ease of publishing 2. A high price for the services they provide. 3. No marketing included in their original fees. 4. The low esteem the entire publishing industry holds for these companies.

There are also publishers who are kind of a mishmash of services, and I’ve tried those, too—all as I grew in knowledge about the blooming new world of publishing.

To be clear, true publishing of any kind includes marketing—a lot of it. I mean, do you really think Simon and Schuster would publish a book without an assigned marketing budget? After you’ve asked that question, ask how much any big publisher will assign to your book and exactly what that will cover before you sign a contract.  Most of them are running on tight budgets, too. Very tight budgets unless your name is Jonathan Franzen or Hillary Clinton.

Through it all, I have come to believe there is a right way to publish for every author and every project—not necessarily one right way—and that “right way” may vary from author to author and from project to project. The trick is to know as much about the publishing industry as possible before moving ahead on the path you choose for any given book and any given author’s personality. I mean, we wouldn’t expect to enter any industry without learning a lot about it first, would we? There are few credentials and/or degrees in the discipline (and it should be called a “discipline!”) of publishing. There should be more. In fact, I feel so strongly about it, I included a bulleted list of markers that will help the uninitiated to identify what some classify as “vanity” presses in the new edition of my The Frugal Editor to be released this fall. After all, many authors are considering the important question of publishing as they work on the final edit of their manuscript. Until you know enough to make a decision, get the advice you need and get it from someone who doesn’t still have a my-way-or-the-highway prejudice hiding somewhere in her traditional-publishing little heart.

And read, read, read. It’s the most frugal way to learn what you need to know to be smart about whatever kind of publishing you choose to do. It’s the only way to be able to evaluate the information you’re being given by whomever you’re talking to.

Here are some of my favorite books and resources for learning more about publishing and its essential ingredient, marketing:

Here’s the first rule you can believe about publishing: Publishing—especially great publishing—requires marketing and you—the author—will be an essential part of that no matter how you publish.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a former journalist, retailer, and marketer who started publishing how-to books for writers for the classes she taught for UCLA Extension’s renowned Writers’ Program. Members of the California Legislature named her Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment. Learn more about her how-to books and her creative writing at https://howtodoitfrugally.com

“Careers that are not fed die as readily as any living organism given no sustenance.” ~ CHJ


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