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What to establish at your first marketing meeting with the publisher

A word of warning before you arrive: remind yourself to listen. You are a writer; you are supposed to be good at picking up the nuances in relationships and conversations. If you fire questions at them, you will alienate them. But by listening and trying to pick up the signals, you should emerge from this first meeting with information that will answer, at least in part, most of the following questions.

  • What kind of title will this be? Is it a key title (the jargon is ‘lead title’) or just one of the many they are publishing that season (‘mid-list’)? You will get a feel for this by the seniority of the staff involved in your meeting. (Titles that have passed their first peak of sales but, rather than going out of print, have passed into the house’s standard list of titles available, are known as ‘back list’.)
  • How long is the payback period for the publisher’s investment? How many books do they intend to have sold by various points in the future (say three and six months, two and five years)? How long do they anticipate it will remain in print for? Do they anticipate a need to update it in a few years time? Is it part of a growing imprint or a completely new venture for them? You may be surprised to know that your contract with the publisher will very seldom include an indication of how many copies they are likely to print. (They may tell you, if you ask.)
  • What is the timing for publication, and is this of particular importance? Publishing is a very seasonal business. New editions of textbooks for use in schools and colleges must be available in time to announce them for the academic year ahead. Most literary novels are launched in time for the key autumn buying and stocking season that prepares for Christmas. Once they are in the shops, timing remains crucial. A mass-market novel may have as little as six weeks in the shops before it is either reordered or sent back to the publishing house for a credit; children’s titles may take years to get established. It follows that the timing of the marketing and publicity for books is particularly sensitive – the marketing must be timed to produce demand just at the time when the books are in the shops ready to be sold. All of which means that it’s important to deliver your manuscript on time.
  • How much money will be spent on marketing your book? Will the book be marketed on its own or in combination (‘piggybacked’ or ‘cooperatively’) with other books from their list? Most publishers try to build a reputation as a particular kind of house with strengths in certain areas, so cooperative marketing is not necessarily a disadvantage if it means you reach more people by pooling the sums that might have been spent on titles individually.
  • Is any direct marketing planned? In which case, do you have key contacts that you could contribute to the mailing list? What societies or organisations do you belong to? Could information be included in one of their regular mailings? Bear in mind the regulations covering data protection: you can’t just send your publisher a copy of your child’s class list and ask them to mail all the parents.
  • What about promotional activity? Lots of magazines and newspapers feature ‘reader offers’ these days to boost loyalty. Can you think of any such media that might be particularly interested in your book? What other items do you buy on a regular basis that might make a useful link? For example, mail order catalogues sometimes use books to boost the size of the order. By organising promotions you may get space at a very competitive rate.

What can you do to help?

  • Can you circulate leaflets about your book? Most authors can make use of these – perhaps to hand out if you are speaking, give out at exhibitions or send out with your Christmas cards. Could the publisher provide you with a showcard (a poster or notice on card, often made to stand up and with an appropriate backing like a photograph) to attract attention to the book when you are speaking? Remember that publishers are fundamentally merchants of ink on paper, so the ease and cost with which they can get printed support materials will be substantially less than you would incur should you do it yourself.
  • Would you like stock of the book to sell? Publishers love to know about this, as it helps the economics of publishing your book. Many authors who attend lectures, training seminars or conferences as a speaker take along stock to sell at the same time (or even get their book included in the price paid by delegates). They can buy stock for this purpose from the publisher at a trade price (there is usually an extra discount if they buy in bulk) and thus make an additional sum to the royalty on each copy sold. Your contract may specify if you are allowed to do this or not, and if you are, be sure to take along a receipt pad and make it clear that you are offering your books to purchasers. Authors are mostly self-employed, and so being able to claim an expense is an additional incentive to purchase.
  • Do you have an up-to-date photograph that could be used in publicity material? This does not need to be an expensive undertaking (find out when children in your local school are having their photographs taken, and ask if you can be tagged on at either end of the day). Your publishers may pay for a studio shot for the cover, so you could request copies of the image for use if you are sending information out. If you are having a photo taken by a friend, ensure that it is of a sufficiently high resolution to be used in the press (most aren’t).
  • Do you have contacts in the media and elsewhere that could be useful? Do you have friends or colleagues that could provide a positive quotation about your book? An endorsement from a third party will be much more valuable to the marketing team than the words they (or you) think up. Trawl through your address book for possible names and contact details to pass on to your publisher. Better still, approach them yourself and submit the details – if your contacts are famous or particularly busy it may be easier for you to approach them directly than to rely on the publishing house to do it.
  • Could you assist the publisher’s rep force? Find out if the publishing house uses reps, and if so, how they will be involved in selling your book. Could you invite your local rep along to a party in a bookshop? This is always a good way of boosting a relationship between author and publisher! Most publishing houses employ reps to either call on retail outlets, or at least to phone them up on a regular basis. Are there local reps for your area (both where you live and work) that you could be put in touch with? For example, they might be able to organise a signing session or arrange PR in the local paper, or you could invite the rep along to a party you were planning to celebrate publication – such thoughtfulness will be remembered.
  • Do you have contacts in the book trade (for example, a friend who runs a bookshop) who could be usefully mentioned to the local rep? Could you provide an interesting theme (or bit of gossip) about writing the book for your editor to pass on to the reps at the sales conference? Many people are fascinated by the process of writing, so passing on the detail of how early you got up, how long you kept going for, or what kind of biscuits sustained you may be interesting to the market. Remember, as with so much marketing, the aim is to be memorable; to ensure that the information sticks in the minds of those who make stocking decisions, as well as those who buy the end product.

A final word on volunteering

Don’t offer to do anything that you don’t intend to see through. Mentioning that your brother-in-law is a reviews editor on a national newspaper, if you have a family agreement not to mix work and home, is pointless, and likely to lead to frustration. Make a careful note of what you do offer, and see it through.

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