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Is Marketing Non-Stop & All-Consuming For All Authors?

How much marketing do authors REALLY have to do nowadays? Do authors have to bear most of the burden, no matter what type of publishing they pursue?

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, recently had a post about self-publishing, and she opened up the comments for people to share their experiences. I was fascinated to read the various opinions and experiences.

One thing that came up in a number of comments was the idea that there really isn’t much difference between the amount of marketing involved in traditional and self publication. Here are a few comments:

“I've been told by many beginning authors that even with a big name publishing company the author is required to do most of the marketing.”

“Marketing (for self-publishing) has been a non–stop, all-consuming undertaking but from what I’ve heard, that’s no different than if I had a traditional publisher.”

“I think the amount of publicity you have to do with your self-published e-book is exactly the same as you would have to with a traditionally published book.”

So, what’s the TRUTH? Do traditionally published authors have to put forth the same effort (or nearly the same) as self-published authors in order to market and sell their books?

According to Publisher’s Weekly, in 2009, 764,448 titles were self-published compared to 288,355 traditionally published books. I’m sure the numbers of self-pubbed have only increased significantly in the past year (although traditional has probably stayed the same or decreased).

With over 764,000 self-published books, it stands to reason that indie authors MUST put an incredible amount of time, effort, and even money into promoting their books in order to make them STAND OUT from the masses of other self-pubbed books.

I know a couple different self-published authors who spent weekend after weekend driving to book signings, craft fairs, and local events in order to promote their books. They put in endless hours of publicity, word of mouth campaign, approaching bookstores to carry their books, etc., and after about a year, they were each able to sell approximately 1000 books.

When I compare my marketing efforts with theirs, I come up short, by a long shot. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything over the past months since my debut book released. Those who follow me know I’ve done quite a bit (particularly online). But, when I look at the enormous efforts my self-published friends have gone to, I get tired just thinking about it.

Did they sell more books than me? After all, they did more marketing.

The truth is, self-publishing marketing is NOT equal to the marketing done by traditional publishers. For all the talk about how ALL authors everywhere have to bear ALL the burden of marketing, it’s just NOT true.

My publisher, because of their size and reputation, could collectively accomplish SO much more than I could as one individual. They were able to get my book in most major book stores, distributors, and retailer catalogs. They were able to send out ARCs and books to key book buyers, reviewers, influencers, bloggers, etc.

Those efforts alone have made the difference between selling tens of thousands versus a thousand or two (which is what most self-published authors do with their VERY BEST marketing efforts).

Of course not all traditional publishers are equal. Generally speaking, larger publishers will have bigger sales departments with connections to more distributors and more money to allocate on marketing and publicity. Mid-list and smaller traditional publishers or niche presses won’t have the same capabilities.

But overall, traditional publication still brings many benefits and securities that are just not available otherwise. Yes, all authors must participate in marketing (why wouldn’t we want to do whatever we can to help our book?).

However, when an author decides to self-publish they will bear ALL the work to sell every single book. Whereas an author who pursues traditional publication still gets the extra help, promotion, as well as reader trust that comes from working with a publisher.

What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment that not all marketing will be equal, particularly between traditional and self-published authors? Or do you think that the large majority of authors have to bear most of the marketing burden, no matter what type of publishing they pursue?

32 comments:

  1. I definitely agree that the power any company can bring to marketing outweights what most individuals can do. Aside from funding, publishing houses have the contacts and experience to know how best to use their time and resources. It would take years of work for a first-time self-published author to match that.

    I still think it's great that so many people have the option to self-publish today, but the value of an agent and a publisher should never be discounted.

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  2. I think you are right. I also think when a blogger has an agent and/or a book publishing degree the blog becomes more of a marketing tool that snowballs and helps sales. A self publisher might not attract as much attention with a blog thus affecting sales.

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  3. A self-published author has to do more convincing than a traditionally published author. With traditional publishing, the author has already convinced an agent/editor to take a risk on his/her work. And this gives him clout. An author with starred reviews from major reviewers has even more clout. And an author with major reviews plus online reviews, such as Amazon.com, has even more clout. But the only clout the self-pubbed author has is his/her own and the words or family and friends. Therefore he/she has to work harder to convince the public to take a risk on his/her book.

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  4. I totally agree. My publisher has been able to do things that I would NEVER have been able to do on my own. They were able to send out ARCs and get my book into stores and all that, but they also hired an AMAZING publicist (who I never could've paid for) who has done an incredible job of getting my book "out there".

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  5. I think you basically put your finger on it, Jody. A self-published author HAS to do all the marketing. A traditionally published author can spend a great deal of time marketing her book, but will likely still have better sales than a self-published author even without significant effort.

    It's a difficult equation, figuring out how much time and money to devote to marketing; I haven't yet figured it out.

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  6. There's never been any doubt in my mind that a traditional published book will have much more clout behind it than a self-published on. The numbers you provided floored me. Almost three times as many self-pubbed books as tradional were published? Yikes!

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  7. A very sensible testimony-based comparison, Jody. And a much needed one. Tweeting this for others to read.

    I hope your family is recovering from that flu bug.

    Have a great Monday!

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  8. I am so super shocked over how many people self-publish. The entire writing process is so time-consuming - learning, blogging, WRITING, networking - that I can't even imagine doing the publishing and the marketing all by myself. Now, that's not to say that I don't admire those who get out there and put forth that kind of effort to see their words in print and in the hands of others. It just sounds super exhausting to me and I'm amazed at the numbers.

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  9. A thought provoking post, as always, Jody.

    I do agree that not all marketing will be equal, particularly between traditional and independent authors. I also believe that - as an indie - I need to leverage my position in new media to take advantage of the tools and techniques of platform building. I need to use my resources effectively to build the platform that can support my work, using the advantage of lower overhead to leverage increased revenue and even to get sales numbers that exceed the expectations that mainstream publishing offers.

    I think the key is the difference between old and new media. I've been hanging around with a lot of "old media" writers these days and their marketing tries to parallel, even mimic, the efforts of publishing houses. They follow the "many eyes and it'll stick with a few" and the "exposure will eventually yield sales" models of traditional marketing. Trying to out broadcast the broadcasters is apparently exhausting. I'm not too surprised that old media does it better. They have more resources to bring to bear than just common folks, and have the experience and connections to back it up.

    I think, in many ways, the real question is not who has the most burden, but what models will you use in order to achieve your sales (and revenue) goals. The mistake I see is in trying to use old media models in new media markets.

    I like Shaw's quote: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." I think that applies here to marketing.

    It's right up there with "Never bring a knife to a gun fight."

    So, yeah, I agree that not all marketing will be equal. Logically, if you're in a DIY situation where you take on all the roles of the publisher, then of course, you'll have to bear the marketing burden.

    But also I believe that the majority of authors haven't really thought about the reality of the current market and how they can actually get better results with less effort than would be required using old media broadcast based models of marketing.

    Just my opinion. Your mileage is on a different road.

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  10. I was floored by the amount of self-published books. I had no idea! Marketing is something I have no experience with (yet) but I must say, the whole idea is a little intimidating to me.

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  11. You make a good point. This all hinging, of course on actually landing a book contract, which is harder and harder to do these days. Publishers are more selective than ever and a lot of good talent gets passed over.

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  12. Thought provoking, Jody. I love the way you pull apart the hype and bring it down to facts, highlighting the realities.

    Well done!

    Joan

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  13. I don't imagine many authors have the skills to market as thoroughly as traditional publishing houses. But don't you think individual personality makes a difference in marketing effectiveness, too? I know one very gregarious self-pubbed author whose aggressive promotion techniques embarrass me. In fact, they irritate me. She turns every conversation into a sales pitch, even whipping a copy of her book out of her purse and passing it around at a recent dinner party. She says she has to make use of every sales opportunity, and apparently she sells a lot of books that way. I admire her enthusiasm, if not her methods, but I couldn't be like her. It's just not me.

    I'm looking forward to the day when I'll have a book to promote, but I'll be very thankful that the entire marketing load won't rest on my shoulders.

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  14. I definitely knew that traditional publishing was far more powerful but I had no idea how many authors were avoiding the fight for self-publishing. Just wow.

    I met a recently self-published author and when I asked her why she didn't go for one of the smaller regional publishers, she said she had no idea how to go that route. Those numbers scream to me more people are self-publishing simply because they don't really know the industry.

    Great post, staggering numbers.

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  15. The simple answer to your question could be that traditionally published authors are basically paying for marketing services by traditionally publishing while self-pubbers are earning more per book by taking on that duty themselves. But I see holes in the comparison you offer that should be considered if we are really going to analyze the two.

    First of all, did the self-pubbed authors' you mention in the post have books that could be well received by readers, or were they not very good? Their marketing efforts could have brought many sample downloads and, upon reading the samples, readers may have found that the books fell short and decided not to buy. This can happen with traditionally pubbed books as well, though the barriers to entry give a certain implied quality that compels many readers to buy without sampling.

    Then there is the issue of the size of a genre’s readership. Is it possible that the self-pubbed books selling only 1k copies over the course of a year don't have very popular genres?

    Next we have the issue of targeted marketing. Were these self-pubbed authors appearing in places where their READERS would be? A traditional publisher with an experienced marketing staff will know to focus on promotion where readers will see it, but many self-pubbers don’t. That is a simple fix that could probably lead them to a lot more sales. Word of mouth works for traditional and self-pubbers, but you’ve got to get the words in your readers’ mouths.

    Of course, when thinking about numbers, we can't forget the issue of money. Many self-pubbers can sell fewer books and make more money than a traditionally pubbed author. Shouldn’t that be factored in as part of our barometer of success and worthiness of taking on your own marketing? And all of those sales that make a book’s total profit don’t happen over the course of one year, so this would have to be an ongoing study.

    Which leads us to the length of time a self-pubbed author’s books will be out there and will be promoted. A traditionally pubbed author may or may not get another book deal that allows them to grow their backlist. A self-pubbed author can continuously grow their backlist and bring a fresh round of purchases for their old books with every new book that finds readers. So to consider their marketing efforts in a year as a direct correlation only with the books they sell THAT year is missing the mark.

    Whether you are self-pubbing or traditionally pubbing, to be successful you’ve got to have a quality product that resonates with readers and a focused marketing plan. Self-pubbing and traditional pubbing offer two different ways to get to the same goal. Neither one is the “right” way—although there are right and wrong ways to work within each.

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  16. I think you are absolutely right, and it's a major factor behind what keeps me motivated in the query wars. :-)

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  17. While it's certainly true that the biggest publishing houses can greatly aid in marketing a book, I feel your statement, "...when an author decides to self-publish they will bear ALL the work to sell every single book.", needs a bit of modification.

    If a self-published author focuses their efforts on relationship-building (author platform creation) they can have the eager aid of many people in the marketing of their books :-)

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  18. Hi everyone! I'm really enjoying the diversity of thoughts today on this topic.

    Nathan, I wasn't exactly sure what you meant by "old media." I think you were referring to the way traditional publishers have marketed in the past. And I guess what I was trying to point out is that no matter what kind of marketing we do, old or new, there's just something about getting your book into say Walmart or Barnes & Noble or in front of major book reviewers that will boost sales like nothing else can. Traditional publishers (particularly those with good sales departments) are still in a place where they can get your book in the "front row" meaning in front of consumers in a way that e-pub or self-pub can't do. Hope that makes sense!

    And Alexander, I completely relate to what you're saying. But I also think it holds true of traditionally published authors too. I found an incredible amount of support from other writers in helping spread the buzz about my book. Yes, our friends can definitely help in our marketing!

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  19. Excellent post as always. With publishing houses' promo budgets up in smoke, all authors have to play a big role in promotion. One advantage an author with a publishing house has is that the consumer, weighing reading options, knows there's already been a "vetting" for the traditionally published book, so maybe the self-published needs to do a bit more to overcome that bias.

    The corollary is that many authors aren't comfortable/equipped to do promotion, particularly in social media. I'm working with an author on that very issue, and blogged on it today.

    Patrick

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  20. Hi Jody -

    There's an old saying, "Many hands make light work."

    In traditional publishing you have the advantage of many hands. I've watched people who've self-published. Many come away discouraged and eventually stop writing.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  21. I definitely don't have the backing of statistics to make an educated point, but I would stake a large claim that publisher's a great deal to the writer. Yes, I believe that we must take an active role in the placing our books in readers hands but there is a thread of guidance that I expect from my publisher. A push in the right direction, a few contacts that can help propel me forward.

    This is a really insightful.

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  22. I have a blog and I write a weekly edition of flash fiction, this is the platform I use to get my book sold. So I'm hoping that it continues to work for me, stop by and read my blog, I also have guest authors if anyone is interested just fill out the form on the blog page http://hipriestess.com/blog You have a very good blog and I enjoy stopping in to read.
    hipriestess4u

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  23. I do agree, Jodi, that a traditional publisher is able to get our work out there and market it to a much broader audience than someone who self publishes. My book, for instance appeared in several different booklets featuring Atlantic Canadian books that were distributed to thousands of households during the Christmas season the year that it came out. It was also sent for reviews to various magazines, etc. That said, not all traditional publishers do very much to promote their books. I know several authors who really weren't helped out very much at all by their publishing company. Did this reflect in their sales? Yes. People can't/won't buy a book if they don't know about it.!

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  24. I am a self pubbed author, and I totally agree with you. It is a lot od work to promote a book on your own, as opposed to having a publisher behind you.

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  25. Interesting thoughts, Jody! I agree with you. That extra boost from a publisher is huge. Even browsing Amazon, I tend to glance at the publisher and base my decision on who it is. Self-pubbed authors are at an instant disadvantage in that case. It's much harder to spent $10 on an unknown.

    Have a great week, Jody!

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  26. I absolutely agree. I pounded the pavement with my self-published book and sold about 1200 copies. I had to work for every single sale. I am very blessed to have a supportive husband and three children, but I would prefer to publish my second novel the traditional way.

    Great post!

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  27. Agreed, Jody! Traditional publishing is the route most debut authors should take, unless they have an abnormally significant following. In that case, self-publishing might be their best option. Even then, they could pursue traditional publishing with stellar results.

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  28. The simple answer to your question could be that traditionally published authors are basically paying for marketing services by traditionally publishing while self-pubbers are earning more per book by taking on that duty themselves. But I see holes in the comparison you offer that should be considered if we are really going to analyze the two.

    First of all, did the self-pubbed authors’ you mention in the post have books that could be well received by readers, or were they not very good? Their marketing efforts could have brought many sample downloads and, upon reading the samples, readers may have found that the books fell short. This can happen with traditionally pubbed books as well, though they have a certain implied quality that compels many readers to simply buy without sampling.

    Then there is the issue of the size of a genre’s readership. Is it possible that the self-pubbed books selling only 1k copies over the course of a year don’t have very popular genres?

    Next we have the issue of targeted marketing. Were these self-pubbed authors appearing in places where their READERS would be? A traditional publisher with an experienced marketing staff will know to focus on promotion where readers will see it, but many self-pubbers don’t. That is a simple fix that could probably lead them to a lot more sales. Word of mouth works for traditional and self-pubbers, but you’ve got to get the words in your readers’ mouths.

    Of course, when thinking about numbers, we can’t forget the issue of money. Many self-pubbers can sell fewer books and make more money than a traditionally pubbed author. Shouldn’t that be factored in as part of our barometer of success and worthiness of taking on your own marketing? And all of those sales that make a book’s total profit don’t happen over the course of one year.

    Which leads us to the length of time a self-pubbed author’s books will be out there and promoted. A traditionally pubbed author may or may not get another book deal that allows them to grow their backlist. A self-pubbed author can continuously grow their backlist and bring a fresh round of purchases for their old books with every new book that finds readers. So to consider their marketing efforts in a year as a direct correlation only with the books they sell THAT year is missing the mark.

    Whether you are self-pubbing or traditionally pubbing, to be successful you’ve got to have a quality product that resonates with readers and a focused marketing plan. Self-pubbing and traditional pubbing offer two different ways to get to the same goal. Neither one is the “right” way—although there are right and wrong ways to work within each.

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  29. Interesting subject, Jody. Undoubtedly, all authors should promote their books, but like you say, self-published authors have ALL the burden of selling them. It is true that some people have a very entrepreneurial spirit, but no matter how motivated they are, they don't have the same resources (money for advertising, contacts, distribution, etc) as a publisher.

    I asked Editor Nick Harrison from Harvest House about marketing and book promotions in this interview:
    http://divinesecretsofthewritingsisterhood.blogspot.com/2011/02/interview-with-editor-nick-harrison.html

    Please stop by if you get a chance!

    Lorena

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  30. I agree with you. I'm so grateful for my publisher and all that they do for me. My publisher is small, but they are able to run ads in magazines and distribute my books. I couldn't begin to do that on my own, nor do I want to.
    Now epublishing may be different, but still, I'd rather my publisher handle it.

    BTW: I'm posting a review of your book on my blog Thursday. Loved it!

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  31. Hi Ms. Hedlund! :)
    I just wrote a post about this and you take the opposite view! lol Would you mind if I posted part of your post, with a link back to your site for the rest, as an opposing view?
    Thanks!!
    www.lara-lalaland.blogspot.com
    lrtaylor77@gmail.com

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