My Agent Answers: What’s the Most Common Author Complaint?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Most authors are unhappy with the marketing efforts expended by their publisher. In some cases these complaints are warranted, but in many instances they are not.

A publisher will typically include your book in their catalog (used by the publisher’s sales reps to sell your book to retailers), include it on their Web site, and assign an in-house publicist to mail out review copies and pitch the book to print and broadcast media. Sometimes the publisher will run print advertisements in selected publications or on Web sites. The publisher cannot be expected to do much more.

Most publishers are publishing dozens of books a year and it is simply not practical or effective for your publicist to continue pushing your book month after month.

Some authors hire a publicist at their own expense to supplement the publisher’s efforts, but even with this added ammunition, the results are often disappointing.

By and large, the media decide what books they are going to review or feature. A well-connected publicist (yours or your publisher’s) will get your book to the right people, but after that, it’s up to a reporter, editor, or producer to decide whether they are interested or not.

If you’ve ever tried to get publicity for yourself or an organization, you know how difficult it can be. Publicists have the same challenges. In an environment where there are always more books being pitched than there is space or air time to feature them, the media usually give precedence to books by well-known authors or hot topics that they feel their readers will be interested in. Even if you’ve got a decent platform and a timely book, there’s no guarantee you’ll secure the type of national press coverage that’s usually needed to sustain strong sales.

Even if you’re able to generate publicity or land a positive review of your book in a major publication, it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Sometimes luck and/or timing play a role in determining what books make it onto the bestseller lists.

Since a publisher has limited control over which books succeed and which ones fail, and a narrow window of time to promote any given book, it’s essential that you work hard to promote your book through your own network of industry-specific contacts.

Publishers are generally focused on reaching mainstream media outlets, so you should draw up a list of your own contacts, people who may not be on your publisher’s radar screen, and have your publicist mail out review copies.

Your personal involvement in your book’s media campaign doesn’t guarantee success–you’ll no doubt run up against the same obstacles your publisher faces–but at least it will give your book a better shot at success.


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