By Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.
In her Produce, Publish, Publicize author Sabrina Sumsion crisply covers these three aspects of becoming a successful author for three different groups: the would-be best-sellers; the “make-a-buck” middle; and those who write for family, friends, “posterity.” Available through amazon.com, her book looked good on my Kindle, and sold for a bargain price. This brief summary cannot do it justice. Buy it.
“Know thyself,” Socrates reportedly said. If you think you can produce a best-selling novel or non-fiction book, then you are going to invest more effort in it than those who are writing it to send a message to the world or as an adjunct to their other activities or primarily to tell their story to their relatives.
Produce: Write the best book you can. Revise it repeatedly. Get help with editing for content and for copy correctness [grammar, spelling, punctuation]. If you hope for a best-seller, you will have to pay for editing help, unless you land an agent and a contract with a traditional commercial publisher (those whose names you see on the spines of the best-selling books in your genre). Even then, you will likely need an editor to get your manuscript in shape for trying to snare an agent.
Publish: To get an agent, you will need to have high-class material and perhaps already be well known. Without an agent, forget about getting a traditional commercial publishing company to pay attention to what you submit. (Of course, rules have their exceptions, but although the race is not always to the swift, it pays to bet that way.) An agent will connect you with suitable publishing houses and should take your book on a commission basis only, typically 15%. (Avoid agents requiring up-front fees.) The publisher should give you a non-trivial advance and will supply editorial and art-work support and later will help with publicity.. The middle category of authors will likely pay a few thousand dollars to get the book published by a subsidy press and will then hope to sell enough copies or give them away productively so as to offset the cost. If you are writing for posterity, you will be paying a subsidy press to publish your book and will probably be giving away almost all of your copies.
Publicize: There used to be hundreds of thousands of new titles set forth in America each year. The advent of easy self-publishing means a million or more new titles are newly minted yearly. How to get the public to buy yours? The expensive way is to buy advertising. Harder, much less expensive, is to generate publicity. In best-sellerdom, the publishing house will do some advertising, will send you on some promotional trips, and will expect you to do what you can to get yourself and your book noticed.
Sumsion writes, “Publicity is to books as wings are to birds.” About half of this book is devoted to publicizing. “Best-selling authors do not sit back and expect sales to come pouring in.” They work very hard at promoting themselves and their work. Publishers now expect this. A publicist herself, she recommends you hire one, but recognizes that this can be expensive and not truly necessary…if you have the skill and exert the effort to do what a publicist would do for you. She says you must not be discouraged by rejection: in a good week about 5 of 200 media contacts will result in a worthwhile interview, appearance, etc. She gives advice on finding a capable publicist. They will typically charge $1000 or more per month, and there are no guarantees, so don’t mortgage the house to pay for one.
Getting noticed usually requires finding “the hook” for your book, something to catch and hold the media’s attention. She lists twenty, including: current events; how to; top 10 (or any number); holiday (even create one); play on words; challenge; put the expert (me) to the test; connect to a celebrity; publicity stunt; involve the audience; involve the host; beware; discuss a problem; trends; make-over; controversy; success after failure; give yourself a special name ( e.g., “the great____”).
A professional publicity campaign starts with pre-publication publicity, where advance review copies of the book are sent to those who might be interested enough to read and comment on it, producing, hopefully, “blurbs“ that can adorn the book‘s cover. You need press materials: “we consider a press release, a sell sheet, a Q&A and two cover letters essential for a publicity campaign.” See her book for details.
You’ll want to send out free copies for reviewing once the book is published. Book signings where your book is on sale are good, but you can hold them at libraries, too. Book signings at book stores are becoming rarer.
The remainder of this book contains much valuable information on the details of getting favorable publicity.