As publicity director at three well-known presses and a book industry professional for over 15 years, it perplexes me a bit that topics once exclusive to industry insiders (and still almost exclusively addressed solely by publishers per standardized procedures, mechanisms, and even contractual agreements) are now being bandied about on author blogs, author Twitter feeds, and even via author-written articles on trade news sites. Being an avid reader and a huge admirer of authors—make no mistake about it, they’re a primary reason why I’ve devoted my career to doing what I do—the present online-I-can-say-anything-because-I’m-a-published-author environment we now live in makes me a little disappointed.
Yes, it’s always enlightening to see the big picture, or to be exposed to something perhaps you hadn’t thought of, or even a criticism that could lead to a new way of doing things. In moderation and with discernment, the Web is great for that. I know online social networking platforms are part of our permanent cultural landscape, and I utilize them daily. But now, authors are fretting en masse about galleys being sold on eBay, or engaging in negative rapport with reviewers on public forums like Twitter. And it seems more authors are e-mailing publishers’ business partners (like major retailers and distributors) asking why a store doesn’t carry their book. Or more horrifically, authors attempting to alter their book’s BISAC code on Amazon via an online portal. This is a large, complicated discussion that cannot be contained in a single article, but I’ll address a few key viral conversations lately.
In terms of complaints about the sale of ARCs, there are an increasing number of online reviewers who are acquiring publisher tools (like ARCs) via non-member attendance at professional trade shows. Their participation as non-members is already being addressed by show coordinators around the country. To cut down on ARC sales, many publishers are now supplying the vast amount of credible online reviewers with e-galleys via NetGalley, and publishers continue to vet who receives a physical ARC, continue to indicate clearly on the cover that the item is not for sale, and continue to educate this new and growing class of online reviewers about the protocol and etiquette expected in the book industry. That’s our job.
Similarly, like most trade publishers, we contractually own the rights to sell to our trade partners, so it’s our amiable National Account Rep who gets to experience the hopefully enjoyable, oftentimes harrowing, 10-minute sales pitch to a trade buyer, not you, the author, bless your naïve soul.
For our part, and out of necessity, Llewellyn and its imprints have been proactive in educating and guiding authors toward an understanding of this vibrant, yet oftentimes complicated industry by sharing with them from the get-go a comprehensive document outlining industry mechanics, publisher processes, and expected protocol and rapport. And we happily try to assure our fleet of budding, and oftentimes brilliant, authors that we, as publishing professionals, will address as best we can issues that they have concerns about, the majority of which are issues that publishers alone should be addressing. And rightly so—many of these items have always been a part of our job, and our experience has given us the expertise to address them appropriately and professionally to ensure a positive outcome.
I encourage all authors—regardless of the online platforms available, many of which are merely anecdotal, and appear to be uninformed of industry protocol and business practices—to focus instead on their craft, the art of writing. The heart of a successful, popular or bestselling book is excellent storytelling and writing. And that takes time, talent, commitment, and focus. Similarly, I encourage all authors—should their lifestyle include a significant online presence—to instead focus on creating a personae that creates positive impressions for your readers. Please be conscious of what you’re sharing, how you’re presenting yourself, and how what you are saying impacts your publisher. After all, we are still the people footing the bill for this risky endeavor of bringing literature to the world. And most of us are doing it out of love of what we do.
So, is what you’re sharing a reveal of a quirky personality trait your new character has? Or is it you expressing your personal dismay over that last negative review by the Boston Globe, or how you dislike your publisher’s back cover copy? Do you want readers to know you as the author who’s always online chiming in on the latest viral publishing rant, or as a committed writer sitting at home with their number one priority in front of them: their next book.
As Gandhi once said, “Action expresses priorities.” My priority and expertise is exposing your new title to the media and marketplace. What’s yours?
Steven Pomije directs publicity at Flux Books, Midnight Ink, and Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., and is board president of the Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable