It can be hard to remember—especially now, as the Harry Potter hoopla has begun, perhaps soon to drown out the noise surrounding The Secret—that most books don't get much publicity.

You can blame whoever or whatever you want—the shrinking news holes for book coverage, anorexic publisher budgets, even the phlegmatic nature of many writers who'd prefer to let their pages do the talking—but the fact remains: we publish nearly 200,000 books annually in this country and the average reader is lucky (and exhausted) to hear about .5% of them.

So when I read—on our very own, very new and improved Web site (no promotion failure here)—that a relatively unknown author took publicity matters into her own hands, I was intrigued. Karen Quinn, whose paperback original, Wife in the Fast Lane, arrived in stores last week, actually told her publisher, Touchstone, that she'd rather not go on a six-city tour. Two cities would be fine, thank you very much, and could she please have the leftover money to put toward a contest on her Web site?

Now unless you've been living in a cave—and no jokes, please, about the antediluvian tendencies of the book business—using the Web for promotion is no longer a new idea, especially for books aimed at a Web-savvy (i.e., young) crowd. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, after all, has a MySpace entry for both its author, Marisha Pessl, and its heroine, Blue. Running Press Kids' Cathy's Book was all about, and all over, the Web. Many, many writers use their own Web sites for promotion, and some name-brand authors—think Jonathan Lethem's announcement this week that he will give away the film option to his new novel—have taken more promotional matters into their own hands. But while it's unclear how some of these schemes—and how Quinn's plan—will affect sales, it does seem to me a positive step. Writers need to take care of themselves and do whatever is necessary to promote themselves and their books.

It's not because I think books are—heaven forfend!—merely "product." It's not that I think every novelist should go against his nature and conduct online chats or give away prizes to his readers. And it's not that I think traditional publicity departments are messing up. There are many creative publicists out there, and if they sometimes overshoot (Algonquin's anonymous-letter campaign on behalf of Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, see PW Daily's story on Mar. 6), at least they're passionate, and they're trying. It's just that the whole situation is trying: like everybody else in just about any kind of business directed at overloaded, overeducated and overconsuming Americans, it's not so easy to make yourself heard. Or read.

Recently, in a speech at Washington and Lee University about careers in publishing, I asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to be writers, publishers and publicists. Predictably, there was little overlap in their responses: every student had a particular slot into which she wanted to fit.

"So here's the news," I told them. "The book business isn't exactly the way it used to be: to be successful now, everybody needs to be a little bit of everything."

Even writers, I told them.

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