A few weeks ago Barbara Vortman posted a comment on my blog. She said, “I remember when your first book was published. Can you tell us how marketing has changed since then and how you adapted? I have never been a self-promoter and I detest the job. My novel will languish forever on Amazon because I don’t have the time, energy, know-how or inclination to market it.”
Well, Barbara, I’m having the same problems you seem to be having. Marketing has definitely changed since my first books were published. I remember back in the 1980s, when I was writing for Harlequin Temptation. My first book had been published and I and another Harlequin writer were flown to a reader’s party. Harlequin’s PR person picked me up at the airport, the other writer and I had a TV interview set up for us, we were taken to dinner, spent the night in a hotel, and were treated like royalty.
All Harlequin writers back then, from time to time, were sent gifts. These were the same gifts the company sent to their book club members. Harlequin paid for the ads that went out to the media about the books being released. Sometimes radio and/or print interviews were set up for us, in person or via telephone.
Back then writers often complained that Harlequin treated us like horses in a stable. It was the Harlequin brand that was important, not the writer. So many writers wanted to write for them, if one writer asked for something more than a boilerplate contract, she could be replaced by another writer. There was even a time when Harlequin made writers use pseudonyms that Harlequin would own.
But then things began to change. By the late ‘80s early ‘90s some writers had gained so much popularity their requests for special clauses in their contracts couldn’t be ignored. Writers demanded control of their names. We were no longer an interchangeable group but individuals. Romance Writers of America had been formed and began looking at publishing practices. And, of course, the computer and the Internet began to change how writers wrote and communicated.
By the late ‘90s the Internet had become an integral part of a writer’s life. We talked to each other, shared ideas, contract terms, and earnings. The writer became the brand, and some writers saw the role e-books would take on in the future and were smart enough to get their rights back on outdated books. By then several publishing companies had either been gobbled up by the larger corporations or had gone out of business. Editors and staff were being cut back. Agents were now viewed as first readers and had become a requirement for submitting to most of the large publishing houses. Nationwide the distributors that once numbered in the hundreds were down to a handful. Paper costs had driven up the cost of books and forced publishers to cut back on the number of pages. In most families, both adults worked. Time was limited. Younger readers weren’t reading books. Games, TV, movies all vied for a person’s time. Independent bookstores went out of business.
In the early 2000s, once the cost of e-readers became accessible, e-books became a reality. Writers who had been dropped by publishers due to cutbacks (the bottom line has become the literary evaluator for those corporate publishers) and those writers frustrated by their inability to even break into the market, turned to self-publishing. Those who jumped in early have done great; now everyone is self-publishing. The gatekeeper is gone. Readers don’t always know how to evaluate a well written book from one that needed a lot of editing before being published.
Writers, whether traditionally published or self published, have learned if they wanted to rise to the top, they needed to publicize. As we’ve taken on that role, the publishing houses have smiled and stepped back. Best way to save money: let the writer do the promotion. No more reader parties. No more ads in national magazines except for those authors who they know are going to sell millions of copies.
And so here we are—2016—writers who only want to write are having to put on their marketing hats, having to become PR experts. It’s great and it’s terrible. Some writers can handle the dual parts of the business without any trouble. For others, including me, it’s a pain in the…aspirations.
How has publishing changed over the years? In some ways it’s exciting. Good books that might have been turned down by a publishing house because the marketing department didn’t see a large sales potential are being published. Topics that publishing houses don’t want to touch are being published. The writer has more control over cover, blurbs, editing; can earn a larger amount from each sale; and can control how the book is promoted. But those pluses can also be negatives. The writer is now responsible for the cover and may not have the finances to pay for a professional looking cover or the knowledge of what sells best. Editing can be expensive. Promotion can be expensive and time consuming.
In some ways it’s sad. Four corporations (or is it still five?) control most of the large publishing houses. Many smaller publishers have popped up, but many more, over the years, have disappeared.
Publishing will continue to change and I’ve learned I must, too. I’ve always had my books published by a traditional publisher. I am now working on a story that I’m pretty sure I will self-publish. I will try to learn new ways of promoting my work. What will stay the same is I will continue writing the best books I possibly can write.
What do I miss the most?
Maybe those gifts from Harlequin.