Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Moran on How to Promote Your Book (Part 1)

Michelle Moran is the acclaimed and bestselling author of NEFERTITI, published by Crown in 2007, and THE HERETIC QUEEN, which just came out last month. She will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.

Thanks so much to Michelle for putting together these incredible posts!

So you’re a few months away from publishing your debut novel. Your publishing house has suggested that you pitch in to help promote your own work, but you don’t have the first clue as to where you should start. Or perhaps you’ve already published your first book without doing any of your own publicity and marketing and now the hard realization has hit that this time around, without a significant change on your part, your career is going to end as quickly as it began. Now you’re willing to try something – anything. But what works? What doesn’t work? What should you be doing?

Know the Business of Publication

If you think your job as a writer begins and ends with your manuscript, you’re going to be in for some serious disappointments when publication day arrives. Publishing houses purchase books that sell. They’re not charities (alas), they’re businesses, and unless you’re one of the few authors whose novel is chosen to be a lead title, you’re going to need to approach the publication of your novel not as a writer, but as a business person.

But first of all, what is a lead title? Every season publishers determine which books will receive their biggest push, and those are the ones that get the most attention, not to mention the most marketing and publicity dollars. Books that are normally chosen for these spots are ones that were purchased for hefty advances (high six and seven figures), or ones that have enormous in-house support. When a book is made lead title, the author may be set up not just on a book tour, but on a pre-publication tour. That means an author might be flown to several cities to meet and greet buyers. In Bentonville, Arkansas they might meet with Walmart buyers, in Ann Arbor, Michigan they’ll meet the buyers from Borders, in Birmingham, Alabama they might meet with Books-a-Million and in New York, the buyers from Barnes and Noble. That’s not to forget buyers from Costco, Baker & Taylor, Sams Club, Ingram… The list goes on and on, and as you can imagine, this isn’t the sort of treatment that every author will receive. The publicity and marketing departments simply don’t have the time to invest in setting up so many appointments for everyone. But you will know almost immediately if your book is going to be a lead title, because things will start happening quickly. Special luncheons and dinners will be set up so you can meet booksellers. These might take place at conventions like Book Expo America or RWA, or they might take place somewhere in NY or Seattle. Interviews will start coming in early, and you’ll find yourself spending more and more time on planes and less time writing. Again, writing is a business, and part of that business is being savvy, well-spoken, and willing to do what it takes to make your book a success. But if your book isn’t one of the “chosen ones” with a three-page spread in the sales catalog, you needn’t start to panic. It doesn’t mean your book doomed to failure. You simply have to be proactive.

Know the Lingo
Like any business, the publishing industry has its own lingo, and the smart author will learn as much of it as possible, since this can mean the difference between contacting the right person in your house for ad money, and contacting the wrong person and having to pay for the ad yourself. Two of the most important terms you’ll ever need to know are marketing and publicity.

The marketing department deals with anything related to promotions that can be bought: radio time, print ads, online ads, etc. If you have an idea for an advertisement and would like to see if there’s enough money in your publisher’s budget to purchase it, it’s the marketing department you should contact. If you don’t know who that person is, ask your editor. There are probably two different people in marketing who are helping promote your books: someone who deals exclusively with hardcovers, and another person who deals in paperbacks. Both of these are people you should know, and hopefully have even met on your trip to NY (What trip, you ask? Well, the one you took six months or so after signing your first contract.)

The publicity department, by contrast, deals with anything related to promotions that come “free”: online reviews, print reviews, magazine interviews, online interviews, TV interviews, book tours, etc. I put “free” in quotation marks because, let’s face it, none of this really comes free. Your publicist is investing enormous amounts of time sending out press kits (which are costly), getting galleys in the mail (which are costly), printing up press releases, calling magazines to follow up on possible interviews, double-checking schedules, booking hotel rooms, and much, much more. Not only is she doing all of this for you, but she has many other authors she’s doing it for as well.

If you’re not sure what galleys and press kits are, they are also part of this “publishing lingo” you’ll need to become familiar with. A galley is an early copy of your novel with or without the cover image. The words “Not for Sale” will be printed somewhere on the cover, since the galley is only intended for reviewers. At the galley stage, changes are still being made to the manuscript, which is one of the reasons it’s not for sale. Mind you, not all galleys are created equal. Some imprints have a policy of printing theirs with full color covers, while others use a plain, black and white cover without any image whatsoever. If your book has been chosen as a lead title, it will almost certainly have a full color cover even if that’s not the house’s normal policy. It may even have gold foil on the front, or embossing, both of which are enormously expensive, especially at the galley stage. There’s pretty much nothing you can do if your house prints up plain looking galleys and you prefer color (and really, who wouldn’t prefer color?). There’s also very little you can do (aside from printing up galleys yourself) if your publishing house only prints a hundred or two hundred galleys.

Like galley covers, not all galley print-runs are equal. A lead title might have anywhere from a thousand to ten thousand galleys printed up for every type of reviewer imaginable, while most other novels will have between a hundred and two hundred. I have known authors who were unhappy with the number of the galleys their houses printed who went out and printed up their own, then sent them media mail for two or three dollars through the post office to various reviewers they contacted themselves. Now many authors would grumble (perhaps rightly so) about doing this themselves. They don’t want to go through the trouble of asking the publicity department for a list of the places their galleys are being sent to (so they don’t duplicate during their own mailing). They also don’t want to spend the money it would require to print up their own galleys or to send out the ones their publishing house has given to them (a number that can be increased when your agent is drawing up your contract, btw). And they certainly don’t want to waste their writing time by emailing online or print reviewers and asking them if they’d like a copy of their book. But for the authors I’ve known who did this, they felt it was the difference between being a one book wonder and an author signing a contract for her fifth and sixth books.

Now, unless your galley print run is ludicrously small and the galleys are only being sent to a handful of reviewers (a list your publicist may or may not be willing to part with), I wouldn’t personally recommend this approach. But it has been done.

What I would recommend, however, is asking the publicity department whether they’ll be making press kits for your book. Press kits are folders which normally include a press release about your novel, a Q&A, possibly a photograph, and definitely snippets of your best reviews. If the publicity department says yes, then you have nothing to worry about on this front. But be sure to ask them whether their kits include folders. To save money, your publicist might simply be stuffing your press releases etc, into the mailing envelopes your book is going out in. For a more professional look, you may want to offer to purchase of your own folders, and possibly even four-color stickers of your book cover to go on the front. Two hundred should be more than enough, and you can ship them to your publicist with the stickers already applied (assuming you have gotten her okay beforehand). If this sounds like a lot of work, well… there’s no sugarcoating it. It is. But think of how this work might pay off with a review in the LA Times or the Boston Globe. Book reviewers are inundated with novels, and the piles on their desk reach life-threatening heights. What are they more likely to pull from that pile? Loose papers which have long since been crumpled into oblivion, or a folder?

Coop space (pronounced co-op, and often spelled this way as well)
Before a novel is released, several important decisions will be made ahead of time that will significantly affect the chance of having your book picked up by a customer in a bookstore. One of these decisions is whether or not the publisher will be purchasing co-op space. Co-op means cooperative advertising space that publishers pay for. These are places in bookstores that see high traffic such as end caps, new release tables in the front of the shop, and store windows. It’s a widespread misconception that bookstore employees select the titles they want to feature in the store window or on the aisle tables based on the selections they personally prefer. However, co-op placement is very selective and is also based on how the store projects a particular book will sell. All of this is decided up to six months before publication, so that before a book even hits the shelves its visibility to customers is partly predetermined. This doesn’t mean that books without co-op space won’t sell well, or that books with co-op space are launched into sudden bestseller status. It simply means that when a customer walks into a bookstore, just like when a shopper goes into a grocery store, product placement is never a haphazard decision.

Several months before your book is released, be sure to find out if your house will be purchasing coop, and if so, for which weeks. Knowing these dates is incredibly important, because this is when you are going to do the most publicity and (if you are spending any money on your own) marketing. You’ll want to work the hardest to promote your book during the two or three weeks when it’s most visible in the stores. For the really big retailers – B&N and Borders – your co-op time may differ, so be sure to ask your editor for specific dates and places.

Cover art
Readers often assume that an author has a significant amount of say in what their cover art looks like. It would seem only reasonable that after toiling for years on a six hundred page manuscript that an author would get to choose what face it will present to the world. Just as you wouldn’t take your child to be photographed at a professional studio with their hair standing on end and their trousers dirty, it is only logical to assume that a writer would get to “dress up” their child for presentation, choosing the colors and appearance of their cover art with care. The truth of the matter is, however, most writers are only minimally consulted about cover art. At the beginning of the publication process, you might be requested to submit a few words about what you envision the cover art to be. If it’s historical fiction and the subject was an historical personage, you might be requested to provide a photograph and asked what accessories and clothes the person might have worn. But besides this, there is very little control you have over your cover. Once you see the colors, layout and image of your cover three to five months into the publication process, it’s possible you’ll be asked your opinion about it, but ultimately it is the bookstores that have the trump card. If a Barnes and Nobles representative dislikes the art, for example, it may be back to the drawing board. But if you dislike your cover art because the protagonist has the wrong hair color or is wearing an historically inaccurate piece, the chances of a cover being changed might only be determined by your clout.

If you should find yourself in this position, take several deep breaths, discuss it with your agent, then have your agent approach your editor. Whenever something upsetting occurs, always discuss it with your agent first, then have the agent speak on your behalf. Emotional people make bad business decisions, and throwing a wobbly on the phone to your editor (however close the two of you have become) definitely ranks in the bad decision category.

In tomorrow's post, Michelle will address online publicity, blogs, outside publicists, and much more!


Juliana Stone said...

Wow...thanks Michelle...lots of great info....this post is a keeper for sure....looking forward to tomorrow's post!

Nathan said...


In your experience are book tours productive? I've heard pros and cons.


Michelle Moran said...

Hi Nathan,

That's a tricky one! Short answer: no. I think thriller author JA Konrath's idea of "drive-by signings" are much more effective, whereby the author goes into a store, meets and greets the booksellers, then signs the stock. I live in LA, and this is (I believe - you never can know for sure) one reason my debut novel landed on the bestseller list there.

For tours to work I think an author's book needs to be a lead title, which means the author is either already well-known or their house is setting up publicity opportunities at every city they stop in to drive people to the signing. Otherwise, an author might show up to a signing to see only four or five people in attendance.

I'm sure there are cases of authors who have had success with a book tour without being a "brand" name or a lead title, I just haven't met any.

Robena Grant said...

Michelle, thank you so much for your generous insights. It's such a confusing business.
Looking forward to more info tomorrow. Will send some of my RWA chapter mates over.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan said...

Thanks, Michelle.
Follow-up question. If you are doing 'drive-bys' and other proactive promotion - which is necessarily time consuming, how did you balance your time between promoting Nefertiti and writing The Heretic Queen - and possibly working a 'day' job, having a life, family or whatever else is beyond the scope of 'author'?


Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

hi michelle,

i myself am thinkin gabout doing a little book signing tour, but i wasn't so sure if it's really efficient. thanks for your input.

Crimogenic said...

Michelle, wow, what a golden nugget of information. Thanks for the insight. I'll be tuning in tommorrow for the next installment.

AC said...

You're amazing, Michelle! This is one of the best, clearest explanations I've seen on book promotion. I'm keeping this post for reference if (when!) I get a book deal. Many, many thanks!

Linnea said...

Hi Michelle
What a pleasant surprise to learn you're Nathan's guest today. Great info. Believe it or not I just put down 'The Heretic Queen' to come online. It's an absorbing story and I love all the historical details. (Also, thanks for giving me the opportunity of an author Q&A on your site. )I'm looking forward to Part 2 on your promo topic!

Zoe Winters said...

I think what mystifies me is, there are so many different "everybody knows this is true" ideas in publishing that are self contradictory. It's like you have to pick a religion and go with it.

Because there is one camp that says, "Well everybody knows that author self promotion doesn't really do very much to impact sales."

And then the other camp says, "Well, if you don't self promote your book will tank and you'll get dropped."

And one would think that one group is a bunch of noobs who don't know anything and the other group are industry professionals. But that's not the case. Because both messages come from industry professionals, just different ones.

And arguments always shift. Any time any noob author says something about how they know they have to promote, you know you're going to run into the "industry professional" who knows that is pointless to their success really and will pat them on the head and smile.

Any time the noob says, "Well, you know, I think word of mouth is really what makes it happen, because every author I know has promoted and promoted and isn't really noticing an impact on sales." Then the professionals who know self promotion is everything smile and nod at the little noob.

So I guess I'm just waiting on people to actually agree on something as being true before I accept it or don't accept it as valid.

Until then I think the only thing people can do is experiment to see what might work for them, and not invest a single penny they can't afford to lose.

Nathan Bransford said...


Everyone's right -- I don't think it's an either/or situation. Some books succeed on their own, some books succeed because of the author's elbow grease, some are a mixture of the two. There's no set formula.

If you ARE going to put some elbow grease to it, I think these two posts are completely spot on in how to best utilize your time and resources.

Conduit said...

Michelle, this is one of the best posts on the topic I've read, and is very timely for me. I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

Anonymous said...

We see this kind of phrasing a lot nowadays:
"approach the publication of your novel not as a writer, but as a business person."

This post outlines really useful information. Still, I wonder: what, really, is the heart of this for the writer? Why does so much of the discourse on this topic seem to harbor disdain for the writer?

Maybe we could start from a place more like this: "Approach the publication of your novel as a writer." And then think imaginatively and energetically about what that could look like.


Zoe Winters said...

Nathan, that's a very reasonable position. It's hard sometimes to see that reasonable position in the muck of "one true wayism." I think people tend to assume that what works for them or doesn't work for them applies across the board to every other person breathing oxygen.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, it's also important to know the conventional wisdom, because publishers these days are not just hoping that authors will do all or nearly all of what Michelle is outlining, but expecting it. Publication decisions, even for novels, are increasingly made at least in part on what the author can/will do for the book.

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Nathan,

Great question! I now write full time, and what I try to do is leave the afternoons open for publicity and marketing, and the morning open for writing (five pages a day, singled spaced, minimum). For time-intensive things like "drive-bys", I only do them when the book has coop, so three weeks out of the year (or six, if you count the paperback).

I'm afraid I can't speak about how I balance family time, since I don't have children, but I do take the summers off for research and traveling. So although this all sounds incredibly time-consuming and overwhelming, it can be done!

And as Zoe points out, there's no surefire way of finding success as an author, but there sure are a lot of ways of being proactive and making sure you're on your publishing house's radar.

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Linnea - great to see you here! For anyone who doesn't know, Linnea is the author of a wonderful novel called THE FIRST VIAL.

Highly recommended!

And Zoe and Susan, both great points. It's a shame we can't just sit back and write as authors, or that our publishing houses don't sit up and say, "So what can we do to help you"? So often, it's the other way around. I'm not sure what can be done about it, but the author's first responsibility is always to write a great book. Publicity and marketing come second.

nomadshan said...

That's an awesome lot of information -- thanks, Michelle and Nathan!

Valerie Geary said...

Thank you so much! This was very valuable information and I would love to see more of these types of topics on agent blogs. We see so much about writing or how to write a good query, but very rarely do we get a good glimpse at the publication process in its entirity. Very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michelle! I've been wandering around the internet lately, looking for information on self promotion.

I have a book coming out next year with a small publisher. While they do have a marketing department, I have a feeling I'll be doing most of the leg-work myself. (And to complicate things, this press uses a POD format and no one really talks about how to market a print-on-demand book from a legitimate publisher.)

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post...

Anonymous said...

Nathan says at 10:43 "Publication decisions, even for novels, are increasingly made at least in part on what the author can/will do for the book."

And Michelle at 10:52 "our publishing houses don't sit up and say, "So what can we do to help you"? So often, it's the other way around."

I think that both of these things are true, and I think that we need to find creative, sensitive, thoughtful ways to deal with the stress and strain of both of these things being true.

Authors need to know the information in Michelle's comprehensive post. But I long for a conversation that goes to the next level. What kind of publicity and marketing is most helpful both to the project of selling books AND to the project of nurturing the writer as writer of books?


Zoe Winters said...

Oh, also, Michelle, thanks for the informative post. (I got sidetracked on a tangent and forgot to say that!)

Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome guest post Michelle. Obviously there are authors who go huge because of word of mouth or what have you, but for most authors they will need to help out in whatever way they can to make sure they don't disappear after selling one book.

Really useful information, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post.


lotusloq said...

Thanks for all the great information! This was a part of the business that I needed to know about. I appreciate all your candor.

Anonymous said...

What kind of publicity and marketing is most helpful both to the project of selling books AND to the project of nurturing the writer as writer of books?

I don't think anyone in the publishing industry is going to be having that conversation anytime soon. No offense, but it's a little touchy-feely. And while it would be nice to be considered an artist first, a commodity second, that doesn't seem to be the reality.

Sheila said...

That was very enlightening, Michelle, thank you.

What is the role of the agent in this process? After the book is sold to the publisher, is his/her job done? Or do they help petition the publisher on promotion?


Also, I admire your discipline. I, too, strive to write 5 single-spaced pages a day. But I can only do it if I use a really big font. Like, 36 or 48 point. Sometimes 72.

Michelle Moran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spinregina said...

Wow, this is a great post, and very positive. Reminds me a little of a wonderful book by Carolyn See;
about publishing,writing, and all the stuff that comes with it. Looking so forward to your next post, Michelle, and at the risk of sounding like a nutbar,this blog is great. Love it!

Michelle Moran said...

Oops.. let me try that again without the spelling errors.

Sheila: I, too, strive to write 5 single-spaced pages a day. But I can only do it if I use a really big font. Like, 36 or 48 point. Sometimes 72.

HA! I've been having several of those 72 point font days recently. Must be too much internet time ;]

As for your question about how much an agent does in terms of marketing and publicity, in my experience, none. It's really up to the author, although an agent can make some creative negotiations when contract time comes around in terms of how much the house is willing to spend/do for the author. That usually only happens once an author is established, however (at least, from what I've seen). Maybe Nathan can shed some light on this.

There are some agents who will give their clients advice of this sort. I was contacted recently by two really proactive agents who wanted ideas about what their historical fiction authors could do to help on the publicity front, and I basically told them what I've written here (with a few more details). An old editor sent these agents my way, and I was really impressed that they would take the time to ask on behalf of their clients. In my experience, that's highly unusual.

Nathan Bransford said...

When it comes to the agent's involvement, traditionally the agent's role is to keep tabs on things, make sure things are happening as they should, and the agent is usually the one to go to the publisher if there are problems.

Nowadays though, an agent is often the source of a lot of marketing ideas and a resource for the author, and if the agent has a blog, they can do publicity as well.

Michelle Moran said...

Nathan: Nowadays though, an agent is often the source of a lot of marketing ideas and a resource for the author, and if the agent has a blog, they can do publicity as well.

You see, this is why everyone should query Nathan (plus he has a fantastic blog)!

Anonymous said...

Sigh... I've tried. No such luck ;]

Gwen said...

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this with us, Nathan. And thank you to Michelle for such an awesome post. This helps me understand the process so much better.

Kristi Valiant said...

Incredibly informative post. Thank you, Michelle!

J.P. Kurzitza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Not sure, but should "Coop" be in bold as the start of a different section? Just wondering...

Thank you Nathan for having Michelle here, and thank you Michelle for the great explanations.

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Hi Michelle. Thanks for the tidbits.

You stole my thunder about being a guest-poster on a popular agent's blog.

Nathan, hook me up! :D

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Anon. Fixed.

Liz said...

Great information in this post. Michelle is not only a fantastic writer, but she is obviously a pretty savvy business woman as well!

Just finished reading The Heretic Queen and it was just as enjoyable as Nefertiti.

Looking forward to your adventures in Rome with Cleopatra's daughter.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hi, Michelle,

Thank you for supplying so much helpful information about how books from the big publishing houses are marketed, and for describing different marketing strategies depending on how much money is supplied by the publisher. I recognize your novel, Nefertiti, as it came up on Google when I was doing background research about Anubis for a time travel sequence I’m writing. Nefertiti sounds fascinating and the book cover is absolutely gorgeous. Did you have input into the book cover design?

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Marilyn,

I had very minimal input on my book cover (and boy am I thankful, at least in the case of Nefertiti). For my first book I was asked to provide several images of the Egyptian Queen. I let it be known that I envisioned a book cover which would feature her bust, perhaps with a black background, and perhaps in profile. Thankfully, everyone proceeded to ignore me, and an artist was hired to paint Nefertiti's image based on her sculpture. The image turned out beautifully, and I liked the art so much that I purchased the original painting as a reminder of my debut novel.

So for my second book, I refrained from giving any opinion, which actually turned out to be a bit of a mistake. The cover features a wing - that's it - and can easily be mistaken for being Native American versus Egyptian. It's also quite plain, and while sales have been very strong in brick-and-mortar stores where the thick gold foil makes the cover stand out, online sales have been slower (still very good, but if you're making a comparison - slower). Originally, the book had two bands of African cloth - one at the bottom and one at the top. I did ask to change these bands to hieroglyphics, and the art department kindly made the switch.

I'm not sure I have a moral to this story. Maybe it's speak up early if something feels awry, but also know when to zip it!

Good luck on your writing!!

Aubrey said...

Thank you so much for this info! I never imagined that publishers acutally bought shelf placement! I thought it was based on projected popularity and not a matter of buying out that location in the store. Fascinating!

I am very excited about what you have to say tomorrow, as I co-author my own blog about authors and books and we are doing Q&A's with new authors next month, and hopefully periodically throughout the year. It will be good to know how we can best help promote these new great authors!

Michelle Moran said...

Perhaps I should also add that online sales might be comparatively slower for another reason entirely. But when I compare the click-thru rates for my Nefertiti ads versus The Heretic Queen, Nefertiti always comes out higher, and my gut feeling is that it has to do with something visual. The marquee name of "Nefertiti" might also have something to do with it. It's always so hard to tell.

Stacey said...


This is a bit off the main topic (Which is full of incredible info! Thank you!), but is related to your comment on how much you write each day.

Would you suggest that all authors make a goal of how much to write each day? Or is it better for some people to write at their own pace?

As someone trying to write thier first worthwhile novel it is something I have wondered about. How much should I be working on it each day if I am interested in trying to get it published and become an author?

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Stacey,

I really think it all depends on the author. Someone with a day job, children, pets, and other commitments would be hard-pressed to get in five pages a day. But it doesn't make them any less of an author. When I wrote Nefertiti I was working full time and probably only wrote two pages a day (if I was lucky).

I wish there was a magic formula to this, but really, it's whatever works best for you. I don't, however, subscribe to the thought that an author has to write every single day. I take months off entirely to travel, recharge, come up with new ideas, and to research.

Stacey said...

Thanks so much! I do have a very little one (6 months) and it has been hard if I can even write one paragraph a day sometimes! I guess there is still hope for someone like me to finish that book!

Michelle Moran said...

Of course there is, Stacey! And you put enough of those paragraphs together and voila, suddenly you have a book.

Other Lisa said...

What a great, informative post. Thank you, Michelle and Nathan.

acpaul said...


Thank you for your wonderful and informative post. That information will prove invaluable to many of us.

On October 21, 2008 12:00 PM you wrote: "You see, this is why everyone should query Nathan"

I'm almost proud to say that Nathan sent me my very first rejection letter. Almost. But I certainly don't hold it against him.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hi, Michelle,

I found your story about the artwork for your novels fascinating. I also visited your website, and discovered so much great information there as well. Thanks for chatting with us here, and for being so open about your writing experiences!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michelle, for all your insights. And a big congrats on your two books and their success!

I still think -- and I know I'm going to get maligned for this -- that unless you ARE a lead title, you aren't going to get the sales. Word of mouth is great, doing drive-by signings is great, but really, those things are a far, far cry from the publisher pushing your book.

I've seen harcover books from major pub houses, with multiple star reviews, not get stocked AT ALL by Barnes & Noble OR Borders. Forget not having a display table, I mean, the book was not stocked at all, people, as in no books on the shelves anywhere! Why? The publisher paid a modest advance, didn't have to recoup that advance, and their treatment of it reflected that.

It was no surprise when the book had dismal sales. How can it sell if no one knows it exists?

Very few books get star/lead title treatment. Publisher publictiy drives sales way more than the quality of the writing. I think that is a damn shame.

Michelle Moran said...

Word of mouth is great, doing drive-by signings is great, but really, those things are a far, far cry from the publisher pushing your book.

I agree. So the only thing an author can do is be on the ball until their publishing house does make them a lead title. It is indeed sad when books get "skipped". There is an interesting post about that here:

Anonymous said...


In regards to cover art - what if an author has some artistic skill, and has done a number of pencil drawings related to their book, especially of their characters? Would those ever be taken into consideration as inspirations for the cover art (say, the way a photograph would be for a historical fiction)?


To God be the glory,
A SF writer

Michelle Moran said...

Gosh SF writer, I don't know. My guess is that they'd take the drawing, smile politely, and then proceed with whatever vision the editor or art department had in the first place. Maybe Nathan has a more definitive answer, or perhaps another writer who's reading the comments section.

Cover art is very much about what's in style right now, and which colors pop on the shelves. Another thing to take into consideration is that the cover art for your US books probably won't be the same in the UK or in other places abroad. Each country has their own ideas about what sells to their market, and I'm tempted to say that few of them include what the author has in mind. BUT... I write HF. It could be a different matter entirely for SFF.

Nathan Bransford said...

My guess is that they'd take the drawing, smile politely, and then proceed with whatever vision the editor or art department had in the first place.

Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

Lupina said...

Kudos, Nathan, for nabbing this excellent guest post, and thanks, Michelle, for sharing so much pertinent info.

The only thing I'd like to mention is on the topic of book signings. When my first book was published (by a decent-sized regional publisher), I innocently asked when they would be setting up signings, and was told not to even bother with them myself because often they were not well-attended. But I had a newspaper background and I knew that many times if I received a notice that an interesting author was going to be in town, I'd bid to write a feature story. So I began doing signings as excuses to send press releases to newspapers and it has worked very well. I may not always have lots of attendees, but thousands of people will see the feature story (and sometimes radio or TV). Also, while I'm in the store, I can make good friends with the manager and sign all their stock.
It might not work for everyone or every type of book, but it's become my modus operandi.

Michelle Moran said...

Lupina, that's a really great idea! Because without the publicity aspect, tours are often very poorly attended.

Tess Gerritsen has a guest post today on Murdertari about the economics and reality of many authors' book tours.

I guess it goes to show that it all takes work!

Erik said...

THE problem with all of this:

The advantage of having a "real publisher" against self-publishing is diminishing rapidly.

Yes, a large press will put some money into the PR machine, but less all the time. The other advantage, placement in bookstores, is also less important every day.

I don't know if publishers realize that the time spent courting them is starting to look like a poor investment. After all, this is a business - and authors have to approach it that way. I probably made a lot more selling 628 (or so) copies of my book on my own than I would have if I went the route listed. Since I had to learn the skills no matter what, it's purely a matter of time and money.

Publishers appear to be counting on prestige leading people their way over going for the money on their own. They are the ones I'd like to remind that this is, after all, a business. What value are they adding? It seems to be less every day.

Mary said...

This is one to cut out and keep!

Thank you for such a comprehensive post. Looking forward to tomorrow's instalment.

Jenny Jill said...

Is there any difference between fiction and non-fiction promotion?

I know, co-publishing my book, there is a huge difference, but my book is non-fiction. I've been looking for opportunities to present workshops related to the topic, as well as speaking to small groups and larger organizations.

BTW I live in a small town of 650 people. I know, however, I can count an a good number of sales to friends, and family in the near-by city, as well.

Michelle Moran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Moran said...

Hi Erik,

Geez, I hope I haven't made this post (and my comments) too depressing. And tomorrow, I'm really going to be ducking eggs when I start talking about marketing dollars and book trailer costs (which are personal decisions btw, not mandatory!)!

But there is still money to be made in publishing. What's important to remember is that while an author may put in three hours of work/day on publicity and marketing for a particular book, that book can be sold dozens of times. For example, I've sold Nefertiti in twenty countries, so for me, putting in the time makes sense.

Don't despair!

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually don't think you're too far off the mark for a lot of authors. Nothing beats a traditional publisher when they're hitting on all cylinders. When they're not.... another story.

At the same time, Michelle's post only goes double if you're self-publishing. The legwork becomes that much more crucial.

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Jenny Jill,

I think marketing nonfiction is very similar to marketing fiction, but publicizing it is slightly different since there are many more opportunities to land a radio spot or a guest show spot with nonfiction. Establishing yourself as an expert in your particular field is important, because as you point out, it leads to workshops, conferences, news interviews, etc. Today, it's less about where you live (as long as you're willing to fly to certain interviews) and more about your web presence.

Marilyn Peake said...

Erik, Nathan, and Michelle,

Marketing of books published by small press vs. big publishing house is a really great topic, and I’d love to hear your opinions on something. I think that distribution has to be there for marketing to work. I’m an avid promoter of my books, but have discovered through many hard knocks that, if the distribution channels aren’t there, book promotion won’t lead to much. Even if book sales reach as high as 1,000 copies, that doesn’t amount to much in royalties or the chance to reach many readers. I’m guessing that book promotion only really succeeds when distribution channels are available, including bookstores willing to stock the book. Is that correct in your experiences? Nathan, is there a minimum number of small press books sold that you find impressive in considering whether or not to take on an author?

Michelle Moran said...

I’m guessing that book promotion only really succeeds when distribution channels are available, including bookstores willing to stock the book.

I completely agree, but book promotion can lead to situations were a self-published author finds him/herself with wider distribution. However, those promotions would have to be extraordinary. This happened to Elle Newmark, who spent three months setting up a cyber-launch party for her self-published novel Bones of the Dead. The launch party went so well that a few days later she signed with an agent, and a few days after that had a seven figure deal for two books, the first of which will be debuting in a few months.

Marilyn Peake said...


That's a very inspiring story about the cyber launch party. Thanks!

Michelle Moran said...

book promotion can lead to situations were a self-published author finds him/herself with wider distribution

I should have addede to that "or small press author".

Anonymous said...


Perhaps from now on I should start putting up mental blocks whenever I begin to imagine my characters' appearance in detail. I have the feeling that I will only end up disappointed with whatever cover art ends up on my books someday! I'll just have to be reasonable about it. :)

Thank you very much for answering my question!

To God be the glory,
the SF writer again

cindy said...

michelle, thank you so much for this informative and awesome post! i've learned so much--exactly what i need to learn at this point in the debut novelist about to be published game! THANK YOU again. =) can't wait to read tomorrow's post!

Stacey said...


From your comments to Eric, somehow I got to thinking. As previously stated I have not finished my novel, therefore I have not personally been querying, but a good friend of mine has. And it seems like she has gotten a lot of personalized letters from agents saying they really do like her book, but don't think they are the right agent to sell it. Is this because of a slowing publishing world and knowing that even if a publisher picks it up she may be in the "if not" category of advertizing?

Marva said...

I was pleased to post an early review of Nefertiti on my blog. I really enjoyed Michelle's take on the subject and will definitely be reading her next book, "Heretic Queen."

I'm totally thrilled by her success.

Yay, Michelle!

Michelle Moran said...

Hi Cindy, hi Marva - so many familiar faces! Cindy, I'm really looking forward to Silver Phoenix's publication in April.

And Stacey, are you wondering if maybe your friend was rejected because she might not promote on her own? Please correct me if I read the question wrong (though I know it was addressed to Nathan).

Stacey said...

Well my thoughts were more related to the slowing down of the market. That agents might feel they cannot sell her novel, even if they like it.

Michelle Moran said...

Oh, good question. I hope not...

Stacey said...

The OCD thing was a temporary try and I don't know why it showed up cause I have deleted it ignore that please. ;)

Erik said...

Nathan and Michelle:

Yes, this all applies double if not more if you're out on your own. No question. These are skills we have to start finding ways of acquiring.

Learning how to do this is what remains an issue. Where does one do it? What is the value of an MFA, for example, in this environment?

More importantly, how many voices are squelched that are culturally relevant - or would make a lot of $$$ to someone who is able to filter them out of the noise?

I think we should all be deeply troubled by this honest, practical and straightforward assessment of the state of the industry. If nothing else, I think there is a lot of money left on the table when writing talent has to spend so much time doing things that they are likely not very good at.

My take is that there is an opportunity here for whoever finds a way to bypass all of it and use new technology to allow authors to find their readers without all of this. I have a few ideas if anyone wants to email me and ask.

Madison said...

This was so GREAT! Thanks so much!

ryan-field said...

Good post.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for sharing your insights, Michelle. Very helpful information.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michelle,

My name is Stephanie and I've written a novel about ancient Egypt also. I'm just browsing around waiting for an editor to contact me back (and anxiously checking my email over and over lol... ). Very cool that I ran across your blog, and btw I enjoy your work very much. I totally dunno about book tours tho... I am a family girl with two baby daughters! We'll see what happens. Hope u read my book soon,

Stephanie =)

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