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Do "Traditional" Publishers Market Their Books? (Yes)

The Purple Crayon Blog April 2012

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On discussion boards and at writer's conferences I keep hearing what I regard as a common misconception about what publishers do and don't do when it comes to marketing. The following is based on my response to someone's comment on a discussion board recently to the effect that publishers just don't market most author's books. I don't know where this meme started--perhaps with companies that provide services to self-publishers--but it's not accurate.

While it's true that traditional publishers (the ones who pay royalties and advances) don't do as much as we wish they would to market all of their authors, they don't do nothing.

What do publishers do?

At minimum, they put their books in their catalogs, which are given or mailed to libraries, bookstores, specialty outlets, schools. They provide tip sheets and advance selling materials to their sales forces, who go out into the field and talk to booksellers and librarians. They put your book on your websites, where they can provide "sneak peeks" and news of new reviews or publicity. They send out review copies to review sources and advance reader copies to booksellers. They usually list your book in their "release ad" in PW and other magazines. They show your book at conventions for librarians, booksellers, and teachers. They provide "metadata" about your book to Amazon and other online bookstores, as well as getting it into the pipelines of wholesalers. Most nowadays also promote new books via social media.

The above, if you can replicate it (you can't hire a sales force, for example), would costs you thousands of dollars and/or many hours of work.

And then there are other things they will frequently do, and not just for top-of-the-list books: they'll create giveaways, help organize online or physical tours, take out ads, write and send press releases. They probably won't get you on TV, but then very few authors do, particularly children's book authors.

So, though what is done varies somewhat by publisher, publishers do actually market ALL of their books. Do not buy into the myth that they don't as a reason to self-publish. I'm not against self-publishing--I have worked with people who have done it successfully (see the interviews in my Self-Publishing section)--but it's important to base a decision to do it on the realities.

I base the above on personal experience, by the way. I have worked, both freelance and inside, in traditional publishing for 20+ years.

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