Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
I work in textbook marketing. Last week, an author on one of my lists sent me an email. The general tone: “You don’t know how to do your job, I haven’t seen any marketing for my book.” Understandably, it made me mad. (So mad that I’m still talking about it.)
But despite my knee-jerk reaction of, “Oh yeah? Well, stuff it,” I can (reluctantly) see where he’s coming from.
When you think about marketing—and publicity, because to authors and most other people the difference is fuzzy—what do you think about? TV spots. Direct mail campaigns or email blasts. Posters. Front-and-center displays in Barnes & Noble. An ad in the New York Times.
Unfortunately, what my job entails is less tangible. While we do coordinate direct mail and email campaigns for our key titles, the bulk of my job as a marketer is making sure data goes where it’s supposed to go. With my editorial team, I work hard to make sure our database records are kept current and accurate; I spend time making sure book information is feeding through all of our systems correctly to reach the end users—including sales reps, bookstore accounts, Amazon, online retailers, and librarians. I work with Amazon to coordinate marketing campaigns that leverage that company’s incredible customer database, targeting consumers who have looked at my book or similar books within the last few weeks or even days (resulting in targeted campaigns that, because of their dynamic nature, are hard to print out and show to an author). The list goes on.
But if an author doesn’t see it, it didn’t happen. I know that part of this is the nature of the beast—publishing academic titles instead of publishing consumer titles naturally means that the main thrust of promotion is going to be to niche academic groups rather than broadcasts to the masses. But as things become more digital, even those big promotions become harder to show off in a tangible way. And suddenly keeping authors informed of what’s going on with their book becomes a chore of writing up detailed, complex information in ways that authors can digest quickly and easily (after all, my authors are also professors, and have day jobs—they don’t want to read treatises on metadata, they want to know what you’ve done to promote their book).
Which is where Harlequin and other publishers come in. Digital Book World recently reported that Harlequin has launched an author portal, providing authors with sales data, marketing information, and more right at their fingertips. According to the press release, included in the DBW article:
In addition to vital business details, HAN provides Harlequin authors with exclusive access to a wealth of training and tips on promoting books, managing social media properties and breaking news regarding the changing publishing landscape. The portal also serves as a communications vehicle for Harlequin to share information about new initiatives and launches, its corporate social responsibility program, its authors’ successes and appearances and more.
Simon and Schuster has a similar portal for its authors, and Hachette seems to have a similar resource for children’s book authors and illustrators. Don’t forget about Amazon’s super user-friendly Author Central, too (while Amazon pushes my buttons as a publisher, I have to give them props for the way they treat authors).
And as someone who dreads author emails asking for updates on a book, this sounds like a sweet deal. A system that allows authors to obsess about sales data all they want without emailing me to pull reports for them every month? Yes, please!
Of course this also raises problems (i.e., “I’ve been watching my sales and my book isn’t selling, you need to do more marketing”), but overall this seems to be a step in the right direction to be competitive in a world where self-publishing is a viable and respectable option. Giving authors access to this kind of information greases the wheels a bit in the author/publicity and author/marketing relationships, giving marketers a chance to say “go to these resources and come back if you have questions,” and giving authors a stronger sense of how their book is doing as well as better tools to help with the promotion effort. It takes the benefits of self-publishing—monitoring your own sales, having a good handle on what’s happening with your book, being a part of the promotional life—and combines them with the lower-risk context of a publishing house full of marketing professionals who can leverage a full publishing list to get better distribution, attention, and opportunities than an author usually can on his or her own.
So am I on board with the idea of author portals? If they make my life easier, then 100 percent YES.