PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2016
by Elizabeth Turnbull, Senior Editor & Partner, Light Messages Publishing
Without the budgets for publicity departments, international marketing campaigns, or large staffs, independent publishers know that we must rely heavily on our authors throughout the publishing process. Yet with authors located across the country, or even around the globe, convincing them to take an active role in the production, marketing, and publicity of their books can prove challenging. Light Messages Publishing, now a general trade publisher, was founded by authors looking for a fair and modern alternative to the old-school publishing models. Building on our own experiences, we’ve learned a few ways to convince our authors to do more for their books. As a result, both publisher and author benefit. Using what we’ve learned, I’ve outlined five simple steps you can take today to help your authors do more to promote their books.
1. Earn Trust
As an editor, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely essential to earn the trust of my authors. The editing process asks a lot of authors: it asks them to be vulnerable, to be open to change, and to let a virtual stranger into the intimacy of their writing. The rest of the publishing process doesn’t get much easier. From editing to book design to sales, your authors need to believe that you have their best interests at heart. They need to trust you in order to let you do your job well. So earn their trust. Remind them that you are vested in them as well as their book by using language that’s uplifting and respectful, sending notes of encouragement, celebrating small and big milestones, compromising when you can, and standing your ground when you must.
Finding a balance between compromising and standing your ground is especially important in earning long-term trust. Time and again I’ve found that by learning when and when not to compromise, I’ve proven to my authors that I’m not looking to fight with them, but rather I’m committed to doing what’s best for their book, regardless of how popular it makes me in the moment. Believe it or not, every single time I’ve had to hold firm on a crucial issue, the author has come back after the book is published and said “thank you!”
A common area of tension is often found at the stage of book design. For example, one of our lead authors had really strong opinions on what she wanted for her book cover design. She had some experience working with designers and wanted to create her own book cover, but she was too close to the project and her concepts weren’t appealing enough to a broad audience. I knew she’d be doing herself a disservice, so I stood firm in our policy that we as the publisher must create the cover. I balanced the issue by communicating closely with the author and letting her give input on different drafts.
When I had to make the final decision, the cover was one we all could be proud of. The author has since come back several times to tell us how many people compliment her cover and to say that she’s grateful we stood by our convictions. To date, her book is one of our most successful titles.
2. Provide Guidance
The publishing process is lengthy and confusing for all of us, let alone for newcomers. You can’t expect that your authors will automatically know what to do or how to do it—especially when it comes to marketing their books. The more guidance you can offer, the more likely it is that they’ll succeed. At Light Messages, we’ve found this to be so true that we actually wrote and published Pub Light: A Publisher’s Introduction to Marketing Your Book in 10 Easy Steps (available at online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Each of our authors receives a copy, and the book is even available for purchase for other new authors who aren’t publishing with us. So far, our authors are grateful for the guidance and feel supported in their marketing role. The result? They’re more engaged and effective in marketing their books.
3. Make Connections Between Authors
Writing a book can be a lonely process. Selling that book can be even lonelier. We’ve found that helping our authors connect with one another gives them a morale boost and provides them with a support network that can help answer questions, encourage them, and provide advice when needed. A bit serendipitously, we even have a core group of women’s fiction authors all living within driving distance of each other in North Carolina. So we’ve organized a few “women’s author breakfasts” where the authors can connect face-to-face, share tips, and dish over a good cup of coffee.
Since not all of our authors live close to one another, we also look for ways to connect virtually. For example, we just started a private messaging stream in Facebook for some of our authors to share their daily word count as a way to encourage one another in their writing process. We also put our authors in touch via email and encourage them to write to one another as questions arise.
Whether in person or online, the result has always been positive—and we know that happy authors make for happy publishers.
4. Inspire Creative Thinking
When it comes to the topic of their book, authors are experts on the issue. They’ve researched the topic and related industries, they’ve spoken to leaders, and they’ve learned a lot along the way. So when it comes to marketing their book, ask your authors to think creatively within the context of their book instead of assuming that the traditional marketing strategies will work the same way for every book.
One example that worked well for us is with Robin Greene’s Real Birth, a collection of more than 40 true-life birthing narratives told by the mothers themselves. When we released the second edition of Real Birth, Robin wanted to connect with her readers, but we weren’t getting a lot of interest in a traditional bookstore reading and signing event. Working with our publicity intern, Robin was able to identify other ways she could connect to expectant mothers. As a result, we were able to schedule several workshops with Robin teaching women how to write and tell their own birthing stories. The workshops even led to an appearance on The State of Things, an NPR show in North Carolina.
5. Set Goals and Follow Up
Study after study has shown that we do better when we’re working toward an attainable goal. We do even better when we have accountability along the way. Work with your authors to set goals for everything from manuscript submission to edits to marketing, sales, and events. Follow up with them regularly, being sure to include a word of encouragement. Let them know if they’ve missed a goal and help them get back on track by offering sensible, practical tips. Hold firm to your own goals and ask them to hold you accountable, too. In the end, you’ll move forward as a team and do so much more with less.
Above all, when working with your authors, remember that you are dependent on one another to succeed. I encourage you not to look at your authors as adversaries or even as clients but instead to view them as partners and work with them as such. I think you’ll be pleased with the results—we certainly have been.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a senior editor at Light Messages Publishing in Durham, North Carolina. She also serves on the IBPA’s Board of Directors. Turnbull is the author of Bonnwit Kabrit and Janjak and Freda Go to the Iron Market her husband to start a small farm that will serve the restaurant where he’s chef and owner.