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Authors Behaving Badly

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We’re an eight-year-old press specializing in the Chicago area and its history. Up until this past year, our crew of “accessible authors” who are “committed to sharing their love and knowledge of Chicago” has been the bedrock of our mutual success. That’s our angle, our position, what our marketing materials proclaim.

Then there was a recent reckoning by our staff. We had to face the fact that, over the last 12 months, there were 12 author no-shows for events, two times when authors didn’t provide reporters from major papers with requested photos because they didn’t feel like dropping them off, umpteen times when we fielded calls from reporters and librarians because our authors never called them back, and a growing trend among some of our authors to turn down events because the pay’s not good enough (even when they’re allowed to sell books and keep a 40% commission).

In short, many of our authors seem to have become relentlessly unsatisfiable in the current economy. As their sales are drying up, so are they. They don’t have an ounce of energy to promote their books, but they have a ton of it for handing us “to do” lists and berating us with variations of “What have you done for me lately?” They seem to have forgotten that we’ve become known locally for our author promotion because, uh, we have had authors who willingly promoted their books!


Switching the Focus

We’re taking measures to remedy this, including adding marketing provisions into our contracts, choosing new authors more carefully, creating a marketing handbook for authors (we already give them 1001 Ways to Market Your Books), having informal quarterly author get-togethers to swap ideas and keep morale up, sending out a weekly e-mail to authors with book promotion ideas, and, of course, giving our authors more positive strokes.

Still, the best solution we’ve come up with is to remove our authors from some of the limelight and make the press itself the centerpiece of our marketing. We, as a company, are devoted to Chicago and sharing our love and knowledge of the city. Now that’s a true statement. So far, we’ve parlayed this into a feature article in Crain’s Chicago Business, speaking events for me, a regular Chicago history column for a local newspaper, my participation in special events at the Chicago Historical Society, staff participation at the upcoming city book fair, and more.

While we do hope that in the future our authors as a whole will be in line with our company’s philosophy, this rethinking of our marketing strategies has expanded our promotional opportunities and given us a solid and profitable alternative to authors behaving badly.

Is anybody out there having the same problems? If so, I’d welcome a chance to hear about your experiences and your solutions. Or is it just us?

Sharon Woodhouse is the Founder and Publisher of Lake Claremont Press in Chicago, Illinois. You can e-mail her at sharon@lakeclaremont.com. If she receives enough good ideas from other publishers who are dealing with this issue, Sharon will compile them into a follow-up article.

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