MIA Authors: The Challenge and
by Linda Carlson
The situation: it’s time to
plan promotion for a new title, so you pick up the phone to discuss appearances
and media interviews with the author.
The serious snag: “Appearances?
Interviews? I can’t do any book promotion, I’m . . . ”
And then you hear, “ . . . moving
to Ukraine for a year,” “ . . . agoraphobic,” “ . . . having a baby next
month,” “ . . . getting ready for chemo.” Or, worst of all, you hear that the
author has died.
Improbable, you think? Hardly.
These are examples of real challenges that publishers deal with—sometimes with
Just ask Nancy Hammerslough,
editor at Brown Barn Books in Connecticut, who left a message for the author of
a manuscript that was ready for the printer, only to receive a paralegal’s
notification of the writer’s death.
Or ask Duse McLean, whose Thistle
Press had just received 7,000 copies of <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Pioneers of Lake View at its
Seattle-area warehouse space when the author’s sister phoned to say he had
Promoting books by dead authors is
a major challenge even if you’re prepared. Most of Timeless Books’ titles were
written by someone who died in 1995, and marketing manager Kendra Ward is
blunt: “Marketing for these titles is not easy. There really is no substitute
for having a living, actively participating author.”
McLean seconds that. Before
of Lake View (which, ironically, is about a cemetery), she had
acquired rights to a once-popular guide to totems written by a well-respected—but
long-dead—historian. “People have called to talk to the author or to ask her to
do a presentation, all normal activities for such an expert, but with no
author, there is no possibility of that kind of visibility,” said the
publisher, who has sold 2,000 copies of the book in a decade (compared to
40,000 of her own walking tour guidebook, now in its seventh edition).
Alive but Not in Action
Of course, as other PMA members
report, “living” is not necessarily synonymous with “actively promoting.”
Eknath Easwaran’s books on
meditation have been published by Nilgiri Press of northern California since
1975, and although he lived until 1999, he wasn’t ever interested in making
appearances or being interviewed. Easwaran did, however, establish the Blue Mountain
Center of Meditation, which has helped promote his 28 books. They have now sold
some 1.2 million copies in the United States alone, says Gale Zimmerman,
Julie Graddy at Maupin House in
Florida has dealt with three authors who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—help with
promotion. One had returned to school by the time her book came out and was too
busy. Another wanted to appear only if she was guaranteed an audience of at
least 400. A third was ill.
Deborah Robson at Colorado’s Nomad
Press is dealing with the same issues: one author whose health limits
promotional activities, and another who announced, on the eve of her book’s
publication, that she was moving, so that a carefully planned regional
promotional campaign had to be scrapped.
Authors may not be willing or able
to help promote their books for many other reasons, especially if the title is
backlist. Perhaps the book royalties were assigned to a nonwriting spouse as
part of a divorce property settlement, or the book was created as a work for
hire, and the employer (which thus receives all the royalties) isn’t paying the
author to do promotion. Or maybe the book comprises material in the public
domain, in which case it’s likely the author isn’t still alive.
Filling the Marketing Gap
How can you meet the promotional
challenge a missing author creates? Depending on the reason for the author’s
limited availability, partial solutions exist.
At Nomad Press, for example, one
author with health issues made a commitment to help however she could, and
Nomad’s strategy also included budgeting more dollars for direct mail and more
time for creating high-quality ads and for promotion, such as a blog, that
doesn’t demand live and in-person appearances.
“While the blog is intended to
promote our entire, tightly focused niche, it seems especially beneficial for
this author’s books,” Robson notes.
Initially, the Nomad author taught
workshops and contributed designs to knitting magazines. In declining health,
she does fewer magazine pieces, but she still contributes to special issues and
books, and she’s been asked to provide samples of her current work for the blog
(“The print publications have been getting only the tip of this author’s
creative iceberg,” Robson notes). Also, the author does interviews, especially
Another strength Robson utilized:
“I’m sufficiently conversant with this author’s approach to teach occasional
workshops at regional and national conferences that focus on her knowledge.”
In short, Robson says, “I take on
as many authorial promotion responsibilities as I can while continuing as
publisher. How do I decide how much to do? I ask myself, ‘Would it be fun to do
X for that book?’ ‘Can I find time to do X well?’ And ‘Will doing X benefit our
entire line of books?’”
The Nomad Press effort shows:
today there are about 45,000 copies of the author’s books in print.
At Vedantic Shores Press in
California, Anna Hourihan shares one of Robson’s advantages. She worked closely
with her late husband on his books about the Vedanta philosophy of India, so
she is knowledgeable about the manuscripts he left for her to publish. Although
she hasn’t made many presentations about the first four titles, when review
copies prompt media inquiries, she is comfortable handling the interviews.
“Usually the interviewer wants to
know about my experience relating to the books and about self-publishing rather
than my husband’s philosophy,” she explains.
Vedantic’s most effective
marketing tool in the absence of an author has been mailings to bookstores that
specialize in spiritual and metaphysical publications.
In Toronto, where Timeless is
redesigning and editing its late author’s previously published books about yoga
and issuing material left unpublished at the author’s death, the staff compensates
by spending more on promotion and assuming what might ordinarily be an author’s
“We exhibit at yoga trade shows;
we send books out for review; we use such Web-based tools as e-newsletters and
online promotions; we do some advertising, place excerpts, and, when we can, we
have editors speak about the book,” says Ward. “There are many times that I rue
not having a living author to help promote it.”
At Nilgiri, the 10 Easwaran titles
that sell well are being reissued with new introductions by his widow. Some
will also include material from people who are teaching or practicing his
method of meditation. Promotion on the publisher’s Web site includes free
instructions for meditating and QuickTime audios of Easwaran reading meditation
“We’re beginning to expand
Easwaran’s audience through viral and ‘connected marketing,’ following the
principles of Justin Kirby and Paul Marsden,” Zimmerman adds, referring to the
editors of a book called Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution.
Moves That Make a
In contrast to large publishers,
who increasingly report that they want only authors who already have
“platforms,” some PMA members say they don’t count on authors to significantly
affect book sales.
At KOMENAR in northern California,
for instance, Charlotte Cook develops marketing plans assuming that her fiction
authors may be shy, ill prepared, or otherwise averse to promotional
activities. “This is not meant to be critical of an author, just a realistic
view,” she continues, adding that she considers a promotion-minded author a
Cook’s internal guidelines,
whether or not authors are promotion-minded:
Market the book first, the
publishing house second, and the author third.
Anticipate and limit situations
requiring the author’s sole attendance and look instead to create events for
two or more authors, even authors from other publishers, rather than put a
single author on the spot.
Create promotional materials that
reflect the publishing staff’s perceptions of the value of the book so that the
staff is always comfortable talking about a novel.
Other publishers’ strategies:
substitute speakers. To step in
for its ill author, Maupin House found a teacher who liked the book, and the
house is arranging for her to speak at appropriate conferences. Brown Barn
Books is benefiting from friends of the author who died unexpectedly; a couple
got themselves interviewed about the book and author on the NPR-affiliate
station in Arkansas, where they all lived. They’re also making presentations in
their hometown and in Arizona, where some winter. At Word Forge Books in
Pennsylvania, Mary Shafer plans to use the editor of a book of public-domain
material to explain why Word Forge decided to reissue the title and to make
public appearances to discuss its relevance to today’s audiences.
audio- or videocasts of the author.
Authors who cannot travel for appearances may be able to visit a studio for
taping. Together with material from earlier presentations, clips from these
tapes can become brief programs for your Web site. Depending on the book’s
audience and your budget, you may also be able to find locally produced
television programs that will air your short clips. Longer presentations can be
edited into a loop and played when you mount exhibits.
Getting videos produced in studios
can cost $1,000 or more, but Shafer at Word Forge favors a less-expensive
option: using an intern or a student freelancer and Adobe or other software.
“It’s not difficult to put one of these videos together,” she says. “If you
aren’t interested in producing your own video, check with your local high
school, tech institute, or community college to see if you can assign it to a
class as a real-world project. You can get good results this way, and pay only
for materials such as master tapes. However, be prepared for long lead
times—it’s usually a semester-long project.”
related videos. To promote books
that use material in the public domain, Shafer hopes to create presentations
using videos previously broadcast on PBS or other networks and to show them (or
parts of them) at schools, retirement homes, and other institutions. This
requires obtaining the rights to do that, of course.
email. Special-interest and trade
magazines and a few consumer publications are willing to conduct interviews via
the phone. Some radio stations
still do telephone interviews; some authors are comfortable making
presentations via speakerphone to book clubs or bookstore audiences.
material from the book to magazines and newspapers.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>“Offer the reporter stand-alone information that will
enhance a story—an excerpt, good sidebar material, a useful list or quiz,”
suggests Amy Dillahunt, Free Spirit Publishing publicity director.
Finally, publishers recommend
pursuing all the usual promotional opportunities that don’t require an active
author: awards programs, book clubs, reviews, cooperative displays at trade
shows and library conferences, the PMA mailings, Web pages for each title,
direct mail, and—budget permitting—pay-per-click advertising on search-engine
(lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where she is the very-much-alive author
of 11 books, including the recent <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest
(University of Washington Press).