Getting Books Noticed in Today’s Cluttered World

Checking in on current challenges in book marketing in the United States:

“People get interested when others start getting angry”

By Babette Dunkelgrün – first posted in June 2014.

For this month’s article in 2 Seas Agency’s popular Publishing Industry Insights series, our guest contributor Babette Dunkelgrün talks to Janelle Agius, Senior Marketing Associate at HarperCollins US. Working for an imprint that centers on personal growth and religion titles, her message is one of cautious optimism about a challenging industry.

Babette: What’s the definition of a solid book publisher in today’s world?

Janelle: A solid book publisher is one that knows how to attract and acquire talent, who knows how to take care of their authors, give them solid editorial advice, and support them with a sales force, marketing and publicity. There are many publishers who can get the book printed, but where there is no follow-up to help get the book out in the world. What good is getting your book published by a publisher if they don’t (or can’t) get any exposure for it? At that point you may as well self-publish.

Babette: How do you feel about what publishers offer authors, if you compare it to self-publishing?

Janelle: Publishing professionals know the market. They can help an author position themselves appropriately in the marketplace because they have a perspective on what sells and what else is out there. Even those who self-publish and manage to obtain some level of success often get picked up by a larger publisher. Why would an author do that if publishers didn’t offer something they can’t do themselves? There’s also the production side, the design of the cover and interior pages, which people who consider self-publishing don’t usually think about. And the sales department gets books distributed, displayed, and sold into bookstores. Self-published authors do not know how to get their books distributed in stores outside of their own website or Amazon’s self-publishing platform.

Babette: What type of changes have you seen in the number of outlets available for reviews? What experiences, events or platforms are relevant to your job?

Janelle: I’m definitely seeing more social reading platforms like Goodreads and Riffle, and more online communities like Shelf Awareness and Book Riot that have reviews and other valuable content for readers.

Babette: As someone who has been in this field for several years, do you want to say a few words about what you do to bring in young readers who may not yet be familiar with your books?

Janelle: It’s about grabbing attention, whether it’s by an interview on a popular radio or TV show, or getting someone popular to blog about it or support it in another way. It’s also about showing potential readers why they need to read our book. For example, we publish a lot of religion titles. The best way to get people to pay attention to our books is to be a bit controversial and/or provocative, to let people know that our book has a new perspective on an evergreen topic. It also helps if someone hates the book and starts talking loudly about it, the way some condemned and spoke out against Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. People get interested when others start getting angry.

Babette: How concerned are you, a publishing professional, about Amazon?

Janelle: I’m concerned that they are going to put more bookstores out of business. They provide the cheapest option for buying books as well as other products. I admit I buy books from Amazon. I’m ashamed when I do, but I can’t always afford to buy hardcovers at retail. However, in the end, I think it’s better to buy the book and support the author than not buy a book at all.

Babette: What are a few things authors could do to improve their publishing partnerships within coming years?

Janelle: I think authors could do better with the realization that they need to work for their exposure. Publishers can do a lot for authors, but authors need to know how to speak publicly, tour, and work on their platform, including social media. Publishing is a partnership. We might be able to get an author on Fresh Air, but it’s up to them to be interesting and engaging on the show. We can’t do that for them.

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