Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lesson 8: Who's Responsible for Making the Book Sell?

The author. Always. Still, there are things the publisher can do to help or hurt sales, and you want your contract to add the "helps" and eliminate the "hurts."

On the helps side, you want the publisher to do as much promotion as possible. Once upon a time, the publisher took the primary responsibility for marketing. Today, that is no longer the case. Still, the publisher wants to see the book succeed, so it may at least agree to send out advance reader copies and press kits and provide postcards or bookmarks (or give you a copy of the artwork so you can make your own). If the publisher says it will create a trailer or sponsor a book tour, the contract should spell that out. If the publisher won't agree to put its promises in writing, assume you will be doing all the promotion on your own.

Some contracts explicitly turn the historical relationship around and require the author to self-promote the book. For most of us, a clause that requires us to use our best efforts to promote the book is not a problem. After all, we want to do what we can to make our baby successful. But beware of clauses that include objective measurements or require promotional activities that are beyond your time, resources, or talents.

Ideally, the contract should also tell you how much of the book you can reproduce for promotional purposes. Can you post three chapters on your website? Or one? Or none? Even assuming you still own the copyright, you are leasing most or all of the publication rights to your publisher. So you could violate the contract if you use more than the publisher allows.

On the hurts side, the wrong title, front-cover design, or back-cover copy could damage your sales, so try to retain as much control over them as you can. The publisher often has a better feel for what makes a title work than the author does, so you always want to listen to suggestions. The same is true for the back-cover copy. Still, publishers can make mistakes. Although few publishers will allow you full control over the title and back-cover copy, some will give you approval rights. If yours won't, try for a provision that says the publisher will consult with you. That doesn't guarantee the publisher will listen to your comments, but most will try to find a compromise.

The publisher usually creates and pays for the front-cover design, so the author is not likely to get approval rights. It's also hard to get consultation rights, but you can at least ask for them and see what the publisher says.

The author and the publisher have the same goal: to sell as many books as possible.

But you still want to maximize the helps and minimize the hurts.

Kathryn Page Camp

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