Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by ghostwriter, novelist and writing guide guru Andrew Crofts.
The Widest Range of Publishing Options Ever Available to Authors – But Who’s Going to Do the Marketing? by Andrew Crofts
Once upon a time there was really only one publishing option. If you couldn’t persuade a traditional publisher to make you an offer you pretty much had to give up on ever seeing your work move beyond manuscript stage. There was the possibility of “vanity publishing”, as self-publishing was known then, but the costs were exorbitant and without the internet it was virtually impossible to distribute and sell the resulting books beyond your own family circle.
Now however it is all different – up to a point.
As we speak, I am in the process of publishing several different books, one with the very traditional HarperCollins – (“Secret Child”, which I wrote with Gordon Lewis about his childhood in a home for single mothers in Dublin in the Fifties) – one with the selective, bespoke publisher Red Door – (“Chances”, an erotic love story which I ghosted for the author known only as “Penny”) – and one with Thistle Publishing, the enormously successful imprint run by literary agents Andrew Lownie and David Haviland, (“Pretty Little Packages” a novel about people-trafficking and modern slavery which was first published in 2001 under the title “Maisie’s Amazing Maids”, cover below).
The most obvious difference is in the offices they all inhabit. HarperCollins, being part of one of the biggest media corporations in the world, has just moved to a Thames-side tower block beside the Shard. The hushed, open-plan offices seem to stretch forever, merging into the view across the city below. Hundreds of young publishing people move silently amongst the white desks and glass meeting pods. Red Door, by contrast, happens in a converted barn behind the founder’s house. Clare Christian, who first set up and then sold The Friday Project, lives down the end of a seemingly ever-lasting lane, her family farm nestling beneath the picturesque South Downs. Meanwhile Thistle Publishing happens in Andrew Lownie’s elegant town house in a Dickensian street behind Westminster Abbey, from which he has been operating his extraordinarily successful literary agency for many years.
The first thought that occurs to me, therefore, is how many more books have to be sold to support a giant glass edifice beside the Thames than are needed to give a good living to a publisher or agent who works from home. I’ve published many books with HarperCollins however, and know that when they have their eye on the ball they are able to shift cartloads of the things into supermarkets around the country virtually overnight. The editors and publicity people who populate the shiny new glass pods are all as smart and market savvy as you would expect of employees of possibly the most voracious corporate titan in the world, but will they have time to concentrate on Secret Child when they have so many other books coming out at the same time?
So if all three can edit and design beautiful books, it all comes down to marketing muscle and public relations guile. Andrew Lownie and David Haviland, being agents, are both seasoned sales people who understand the publishing industry from grass roots upwards, including the absolute necessity to generate real sales if an author is to earn a living. Clare Christian worked at Hodder before she set out to build her own companies and is equally in touch with the realities of the marketplace.
So all three publishers know what is needed in terms of marketing, but in my lengthy experience it is nearly always the books which are assigned to public relations specialists which flourish the best, benefiting from individual expert attention.
Last year The Friday Project hired The Light Brigade consultancy to promote my memoir, “Confessions of a Ghostwriter”, which resulted in the book being reviewed everywhere and in a number of author profiles including a “Meet the Author” slot on BBC News. So, to help with the launch of “Chances” we hired Midas, the most famous of the publishing pr companies, and I ended up writing streams of promotional articles, and memorably doing seven back-to-back radio interviews in one day, a week of exposure culminating in a slot on Claudia Winkleman’s Radio 2 Arts Show.
And over everything in the publishing world falls the shadow of Amazon. Red Door are currently producing a bespoke hardback of my novel “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”, which was initially published by Amazon’s White Glove Service, (an adventure I wrote about here at the time). Again, publishing with Amazon worked just fine for as long as they were putting their marketing might behind it. The moment they stopped actively promoting the book, however, it immediately slid from sight and sales slowed to a trickle.
The moral of this story, therefore, would seem to be that no matter whether you publish through media giants like HarperCollins and Amazon, or boutique specialists like Red Door and Thistle, you always have to add some extra marketing magic to the mix. It is undoubtedly the easiest time ever to get a book published, but to get it to the attention of the general public and into the hands of readers is exactly as hard, and costly, as it has always been.
Thank you, Andrew. It was great to have you back. When I was doing the blog interviews, I asked authors for the downside of their writing life and I’d say 90% said marketing because it was so time-consuming.
Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing.
Andrew’s name first became known amongst publishers for the stories he brought them by the otherwise disenfranchised. Travelling all over the world he worked with victims of enforced marriages in North Africa and the Middle East, sex workers in the Far East, orphans in war-torn areas like Croatia and dictatorships like Romania, victims of crimes and abused children everywhere. He also worked with members of the criminal fraternity.
The enormous success of these books brought many very different people to his door; first came the celebrities from the worlds of film, music, television and sport, and then the real elite in the form of world leaders and the mysterious, powerful people who finance them, arm them and, in some cases, control them.
As well as using traditional publishers to reach readers, (including Arrow, Blake, Bloomsbury, Century, Ebury, André Deutsch, Hamish Hamilton, Harper Collins, Headline, Heinemann, Hodder, Hutchinson, Little Brown, Michael Joseph, McGraw Hill, Orion, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Pocket Books, Sidgwick & Jackson, Sphere and Weidenfeld & Nicolson), he has also experimented with e-books, publishing, Secrets of the Italian Gardener, which draws on his experience amongst the powerful and wealthy, and The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer, (a prequel to his traditionally published The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride, now filmed and appearing in episodes on YouTube’s This is Drama channel).
His books on writing include Ghostwriting, (A&C Black) and The Freelance Writer’s Handbook, (Piatkus), which has been reprinted eight times over twenty years and Confessions of a Ghostwriter (Friday Project).
Andrew’s website is http://andrewcrofts.com.
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on marketing are: Bill Munro, Carol Wyer 1, Carol Wyer 2, Catherine Lundoff, Christopher Profeta, CS Lakin, Gary Showalter, Eric Muss-Barnes, Feather Schwarz Foster, Heather Green, Jamie Cawley, Jane Wenham-Jones, Judith Marshall, Kathryn Jones, Kim Dalferes, Lev Raphael, Patricia Fry, Phyllis Zimbler Miller, Rachel Abbott 1, Rachel Abbott 2, Robert Rosen, Sarahjane Funnell, and Terri Morgan.
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