The publishing industry is in a mess.
I have just spent the last six months working with a well known literary agent who has been trying to sell my latest book to one of the big five publishing houses. I am a nationally known expert my field, have written 3 previous books and over 150 scientific publications, and maintain my own website and blog. I wrote a comprehensive marketing plan, as part of the 80 page book proposal, and committed $25,000 of my own money to pay for half of this. My agent loves the book, thinks it has great sales potential, and has really tried hard to sell it. But to no avail.
Why is this?
It’s simple. I am not famous enough. I don’t have a large enough public platform. I am not regularly on TV. While I am well known in my own field, I am not a celebrity in the public sense. I have never been on American Idol. I don’t do reality shows. I’m not a politician, a world class athlete, a news anchor or a sex goddess.
My agent’s advice was simple. Become famous. Market yourself online. Become a TV Doc, or work with one. Develop yourself as a ‘brand’ and increase your public platform. When you are famous, come back and I will resell your book proposal.
His message was that selling books nowadays is 90% marketing, and 10% writing. You have to have a good idea, of course, and it helps if you can write a bit, or find someone to do it for you, but the key to becoming a commercially successful author is fame. Look at Sarah Palin. Her second book in six months is being sold on the basis of her national platform. Who would have ever thought that she would be classified as a best selling author? But she is. My agent is right.
Publishers no longer spend much time on marketing, unless they are dealing with a famous (bankable) author. Most books fail to sell. Most publishers give up on a book if it hasn’t sold well within the first eight weeks. It is now the authors job to do the marketing as well as the writing. And with the number of books being sold each year in steep decline, as TV and the Internet take over our spare time, the situation is not surprising.
So now authors have this catch-22. You have to be famous before you write your book. No longer can you expect your book to make you famous. The cycle has shifted back a notch.
What a strange world we live in. I am going to try and be famous, so that I can publish my book, and become more famous. Does this make sense?