In Which My Pie-In-The-Sky Cluelessness Is Revealed

An email pal who works in marketing at a major house noticed the link from yesterday’s paperback post (readers’ responses forthcoming) to an old post of mine entitled “Self-fulfilling prophecy? Is fiction really dead or are publishers killing it?” She begs to differ with a major thrust of my argument:

I have to disagree with your read of book marketing in the death of fiction post (which I must have missed the first time around). The marketing departments at corporate publishing houses don’t really wield the kind of power you’re crediting them with.

Whenever an editor has to deal with an angry author or agent they tend to blame the marketing department, but in corporate publishing marketing budgets are nearly always a percentage of the estimated print run, which is usually determined by nothing more scientific than the advance. For most books, the scope of the campaign was decided way back when the book was acquired, long before the actual marketing campaign was developed. Editors and agents know this, and if they blame the marketing wonks they are passing a buck that rightfully belongs with them — they knew what they were getting into when they inked the deal, and if they didn’t someone was lying to someone.

Fiction, generally, doesn’t have enough change left in the P&L to pay for a decent marketing campaign. The way to solve the problem would be to waive the advance and invest in a marketing budget – but no author believes in their own book that much.

And that evidence about fiction sales vs non-fiction isn’t anecdotal. I’ve seen the numbers at [name of publishing house omitted], and they are sobering. Fiction, especially literary fiction, is a tiny market. Many of the books that are getting covered aren’t clearing 10,000 copies in hardcover — many are clearing much less. The smallest of advances usually assumes the book will clear 10,000 life to date, and when that doesn’t happen (which is more common than people like
to admit), publishers lose money.

Practically speaking, most corporate publishers aren’t publishing, they are optioning. (Which is why I’m trying to get out of the business — that and the realization that chick lit actually still sells just kills me)


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