As a seasoned book publicist who doubles as a literary agent, I sometimes stumble on evolving trends that give me a unique perspective into the publishing business. Here is an example. This afternoon I've been calling chain bookstores in the Los Angeles area trying to set up a signing event for an author who is a publicity client. A few years ago this was a fairly simple process--call the store, tell them when the author would be in town, set up a signing date 6 weeks to 2 months in advance of the event so that the store could order books and announce the event in their newsletter.
Not so easy now. The events managers I spoke to wanted to know what the author's connections were to the bookstore's neighborhood. Could the author provide a 150+ mailing list with LA zip codes? It seems the competition is so fierce for signings in big metropolitan areas like LA that authors have to come equipped with their own fan club--folks who the store can be certain will show up and buy books.
This situation speaks to just how competitive the book business is--from query to book promotion--you've got to be head and shoulders ahead of your brethren if you expect to make it. If you are fortunate enough to snag an agent who is fortunate enough to snag a publisher you are still not home free. Often times the publisher's publicity staff is small and overworked and you will be expected to play a huge part in the publicity program to get attention for your book. Sometimes that means contacting all your Facebook friends and asking them to come to your book signing. You may need to call Aunt Lucy and Uncle Herbert too--authors can't be shrinking violets anymore.
Traditional venues for book reviews and media interviews are shrinking, unfortunately--especially book reviews.
Galley Cat, a fabulous source of book publishing wisdom says, "Space, resources, and freelance budgets are shrinking at traditional book review outlets. But one thing hasn't decreased: the number of incoming galleys."
Check the photo above: Galley Cat says, "You are looking at the July fiction reviews bookshelf of the Philadelphia Inquirer. These are the galleys that the Inquirer is considering for reviews during the month of July. Mind you, this is only the fiction section; the nonfiction section has a cabinet with just as many galleys waiting for review. This is only for the month of July, and these are the survivors after a severe winnowing down of all the galleys the newspaper received for this month." [Note: Yen Cheong, Viking/Penguin assistant director of publicity and author of the excellent "Book Publicity Blog," is collecting photos of book reviewers' "to be read" piles.]
Sobering, huh? But this is important information for any aspiring author. You need to know that publishing a book is a mammoth achievement. If you want to capitalize on that achievement, you need to do everything in your power to become a publicity-oriented author. Write a blog, give speeches, visit schools, keep yourself informed by reading everything you can get your hands on. Books are still being published, books are still being reviewed and authors are still being interviewed. It's just much harder in this brave new world.