3 things I thought you knew about book publishing (but I guess you don’t)

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

I’ve been connected to the book publishing industry in some form for a long time. My first experience being overwhelmed by what is now Book Expo America happened in the 1980s; my first book was published by Kensington in 1995.

I’ve stayed with it since then, watching and learning as the industry has evolved. While some things have remained the same, others have changed dramatically. For example, good word-of-mouth is still your best marketing tool, so your book had better be damn good. On the other hand, while self-publishing was limited to vanity presses when I wrote my first book proposal in the early ’90s, more than 1 million books were self-published in 2017.

Recently, an observation from a veteran author made me start re-visiting some of the presumptions I was making about who knows what about the business of book publishing today. My first thought when I read that online comment was, “Really? You didn’t know that?”

But it got me thinking about why the observation surprised me. Because of that, I started paying more attention to patterns in questions and comments in online groups. I wanted to learn more about “missing” information that I thought most knew.

With that in mind, here are three things you should know before it’s too late. They are things I thought you knew, but I’ve discovered you probably don’t.

1. A traditional book publishing contract isn’t an option for most authors-to-be.

It is harder and harder for even a professional writer to get a publishing contract for a great idea. In the past, if you were a solid writer with an interesting idea, you had a shot at getting a deal that would pay an advance against royalties with a publisher that assumed all publishing costs.

That has changed. Now, that solid pro needs a platform — a built-in audience waiting to buy the book — in addition to a great idea. That writer might even have to collaborate with a content expert.

So … if you are completely new to the writing world and your question is “Should I try to get a publisher or should I self publish?,” the answer is probably, “Self publish.

(For more information, read “Traditional publishing or self-publishing?”, including the helpful reader comments.)

2. Readers don’t care when your book was published.

This is important because too many authors think book marketing stops right after the launch.

That’s a big mistake.

Fiction readers want a good story that’s well-written. It doesn’t matter if it came out three months or three years ago. They just want to be entertained.

Nonfiction readers want useful, relevant information they can trust. The publication date for nonfiction matters only when the industry has changed enough that a book written five years ago, for example, is out of date.

Obviously, a book about a technology topic has a shorter shelf life than the biography of a historical figure, but readers don’t lose interest in that tech book in three months.

You should be promoting your book as long as it’s available for purchase, so stop thinking you can’t because it isn’t “new.”

3. Even authors with traditional publishing contracts have to promote their books.

The most common author comment related to this is, “I thought my publisher was going to do more to support my book.


I don’t know who’s responsible for managing author expectations about what publishers will and won’t do to promote any author’s book. Maybe it’s the agent. Or the editor. Or the in-house publicist.

In any case, even if you’ve received an advance to write a book, you’re expected to contribute to the marketing. That’s why the marketing section of a proposal is so important.

Publisher support varies and depends on a number of factors. In most cases, your publisher will at least write a book announcement press release and send it with review copies. Sometimes the publisher will set up your website, support a virtual book tour, or add your book into its social media rotation.

The marketing support for your book is usually limited to a couple of months before and after your publication date. After that, you’re flying solo as your in-house publicist moves on to a very long list of titles that also deserve attention.

If you’re new to the industry, give yourself the gift of knowledge. Learn as much about book publishing and marketing as you can before you get too far into that manuscript.

The more you know in advance, the more likely you are to write a book that people will want to read. And that’s what it’s all about.

What have you learned about book publishing or marketing that you wish you had learned a lot sooner?

Sandra Beckwith is an author and national award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to save thousands of dollars by doing their own publicity, promotion, and marketing. You might have seen her on “The Montel Williams Show” or “CBS This Morning,” or read about her in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Her website, BuildBookBuzz.com, has been named a top website for authors and writers three times and is ranked the 7th best globally for book marketing information.

A longer version of this article appears on the Build Book Buzz blog.