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March 20, 2008



Jeez, I wish I could post my comments on the front page...

Lee Child

Alex and Dusty are both right. Everything works. Literally everything. I don't think there is anything I have ever done that hasn't produced at least a couple of readers. Years later one fan told me she tried my books because I greeted someone politely at a conference, and she thought, he's a gentleman, I should try his books.

But Dusty is right because getting a couple of readers at a time is obviously at the cost-ineffective end of the scale.

So obviously the question is what makes the big impact?

And, problematically, the answers we hear tend to ignore the 800-lb gorilla in the room, which is that everything we talk about in blogs like these addresses only the tiny grains of sand scattered in front of the huge mountain - and the huge mountain is expensive, committed, unrelenting support from a major publisher ... specifically, penetration to every conceivable point of sale. Advertising and reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. The real effort (and cost and expertise) goes into making sure that your book is actually for sale everywhere. If your book is in the 20-slot rack at the airport or the drugstore, it will sell purely by the law of averages to one in 20 customers.

So, should authors without massive publisher support do nothing? No, because being proactive is a kind of "audition" for the moment when a publisher decides who exactly to back in a big way. There are always five or six contenders, and being a helpful, motivated person can tip the decision your way.


An excellent, if somewhat depressing point, Lee. So, in your considered opinion, what actions would be the most likely to impress a publisher?

Alexandra Sokoloff

I don't ever like to flatter Lee too much because, well, it's redundant, but THIS is pure gold:

"...being proactive is a kind of "audition" for the moment when a publisher decides who exactly to back in a big way. There are always five or six contenders, and being a helpful, motivated person can tip the decision your way."

THANK YOU for that - it's what I have been suspecting but it's really, really nice to have someone who knows confirm it.

I feel much better now.

Also, for Patrick if he's still here - some past gold from Mr. Montgomery on what works:


Lee Child

Dusty -

I need to be careful (in this year of Obama) not to prescribe yesterday when we need to think about tomorrow ... in other words, what worked for me in the past might not work in the future. But generally, it's an attitude thing ... or a sensibility thing. You have to tiptoe the line between being engaged and being pesky. Which often means thinking very carefully about your publisher's feelings. Example: about 800 of the airport edition of my first book were remaindered by my UK publisher. I bought them all and privately arranged for them to be given away to vacationers on the trains to the Heathrow and Gatwick airports. There was thereafter a decent spike in sales of the other (few, at that point) titles. So, good idea? No. My publisher was annoyed that I had devalued the brand (so bad we have to give them away??) and airport retailers were cross that potentially 800 sales had been preempted, because now 800 travelers had something to read for free.

Conversely I did a similar thing in New York - at Grand Central, with books bought at my author discount - and it worked very well and my US publisher was very happy. It's a question of sensing what your publisher secretly wants you to do, or not.

Arrange coverage with your local paper? Maybe your publicist will be delighted - or maybe she'll be furious, because she was looking for better timing, or was preparing a bigger package with a rival paper.

The You Tube type of ad falls into this category. Will your publisher be delighted? Or feel undercut by an inferior product she hasn't controlled?

I think far more time must be spent quantifying this type of fallout. You have to press hard on the "helpful" line without crossing into "pain in the ass" territory. So, what impresses publishers is what doesn't annoy them.


I also think Lee is absolutely right. I do not necessarily subscribe to the pro-active bit, because I think ultimately nothing but anticipated reader response will motivate the publisher. All of the options open to the author (trailers and book signings and blogging) are inadequate and won't produce the numbers the publisher wants. For me, the only thing that really works and that I truly rely on is reviews. (And of course an award nomination wouldn't hurt either).

Victor Gischler

I rather like the trailers Bantam Dell did for SUICIDE SQUEEZE and SHOTGUN OPERA. Did I suddenly gain 50,000 extra readers? No. But I didn't spend a penny, and since the trailers were mostly fast-moving graphics and music, I don't think Bantam spent much either. I don't see how they could hurt.


Elaine Flinn

"You have to press hard on the "helpful" line without crossing into "pain in the ass" territory. So, what impresses publishers is what doesn't annoy them."

Oh, boy - wish I'd known Lee when I first started out. Being a 'self-starter' most of my life, I set up signings, sent copies to reviewers, and then contacted the book buyer at Costco. I'd sent the buyer an introduction letter, and a copy of my book. Proud as punch with my deeds, I told my agent and editor - and they both hit the roof and more or less told me to mind my own business and stay out of areas in which I had no expertise. I was stunned. I thought I was supposed to do what I could to help with promotion. I humorously told them that if, as an antiques dealer, I could successfully sell five and six figure antiques, I sure as hell had acquired some 'expertise' over the years.

They didn't think that was funny. Was I confused? You bet your ass I was. But at least I had the last laugh when my first book managed to garner four nominations, and the second book took home the Barry.

Needless to say, I'm no longer with that editor, or agent.

I guess the upshot of my rambling is - do all you can - hope to hell it works - and remember that it's all a crap shoot in the end.

Sandra Ruttan

What I really appreciate from Elaine's anecdote, and from Lee's comments, is the point that you shouldn't just do things for the sake of doing them. You have to think strategically, and you also need to develop a sense of what your publisher's interests are.

What I wish is that when you signed with a publisher, they had a little pdf download that had a contact list for who to talk to about what, and a basic tips guide - what they do, what things you can do if you choose.

I think we're used to the constant stories about lack of publisher support, and the "push push push" mantra associated with marketing. Newer people enter the scene and make blunders because they're inexperienced, but the market isn't always forgiving, nor are industry people. There is a sense, watching some, that they're like chickens running around with their heads cut off, and they have no idea if what they're doing is effective or not, but they're keeping busy.

Everyone talks about the few readers picked up, but we don't talk about what's harder to gauge - how many readers have been turned off.

I've listened to all the doom and gloom. I've certainly seen some people who appear, from a limited perspective, to achieve some success with extremely pushy marketing. I want my publisher to feel I'm invested, but at the same time there's a limit to what's feasible. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis on everything... and wherever possible, communicate.

The team at Dorchester has been wonderful, and they had some real surprises for me. In light of some recent news, I actually asked if I should make myself available to come to the US to do some B&N signings or not. After discussing that, it was agreed it wasn't the best use of my time and resources. If I was here, great. If not, don't go out of my way. I'm glad I talked to them. It enabled me to maintain my focus on other marketing options without worrying about my schedule or finances.

People want a quick and dirty formula, and that doesn't exist, but the writing comes first. If you don't have a book worth reading, it won't matter to me how clever your sales tactics are.


Bunch of sycophants.


I think it's "flock of sycophants" and "bunch of cranks."

JT Ellison

This must be a record for me, two comments in two days.

Tomorrow on Murderati, I'm hosting another extensive interview with Putnam Publisher and Editor in Chief Neil Nyren. I asked him some of the same questions that have been floating around this week.

His answers may surprise some, and will certainly enlighten. Between Lee's gracious comments and Neil's forthright answers, we may be making some leaps in understanding what works and what doesn't this week.

toni mcgee causey

I agree that Lee nailed it with the idea of making a strategic choice. When I originally made my trailer for the first Bobbie Faye book, I wasn't making it for the reader, per se. I had sold on the basis of three chapters and had to finish the book and go through the publication process and I knew it was going to be a year-and-a-half or more between that sale and the book arriving in the store. I wanted to have something on hand for the sales reps to see, and for store managers. Something that would brand the humor / caper nature.

Well, my publisher loved it and made copies of it and sent it out with ARCs. They gave a tremendous number of DVDs away that included that trailer (and they designed a DVD cover which was fantastic). Did I get a ton of readers from it? I'll probably never know, thought my site got a very nice number of hits for a while when it was new. (And I'd do one half the length next time, which I think would have appealed more.) But two years later, I'm still being contacted for interviews or to participate in events based on having that trailer up, so it's working for me without my having to push.

Will I do it again? I'm toying with something that I think would be very funny, very short, and would keep the sort of brand I was trying to establish. Would I say it's a must-do? Absolutely not. I think it helped that I was straddling genres and the trailer pegged what the tone of my book was. I think it helped to have something for the sales reps to use. I don't think any trailer will necessarily ever start reaching beyond the choir until they become something akin to the superbowl ads -- surprising, different, visually grabbing -- and then, we'd still need to see them delivered via iTunes or via some major distributor.

And as soon as that happens, it'll be cluttered and then we'll have to come up with some other way to stand out. That's just evolution of the marketing process.

I appreciate Lee talking about the mountain in the room we mostly don't talk about. Nothing can substitute for that kind of backing, but being a team player sure can go a long way to encouraging a marketing team and PR team to want to work with an author.

Alexandra Sokoloff

That train giveaway example is fascinating. It sounded like such a good idea at the beginning of your story, and then...

But this is confusing:

"It's a question of sensing what your publisher secretly wants you to do, or not."

Is there a reason it's a secret? Isn't the best strategy to run ideas by your publisher before you do them so you KNOW you're avoiding annoying them?

J.D. Rhoades

Thanks for you thoughts on this, Lee. I'd observe that the part about showing your publisher you're willing to be a "helpful, motivated person" is nearly identical to some of the advice the oft-maligned Mr. Konrath has been generous enough to share with me as well.

Lee Child


"Isn't the best strategy to run ideas by your publisher before you do them so you KNOW you're avoiding annoying them?"

Of course, ideally. But they're human, busy, preoccupied, sometimes not clear exactly what you're proposing, unwilling to play the bad guy, etc, etc. So you have to listen between the lines and put yourself in their shoes.


" ... nearly identical to some of the advice the oft-maligned Mr. Konrath has been generous enough to share ... "

You bet. I love Joe like a brother, and I know his shoulders are broad enough for this: his career kind of proves my point. No one has done more - no one has done even a tenth of what he has - of the incidental stuff, but he's not yet an international mega-seller ... so why not? Because the incidental stuff is incidental. Nothing can stand in for expensive, committed, unrelenting support from a major publisher. Joe is a writer of rare talent, and it's an easy bet that if his publisher does kick in big, he will be huge. He's our test case, in a way.

David J. Montgomery

Having observed what publishers can do for a book when they really want to push it, it's heartbreaking to see how little they do for the rest of them.


That's right David. It is. Publishers only have the time and money to push a small percentage of what they publish.

No matter how right or wrong any individual advice is the basic truth is no one can or will buy a book they do not know exists.

If the publisher is going to let everyone know your book exists then sit back and stop worrying.

If they aren't and you care about writing another book then you have to figure out how to stay alive in the game long enough to write the book the publisher will finally get behind.

I wish there was a less frustrating answer but there isn't.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Lee - thanks, got it. And I guess there's also a problem of not everyone at the house being on the same page about what they want you to be doing.

MJ, you've summed it up bluntly and brilliantly: " You have to figure out how to stay alive in the game long enough to write the book the publisher will finally get behind."



Thanks Alex... you know I actually woke up this morning thinking about this thread of comments... not sure I should admit that but...

I think the single most difficult and yet liberating moment I had in publishing was when I found out that ultimately my success depended not on me or the reader, not on my talent or the responsiveness of the audience but by the vagaries of the publishing industry.

That truth was provided to me by a friend, who happens to be a very good agent, one day over lunch, when he simply said, no matter what you do for your book, you can’t make yourself a bestseller.

And he was right. It’s the same thing Lee said. Only a publishing house can get behind a book to the extent that must exist for a book to take off and become a bestseller. And it takes the whole house – from your editor all the way up to the publisher - to anoint your book and say – this is it – this is the one of the two or five or ten books this year that we are going to give “it” to – it being the push” onto the list.

And when “it” happens – you know it. “It” authors don’t wonder if enough is being done for their books, don’t wait for phone calls that never come telling them what the print run is or if they are getting two weeks of co-op or not.

Since most of us here are novelists or deal with fiction – lets stay with fiction. There are over 8000 novels published by traditional publishers a year. So what are the 7500 of us who aren’t already bestsellers or who are not going to be anointed this year to do?

That’s where the issue really is, isn’t it?

Lee mentioned Joe Konrath as someone who has done everything possible to make himself a superstar and yet isn’t a bestseller yet.

I could argue there quite a few things he still could do but for the sake of the argument, Lee’s right – he’s a great example. (Sorry, Joe.)

Has he failed? Fuck no.

He is still being published. He is still getting paid to write novels. As opposed to the hundreds - or probably thousands – of writers who published their first novel the same year Joe did but are no longer writing at all. Some who as talented as Joe, some even more talented (no offense, Joe) who will never be heard from again.

The difference is “staying alive” that I mentioned in my previous comment. Joe is fighting to stay alive and doing what it takes and he’s winning.

Yes, it’s great to be a bestseller and it certainly is an admirable goal. But the truth is 99% of authors won’t even have a chance at that golden ring if they don’t stay alive long enough to write the book that the publisher is going to get behind and anoint.

There are the occasional meteoritic rises to success. Every year, of the 8000+ novelists who get published, there will be five debuts that make the list because they were anointed and the system worked.

Those five aren’t worth analyzing. They are the lottery winners – the five with just the right book and just the right agent at just the right time to just the right publisher who has just the right line up with just the right foresight to make it happen.

The list of authors to pay attention to and learn from are the other 99% on the bestseller list who got there after 5, 7, 10, or 18 books. Jodi Picoult became a bestseller with her 8th. Janet Evanovitch with the her18th. Carol O’Connell, who is one of my favorite writers, made it last year with her 10th.

It’s a rare author who gets anointed right off the bat.

Your goal can’t be to make yourself a bestseller – because as my friend told me at lunch and as Lee said – you can’t do that yourself and you’ll just eat yourself up alive with aggravation.

But you can help write better and better books. You can become educated about marketing and promotion and do something to help your career. Joe Konrath has done it. I’ve done it. I can list hundreds of authors who are still in the game because they’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace.

The bottom line is if you want a to keep writing you’re going to have to work with your publisher to find out where you stand and then do as much as you can to stay alive.

And to do that you have to accept to some degree that – and I say it so often it should be tattooed to my forehead – no one can buy a book they don’t know exists.

You don’t have to help your book. We’re authors not publishers. Not marketers. We got in this to write. Not to spend our advances on marketing. But this is the business we’re in. Publishers don’t have the time or money or ability to treat every book equally. So no matter what you choose to do – at least choose. Then you’ll never look back and wonder if you could have made a difference in your career because regret really sucks.


So no matter what you choose to do – at least choose.


David J. Montgomery

Check out this interview with Neil Nyren over on Murderati for more thoughts on publishing, promotion, etc.

Doug Riddle

There is an old saw in advertising...."Half of all advertising dollars are wasted, problem is no one knows which half."

And an example of how little things really change, 20 years ago while in college I had a professor who was a midlist author, and he had the same complaints and concerns as many I have seen posted in the last couple days.


There's a bit someplace in PG Wodehouse about the same stuff. Though without the Quicktime podcasts.

David Thayer

Sadly I believe book trailers find their point of reference in corporate films with titles like REBAR: THE MISUNDERSTOOD CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL. Publishing is not a sexy business ( unlike construction) and no amount of borrowing from Hollywood or Madison Avenue alters that basic fact. Books and authors break out for reasons that defy logic. I have great hopes for ELEVATED ROAD BEDS: FOUR THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW.
The video depicts concrete as it cures.

Douglas Clegg

This is a fascinating discussion. I can completely see where people are coming from who haven't yet done a book trailer for their books, or whose publishers haven't.

The only thing that sells books is a bookstore.

What a book trailer does:

1. On a website, it gives the visitor a reason to spend an extra minute or so at the site, with the title and author in mind. As anyone who makes a website knows, you want visitors to linger as long as possible before clicking away.

2. When my book trailer for The Lady of Serpents went on more than 220 social networking video sites, it meant thousands of people online who like to watch videos had a chance to see it. Many more than 10,000 did see it (I stopped counting last summer at 10,000.)

3. I could use it for a regional TV advertising campaign, where for a very inexpensive price, I could reach just over a million viewers on a few cable channels that leaned toward the genre of my novel -- and voila, the trailer became a TV commercial.

4. The trailer's up on several online retailer's sites, including Amazon, BN.com, Powells, and others.

5. I had a DVD made of the trailer and sent it out to a few hundred bookstores as part of a promo package. I think it's better than a pen or a bookmark.

6. Additionally, the book trailer raises awareness for sales and marketing and other departments at the publishing company, too. I don't think in-house interest can be underestimated in terms of how it plays a part in this. We all like to watch videos online. Go in any corporate office and you'll see videos -- of various kinds -- being passed around.

All I wanted was awareness of my name and the title. That's it. The rest is up to other people, but if they've never heard of me or my book, I'm not even at square one.

No advertising can control the sales of a book. Sales are up to the publisher and the bookseller, both.

But a book trailer is another module of promoting a book and allowing potential readers who might not have heard of my fiction to check it out.

Nothing will make someone overcome basic inertia to buy a book except availability of the book and awareness of that potential book buyer to the author name, title, and cover -- and a desire to want it. Word of mouth only exists when people have already been reading the book or the author's work.

Booksellers and publishers nudge this along with ads, co-op placement, book tours, etc.

A video about the book, an author interview, a commercial promoting the book, and a book trailer all can be part of that.

Additionally, on the internet, people love videos. That's the bottom line of this. After video, they love audio.

After audio, text.

Writers work in the text-based universe. Now, many people online love reading online.

But I suspect more people -- particularly younger ones -- love watching videos online.

Particularly brief ones.

Many publishers at this point are pushing videos about the books and authors as online content.

They're doing this simply because we all like visuals online, from the book covers to the videos to the author photos.

So, to me, it's not a matter of: does a book trailer sell books?

It's: Does a book trailer promote and reinforce a writer's name and the book's title?

Sometimes other writers ask me why I go to COS to get my videos made. One of the reasons is simple: Sheila Clover English virtually invented the 'book trailer' concept as such in terms of mirroring a movie trailer with scenes suggested by the book, often using actors and performers in the full-length trailers, costumes, special effects and CGI techniques, etc.

To me, an author interview is not a trailer, nor is a commercial that doesn't have the elements of a 'trailer'.

A book trailer is very much like a movie trailer, drawing its primary entertainment value from concepts and highlights from within the book itself.

I feel it's effective at conveying one angle of the story to people who just want to watch a video.

It's not conveying the feeling of reading a book, the emotional reaction to the book, or anything else: it's very close to a movie trailer.

Certainly, in all the book trailers I've ever seen, the author's name and the title and cover of the book were prominent.

It's interesting that there's quite a cool book video for Stephen King's recent novel, Duma Key.

Have you seen it? They did a good job on it.

Did King have to worry about having a trailer or not? Of course not. Similarly King doesn't need a website. Neither does Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, or many other top-selling writers.

But all these elements give readers and fans and visitors and others a means to point their friends to the website or the video and say, "This one looks good!"

It not only can create word of mouth, it can help increase it.

Feel free to check out the trailers at my website:




David J. Montgomery


It's interesting that you mention the trailer for Duma Key, as I
posted a
while back that it's one of the few book trailers I've seen that I actually


This is a great thread. Very interesting insight.

I agree that getting your publisher involved is a good way to go. They can help get your promo to more people if they like it.

We recently had a client whose publisher saw her video proof and told her that her video was very important, and then took over the editing process and worked with us directly. It was very interesting how seriously they took her book video. And the video would certainly have looked different without their input. You can see what they came up with here-

And St. Martin's was absolutely thrilled with Alexandra Sokoloff's newest video for her book The Price-

I learned a lot from St. Martin's the day we went over this video.

I see more publishers getting behind videos and podcasts these days. What I'm seeing right now is authors having a video made and publishers doing the media buys for TV, theater and out-of-home advertising.

To me, it seems the wise choice to involve your publisher in any promo you're doing. Especially is you're investing quite a bit in that promo.

Another thing I've seen is publishers taking advantage of author pricing. I was unaware that there was publisher vs. author price differences in so many areas! Chalk that up to another thing I learned at St. Martin's.
So, we now work as a third party vendor, get discounts and then let publishers pay us back. They get a big price break and we help get the videos in more places because the pricing is better.

Is that something an author can openly offer? To finance promotion at a cheaper rate for the publisher? I don't know. But, I'm curious what others think about that.

Douglas Clegg

After checking back here, I realized my comment was meant to go under the Book Trailer discussion.


JA Konrath

Lee mentioned Joe Konrath as someone who has done everything possible to make himself a superstar and isn’t a bestseller yet.

Yet. :)


This has been an interesting set of posts, so much so that I've asked folks who read my blog and on a forum I moderate how they find the books they read, how they discover new authors. So far word of mouth is the biggest common thread but there are some other intriguing answers so far - reading stories in anthologies, learning about the people who have blurbed a favorite author. Interesting stuff, and a great topic!


Thought I'd chime in both as a reader, a fascinated spectator of the publishing industry, and the better half of a writer whose 1st book (which is kinda-sorta crime fiction), a trade paperback original, was released by a major publisher last year. Since I don't have his/her say-so, and I want to give the gory details, I'm going to try to not-too-awkwardly keep him/her anonymous by calling him/her X.

X read JA's tips, bought books on self-promotion (tax deductible!), scoured blogs (though weirdly didn't find MJ's until after her book's release, alas). Though X's 10k advance (less commissions, taxes, racked up credit card bills, etc.) didn't even put book trailers, much less hiring a private publicist, on the radar, X did the cheap things: business cards, group blog, website, visiting bookstores, mailing to the 35 indies across the country who ordered the most copies, etc. X is constitutionally averse to self-promotion, so these things were tough. X did feel a little pathetic not going all out, exhausting every avenue, but justified it thusly: X's fondest hope and dream was simply that X would earn out the advance, and not be kicked to the curb by X's publisher and/or agent. There was never any indication anyone at the publisher thought of this as anything other than a perfectly okay midlist debut.

Then the book shockingly got very good reviews in two national magazines, one of which was People. And it started selling like freaking hotcakes, earning out the advance in less than 4 weeks. Then it got mentioned on TV, and some more hotcake-like selling commenced. It peaked in the 60s on Amazon (I know, I know a very suspect measure of success, but one of the few available to the average schlub).

Sales slowed over the next months, but have remained good. The book's in its 6th printing now. It was not an NYT bestseller by any stretch, but royalties from its sales, and advances on other deals because of its good sales, allowed X to make twice as much money last year from writing than X ever did at X's real job.

How in god's name did that People review happen? We shall never know. We know it had nothing to do with anything X did. In some ways, that is freeing -- in some ways, it's mortifying.

Book # 2 is coming out this year. As you might expect, the publisher has considerably higher hopes this time around -- the announced 1st print run is large, there's co-op at Borders and B&N, one big box store has placed a decent order, another big box store has placed a small (trial?) order, that sort of thing. They are not, however, busting out the big guns that Lee mentions.

Do these things thrill X no end? They do, of course. Does X regularly & effusively thank the editor and marketing folks, chime in with good-but-not-too-pushy ideas, and emphasize how very available and open he/she is to doing anything and everything they, in their wisdom, think would help? Naturally. Is X scared shitless that despite this greater backing from the publisher, despite the existing readership, Book # 2 is going to flop, particularly when compared to the success of Book # 1? Most assuredly.

All of this is just a long-winded way of reiterating the point: it all works and none of it works. Yes, you should try to establish a presence, even a brand, in the marketplace. Yes, you should attend conferences (as you can afford, and preferably on the publisher's dime), be polite to readers, answer your fan mail, have decent business cards, etc. Yes, you absolutely need to show your publisher how eager-but-not-grating you are. And book trailers and AuthorBuzz might be a valuable part of your plan. But I also think it's important to realize that SO MUCH of publishing success (at least in fiction) is beyond your control -- don't beat yourself up if you don't do every thing, spend every dime. Write good books, do your best, and then let go and let god.

That is all.

David J. Montgomery

Chalk one up for the reviewers, baby!


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David J. Montgomery is a writer and critic specializing in books and publishing. He is an emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, and has also written for USA Today, the Washington Post, and other fine publications. A former professor of History, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters.

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