A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: Is the Age-Old Advice to Authors Still Viable?


It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic asks, very simply, what of the standard advice to authors is still viable, given the many changes in the book industry and life in general during and post-covid? Let's look at various pieces of advice that most authors have received from their publishers or from online writing sites.

For books to sell, you need a lot of reviews. 

  • Over 100 reviews is the recommended quantity. That is the classic advice. However, we have had hot-selling books that have had nearly no reviews. In those cases, there has been word of mouth "selling," in which influencers have recommended the book, book clubs have picked up the book for use at their meetings, or some other obvious endorsement is present that takes the place of reviews.
  • Generally, emphasis is put on free reviews though paid reviews have always been part of the equation. The classic advice is that free reviews can be treated as unbiased whereas paid reviews might be biased favorably toward the work of the author paying for them. With paid reviewers becoming popular among self-published authors, there is some indication that the bias may be of less concern these days. Still, for now, our advice to our authors is to reach out to sources for free reviews and by-pass the paid ones. That advice may change.

Launch your book with book signings. 

  • First-time authors often dream of long lines of people waiting to buy a book you sign for them at a bookstore. They believe this is what a book launch looks like. It does it you are a famous author. It does not if you are a first-time author, not nowadays, anyway. Today, both author and publisher can lose money, sometimes a lot of money, on a booksigning.
  • Bookstores in some places ask authors to pay for the privilege of holding a book signing. This is a new phenomenon. Our advice is not to do that. Book signings rarely sell more than 15-25 books. You will not earn back any fee you pay.
  • Check out our posts on book signings for more information and for alternatives.

Advertise your book newspapers, magazines. 

  • The classic advice is that repeat advertising sells books. While this is true, it can be quite expensive to advertise your book in a newspaper or magazine, and we have rarely seen authors earn back their investments. It used to be that print advertising was quite effective for us, but it has become less so over time to the point that we do very little of it now.
  • Yes, of course, the word has to get out or there will be no sales at all. However, rather than print advertising (whether via direct mail or via newspapers and magazines), you might consider e-blasts and advertising on social media. We have found the return from social media to be greater than the return from the more traditional places for advertising. At the same time, the expense is far less. So, return on investment, at least in our experience for the past 3-4 years, has been greatest for social media, e-blasts, and press release distribution. 
  • If you outsource ad preparation, you could conceivably encounter a broken bridge across the river of cost effectiveness.
  • While it has always been important, given the massive daily introduction of new books and the "smallness" now of the world, word-of-mouth advertising (which is often cost-free) is the most effective and essential form of advertising.

The bottom line is that much of the old advice does not meet today's societal expectations for how readers learn about their books. And, other people's opinions, while still important, are more readily accepted and more readily prompt action when they come in the forms of more contemporary forms of outreach, much of it shaped by the exigencies of the covid era. At the same time, the thinking behind the old advice, in new trappings, does work when actions are adapted to meet new realizations of old needs.

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Authors whose books sell successfully go with the flow of the time and reality within which they live. That may mean looking for different kinds of ways to get the word out, to launch a book, and to prompt that all-important word-of-mouth advertising.

 Read more posts about publishing HERE.

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 (Publishing for Smarties: How to Find a Publisher available from MSI Press LLC; discount of 25% with coupon code FF25; currently on sale for $5, but that offer will not last forever).


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