Last week I over-read someone on Twitter saying that ‘Trad pub expect authors to do most marketing these days’. I jumped in with my contrarian point of view, as ever the self-righteous asshole, trying to disguise the fact that I was windmilling my fists by using an even tone. Thankfully, that particular conversation didn’t leave either participant with long-term injuries. But it did get me thinking: do publishing houses ask authors to do too much?
It’s been said a lot lately that publishers aren’t interested in authors unless they have an online presence. This isn’t helped by the fact that publishers seem willing to take books purely based on a Twitter following or blog readership – see ‘Gin O’Clock’ and ‘The Etymologican’ – which gives the impression that publishers are looking for authors who can market themselves, who come with a pre-packaged audience, and who are digitally-savy enough not to demand a lot of time and marketing budget.
I won’t deny that publishers are keen for authors of all types to get involved in online conversations. But I think it’s important to remember why publishers might be suggesting authors do this.
Is it because, as I’ve heard suggested, we’re expecting authors to market themselves? Or is there more to it?
Self-published authors are hyper-aware of the value of maximising their online presence. It helps them build their own author brand, and identify target markets for their book. For them, I think, social media is a marketing requirement – interacting with your market and refining your pitch is an important way for an indie to expand their audience and develop their writing.
I would argue, though, that publishers are not developing an author’s online presence for the same reasons. Marketing, audience development and that stuff can be handled pretty happily by dedicated departments. That’s what we do. Rather, by encouraging an author to start a blog or get on Facebook, they are responding to a more general cultural expectation.
Direct access to creators is something that is now built into our expectations of how we interact with media, whether this is books, films, TV shows, newspapers, whatever. We look for authenticity, and to see the face behind the words. I like that if I read a book by a new author I can probably find them on the internet and tell them how much I loved it, just as much as I like that I can swear at Rupert Murdoch when I want. This is how we work, now.
I think if publishers were to ignore this, and not encourage authors to increase their online visibility at all, they’d be under-providing for readers and under-selling their authors. It’s part of a publishers’ responsibility to support an author in their relationship with their readers, and help that connection along by giving training and encouragement where needed.
It’s not a question of money, resources or time, I don’t think, so much as engagement. I would recommend Twitter to any author, self-published or with a book deal, because (aside from the fact it’s a source of many wonderful bits of information) it’s an open place to talk to people who are interesting. And authors are interesting.