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The Marketing Department - what it does

Chris Holifield 2017

If you are looking into publishing from the outside, it helps to understand the different functions of the publisher’s internal departments. The last few years has seen the inexorable rise of the marketing department in ‘trade’ or general publishing. This is part of the increasing dominance of publishing by sales and marketing, as the more traditional editorial control over publishing decisions has diminished sharply.

Marketing

Marketing started out as a support role, focusing on producing display material (i.e. things like posters and dump-bins to help books sell in shops), arranging any advertising and usually producing publishing catalogues. It used to sit alongside Publicity but was usually more closely linked to sales. But with the rise of a more market-led approach in publishing and in the wider world of retail sales, marketing took on a new role. Marketing directors now have a lot of influence over what is acquired by publishing houses, since they are reckoned to be the arbiters of what will sell and how an individual book can (or cannot) be promoted and sold.

Publicity

Within this new framework, publicity is still very important, especially since budgets are tight and authors can often be used for author promotion. Books are news and publishing comes in for far more than its fair share of free promotion through exploiting their news value in the press and media, especially in the UK. The rise of the celebrity author is largely due to the free publicity opportunities celebrities can command through their availability. This is why, on big celebrity books, their involvement is increasingly agreed and specified in the contract. But in general a skilled publicist can get maximum coverage for the right book at a relatively low cost.

Where does the money go?

But the big bucks go on marketing campaigns designed to catapult expensive new authors into the bestseller lists, or to make sure that the publishing houses maintain or increase their sales of the company’s big authors. Book marketing has become much more professional and effective in recent years, but the emphasis is now on focusing on a small number of big titles, ie making the bestsellers into bestsellers. Most of the rest are left to make their own way in the world, with perhaps a little attention from the publicity department.

Sell yourself

What this means for the author is that you can’t guarantee that your book will receive marketing support from your publisher, although a budget and even a promotion plan is sometimes part of the acquisition process. Most books will end up with no budget at all and, if your book is one of them, it’s particularly important that the publisher knows about any special contacts you may have, any interesting angles raised by the book, or if you yourself might be promotable in any way.

Local interest can be worth following up on, through local media and bookshops. Don’t get yourself known as a complete nuisance, but make sure you have handed over any information which might help. Co-operate fully with the publicity department so that you can get as much attention as possible focused on your book. Remember too that, more than ever, you will be expected to get out and promote your book in any way you can.

Chris Holifield