By Michelle Webber
When students want to enter the publishing industry after college, most of them picture themselves as editors. The leap is a logical one: those of us who pursue a BFA or MFA in writing spend so much time inside the manuscript that we forget the work must reach readers to achieve its true value. Many consider marketing and advertising the antithesis of artistic creation, that marketing’s only goal is to make money for the publisher, and that this process ignores the art of the book itself. But for Stillhouse Press, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our marketing process begins only after we have first read the book in its entirety. We believe that to build an effective promotional strategy, there are several things we must know about the book that are best discovered by stepping into the shoes of the reader. The most important component of marketing is audience. So we ask:What is its genre? What kind of person would enjoy this book? To whom will it appeal? What other books does it remind us of? Another crucial element is the book’s unique appeal. What about this book is different from others in its genre? What is its greatest strength? If I had to pitch this book to someone in less than 60 seconds, what would I tell them about it? Answering these questions allows us to approach our promotional plan as readers and book lovers as well as marketing professionals.
Once we’ve read the book, our next step is to coordinate our timeline with Editorial. As soon as we acquire a book, we work backwards from the date of publication to plan deadlines, the first of which is the printing of Advance Review Copies (ARCs, or galleys). Publishers send ARCs to a number of contacts, including review outlets, trade publications, and potential blurbers (other authors who will read the manuscript and offer up a quote) to arrange media coverage and cultivate buzz. Each market has its own lead window (an industry term for the minimum amount of time before publication that an outlet will consider a book for review or coverage). At Stillhouse, we aim to prepare and begin shipping galleys four to six months in advance of publication.
After we’ve formed our timeline and the editorial team for the book has begun their developmental edits, we schedule a meeting with the author to talk about their publishing and writing contacts, their list of potential blurbers, and the use and development of their social media platforms. We also discuss any upcoming publications, plans to submit new writing, and career or occupation changes so that we can leverage every advantage and increase an author's visibility. Every author brings something new to the conversation and every book is different, so we refine and tailor our marketing strategy accordingly.
Over the next several months, the marketing team works closely with the author and managing editor to build an exhaustive list of contacts for media and reviews. Each list is pulled from a central database that we continually update with new markets and publication staff changes. Once every contact, email address, and mailing address has been vetted and approved, we begin querying. This is largely the same process that authors go through when querying agents and publishing houses, only in reverse.
As soon as galleys are printed, proofed, finalized, and shipped to us, we begin sending packages to media. In this package, we include an ARC and relevant publication data. We prefer to include all publication info in the form of a postcard, rather than the industry standard press release, which is often discarded, unread. We strive to ensure that the concept driving the artwork and marketing materials is consistent between the galley and the product. This process often continues on a rolling basis until the month of publication.
Once we begin to receive notifications of coverage from some of the outlets that read the book and want to feature it either in a review or in an interview with the author, the marketing team coordinates timelines with the market and the author, and adds items to our roster for social media.
While cultivating media coverage is one of our most important responsibilities, there are several more obscure components of our department that are just as essential to the success of the press. Our Social Media Editor is responsible for writing and scheduling weekly posts on Facebook and Twitter that not only increase awareness of our titles, but that also participate in a dialogue of literary citizenship. Successful media campaigns aren’t paved with purchase-centric posts. The most effective strategy is to participate in relevant conversations, share the successes of your friends in the publishing industry, and comment on recent events. The best way to maintain a strong follower base is to engage the target audience’s community.
The marketing team also plans book tours and promotional events, both in the local area and across the country. Some of our events are recurring each year, including readings at Fall for the Book, AWP, and other literary conferences. If the event is local, the marketing team services and coordinates logistics.
Marketing is perhaps the most collaborative process at Stillhouse Press. Members of our team work closely with authors, managing editors, stakeholders, and industry professionals to ensure that our titles not only sell but that they also reach readers who value them. By taking into consideration the strengths and audience of the work, the network and media presence of our authors, and the literary climate into which each project is released, we are able to construct a plan that pleases all parties. Marketing, then, isn’t just about making money for the press. It’s about making happy authors, too.