The idea that publishers are fretting over losing a few past-their-prime bestselling authors is the least interesting aspect of Amazon's growing "traditional" publishing operation, but it sure has been driving a lot of chatter—and presumably clicks—this week. Several think pieces and a ton of tweets have been written about Amazon recently snatching up another couple of recognizable authors and what it means for the publishing industry, the latest twist on a decade-long story (remember J.A. Konrath and Seth Godin?), but it's just another symptom of an illness corporate publishing has been suffering from for years.
“Most book marketing advice comes from authors who’ve had commercial success with books but no actual marketing experience. Many are taking advice that isn’t meant for them yet because they're not where they need to be,” explained Kilby Blades, an award-winning indie author and professional marketer, sharing practical insights for effective paid marketing strategies with WDC19 attendees.
"Market research is a very dry, dull topic, but finding and connecting with readers is how we make money." Too often, market research is limited to the basics—high-level demographics (age, gender, income) and/or broad genre interests (science fiction, romance)—leading to target audiences that either don't actually exist, or worse, reflect the researchers' personal interests. To find the right readers for a specific book or author, Amy Collins encourages writers to set aside personal assumptions and dig deeper.
In 2019, I remain astounded (but not totally surprised) by how many authors' platforms lack the basics—if they have one at all—but far more egregiously, too many publishers are way behind the curve with their own platforms, doing a disservice to the authors they've committed to support and help succeed. If you're querying a publisher—big or small, traditional or hybrid—you (or your agent) should be able to satisfactorily address these three planks of their own platform before they inquire about yours. Each one is potentially more important than the size of your advance, and definitely more important than the size of your own Twitter following or email list.
There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they've left behind. Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I'm feeling a little cynical.