With few exceptions, publishers don't really know what drives most book sales, so the industry's focus on chasing bestsellers and trends lends itself to an unscientific combination of last-click attribution, confirmation bias, and way too often, scapegoats. Publishers have relied on booksellers and libraries to connect with readers for decades, but—despite the continued decline of physical bookstores, the intersectional challenge of "book deserts," and a lack of consistent and verifiable data on ebook sales—libraries seem to have become an easy scapegoat. Again.
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.
To be honest, my experience with consultants over the years has been mostly negative. Overpriced pundits promising more than they've ever actually delivered for anyone, who often knew less than the staff they were brought in to advise, offering templated solutions to complex problems, inevitably leaving behind incomplete work and unsatisfied clients. But I've also worked with a few amazing ones who not only delivered effective, customized solutions, they also left the staff they engaged with smarter and better equipped to implement and iterate on those solutions without them.
In reality, markets consist of human beings and the conversations they have with each other, and those conversations can be messy and involve multiple points of influence. For authors trying to develop an effective and sustainable digital strategy, that means you’re not just competing with similar authors and books for readers’ attention—hello, myopic comp titles!—you’re competing with readers themselves and the various channels they use to connect with each other. With the right strategy, though, you're not competing with anyone—you're authentically engaging with and contributing to a dynamic community.
Facebook doesn't view publishers as valued partners and never has, despite so many helping it grow and engage a worldwide audience, handing over tons of invaluable data along the way, not just from engagement on Facebook itself, but from their own websites too. All for free! Facebook has transformed that invaluable data into billions of dollars of advertising revenue every year while steadily throttling publishers' ability to reach their own audiences without becoming paid advertisers themselves. It's an objectively and diabolically brilliant model that I simultaneously admire and despise.