They don’t promote your book.
Nowadays, that seems like the kind of thing I should have known. With as much information as is available online, I assume everyone now knows that publishers no longer do any serious promotion unless you’re a celebrity. But I was truly naive.
Of course, they hadn’t paid me very much and didn’t have much to try to recover. In fact, they sold my book to their affiliate in England and made back the advance instantly. Moral: make them give you a couple of million in advance money, and then they’ll worry about getting it back.
They asked me for lists of famous people I knew who would read my book and write blurbs for it. I gave them lists of famous people, but I didn’t know any of them. They did send the book out for review. The reviews were extremely strong. They got it into some libraries. But that was the extent of it on their end. Maybe there were efforts I never heard about or saw.
I contacted local bookstores and got the book on the shelf in a couple of them. But I learned about bookstores. Your book–my book–wasn’t going to appear in Barnes & Noble or Borders or any of the bookstores then extant unless it had $$$$ behind it in advertising. Since it was a hardback (and they never sold the paperback), it didn’t appear on any drugstore shelves. I was advised to make the rounds of all the bookstores and find out who the book reps were and make friends with them and sell them on my book, so they would push it to the independent bookstores.
This is all so far away from the kind of person I was (still am) comfortable being that my efforts in this direction fell way short of a lick, let alone a promise. Self-promotion has never been easy for me. It’s why I can’t really pitch well. Besides, I was still working, making about 8K a year (a sum not as bad then as it would be now), and the idea of driving all over the country glad-handing book reps felt like something that wouldn’t happen unless I had a personality transplant. My agents and my editor both said, “Let go of it. Get on with the next book.” (I think today that translates into “Less tweeting, more writing.”)
At a few conferences I’ve been to, when the resident agents learn that you’ve been previously published, they ask for sales figures on your books. The idea seems to be that if you weren’t writing bestsellers then, you never will. KOTR sold, as best I can tell, about 20,000 copies. Not sure if this includes the later Bantam paperback. I have begun to think that I am almost better off not to tell some of these people that I ever was published. Let them think they’ve “discovered” me.
That is if I truly want to work with someone like that.
I have slowly come to believe that the ongoing changes in publishing are for the better. At least now you go in knowing that if anybody’s going to market, it will be you. I have read mixed reports and have mixed feelings about the various gung-ho marketing schemes people recommend, so I don’t know which will work for me. At least I also know now that I will not be getting the 2 million in advance and so that worry is off my mind. What a relief.