Since the Co-Op started, I've been thinking a lot about marketing and publicity for books. I am astounded by the sheer number of titles unleashed on the public every year. M.J. Rose estimates there are 1000 to 1200 books published every month. Not even October gets time off for good behavior.
According to Edward Champion, official New York Times Book Review watchdog, the number of novels reviewed in the Review came to a grand total of 11. The previous week, there were eight. By taking some liberties with math, let's say the NYTBR focuses its bright spotlight of love on an average of ten books a week. That's, hmmm, about 40 novels a month. If half of 1000 or so books published each month just happen to be fiction, approximately 460 of those are left without a mention in a major paper with a really big circulation.
Of course I'm oversimplifying. Some months, the number could be as high as sixty. Whoo hoo!
So what happens to the other books? The ones that took years to write, months to edit, days to print, money to ship? Those books live or die by word-of-mouth. At Booksquare, I suggested that publishers need to do a better job of getting ARCs into the hands of folks I'm helpfully calling "big mouths" (even though I'm not entirely sure that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing strategy from a business perspective). Just like there are only so many pages in book review sections and literary journals, there are only so many books the big mouths can read and promote.
Other traditional ways of promoting new authors doesn't seem to work well. While established authors with solid fan bases might benefit from a book tour, it doesn't appear to be the best vehicle for most authors. BookAngst 101 has compiled the results of an exhaustive survey of authors and, not surprisingly,
...these authors came to the conclusion that the book tour, on virtually any scale, is not simply a waste of time & energy but, in fact, an exercise in public humiliation...
So what seems to be working? Blogs. Virtual book tours. Live book tours done in groups, especially when non-traditional venues are selected. Oprah -- you know, there's something seriously wrong with the system when authors have to beg a television host to reinstate her bookclub. Authors interacting with the public.
That last one is really critical. Sending an author to a bookstore in a mall teaches him or her to answer the question, "Where are the restrooms?", but it doesn't necessarily reach readers. Sending an author to a blog to talk about their work is going to reach a wider, more receptive audience -- readers of Sarah Weinman's blog aren't looking for books on curing depression. They're looking for interesting authors and titles, particularly those with a crime fiction bent.
If you're an publisher, agent, or author, you need to take another look at your promotion plan. If you're one of the lucky ones, the New York Times will notice your title. If you're not, it's time to start thinking outside the promotional box.