Recently on an authors' e-mail loop a discussion ran about marketing our novels--what the publishers should do and what an author should do. Brad Whittington, author of the Fred book series, wrote an interesting response to the question, "Why don't publishers market?" I absolutely loved Brad's coming-of-age series set in Fred, Texas. And I've always found Brad to be a witty and insightful guy. He didn't let me down with his answer to this particular question (which I agree with, by the way).
When the Fred books came out, I was puzzled by the lack of marketing. I pestered my publisher and made a nuisance of myself for a few years. I'm surprised they still talk to me. They're good folks.
As a product marketing manager in the hardware manufacturing sector, I couldn't figure out why they would spend money to produce a product and then do only marginal marketing.
But by the time the last Fred book came out, I finally figured it out. And I'll pass this info on to you for free! ;-)
Like investing, publishing is about risk tolerance. A risk-averse investor wants a diversified portfolio. You put the bulk of your money behind the solid performers, blue chip stocks and such. But you also put some money in with a handful of more volatile stocks. If one of those minor investments suddenly takes off, you back it. But you don't try to make it take off. In fact, you can't make it take off. You can't make lightning strike, you just take advantage of it when it does.
Same with book marketing budgets. Publishers are risk averse because they have dozens or hundreds of employees who depend on them to pay their mortgages. They can't afford to funnel money into an under performing or moderately performing book in a gamble that they can get it to the tipping point. Because most of the time, money alone isn't enough to do the trick. So they back the solid performers that have a much higher probability of delivering a return on the investment.
I've talked to a few publicists through the years and observed the industry and I've come to the conclusion that there are well-known guidelines for marketing non-fiction, but nobody knows how to market fiction.
If there is the chance of some kind of target market tie in, you can try. For example, a detective book with a motorcycle-riding protagonist can be marketed to bikers. And maybe enough bikers read novels for that to work. Or maybe not. A novel about abuse can be marketed to support groups. But I don't think there's a way to target-market a coming of age novel with no particular demographic (dog lovers, bow hunters, whatever), or a literary novel like The Help.
What are your thoughts?