The Evolution of Vendor Relationships in Book Marketing and Self-Publishing

Welcome back to Smith Publicity’s Industry Innovations Series! In this new 12-part blog series, the team at Smith Publicity will explore a variety of industry-related topics: from the evolution of self-publishing to the explosion of podcasts to social media and how it’s changed book marketing and much more. Each month, we will discuss how different innovations have evolved and the impact they’ve had on our work as book publicists and the industry as a whole. Let’s dive in…

The 2000s might arguably be one of the most disruptive decades in modern publishing. Considering the cracks in the traditional model that were exposed due alone but not solely to the one-, two-punch of the boom of self-publishing, already decades-in-the-making, and the steep rise in popularity of ebooks and, subsequently, development and mass accessibility of e-readers, industry veterans and rookies alike began to explore the service support opportunities that lay beyond. From 2006 to 2016, employment within the book publishing industry dropped by over 25% and by 2016, was down over 32% based on statistics two-decades prior. While The Great Recession certainly had an unquantifiable influence, the shift that in-house editors, designers, marketers and publicists, and digital strategists, amongst others, made to servicing independent authors was significant.

By the start of the 2010s, Smith Publicity, already in business for 13 years and, at that time, primarily servicing independent authors, began tracking a new trend—the introduction of new and assessment of enduring author support services. The transition of former in-house publishing employees to freelance and agency service providers positively impacted the independent publishing model in many ways:

Knowledge Dissemination & Quality Control: Traditional publishing teams were no longer the sole information keepers. The best tips, tricks and timing of successful, traditional book launches began to be more widely discussed. We saw the much-needed rise of the publishing consultant, a hired coach to walk authors through every step of production, championing them to fulfill their dream while putting up the quality-control guardrails. Author courses and informational blogs took their place in the spotlight, with enduring sites like The Book Designer and Writer Beware sharing insider insights and cautionary tales, and made it easy for authors to access professional guidance and begin building their own communities. As the knowledge of in-house success became more accessible, the responsibility placed upon the independent author to learn about the process and spare the world from another truly “self-published book” become greater. And for traditionally published authors, educational resources helped them better prepare for the support—or lack of support—they may be getting in-house.

Following the “traditional” model became feasible for Independent Authors AND helped Traditional Authors round out their in-house campaign: Bethany Brown, former editorial manager at Sourcebooks, founded The Cadence Group in 2007 and was one of the first author-support vendors I aligned with when starting my career. Bethany was also one of the first individual consultants I’d met who coordinated all backend Amazon support for independent authors. Getting to know more about her capabilities, I saw the benefit she’d bring to some of our authors who desperately wanted—and needed—better direction with Amazon but lacked a connection to anyone who could help. As digital capabilities grew, so did her service offerings and before long, for the right authors, Smith Publicity and The Cadence Group were regularly teaming up to coach authors through a non-traditional “traditional” rollout, complete with pre-order capabilities. Today, there’s an array of full-service production vendors who help take authors from manuscript-idea all the way through a pre-order campaign leading up to their launch. Alternatively, and more and more, authors are bringing together full teams—piecing together a web of niche experts operating under a project manager to incorporate trade submissions, expanded distribution, bestseller lists, etc. into their publishing plan, “perks” previously accessible only by traditional authors. As for traditionally published authors, as in-house support took a hit, hiring quality vendors specializing in marketing and publicity, brand development, sales strategy, etc. to come on and bolster the publisher’s plan became much more commonplace. In fact, to some extent, we owe our breakthrough into working with mainstream publishers and authors to our early-day traditionally published clients who brought Smith Publicity on to enhance their publicity campaign. Having the opportunity to showcase our work to traditional publishers gave them a taste of what we could do to help both them and their authors and gave them trust to hire us directly.

Established vendor communities: Within the highly connected and tight-knit author support service community, there are countless “vendor teams”—unique teams and/or individuals that often refer one another and work in complete alignment for the success of a mutual client(s). Each vendor “owns” their core service and leans on the established relationship, history of partnership experience, and overall trust to function as their own mini pub-hub. For Smith Publicity, while our bread and butter is media relations, we flesh out full Author/Expert Branding + Book Publicity Launch strategies, leaning on our trusted network of digital marketing partners, website developers, editors, designers, sales agents, etc. for select service execution. We aim to help clients assess the “full package” without the hassle of vetting professional networks and/or investing in the wrong partner.

Smith Publicity’s network of author-support vendors is another breathing example of the high-value we place around partnership. Partnership with our clients is the key to a smooth and collaborative campaign. Partnership with media is a critical component to success for our clients, their work, and their brand mission. Partnership amongst our team members is a driving force for professional development and elevated strategy. Partnership with our established network of service vendors (and our always-watchful eye on emerging, disruptive vendors) keeps us relevant and knowledgeable on how to best support our clients, while forming deep-rooted peer relationships far beyond our publicity walls.

Written by Corinne Moulder, Vice President, Business Development