Case Study: Why Important Books Get Ignored

Case Study;
Getting Professionalism Wrong
or The Gorgeous Books That Go Ignored
A long time ago, as time is measured in the publishing world, I received a beautiful hardcover book with a slick, arresting dust cover in the mail. Everything about it yelled “professionally published!” right down to the fact that it was written by the president of a well respected company. The trouble was, I hadn’t requested it, there was no personal note, and the letterhead on an enclosed sellsheet didn’t give me an e-mail address. I used the phone number supplied. A pleasant woman couldn’t answer my questions, took my number and I never heard back from either her or the author. I promptly forgot about it. Then I received a note from one of my SharingwithWriters newsletter subscribers who edited the book asking if I had received it. I told her I hadn’t so she had the author’s secretary handling the book send me another.
Horrors. I now had two copies of the book. I wanted to bury my head in the sand but instead I thought I’d admit my mistake like any good professional and maybe help the author in the process. Here is my apology and the letter I hope gave her the information she needed to help him:
Dear [Subscriber],
I apology for my part in a minor marketing fiasco. It is story we can learn from—a minor disaster that could be a major one if it is repeated many times. A minor disaster caused by an omission of contact information and a failure to followup on contacts. I hope we can both learn from this experience.
I received the second book you had your PR person send. When I saw it, I remembered that I did get the earlier copy. There was a letter in it both times, but it didn't mention you or our conversation we had. Though it is a beautiful book, I get about two or three unrequested and unexpected books a week and assumed it was one of those. Still, I take pains to try to contact people who send books to me as a matter of courtesy. There was no e-mail address so I called. There was no personal contact on the phone, either. Just a person saying they would give the busy author a message. I received nothing back. So, I did a little more than usual. I went to the Website where there was also was no personal contact information so I added the e-mail it provided to my contact list thinking that might work eventually. Apparently the author’s agency/handler did receive one of my e-mails and unsubscribed. So, I finally wrote off the whole experience as an impossible mess.
I don't know what contact/relationship you have with the company who promotes this book or with the author, but as professional as everything looks from the book to the letterhead, there are some gaps in this approach to marketing this book. I suspect the author cares enough about having his book read to pay a small fortune to get the word out there either by using his secretary’s well-paid time or hiring a PR agency. I also suspect he is a busy businessman depending on other professionals to do what needs to be done to get it read.
And this is exactly why I wrote The Frugal Book Promoter. That is, I want authors to be very clear that no matter who publishers their books, does their publicity, their marketing...well, the more authors know and the more hands-on the process can be, the better it works.
I hope you'll pass this long to that author if you are in a position to do so. The author is lucky to have you on his side His book does seem to be full of information that will help many. It is a book that is professionally edited and produced and would therefore make a handsome gift. Still, I can't help—make that don't have time to help--anyone who has chosen a publishing path so different from what works and that is to make it as easy as possible on the media and other gatekeepers to give them the exposure they need to sell books.. I only hope I am an isolated case. For his sake and the sake of his prospective audience.
I hope you can see I wouldn't have taken the time to write you this treatise if I didn't care. I am certain you care!
Very best,

Note: I believe that part of the problem this author had was misguided professionalism. He believed (as I do) in empowering employees and designating tasks. After all, no one person can do it all. However, that must be accompanied with the advice I once read in a little book in the 70s. I think it was called “Management by Wandering Around.”  I used this advice when I had gift shops in five cities and two states. It took a lot of traveling, but it was fun, too. And asking question (you might call that monitoring). If you designate, do a lot of training, checking up, holding people responsible, and retraining.

Carolyn has been a proud contributor to WritersOntheMove since its inception. Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and her multi award-winning The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her next book in the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers will be Getting Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 

The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Let me know what you think of case studies as a way to learn more about moving our careers along. I grew fond of them when they were such a big part of my husband's MBA program at Columbia.

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, this is a great example of the need to follow-up and more importantly have contact information in every book marketing package that's sent out.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thanks to WritersontheMove for sharing on Google Plus and other places. You know how I believe in #SharingwithWriters. (-:

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Thanks for the reminder Carolyn regarding contact information and follow-up.

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