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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson Wonders Why Even Experts Don't Understand Who the Real Stars Are


    I wanted to scream. It's as if we authors and their readers were all time-warped back to the fourth grade when we didn't "get it" that we should memorize the name of the author along with the title of her book.

   Here I am reading the LA Times, a paper I love if for no other reason than I love good journalism, and I come across an article on publishing they picked up from the Associated Press. I expect that if both the AP and the Times thought it worthy, I might learn something new. This one titled "When a book's only mystery is its author" would naturally intrigue an author.

   Turns out it is about how the sales of "The Traveler," an anonymously written mystery, is disappointing all even after it was cited by the New York Times and other newspapers as a sure winner.

   Author Hillel Italie says, with what I imagine to be a straight face, that "the publisher has to depend on the slow, uncertain process of reviews and word of mouth." That idea is so outdated that I'm surprised the savvy crowd at the LA Times didn't pick up on it and boot this little essay out of the layout before it went to print.

   Of course, if they'd done that they would also have noticed that the part about "an author tour might have helped, but the strategy that got (this book) so much attention also limited the publisher's ability to keep the momentum going." The article is about how Traveler, like many books printed anonymously, lost its impetus after the initial high praise of reviewers wore off. Of course it's true that no real branding can go on beyond Publisher Weekly's initial raves without an author. No author, no tour, no TV appearances. So where's the news in that?

   It's been said that the author is more interesting to the public than the book. That is supported by Italie's rundown of other anonymously published books that were revived when the author magically appeared. However it goes deeper than that. Authors everywhere have realized that if they don't steer their own little books to stardom, no one else can or will.

   For an indication of the sorry state of marketing in the publishing industry one only need read as far as the publisher's comment, "But I'm thrilled we put as much effort as we did into this book." Mmmm. I'll bet that editor is as surprised as he is thrilled. Let's face it, from the big traditional presses to author-published books, everyone in publishing knows that today the only books with a promotion budget are the ones that don't need it and the only thing that drives sales for all the others is the author. The author's personality. The author's promotion expertise. The author's money.


Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbits: The demand for my THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T has been so great I started a free newsletter called “Sharing with Writers” that will continue to feed tips and resources on book promotion and writing to authors long after they’ve read FRUGAL. Send an e-mail to with “subscribe” in the subject line

Speaking of ways for an author to promote, writers will want to check Janet Elaine's Smith's Promo Paks and her Personal Marketing Plan. For those without the time or the experience, such guidance from an experienced promoter can be what is needed to put a new book on the road to success. Go to

Readers' Tip: If you're tired of the lip service being paid to "Support Our Troops" and would like to do some small thing that would actually help, consider this little gift book by Eric Dinyer. The publisher, Andrews McMeel, is donating some proceeds from its sale to Fisher House, a charity that supports the families of injured troops. I wrote the foreword for Eric and love that the book includes a ribbon car magnet. It would make a fine memento for anyone who loves someone who is serving our nation.


2005 Past Columns

A Simple Good-bye to Robert Creeley
Carolyn Howard-Johnson Wonders Why Even Experts Don't Understand Who the Real Stars Are

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