( Originally Published 1883 )
THE question as to the most effective methods for making known to the public that a book has been published, and for keeping before the public the fact of its existence, is one of the most perplexing problems in the publisher's business, and one the difficulties of which are often not realized by authors. Advertising may be divided into direct and indirect. Under the former heading would be included the printing of the descriptive title of the book in the catalogue and special lists of the publisher, the purchase of advertising space in the journals or magazines, and the distribution among booksellers and book-buyers of show-bills and descriptive circulars. Under the latter would come the distribution of copies for review, and the consigning of specimen copies to booksellers for sale.
If a work is published at the expense of the author, the cost of all advertising, except that of printing the title in the publisher's lists, is charged to him, and only such outlay is incurred as he may have authorized. If, on the other hand, the investment in the publication is borne by the publisher, the cost of the advertising has to be paid by him, and the decision as to the amount which will be likely to prove remunerative, must rest with his judgment.
The leading publishing houses issue general classified catalogues of their publications, which are revised and reshaped about once in two years. It is further customary to print, usually in the spring and fall of each year, separate lists of the publications of the season ; and from these lists the titles of those works which seem likely to remain in continued demand are afterward transferred to the general catalogue. These lists of the season's issues, and from time to time the complete catalogues, are mailed to the principal libraries throughout the country, to the leading booksellers, and to lists of book-buyers, as far as the publishers succeed in collecting the names of such. The quantities regularly distributed through these channels are quite considerable. According to the records used, there are in the United States some 2,400 public libraries, and about 6,000 booksellers, and perhaps 900 of the former and 1,200 of the latter are usually considered of sufficient importance to be placed on the regular mailing lists for the spring and fall catalogues of new publications. In addition to such distribution, publishers receive daily applications for book-lists and catalogues from different parts of the country, and often have occasion to mail in this way, in the course of a season, some thousands of copies. A still further channel of distribution is through the booksellers, who obtain from the publisher supplies of from 250 to 1,000 copies of the booklists of the season, bearing their several local imprints.
If a work is of a special character, or one requiring a detailed description, a separate descriptive circular can some-times be used to advantage for mailing to some particular circle of readers likely to be interested. Excepting for some such special purpose, descriptive circulars are not as a rule serviceable, as it is difficult to secure attention for them from the general public.
Show-bills of new books are placed by booksellers on the boards in front of their stores, and authors are accustomed to lay stress upon seeing their books so posted. The matter is not, however, of so much importance as it is often considered, and in any case the printing of the show-bill does not necessarily secure its being posted by any great number of booksellers. Every dealer receives a great many more show-bills than he has room for on his boards, and he selects for use those of the books in most active demand, rather than of the books most needing such advertisement.
The cost of separate circulars and of show-bills is chargeable to the author, if he is the owner of the edition of his book.
The value of advertising space in the journals in which book-advertising is usually done, varies from ten cents to fifty cents a line. The line of type on which such price is based, is not that usually used in the advertisements, but represents the space that would be covered by a line of agate type, measuring fourteen lines to the inch. An advertisement of say 56 lines, or four inches, which would make a good display of the title and description of a book, and would enable representative quotations to be made from the reviews, would cost in the New York Daily limes about $16.80, in the Evening Post, $5.60, and in the Nation (weekly), about $7.50.
Advertising space in the leading magazines is expensive, costing in Harper's, about $200, and in the Century, about $150 a page. It is not usually considered desirable to make any very considerable investment in advertising until the notices of the book-reviewers have begun to appear. Unless for the work of some writer well known through previous successful books, the repeated announcement of the title and the name of the author will not of themselves attract sufficient attention to induce sales.
When such announcement can be followed by extracts from favorite reviews, quoted from journals possessing literary authority, advertisements are much more likely to be serviceable and to repay their cost. How great such service and how considerable such repayment is, is very difficult to estimate. If a work has any claim upon the interest of the public, continued descriptive advertising can nearly always be depended upon to produce an increase in the sales, but it is often enough the case that such increase is not sufficient to repay the cost of the advertising. If an investment of $50 in advertising brought an additional sale for a dollar book of 50 copies, there would be a net loss on the transaction of from $30 to $35. That kind of pushing" and " enterprise " publishers are, notwithstanding the criticisms of authors, naturally averse to, nor can they honestly recommend it to authors who pay their own publishing expenses. It is, as a rule, pretty easy to tell, after a few experiments in advertising, whether a book possesses what may be called elasticity, that is, responds readily and remuneratively to advertising and " pushing. If such an elasticity be there, and a public interest can be felt to have been awakened, a great deal can be accomplished by judiciously planned advertising to extend and keep active such interest. If, however, no such interest appears, and the first advertising outlay produces no returns, or but trifling returns, further outlays will, at that time at least, be money thrown away. It only remains to wait for some more favorable reviews or some turn in public opinion, before attempting further effort, or before, perhaps, deciding that the venture has, at least from a commercial point of view, been a mistake. If a work fails to show such elasticity, if the reviews are slighting and inconsiderate, or even if favorable, fail to attract public attention, no amount of advertising will, as a rule, help the matter. It is very seldom indeed that a book can be crammed down the throat of the public like Winslow's Soothing Syrup. If it has once fallen flat, it is, with a rare exception, as impracticable for the publisher to put life into it by advertising, as it would be for him to lift himself over the fence by the straps of his boots.
In this connection, however, it is proper to remember that publishing management can sometimes put renewed life into material which has apparently fallen out of relations to the literature of its time, and the demand for which has ceased. In 1848, when the late George P. Putnam undertook the publication of such of the works of Washington Irving as had at that time been written, these had for three years been out of print, and no publishing house had had sufficient faith in their continued vitality to make propositions for reissuing them. Irving himself began to believe that his day as a writer had gone by, and told his nephews that he thought his literary life was finished. Yet during the next decade his publisher paid him more money. for copyrights than he had received during all the preceding years of his life and encouraged by this renewed popularity, Irving completed during those ten years some of his most important productions.
Of course no amount of publishing management could have produced such a result if the works had not themselves possessed the essential qualities which constitute classics ; but no one admitted more frankly than Irving himself, how large a part the skill and enterprise of his publisher had played in securing from a new generation of readers the recognition of his works as classics of permanent value, and how great had been his discouragement at the time the cooperation of this publisher was placed at his disposal.
We have referred to the importance of attention from the reviewers. There are instances of very considerable sales having been obtained by books which had received no mention, or but very slighting mention, in the literary columns of the leading journals. But these are the exceptions. As a rule, it is almost impossible for a new writer to obtain a hearing before the public, unless the reviewers will give some space to his books. While it is desirable, of course, that such notices should be favorable, it has not infrequently happened that sales have been facilitated by fiercely unfavorable reviews, when these have only given sufficient space to the material, and have presented some analysis and description of it. While reviews are important, and without them success is very difficult, it is also easy to overestimate their direct influence on sales. It occasionally happens that a work which attracts very considerable and favorable attention from the reviewers, fails to find favor with the general public ; and the young author who has, after the appearance of some pleasant notice, hurried up to the publisher's office to inquire how soon a new edition will be required, is met by a discouraging report. Such a result is usually due to the fact that the reviewers, while writing for, and on behalf of, the reading public, do not themselves form a fair representation of the average opinion of such public. They will naturally emphasize that which has a personal interest for themselves, and this may very easily be material which, for one reason or another, happens to be out of the. range of the interests of the public at large.
The suggestion sometimes comes to the publisher that the author can, through his personal acquaintance, influence favorable reviews in this or that quarter, but it is a suggestion to which, as the publisher's experience tells him, he can attach little weight, as he knows that the journals whose opinions are of any value, conduct their literary columns without reference to personal influences, and in fact often arrange to secure their reviews from different specialists outside of their own office.
The number of copies of a new book which can to advantage be distributed for review, varies of course according to the character and costliness of the work, the number printed, etc., etc. Of a novel, from 150 to 250 copies are usually used in this way ; of a work of standard literature, from 100 to 200 ; and of a work of special character, a much smaller number.
There has been of late a very large increase throughout the country of journals in which competent and able re-views appear, an increase out of proportion to the growth of booksellers and of book-buyers, but however excellent its reviews may be, it does not usually pay a publisher to add a journal to his list, unless the town where it is published contains at least one active bookseller who can be depended upon to fill orders for the books reviewed.
When after all preliminary difficulties have been over come, his book is at last fairly published, the author not unnaturally expects that copies of it will at once appear on the counters of all the book-stores throughout the country. In this expectation he is likely to be more or less disappointed, and the complaint that " friends have inquired for a book in this place or that, and have not found it," is one of the most frequent that comes to the publisher.
It is not always easy to make clear, at least in connection with a first book, why it is that publishing machinery does not and cannot provide for any such general distribution in advance of the public demand. The first edition of a first book does not usually consist of more than 1,000 copies, and of these from 150 to 200 copies are required for the press. But such general distribution of copies among the leading book-stores (even if there were no other reasons rendering it impracticable) would require not 1,000 but from 5,000 to 10,000 copies, a larger edition than either the publisher or the author (if the venture be his) is usually willing to risk with a first enterprise.
If, however, some such number of copies were sent out, and one half of them (a large proportion) found buyers, the extra cost of manufacturing the copies not sold and the expense of the freight on these when returned, would considerably more than absorb the profits on the sales, so that with quite a considerable sale, the net result of the transaction might be a considerable loss. It is, however, also the case that the better class of booksellers object to receiving unsolicited consignments of untried books, and when such consignments come to hand they are very likely to put them to one side, or sometimes even to promptly express them back to the publisher at his cost. They reason that the space on their counters represents a considerable outlay for rent, and that they prefer to use their own judgment as to how such space shall be occupied, and to select for it such stock as may be most likely to prove remunerative. And if they have in their stores a certain amount of stock that belongs. to them and other stock that they have the privilege of returning, it is naturally to their interest to give their special. attention to the former, even to the extent of putting the latter to one side altogether.
In consideration of this class of objections on the part of the booksellers, and also of the fact that if a house is in the habit of making consignments of its books, it finds much greater difficulty in securing any orders for them, the leading publishers have practically given up the custom of making consignments, although they occasionally find it advisable to concede to regular customers the privilege of re-turning for exchange unsold stock. The leading booksellers usually place with the publishers standing orders for specimen copies of new books as published, and from these specimen copies, in connection with such demand as may arise through the notices of the press-copies sent with them, they make up their orders for such further supplies as they judge will be required. Such orders are, however, accompanied by lists of certain classes of books which are not to be sent one dealer, for instance, wanting no religious works, another no fiction, a third no works on special scientific subjects, and nearly all ruling out from such advance orders poetry by new authors. The book does not, therefore, as the author often imagines, come into demand because it is in the bookstores, but gets into the bookstores because it has come into demand.
An author frequently suggests that if the publisher will only take pains to place his book on the railroad stands, it will certainly find sale. This, also, is, however, something that depends, in the first place, upon the book. The business of selling books on the railroads is in the hands of a few large companies ; that of the roads running out of New York, for instance, being controlled by three concerns. The space on the stands is limited and is considered valuable, and the salesmen who sell books through the trains earn good wages. The managers are therefore naturally unwilling that their space and the time of their men be devoted to any books that are not what they call " sure things." They do not want to try any experiments, but plan to give attention only to works that have already " made a sensation." When a book has made a mark, it is well to talk to the rail-road men about it, but not before.
The principal sales of the railroad dealers are for books in paper covers, and copies of these, if not sold promptly, easily become, through exposure on the stands and the handling on the trains, shopworn and unsalable. A large part of the loss on the unsold and damaged books must, as as a rule, be borne by the publishers, and it is important therefore for them that only such works be placed on the railroads as are reasonably sure of finding prompt and remunerative sale.
A very large proportion of the sale of paper-bound books must be effected through the railroads and news companies ; and as an edition of considerable size is required to place a book at all effectively in these special channels, it is not, as a rule, considered advisable to use paper covers for first editions of first books, or for any books which cannot be depended upon to secure a wide popular demand.
The author may be disposed, after going over this summary of the methods of bringing a book before the public, to conclude that, after all, his success will depend upon the character of his work, and that if his book must, so to speak, sell itself, the publisher's cooperation in the undertaking amounts to nothing. Leaving, for the moment, out of the question the all-important cases in which the cooperation of the publisher includes the providing of the capital required for the undertaking, we will point out some other considerations which make such cooperation important,—considerations which any author who has attempted to place a book before a public with the aid only of a printer, or through an authors' association, will be ready to appreciate.
In the first place, the imprint of any reputable publishing house is of essential service in securing for a book early attention, which would otherwise come to it either not at all or very slowly. Publishing imprints differ of course in value, not merely in connection with the general reputation of the several firms, but also on the ground of their special association with different classes of literature—scientific, denominational, sensational, etc., etc.
Secondly, the association on a publisher's catalogue of the work of a new author with the writings of authors whose volumes are in steady demand, is of no little importance. We have before referred to the large number of copies of catalogues and book-lists which are continually being distributed by publishers. The book-buyer who sends for a catalogue containing the works of the well-known authors, A, B, and C, finds in it also the titles of books of the new writers, X, Y, and Z, and thus has the opportunity presented to him of interesting himself also in these last.
A third and most indispensable service rendered by the publisher, is in supplying the machinery through which, if a book is called for, it can be supplied. As before explained, it is not in his power to create a demand or to force a book into a sale, but he should be able to satisfy promptly any demand which may arise, and to see that any public interest that may have been awakened be duly fostered and kept as active as possible. If a review in a paper in Peoria has attracted attention to a book, the reader who inquires for it at the local bookstore may or may not find a copy on the counter, but he ought in any case to be able to obtain information as to price, etc., and if the work is on the list of any regular publisher, the bookseller can fill orders for it at once. If, on the other hand, the book has been issued without imprint and is not on any of the book-lists of the month, the intending buyer is likely to leave the store unsatisfied, and may very easily be diverted from his intention.
And it may be remarked that the buying of books is by no means so confirmed a habit among the public at large that any legitimate means to encourage it can safely be neglected.
In bringing to a close these few suggestions, which have been penned to facilitate, as far as practicable, the work of the author in obtaining information and in effecting his publishing arrangements, we have only to repeat, first, that they are addressed particularly to writers whose experience is still to come ; authors who have already seen their names on various title-pages, who have become hardened, so to speak, to publishers and critics, may find in these pages some statements that do not entirely accord with their own experience. We can merely claim for our papers that they have been carefully considered and are as substantially accurate as any general statements can be, while admitting that, like all general statements, they are subject to exceptions.
It is our opinion that in one way or another all literary work that deserves to live
(in addition to a good deal that does not), succeeds in making its way into print, and in getting itself placed before the public. We do not believe that our American prairies conceal any Charlotte Brontés to whom the opportunity for expression and fame has been denied, or that a careful search through American villages would develop any "mute, inglorious Miltons" rusting away their undeveloped lives. Opportunity for expression can, with a little patience and persistence, be secured by every writer who has any thing to say to his fellow-men (and also, unfortunately, by a good many who have nothing) ; and every literary aspirant can safely indulge in the hope that if posterity has need of his impressions, the particular " sands of time" on which these have been placed will become stone to preserve them.