Author Marketing Questionnaire;
Most Important Writing Assignment
By Lloyd J. Jassin
It is nearly every writer and publisher’s
unattainable fantasy, but books do not sell themselves. Someone
has to bring them to the attention of booksellers, libraries, and the
reading public. However, before consumers can be educated about a book’s
qualities, or enticed by reviews, the author must educate and entice his
publisher. An author’s most effective tool for communicating information
about the marketability of his book to his publisher is the author questionnaire.
This questionnaire, when properly filled out, provides the publisher with
guidance and advice on sales, promotion, and publicity opportunities for
Here is a link to a sample author
questionnaire, similar to one I used when I was Director of Publicity
for Prentice Hall Press. The value of the questionnaire resides in the
fact that authors know their subject intimately. Moreover, they are often
experts in their field, and may have myriad contacts that the publisher’s
sales and marketing departments can exploit. Today, as a practicing attorney,
I often recommend that before the second half of the author’s advance
is paid, that the author be required to complete and return the author
questionnaire to the publisher.
In larger publishing houses, the book's editor circulates the questionnaire
to the sales, publicity, advertising, and subsidiary rights departments.
These departments -- relying in large part on the information provided
by the questionnaire -- work together to create a marketing plan for each
book on their seasonal publishing list. Ironically, those
responsible for selling the book to booksellers, rarely talk to authors.
Hence, the questionnaire may be the only opportunity the author has to
communicate what is special about the book to the publisher’s assorted
A well-drafted questionnaire is of enormous value to a publisher. While
bookstore sales are the norm for most books, many niche titles have the
potential to sell significant numbers in what is known as "special
sales" (i.e. nontraditional) outlets. The primary source of information
for special sales opportunities (e.g., bulk sale of books to associations)
is the author questionnaire. Since word of mouth and publicity are
the most effective marketing tools in the publisher’s arsenal, the
questionnaire asks the author to provide names of opinion leaders who
can provide endorsement quotes. As we all know, controversy sells books.
If there is something controversial or revelatory about the book, the
author is in the best position to determine what those elements are. The
publicity department to pitch the book to broadcast outlets, as well as
print and Internet journalists can use that information.
Authors can also be helpful in coming up with a concise sales handle that
sets their book apart from the competition. Books, like brands, have to
be positioned. When I was Director of Publicity for Prentice Hall Press,
John Rosen (then PHP's marketing director) once said, "The essence
of positioning is sacrifice. You must give something up so the advertising
can have focus.” Setting the book apart from its competition
in one or two sentences is crucial in book marketing – providing
a hook that will hopefully resonate with potential buyers.
Keep in mind that the publisher will consider suggestions, but final approval
over catalog and flap copy, who to send the book to, and so forth, ultimately
rests with the publisher.
From the author's point of view, understanding the business reasons behind
the queries posed by the questionnaire is an important step in gaining
an appreciation of the publishing process. While writing, editing
and printing are of course essential facets of that process, those activities,
in and of themselves, they do not constitute publishing. Sales
and distribution – abetted by savvy marketing – is key to
the publishing process
Remember, no one knows a book -- and the market for that book -- better
than the author does. Taking time to complete the author
questionnaire is time well spent.
Lloyd J. Jassin is a book publishing attorney.
He represents agents, authors, book publishers on a wide
range of publishing law issues. His practice includes
drafting and negotiating publishing and entertainment industry agreements,
libel vetting and trademark registration and prosecution. Prior
to law school, Lloyd was Director of Publicity of Prentice
Hall Press. He is coauthor of The
Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook (John Wiley) and Vice Chair
of the Small Press Center of New York. Contact: 212-354-4442 (t); Jassin@copylaw.com (email); or visit www.copylaw.com.