Reprinted with permission from a forum post written by James D. Macdonald.
Okay, let's talk about marketing campaigns.
First, the number one reason anyone buys a novel is they've read and enjoyed another book by the same author.
The number two reason anyone buys a novel is that it was recommended by a trusted friend.
All the other reasons vanish down into the single-digit percentages. (The reasons people buy non-fiction are different ... and not important right now.)
The marketing that you're thinking of -- newspaper and radio ads, for example -- that the A-list authors get serve one purpose: "You know that book you were going to buy the minute it came out? It's out!" That only works because of reason one above: The public has read and enjoyed previous books by the same author. You could get the same print ads that a Rowling or a Grisham get ... without getting the same results. Because there aren't enough people waiting for your next book. If you're a first-time author there's no one waiting for your next book.
Smaller stuff -- end cap placement, for example -- gets spread out pretty well among all the house's authors. The bigger houses have more money to spend on that.
Trusted friends ... you know who they are. (That's one reason you want Oprah to recommend your book; she's the trusted friend to millions.) That's also where reviewers come in. That's why publishers send out hundreds of ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) to reviewers, and not just for their A-listers ... for everyone.
Here's what all publishers do for all their authors, first-time no-names and everyone else:
1) ARCs to reviewers
2) Ads in trade mags (you won't see those unless you're running a bookstore)
3) Listed in the publisher's catalog, which is sent to every bookstore and library in the country
4) Touted by paid salespersons who visit bookstores and chain buyers. There will be a publicist assigned to your book. That publicist will be handling many other books, but he or she has contacts that you just don't have.
You, as an author, can't do any of those things. Those, however, are the things that actually sell books.
Having the book on the shelf is the important part, and the publisher will be moving the heavens to get a couple of copies of their entire line on every bookstore shelf in America. That's for the early-adopters, the people who will pick up books that look "interesting," and (it is to be hoped) recommend them to their friends (see above, reason two why anyone buys a novel). It's also for the folks who want to buy your book for whatever reason (they read another of your books, for example). The publisher wants your book to be on the shelf when that person walks in the door, because if it isn't, the odds are low that they'll seek it out. They'll buy another book instead.
Another thing that all publishers do is put an attractive cover on your book. Book covers are meant to be point-of-sale ads for the book. The publisher may well have paid as much to the cover artist as they did to you.
You could hire your own publicist. Sure. But rather than that, blowing your entire advance to make back pennies on the dollar, you'd be better advised to spend your advance on groceries while you're writing your next book. Because each of your books is the best possible publicity for all the others. Write another novel. You're an excellent, professional author, right? Do what writers do. Write. The short story you sell to a major magazine is better publicity than anything you could buy.
If merely running external marketing campaigns was all that it took to make any book a best-seller, publishers would run them on every book. Who wouldn't want every book to be a best seller?
The idea that publishers don't market and promote their products effectively is a strange one, and it's retold by people who aren't your friends. Publishers want to sell all their books, including yours, because that's how they make their money.