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HE 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 book-lists 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 sometimes 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 Times 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 re-issuing 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