Publishers: Are you maximizing the marketing capacity of your freelancers?

As I put together my post last week on the care and feeding of freelancers, I began to wonder why gestures like inviting freelancers to events and sending them awards news weren’t standard in the industry, and it struck me that most editorial and marketing departments tend to operate independently and too often don’t communicate with one another to refine their strategies. Although this division has its advantages—most editors and authors would be loath to have marketing weigh in on every aspect of a book’s content—it can also mean that publishers may be missing out on an easy way to get the word out about their lists.

In addition to pursuing traditional marketing channels, publishers should also consider taking some simple steps to fold their freelancers into their marketing plans. Why is this a good idea?

1) The editor of a book (or its designer or indexer) can be its most enthusiastic champion

In some ways, an endorsement carries more credibility coming from a freelancer, because, unlike the author or publisher, she has no vested interest in book sales and would be unlikely to go out of her way to promote a book she doesn’t believe in.

2) Everyone has a network*

Freelancers—introversion notwithstanding—are no different. Through social media they can effortlessly reach their contacts with news about their projects, and we’ve all seen how quickly and widely news can spread with social networks serving as a multiplier. Imagine a designer tweeting “Got my comp copy of History of Canadian Photography today. Printer did a beautiful job with the colours!” or an editor posting “Looking forward to next week’s launch of The Backcountry Cookbook at the Outdoor Store. I finally get to meet the author in person! The event starts at 7pm. Hope to see some of you there” and the early buzz that could generate.

What’s more, a freelancer’s likely to have likeminded contacts—people who enjoy the same types of activities, share the same interests, and read the same kinds of books—exactly the audience you want to reach.

3) Reaching out to freelancers helps foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty

And giving them a sense of ownership over their projects from beginning to end helps to encourage high standards and excellent work. Nurturing goodwill will help with freelancer retention, which will cut down on training and recruitment costs.

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So how do you get started?

1) Develop a system to feed freelancer contact information to marketing

The in-house contact for freelancers—whether that person’s called the managing editor, production editor, or production manager—will have a record of who worked on each stage of a book, maybe even in a convenient format like a spreadsheet. Simply make sure that this information is passed along to the person coordinating event, award, and review notices, whose only added task is adding three or four email addresses to a contact list.

2) Develop a concrete policy informing freelancers about what information they can share and when

The term “policy” may be overly formal here—a simple FAQ on an editorial information site (like a wiki) would do. Freelancers—particularly if they’ve never worked in house—may be reluctant to share news about their work on a project because they don’t know if the publisher or author would approve. Letting them know in general terms what you’d encourage them to share will not only free them to publicize the book, but it will also tacitly help them understand the bounds of confidentiality in the author–freelancer–publisher relationship.

You may also want to list some important dates before which information must be held back—for example, the manuscript delivery date, catalogue date, or the pub date. For example, specify when it’s okay for a freelance designer to post a cover image on his blog.

All this said, it may not be wise to expect your freelancers to do any marketing for you. The reason some freelancers work on contract is so that they don’t have to be involved in all aspects of a book’s production and promotion. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe from notifications or newsletters, and consider any free publicity you do get from them gravy.

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Ultimately, publishers have very little control over what their freelancers say or do; we can only hope that they will use good professional judgment and not post or tweet anything that will hurt the book, the author, or the publisher. Setting out these guidelines and improving communication with freelancers about marketing issues can only help your cause as publisher, though, and it carries a low risk with the potential for a high reward.

*Some of you will (rightly) point out the irony of my having neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, but if you’re reading this, you’re part of my network!

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