What Marketing Support Looks Like at a Big 5 Publisher

image by Mace Ojala | via Flickr

by Mace Ojala | via Flickr

Today’s guest post is by author Todd Moss (@toddjmoss).

Cover of The Golden Hour, by Todd MossOne of the unexpected surprises of being a new author is how much goes into promoting your books. I was lucky to be published by Penguin’s Putnam imprint for my debut novel, The Golden Hour. Yet even with the backing of a hefty Big Five publisher, I discovered that delivering the manuscript is just the beginning.

In 2013, Putnam offered me a generous multi-book contract for a thriller series about Judd Ryker, a crisis manager in the State Department inspired in part by my experiences working inside the U.S. Government. In the first installment, Ryker is sent to the West African nation of Mali to try to rescue an American ally who has been overthrown in a coup d’état.

During the sixteen (long!) months between signing the contract and the actual release of the first book in September 2014, Penguin provided an enthusiastic marketing team and two professional publicists. I couldn’t have asked for more support from Putnam, and I’m exceedingly grateful for all they did to help propel The Golden Hour to the Washington Post bestseller list.

The book’s success helped turn a fun, mostly weekend project into a second career. I still love my day job running a Washington DC think tank, so I tightly plan my schedule to allow me to do both. Yet, even with Penguin’s mighty PR machine, there’s still plenty the author is expected to do to create visibility and connect with readers.

Social Media

Putnam helps me by crafting graphics and giving advice when I ask, but I built and manage my own website, created a Facebook author page, and was already fairly active on Twitter. I’m on Twitter nearly every day in short bursts and try to post on Facebook about once per week. I’m taking the long view on social media, as I’m not yet convinced the hours I spend on it greatly impact sales, but I find it energizing to engage directly with fans and other writers. I also created an email database of some five hundred friends and colleagues who want to know the latest and support my writing life. I’m still trying to figure out the right frequency for communicating with this list (how to keep friends in the loop without annoying them), so for now I’m hitting them only once or twice per year.

Print, Radio, and TV

Putnam’s publicists created a press kit and helped me to place articles in USA Today, the Daily Beast, and on NPR’s Goats and Soda. They booked me on MSNBC’s The Cycle and the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, and arranged nearly fifty (!) back-to-back radio interviews over two days. This was tremendous. Yet I’m still tapping my own networks to get in the newspapers or on radio and TV, especially outside of the immediate weeks surrounding a launch.

Public Appearances

I’d heard that traditional book tours are becoming a thing of the past, so I wasn’t expecting much. Still, Putnam arranged a book launch at Politics & Prose (a humbling rite of passage for any Washington DC author) and a brief but exhilarating tour to bookshops in Phoenix and Houston. Turnout at each was mostly friends (and friends of friends!) since, by definition, no one knows debut authors. I hope turnout will growCover of Minute Zero, by Todd Moss over time as my fan base expands. With encouragement from the publisher, I also organized a further seventeen public appearances at schools and professional organizations, plus several private events with book clubs, arranged by friends.

I recently delivered the third manuscript in the series and am starting on the outline for the fourth. But mostly I’m now gearing up to promote book two, Minute Zero, for its release September 15. This time, Ryker is headed to Zimbabwe, where an aging dictator is trying to cling to power through force and fraud. Again, Putnam is doing the heavy lifting on marketing and publicity. But this time around, I’m more prepared to do my part, since I’ve realized that being an author is so much more than just writing books.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , , , .

Todd Moss is author of The Golden Hour, Minute Zero, and the upcoming Ghosts of Havana. In his day job, he is chief operating officer and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. Visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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The other thing Todd Moss did, which he didn’t mention, was write a really terrific book! It has the authenticity thrillers so often lack. (My review here: vweisfeld.com/?p=2883.) I first heard about it from a feature article in The Washington Post–a coup for his publicists, probably, but a natural for the DC audience.

Holly Robinson

This is a fascinating post. I am also with Penguin, but with a different imprint, and I think a lot of what happens with you at a traditional publisher has to do with 1)the size of your advance and 2) the genre you write and 3) your editor’s status. Because I got a modest advance and write fiction that is not political, but more about family secrets and women in conflict, the marketing wheels turned in slightly smaller circles for me: I got one publicist, no book tour, no TV, only a couple of radio shows. The publicist did pitch… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Holly. Excellent points and insight. The most accurate title for this post would actually be “What Marketing Support CAN Look Like …”

From my perspective, what’s interesting about Todd’s post is that I received next to no marketing dollars from the tiny publisher I landed for my historical novel. Yet thru my own efforts over the past year, I’ve landed 30 radio interviews, features on Huffington Post and Brain Pickings and a variety of other publicity. I worked to get over 10K followers on various media sites, and I’ve had multiple readers tell me they picked up the book because of my posts on Pinterest or Tumblr or Twitter. Landed starred reviews on BookList, Historical Novel Reviews, etc. I also did a… Read more »


This is fascinating – thank you so much for sharing your details! I would be curious (if you care to share) about your perceptions of the impact of the media coverage. Do radio interviews sell books? I think for many authors, media coverage is the most daunting part of the process, the ones that self-published authors are most likely to skip or do poorly. And I always wonder – how much are we missing out on if we fail on that front? What is the opportunity?


Wow, are you lucky, Todd! Enjoy the ride, and I wish you fantastic sales. I have to say, though, that the title of this post is misleading; I’d hate for readers to think this happens to every author who signs with a traditional publisher. I have worked with several “Big 5” publishers, and never got even a hint of marketing. I’m happy for you and so glad it still can happen for a new author somewhere, but in my experience and that of most other authors I know, your story is definitely the exception instead of the norm.

Jane Friedman

Hi Pam, I apologize for the misleading title. I suppose the most accurate title would’ve been something like “What ACTUAL Marketing Support Looks Like at a Big 5 Publisher” or “What Marketing Support CAN Look Like at a Big 5 Publisher.” Mainly, I was thinking about how many authors say they get no support at all, so this is what it looks like when support is actually and meaningfully given to an author or title.

J. R. Tomlin

And if you’re not a “top American diplomat” but just a regular Joe Blow writer what does marketing support look like? I can tell you, it looks NOTHING like what Mr. Moss describes.

Debbie A. McClure

This is terrific sharing of information, Todd and Jane! I’ve just started a small writers’ group in my town because we didn’t have one. I’ve been going around for at least five years now thinking I might be the only writer in town. 🙂 One of the things I hope writers in my group who, like me are seeking traditional publication, can understand is that they will be expected to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing and promotion of their work. Too many writers just want to write, and not delve into things like social… Read more »

Paula Cappa

Wow, golden hour for sure! Practically fairyland here. I like the comments because they sound more realistic than Todd’s post. His experience reads more like that one in a million type of thing. Like Debbie above, I started a small authors group in my home town and we all chat about how publishers (indie or big traditional pubs) leave the author to their own devices to promote their books. Holly Robinson’s comment is a familiar story I’ve heard many times. It seems that the “campaign style” of blasting the book through all the right media outlets at the same time… Read more »

[…] Thriller author Todd Moss describes his own marketing efforts and the marketing efforts of his Big Five publisher, Putnam, for his book The Golden Hour.  […]

Catherine Hiller

I published my book Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir with a small publisher. It’s a short, engaging book and we priced it to sell at $8.95. I thought this book might do very well (my 6 other fiction books did only okay) so I hired a publicist. She managed to get me a profile in the news section of the NYTIMES (off the book page!), a podcast on Huffington Post (downloaded 300,000 times), coverage in Marie-Claire and Yahoo Health, and a dozen radio shows. Friends, it was a book launch beyond a fever dream! With every appearance, thousands came… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Hi Catherine – Thanks for sharing your experience here. What I find is that sometimes publicity sells books, sometimes not, but that investments in publicity might be best viewed as investments in your overall visibility and platform—a career-long boost rather than something that directly translates into sales. E.g., that NYT profile can give you credibility and help open other doors that lead to sales.

Catherine Hiller

Yes, Jane, you’re right. New opportunities are indeed opening up! Thanks for your response and your very helpful blog.

John Horvat

I self-published my book and always wondered what would have happened had i gone with a traditional publisher. This post gives me some idea. The bottom like is that wherever you publish, the author is the primary promoter who must have the enthusiasm and tenacity to see the project through. Writing a book is hard, promoting one is even harder. However, both experiences are rewarding.


I wonder what a professional publicist charges and whether it is an investment worth the money. You can end up paying a publicist more than you get from the sales of your book.


Congratulations,Todd! Hope your second book will be successful.
keep going! Waiting forward to your third one:)

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