Author Penelope Trunk Takes Advance Then Leaves to Self-Publish Because Publisher Didn’t Know Online Marketing

Author Penelope Trunk got a big advance from a big publisher and then after determining that the publisher was “incompetent” when it came to online marketing, she decided to take the money and run — that is, self-publish.

Trunk revealed this and more in a fiery blog post yesterday in which she recounted multiple meetings with the publishers’ publicity and marketing departments. The climax of her story comes when the head of marketing threatens not to publish her book and she responds, “Great. Because I think you are incompetent. And also, you have already paid me. It’s a great deal for me.”

She won’t tell who the publisher is, but her first book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success was published by Warren Business Books and, according to book-deal-tracking site Publishers Marketplace, the last book she sold was to Random House in 2007. In her blog post, she says she sold her most recent book, The New American Dream: A Blueprint for a New Path to Success, the subject of the post, to “a mainstream publisher” two years ago.

Warner has since been sold to Hachette Book Group and its name has been changed to Grand Central Publishing. Digital Book Wire has reached out to both Random House and Hachette to confirm whether one of those companies is the publisher in question; this story will be updated as we learn more information.

According to a source familiar with the matter, there was a contract between Random House imprint Crown and Trunk in 2007. The project was derailed and ultimately cancelled in 2008 by Crown without the publisher ever seeing any portion of a manuscript. The blog post is almost certainly not about Random House or any of its imprints, the source said. Similarly a spokesperson for Hachette told Digital Book World that it, too, is not the company that signed a deal with Trunk two years ago and is the subject of the post, adding the two parties parted ways after Brazen Careerist.

UPDATE: Slave to Happiness: Why Having an Interesting Life Is the New American Dream by Penelope Trunk is listed by Que (an imprint of Pearson) as an upcoming title that was to be published in February 2012. An Amazon UK page has it as an upcoming title with that publishing date. Digital Book World has put out a query to Que to confirm whether it is Trunk’s publisher and the publisher mentioned in Trunk’s piece.

The point of Trunk’s post is that she believes that most of the books she sells will be e-books and that the publisher she was working with does not know how to market e-books or market online.

When she initially asked what the publicity department’s plan to market her books, she says she was given the answer, “newsgroups,” to which she replied: “You mean like newsgroups from the early 90s?… Who is part of newsgroups anymore?”

In a later meeting, she was told LinkedIn would be used to publicize her books, another option she found unsatisfying, adding that publishers don’t have brands and followings online and so cannot yet effectively promote their authors’ books through the online platforms they control.

After a final meeting in which she decided to publish the book herself, Trunk says she spent six months researching the publishing industry and coming to five conclusions:

1. “Self-published books are the new business card.”

2. Nonfiction writers write books to get speaking engagements and build their careers.

3. “Book sales are about community.” (Replace community with “tribe” and it’s straight out of Seth Godin, marketing guru and outspoken book industry observer.)

Related: Is Seth Godin Right About Book Publishing?

4. “Book sales are about search engine marketing.”

5. “The only reason to have a print book is to be in Barnes & Noble.” Not for book sales, she says, but for the ego boost of going into a Barnes & Noble and seeing your book on the shelf.

Trunk eventually decided to self-publish with Hyperink, a self-publishing platform that she says is focused on turning blog content into e-books.

According to Trunk, the book publishing industry doesn’t know what it’s doing with marketing and that authors with platforms — in her case, a popular blog — have more control of their marketing than publishers do.

Her post has created a minor stir in the industry, with blogs picking up the story, emails among industry professionals speculating on the publisher in question flying and over 90 comments on her original post — and counting.

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