I hate to say this, but I now understand why a rejection letter might say "Your writing is lovely, but we don't think we can sell the book." Or why you may hear from your agent that the publisher's marketing department decided to "pass" on your book. Marketing department? What does the marketing department know about good writing? Have those people even read a book?
I am publishing Laura's book because I love it. The writing is excellent and the subject compelling, especially because she writes about children with such clarity and descriptive power, the fact they are blind becomes incidental. The blindness is a challenge and can be difficult, but it's not the only thing that matters to these children. They are vivid, powerful human beings. I don't feel sorry for them while reading this book, and that is a hard thing to accomplish. Laura is a great writer who understands her students.
But I am also publishing her book because I know it can sell. She has a huge contact list, is well respected in the community, and is comfortable talking to people about herself and her work. If I had the cash, I'd publish it regardless of whether or not I thought I could sell it. Since I don't have much money, and need to keep Medusa alive somehow, I need to earn back the money I spend on the project. I don't expect to get rich at this because I know being a publisher is a bad way to earn a retirement fund. I am a publisher because I love books and I want to help people who may not get a chance tell their story. If I don't think I can sell at least enough books to pay the printer, then I will pass on the project.
Marketing is looking at the project as a whole and figuring out before you invest much energy, time or money, if it is viable. Viability means - can the project support itself? This is different from Public Relations because PR is about spreading the word when the book is complete. Marketing is figuring out if you can afford to publish it at all.
So I cut my novel from the Medusa project list. I wrote a fiction book two years ago and have been desperately trying to get it published. I'm up to 70 rejection letters. Most have been very nice, but the nice ones say, "I like your writing, but I don't think this project can compete in the market." Can't sell it. I decided, screw it! I'll publish it myself. Then I began to question that logic. Is this project a good match for Medusa? Does it fit the mission of the press: "To tell the stories of people who have faced despair and used it to positively transform their lives?" No, my book doesn't. Not really. Does it have the ability to support itself? Doubt it. Then no matter how much I long to see my book in print, I have to let it go. Because the press is more important than my own desires.
Instead I am looking at another project of mine. The book about Paul. Does the book match our mission? Yes. Can it sustain itself? Perhaps. The run will be small, so I'll need to keep costs low. I feel it is important to tell this story, but it is actually Paul's story, not so much mine. His life and friendship profoundly effected mine and I want to share that journey with others. Then it is an important project for Medusa and the marketing department (Jane and I) need to examine all the parts of the project to determine costs, distribution and PR.
And that is what Marketing is.