Nontraditional Publishing: Advice from Mary Cummings, Diversion Books, On What to Consider Before (and After) You Publish


We were thrilled to sit down with Mary Cummings, the Editorial Director of Diversion Books, to pick her brain on what she sees really working in the world of eBooks, and to get her recommendations for authors on best marketing practices for their books.

First, I’m so curious about how you came to naming your company Diversion.

I can take no credit in the naming of Diversion, as it happened well before my time, but we think of “Diversion” in a couple of ways. There’s the book-as-entertainment aspect, as in “this book is a welcome diversion from my busy day,” but also the very real and important distinction of Diversion as a publisher that has “diverted” from the path of traditional publishing insofar as its digital focus and all that comes with it, but has not abandoned the path altogether. In general, we like to think of Diversion as: “traditional approach, digital focus.”

Why publish with Diversion over Amazon?

Do you mean why not self-publish? Well, if you have time, savviness, and energy to put into publishing and promoting your book in an aggressive, ongoing way, then go for it! But even the most successful self-published authors are turning to companies like Diversion because they see value to more hands on deck, a reputable house backing them and enhancing their efforts, and abandoning the more nitty-gritty, technological, metadata-oriented tasks that are in constant need of management for the entire life of the ebook, assuming it is to be successful. Very few authors will be successful just by putting their work out there–it has to be continually nurtured, updated, and attended to on the marketing end.

Do you predict a fadeout of traditional publishers in favor of eBooks?

Yes and no. I think people will always value what traditional houses are able to bring to the table that just isn’t possible otherwise: things like distribution, major publicity and marketing campaigns, top-notch editing, etc. But those traditional publishers are adapting just like everyone else. Over the past year, we have seen the emergence of e-only imprints at even the biggest houses.

What type of books have you seen to work best for you?

Commercial women’s fiction, genre fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery & thriller, etc., as well as non-fiction shorts by authors who are very active online and have large and growing audiences. We’ve also seen some great things happen with backlist by authors who people are still talking about, whose books are still relevant, like Roger Kahn.

What are some selling points that make for a proposal or manuscript you want to snatch up immediately?
More than anything else, an author with a platform is still one of the most appealing aspects of a proposal. That said, if an author is just coming into the world as such, the lack of platform isn’t a dealbreaker, but what IS a dealbreaker is an author who either has no interest in building a platform, or is not willing to put in the time. It’s hard work, but the reality is that unless you are JK Rowling or Stephen King, the “build it and they will come” approach just doesn’t work. ALL of that said, none of this matters if the book isn’t good.

Can you give us a few, brief examples of marketing tactics authors or their publicists have employed with proven success?
Direct author-reader engagement via social media and Goodreads. For non-fiction, excerpt placement with high-traffic sites, ideally accompanied by some sort of “bonus” content like an author interview. Outreach to a guaranteed audience (even family and friends!) that can help get a book out of the gate. Netgalley has also proven hugely successful for us.

Do you think it’s social media more than anything now, particularly where concerns eBooks?
Yes, but not ONLY social media. I think the best situation is where there are media placements, from bloggers to major media–that part doesn’t matter AS much–paired with a very direct and enthusiastic reader engagement approach via social media.

What would your advice be to someone who is considering self or e-publishing with a company like Diversion?

Think realistically about your limitations and your goals. If you are not super savvy online, recognize that you need to get some help in some way in order to utilize the multitude of tools available. Get involved in writer’s groups online (facebook, linkedin, etc.) and become part of the greater writing community. Think about your audience very early on–the sooner you start building a following, the better your chances are once you actually have a book out. And I also think a big component of all of this is the need (for fiction authors, anyway) to write a LOT, not just a single book. Some of the most popular authors I know say they need to think about publishing something every three months or they’ll be forgotten about. People who love you want to read more and more and more, and if you don’t supply, they will not aid in the demand for your work.

In sum, I’d encourage authors to assess what their overall goals and skills are, see where they would ultimately like to spend their time doing (tweeting vs. metadata tweaking, for example), in order to determine what publishing route seems most appealing to them. And no matter what route they take, authors should be prepared to aggressively and actively engage their audiences.

Chris Bailey

"Hyperfocus does a remarkable job of unpacking the realities, obstacles, and best practices of managing the subtle but ever-present world of our conscious attention. All of us can get better at how, when, and on what we focus; and this is an extraordinary, eye-opening and research based report of what affects us in this regard, and how to take advantage of this information to achieve greater satisfaction in our lives." — David Allen, author of Getting Things Done