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Author Marketing Questionnaire;
An Author's Most Important Writing Assignment

By Lloyd J. Jassin

It is nearly every writer and publisher’s unattainable fantasy, but books do not sell themselves.  Someone has to bring them to the attention of booksellers, libraries, and the reading public. However, before consumers can be educated about a book’s qualities, or enticed by reviews, the author must educate and entice his publisher. An author’s most effective tool for communicating information about the marketability of his book to his publisher is the author questionnaire. This questionnaire, when properly filled out, provides the publisher with guidance and advice on sales, promotion, and publicity opportunities for the book. 
Here is a link to a sample author questionnaire, similar to one I used when I was Director of Publicity for Prentice Hall Press. The value of the questionnaire resides in the fact that authors know their subject intimately. Moreover, they are often experts in their field, and may have myriad contacts that the publisher’s sales and marketing departments can exploit. Today, as a practicing attorney, I often recommend that before the second half of the author’s advance is paid, that the author be required to complete and return the author questionnaire to the publisher.
In larger publishing houses, the book's editor circulates the questionnaire to the sales, publicity, advertising, and subsidiary rights departments.  These departments -- relying in large part on the information provided by the questionnaire -- work together to create a marketing plan for each book on their seasonal publishing list.   Ironically, those responsible for selling the book to booksellers, rarely talk to authors. Hence, the questionnaire may be the only opportunity the author has to communicate what is special about the book to the publisher’s assorted departments.

A well-drafted questionnaire is of enormous value to a publisher. While bookstore sales are the norm for most books, many niche titles have the potential to sell significant numbers in what is known as "special sales" (i.e. nontraditional) outlets. The primary source of information for special sales opportunities (e.g., bulk sale of books to associations) is the author questionnaire.  Since word of mouth and publicity are the most effective marketing tools in the publisher’s arsenal, the questionnaire asks the author to provide names of opinion leaders who can provide endorsement quotes. As we all know, controversy sells books. If there is something controversial or revelatory about the book, the author is in the best position to determine what those elements are. The publicity department to pitch the book to broadcast outlets, as well as print and Internet journalists can use that information.
Authors can also be helpful in coming up with a concise sales handle that sets their book apart from the competition. Books, like brands, have to be positioned. When I was Director of Publicity for Prentice Hall Press, John Rosen (then PHP's marketing director) once said, "The essence of positioning is sacrifice.  You must give something up so the advertising can have focus.”  Setting the book apart from its competition in one or two sentences is crucial in book marketing – providing a hook that will hopefully resonate with potential buyers.


Keep in mind that the publisher will consider suggestions, but final approval over catalog and flap copy, who to send the book to, and so forth, ultimately rests with the publisher.
From the author's point of view, understanding the business reasons behind the queries posed by the questionnaire is an important step in gaining an appreciation of the publishing process.  While writing, editing and printing are of course essential facets of that process, those activities, in and of themselves, they do not constitute publishing.  Sales and distribution – abetted by savvy marketing – is key to the publishing process
Remember, no one knows a book -- and the market for that book -- better than the author does.  Taking time to complete the author questionnaire is time well spent.


Lloyd J. Jassin is a book publishing attorney.  He represents agents, authors, book publishers on a wide range of publishing law issues.  His practice includes drafting and negotiating publishing and entertainment industry agreements, libel vetting and trademark registration and prosecution.  Prior to law school, Lloyd was Director of Publicity of Prentice Hall Press. He is coauthor of  The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook (John Wiley) and Vice Chair of the Small Press Center of New York. Contact: 212-354-4442 (t); (email); or visit

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DISCLAIMER: This article discusses general legal issues of interest and is not designed to give any specific legal advice pertaining to any specific circumstances. It is important that professional legal advice be obtained before acting upon any of the information contained in this article.

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Co-author of The Copyright Permission & Libel Handbook (John Wiley & Sons)

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