The question: Typically, when it comes to promoting the book, once published, what promoting is done on the publisher’s side? I understand my side, ie: signings, radio, speaking… but what should the publisher be doing?
That is the ultimate measure of a publisher. Think of it as a scale with a print on demand publisher or vanity press on one end and houses like Random House and Simon Schuster on the other. There is a difference in the amount of editing houses do and how good the final product is, but setting that aside and assuming all books are the same the difference would be distribution and sales. On the very low end the author gets a book in print, period, and the sales and promotion are strictly up to them. On the high end, particularly with an A list author, there is advertising and sales and representatives selling into bookstores and into chain stores and buying end-caps and placement, etc etc. With a mid-list or more so with a new author even the big guys offer less support and depend more on the author to generate sales.
The question is where does your publisher fall on this scale. The one you described would be on the low end, but some low end publishers work very hard at helping their authors get books sold. One caveat, however, hearing that your publisher distributes through Ingrams or Baker and Taylor or some other known distributor does not mean your book is going to be in stores. It simply means it is available for order. Someone has to make the sales calls or contacts to get the stores to order books. It is unlikely that a very small press would have a sales force out doing this so most of the burden is on the author but they may have a sales strategy to help. Some discussion with them on this would certainly be in order.
There are a lot of strategies out there on accomplishing this and some good books on the subject. I would make it my business to see what tools are available to me and set about using them. I hear some authors say they can hardly wait until they are well known enough that they don’t have to do this. I smile as I tell them that even Stephen King and Tom Clancy and the other big name authors do publicity and promotion, they just get a bigger stage to do it on. They do Good Morning America or the Tonight show or something like that instead of trying to get a plug on the local radio station.
That is called platform, and the better the connections we have to create that invaluable word of mouth publicity the better the sales and the more attractive we are to publishers. So you see, there isn’t a simple answer to your question other than to work with your publisher to see what they’ll do to help and to find out everything you can do to make it happen as well.
Once you choose to publish with a small press or even more so if you self publish and you do it as a strategy to interest a larger publisher in your work, it becomes all about sales. You need to generate enough sales to interest a larger publisher. Since your book is already in print and the first rights are consumed, that generally means selling reprint rights and not a lot of publishers are interested in reprints. For those who will look at them having those good sales is critical.
Regardless of the size publisher we work with the author has far more at stake on the book being successful. The publisher has a model where they expect to be okay on the book and they don’t expect every book to sell through anyway. The author on the other hand has all their chips in the game and need to do anything and everything they can to make the book a success.