Tuesday, August 07, 2012

On Stephen Colbert, BEA, Blads, and Book Promotion

We tend to view events like trade shows, conferences, book fairs and even poetry readings as moments that disappear. But they aren't. No matter how we participate, as readers, signers, presenters,  planners, attendees, these are occasions that continue to give.  Here is a little refelection on one of the author's breakfasts at Book Expo America more than a month ago. Yep, it's still giving.


Some of the major lessons I get at BEA are the ones I already knew. One came up and slapped me in the face when my husband and I found our stack of freebies on our seats at the adult author breakfast. The authors who are speaking always provide gifts to those who pay their $45 for a continental breakfast and the glory of hearing top authors speak. After all, even the author-stars who are invited to hold forth at these events want and need publicity. So, I’m looking forward to this stash I don't have to stand in line on the tradeshow floor to get.

Stephen Colbert is the moderator and a very funny one he is, too. Most of his spiel is about Fifty Shades of Grey, veiled allusions to the idea that great literature may be dead. These jokes may also reflect a little jealousy that the author of that book came up from the self-published ranks with her New York Times bestseller—shall we call it trash? Stephen's schtick was funny. But the rise of Grey is another story for another time.  

As he spoke, I found a minute between bites of the New York bagels and his jokes to look for his new nonfiction book in my stash. It is America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't (http://amzn.to/SColbertAmerica). Then comes the disappointment. It wasn't a book. It was a very elaborate promotional brochure (they called it a blad)—so elaborate that it probably cost more than most full books.

This, of course, was because his book won't be released until fall. Still, here it was. With it's glossy cover of a quality that compares with the best paperback books. The title and author's name in embossed letters. Huge! And in silver, no less. Inside a pair of 3D glasses like the ones we got in the 50s at the first 3D movie we ever attended (nostalgia sells!). And then pages and pages of excerpts from the book (carefully disclaimed as unedited, incomplete, etc.) in a design that had to be the most beautifully integrated branding campaign I've ever seen. And, by the way, the whole interior comes alive in 3D when we put on the glasses, though it is readable without doing so. You know, just in case.

And, yeah. it's now my turn to get this pang of jealousy.

No way is any self-published book or book published by a small press going to get this kind of play. No way is a book from a literary author--even the most talented literary or most famous--going to get this kind of attention. No way would our land's most famous poet laureate experience this kind of marketing.

Well, that pang (pain?) lasted about two seconds. This is business, after all. We live in a capitalistic society. I have…ahem!...marketing instincts. Of course. I know something about our beloved industry. Celebrity sells. Humor sells. Politics sells. And when something sells, there is more money for marketing of every kind. Hatchette, the publisher of Colbert's book, obviously expects big sales from America.

If you would like this treatment you do one or both of these things:

  1. Write a book you know has huge potential for sales. This is a great idea, but it's hard to time a book just right to match the next big trend. I also believe in following one's passion. If you don't have the passion, forget number one.
  2. Figure out a marketing campaign that will make your book—and your career—the best it can be. Not to compete with Colbert's. We have to be realistic. But one that sparkles, that lets people know how they will benefit from what you have written. If someone else (like Hatchette!) will be doing it for you, learn how you can best partner with them so that you can learn as much as you can to apply to the next book you write and so that their efforts will be compounded.

Oh, and number three. Buy a few books this year. Our industry needs our support. We don't have time for pangs of jealousy unless we turn them to something positive. We're all in this together. You go, Stephen! If your book sells tons, maybe Hatchette will add more authors to their midlist in 2013.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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