So now I'd like to go back to her original "Test This" post, where MJ pointed to a few of those "radically different promotion and marketing" ideas:
If the publisher isn't going to do radically different promotion and marketing for the book to get the buzz going - the shelf life alone won't solve the problem....So Max, sure, the way it is, just upping shelf life wouldn't work; but testing a new marketing plan and then upping shelf life might.
Even in the film industry - and movies are probably closer to books than anything else - each film is promoted for months to the CONSUMER before it's released. And what's more about hundreds of thousands of filmgoers see every film FREE before it's released to get buzz going....A book should have a two to three month pre-promotional push to the bookseller and then it needs to have a two to three month pre-[pub] promotional push to the reader and then it needs to have a two to three month [publicity and marketing campaign].
It's impossible to argue against the advantages those first two tiers of pre-pub promotion would bring--obviously the more people, booksellers AND readers, who get fired up prior to pub, the better.
But how do you pay for it? Not for a huge lead-slot title, but for something on a more modest scale?
Because (as anybody reading this is sure to know) there are books that get precisely the sort of pre-pub push MJ's advocating. Iain Pears' AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST was a textbook example of an author being sent out on tour months in advance of publication, to swap spit with booksellers all across the country and explain why this massive (700 p. hardcover) really could appeal to a broad audience. The strategy worked beautifully: the booksellers got on board, the book went out in big numbers; Pears then went out on a second tour when the book was published; Riverhead supported it (if memory serves) with a first-rate advertising campaign; the book was widely and well-reviewed--and its visibility and sales were such (it became a huge bestseller) that it all the shelf-life it needed, and then some.
But this was, without question, Riverhead's lead title. And under such circumstances, publishers are (occasionally) willing to go out on a limb, to (as we describe it) "overspend" in marketing and publicity up front in hopes that the per-book marketing spend won't look so outrageous over time--assuming, of course, that the book takes off and the number of copies in the marketplace grows and grows. So--now I'm speaking hypothetically; I don't know any of the specifics of the Riverhead campaign--let's say Betty Brightstar's Big Book ships 50,000 copies initially; and the money we've spent getting there--the A(dvanced) R(eaders) E(dition)s, the meet-the-booksellers pre-pub tour, the on-pub tour, the ads, the co-op, the website, et cetera--comes to $200,000, a.k.a $4.00 per book. (A whopping sum, it must be said.) But let's say things go well and those 50,000 copies become 100,000 copies (now you're down to $2 per book) and eventually 200,000 copies--well, now your marketing spend for Big Book was just a dollar per--which means you're a genius, because your initial outlay has paid off in spades.
Fact is, most publishers have one or two or three such books on every single list. And though the details vary (the big-scale pre-pub bookseller meet-and-greet is still a relative rarity, for instance); and though these titles still represent the great minority of the total number of books published; nonetheless we do see, fairly frequently, isolated examples of the sort of publishing that MJ is referring to.
[Sidebar: if there are, say, 20 such "make" books from various publishers in a particular season--I'm not including already established bestsellers, but "hot" new titles & authors that publishers are excited about and put significant moolah and expectations behind--on average perhaps three of those books come close to being, by any stretch of the imagination, a "success"--and generally two of those three can be deemed such only because the author has two additional books under contract, and the visibility of Big Book--even if sales didn't measure up--may pay dividends for books #2 and #3.
Overall, going for the Big Book home run is--by a huge percentage--a loser's game.]
Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming: somehow I doubt that these are the books that MJ's stumping for--because these are the books that are already going to get their fair share of resources. My sense is that MJ sees a way that these general principles--perhaps applied in different ways, and/or on a slightly smaller scale--can and will work for books with first printings more in the range of, say, 15,000 copies. And this, of course, is what we're all (many of us, anyway) dreaming about: how can books published in "real" quantities--that is, quantities that represent to so-called "average" book--how can these books, and their authors, succeed? What is the model/mechanism whereby books published at a relatively modest scale can, nonetheless, be published (read: as a verb) instead of (as so often seems to be the case) simply tossed out there to fend for themselves (read: D.O.A.).
So: color me intrigued. But there's one thing I still have a hard time getting--and here I'm hoping MJ Rose and Michael Cader and others can light the path: for a modest-scale publication, how do the economics of these three-month pre-pub efforts work? I look back again to MJ's film industry comparison; but because the financial stakes--and the potential upside--for a "big" book pale in comparison to even a "small" movie, that analogy doesn't apply in any practical way.
Then what analogy does? What am I missing? Please walk me through it, help me see how these things can, with some imagination and initiative, be accomplished.
P.S. One of MJ's readers, ScriptGirl, said: "Why can't they leak a first chapter -- or hell, even a first few paragraphs -- to create buzz ahead of launch? We do that in the film/tv biz all the time." In fact first chapters are frequently sent out by publishers, made available through linked sites, and so forth. Also: I'm aware of at least two publishers (and there are probably more) doing active pre-pub outreach to readers, soliciting volunteers to read and appraise a free copy of a forthcoming book, in exchange for letting the publishers use those reviews for publicity--posted to author websites, sent out in e-blasts, etc.
If you know of anything else along these lines, please let me know.
P.P.S. For more on this issue, from a bookseller's perspective, see Bob Gray's excellent Herding Booksellers: Shelf Life & the Co-oping of Lit.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
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