So you’ve written your book. You’re lucky and you have a mainstream publisher to put it out. You know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other books coming out that month.
What do you do to get noticed?
If you’re bestselling author James Patterson, you create a “self-destructing” book, a publicity coup that garners gobs of media attention. The idea: sell off a $300,000 “experience” that includes said self-destructing book, a five-course dinner with the author and a pair of 14-carat-gold binoculars. The less financially endowed vie for 1,000 digital copies of Private Vegas on their Facebook pages. You drip the books out over five days. And give fans just 24 hours to read them.
Patterson and the creative team at ad agency Mother New York wanted to take “something that is already thrilling” (Patterson writes thrillers) and make “the act of reading itself even more thrilling,” said Jose Funegra, who was part of the senior creative team that came up with the idea for this unusual launch.
“We wanted to challenge the publishing business in how they’re actually marketing books,” said creative director Daniel Carlsson.
They came up with the idea “to create this new way of reading where you’re reading against the clock. His books are difficult to put down but now, with this idea of having 24 hours, you need to just be with the book and stop your life.”
The campaign has garnered international attention, though they won’t say if they’ve sold the $300,000 edition yet.
In an increasingly competitive publishing industry, the campaign is a sign of the changing times.
“A campaign like this helps to cut through the clutter and get people talking about the book, especially in circles where they might not otherwise,” says Beth Lockley, vice-president of marketing and publicity and Penguin Canada. “It also offers media more to report about and offers consumers another reason to share about the book on their social networks.”
Here in Canada, one event that created headlines was a 2006 boxing match between writer Craig Davidson and poet Michael Knox to promote Davidson’s first novel, The Fighter.
Penguin Canada’s Stephen Myers wanted to get some media attention for an emerging author.
He was inspired, he says, in part by Canadian publisher Jack McClelland and by boxing matches by literary and arts bon vivant Arthur Cravan, who famously stepped into the ring in 1916 with Jack Johnson, the heavyweight champion of the world at the time.
(There was also an infamous Ernest Hemingway/Morley Callaghan boxing match the Canadian author wrote about in That Summer In Paris.)
The beginning of big marketing for Canadian literature really started in the 1960s with McClelland, who was willing to put himself out there. He famously rode an elephant down Yonge St., had an haute couture CanLit jacket (dubbed his “coat of many authors”) made up, and appeared with author Sylvia Fraser in a toga to promote her 1980 book The Emperor’s Virgin.
Back to the Toronto match. The campaign spread out over months, with Davidson blogging about his training, using the posts “to seed stories in more traditional media,” says Myers.
The match was held at Florida Jack’s Boxing Gym and Davidson lost. The publishing house won, however, with massive write-ups on the event and Davidson’s book got international reviews.
For Orca Books, the idea of binge reading (kind of like binge-watching a TV show) has worked to sell their Seven the Series books to young readers. The idea was that seven well-known authors would write a book, each picking up on the same theme: a grandfather had a thrilling past that each of his seven grandsons would explore in a different way. The series was structured so you could read one book or all.
The seven authors did a road trip of sorts, visiting schools. Andrew Wooldridge, publisher at Orca, says it became a real event for the schools.
“For us as a medium-sized Canadian company we sold 100,000 combined of the first seven books . . . very successful by the standards of this country,” said Wooldridge. (In Canada, books are considered bestsellers at 5,000 copies.)
That original success spawned a Seven Sequels series.
Other authors firmly believe that reader engagement and the personal touch help get them on bestseller lists.
Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans and three other novels, gave “142 small book talks” last year. One of his strategies to connect with readers is “not to say no.”
So he’ll go to readings with only nine people, for example, because “if you are nice and humble and entertaining, and can converse and construct complete sentences in other peoples’ presence, and it’s an enjoyable evening for them I’m convinced they will buy your next book.”
He might be right. The Best Laid Plans (which was also made into a CBC TV series) has sold more than 100,000 copies, with his other books in the 30,000 to 40,000 range.
Social media efforts can backfire, though. Recently, an author sent warm cherry pies along with her book to editors across Toronto. While there was some Twitter buzz about the pies, nobody talked about the book.