Friday, September 14, 2007

Book Marketing 101


I have written several times here about how books are marketed, particularly the way that they are placed in the big chain bookstores around the world, so I found this article to be interesting despite the fact that I have not read the book it discusses, "Eat, Pray, Love." It explains the process that one publisher, Viking/Penguin, uses to create a huge paperback bestseller through astute marketing techniques despite the fact that the book did not reach anything near that level in hardback.

The book's transformation from respectable-selling hardcover to paperback sensation was no accident. It came about after a series of calculated moves from Viking's sister Penguin paperback line, where executives worked to interpret sales patterns and create a marketing blitz to attract individual readers as well as book clubs.
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The vast majority of books face a tough reality. New releases that fail to take off in the first couple of weeks -- when publishers often pay to place copies on stores' front tables -- are relegated to the back shelves.
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In the case of "Eat, Pray, Love," executives at Penguin paid close attention to the hardcover's early reception. It was excerpted in Oprah Winfrey's O magazine and landed a favorable cover article in the New York Times Book Review -- both big plums for any author.
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The title surfaced on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list at No. 12 for the issue dated March 19, and then fell to No. 15 the following week. On March 21, Ms. Gilbert appeared on NBC's "Today" show and the book again hit the list for another week.
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"What you're looking for are books that didn't just ship and die," says Kathryn Court, publisher of Penguin Books. Hardcovers, in other words, that have already "seeded the audience." Ms. Court makes a point of sitting in on Viking's promotion and strategy sessions, where she looks for titles that have reordered well and whose sales are growing week to week.

In fall 2006, Ms. Court began to put a plan in motion. First, she decided that the hardcover dust jacket -- with its script lettering rendered in pasta, prayer beads and flowers -- was so appealing that she would use it again for the paperback. Penguin then threw all of its sales and marketing muscle behind the paperback release, set for Jan. 30, 2007.

Each month Penguin publishes 15 to 20 fancy "trade" paperbacks -- high-quality editions that are larger in format and easier to read than their cheaper, mass-market cousins. But it only really lends its weight to one or two. As a sign of its commitment, Penguin ordered a first printing of 170,000 paperbacks for "Eat, Pray, Love" -- more copies than the book had sold in hardcover, and very large for a nonfiction title. Price, too, was significant. The hardcover cost $24.95, while the trade paperback would be much more affordable, at $15.
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Upon its debut, Penguin made certain the paperback would have high visibility in stores, promoting "Eat, Pray, Love" with freestanding 12-copy floor displays. That was a show of confidence among retailers, who reserve such prime, paid real estate for books with huge promise.

Penguin also invested in ads. In addition to targeting usual suspects like the New York Times Book Review and the New Yorker magazine, it bought space in Yoga Journal -- a nod to the book's spiritual sensibility. The publishers' sales and marketing team focused on the book's progress in weekly meetings. The goal was to create so much buzz that the book would quickly become a New York Times best seller -- which it did.
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Selling Ms. Gilbert, the author, was just as crucial. Unlike many writers who don't like touring and are uncomfortable in front of crowds, Ms. Gilbert has a sunny, upbeat personality that plays well on television and in personal appearances. Notes Ms. Court: "When the writer of a book is attractive, generous, and funny, booksellers end up rooting for her."
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The author gained book-club traction. Her memoir was the No. 3 Book Sense Reading Group Pick for spring/summer 2007, which meant many of the independent bookstore members of the American Booksellers Association recommended it to their customers.

Such kudos are key to winning over retailers like the Tattered Cover. Based in the greater Denver area, it has three locations and sells to more than 100 book clubs. It also sends out a bimonthly email newsletter to 3,000 club members. Five years ago the retailer serviced only half as many clubs.

"It all feeds word of mouth, and that's what takes you from 5,000 copies to 50,000 copies to 500,000 copies," says Ms. Court. "We can't make people love a book."
And there you have a plan that works.

Book publishers are faced with the unenviable task of trying to produce a few "hits" that will help to carry them through all the "misses" that they publish each year. The sad thing for me, as a reader, is that the hits are not always the best books that are published in any given year. But rather than resent that fact, I am thankful that the hits come along as often as they do and that they make it possible for Penguin and others to publish as many different books each year as they do.

I have to keep reminding myself that it really is all about the bottom line and that publishing is just "big business" by another name. Of course, I never will understand the size of some of the advances that are paid to certain writers for their work, usually politicians like the Clintons and others, when there is little chance that those advances will ever be recovered by sales dollars. Maybe it's the prestige of publishing certain books or names that convinces publishers to make what seems like such poor business decisions.

12 comments:

  1. I think the stars were aligned for Gilberts book! It really is all about marketing these days. Even my library now has a mini marketing department!! I did read the book--it is pretty good--I liked certains parts more than others. It wasn't my favorite book of the year, and I checked it out from the library, but I can see where it would be very appealing to readers. Did you know they are also making it into a movie? She also got the book deal before she even traveled to these places--not sure if that was mentioned or even matters. I think I read that in the initial NYT book review.

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  2. It all came together perfectly, looks like, Danielle. This kind of thing seems to have several times a year and I always wonder how the lucky book reached that level. It always seems to be some combination of factors that gets a book noticed and to the top of the heap. But this approach seems to have worked by formula and I wonder if it will become the way to create the new "winners."

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  3. I started thinking about how much the books we hear about owe their popularity to marketing when I had a hard time finding ANY information about most of the Man Booker Dozen (before they announced the short list). It makes me wonder if even the books that win this country's big prizes owe that to a lot of marketing. Because basically, if a book isn't reviewed in the big media (NY Times Book Review, or Washington Post), they'll never even be in the running for a prize. It makes me even gladder that book blogs do a lot of word-of-keyboard publicity for some of the lesser-known books. Though I realize that of course we bloggers ALSO mostly hear about the books with big marketing blitzes.

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  4. I'm hesitant to read this book. Although I enjoyed her book "The Last American Man", Gilbert couldn't keep herself out of the story of Eustace Conway even after she established how they met. And now with this book, there's nothing to restrain her since it's all about Elizabeth Gilbert, her favorite subject. Well, that's how she comes across, fair or unfair.

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  5. Good for her! Sadly, only 1% of the published authors in this country receive that kind of money for marketing. Most receive less than $100, usually nothing. So it is up to the author to spend the money to make a book a success. The "in" thng now is for authors to hire their own Publicists. But
    if you do the math you realize most authors doing that will spend more than they make in royalties.

    That's why you see so many silly books published by big publishers, as you mentioned in a previous post. Silly books sell with no marketing money behind them.

    I would say if this bothers you then it is important to spend the money to buy the books you like to read. That is the only way good writers and good books will continue to be published, because this business is all about money, just like most big businesses. And that makes sense...they have to make money to stay in business. Can't begrudge them that.

    You know what I do? I buy a lot of books every year, and every time I do I think of it as a "donation" I am making to the writer. I am happy to add a little bit to the royalties of a writer I enjoy, and whom I hope will continue to be published. Some may think this is a strange way to look at a book purchase, but it's a crazy business, and I have never been normal (grin)!

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  6. As you say, Sam, it's important to remember that one bestseller can help make up for the ones that see print and then hit the remaindered table quickly.

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  7. Dewey, you're right, I think, about how hard it is for word to get out about any books not lucky enough to be chosen for review in one of the big papers or magazines. I do add regularly to my TBR list from those sources but, more and more, I'm coming to rely on fellow bloggers to point out books to me that I would have otherwise have missed.

    That's why my TBR list changes every day and is longer than ever. :-)

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  8. I don't know her work at all, Bybee, but I find your characterization of her work to be an interesting one. Thanks.

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  9. Laura, I can't even imagine how most authors could afford to pay for their own publicity. Most writers just don't make really big bucks from their work, as it is, and to have to spend on something that should be part of their publishing deal is just wrong.

    I agree with you completely about spending money on books as votes of confidence to be sent back to the publisher of favorite writers. I buy certain writers in hard cover strictly for that reason. I want to see them able to continue writing their stuff and I figure that each of my dollars is like a positive vote for them.

    I do the same thing, in fact, for musicians on independent labels who are struggling to survive in the business. IMO, it's money well spent.

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  10. That's a key point, Jill. Some of the stinkers that I would never read myself are going a long way to make it possible for other books that I will read to get published. I have to keep reminding myself of that fact. :-)

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  11. Good for you, Sam! Wow, and hardcovers too. That's great!!

    The "publishing deal." Hmmm. For 99% of the published writers out there the "publishing deal" is just that...publishing. Writers are not only responsible for writing a novel that will sell, but also for paying for all the marketing, publicity, advertising, you name it to sell the book. Times have changed for sure! :)

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  12. That kind of publishing deal is very similar to what goes on in the music business, Laura. I have some friends who record on independent labels for just that reason...they can't afford to reimburse a major label for all the publicity costs and the costs involved in shooting music videos. It's ultimately more profitable for them to record with a smaller label and to sell fewer copies of their work.

    It's a very strange business model, but it works for them.

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