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« How They're Doing It | Main | Who said Booktrailers are just for Books? »

May 10, 2007

Comments

Simon Haynes

"You’ll be glad you did."

I realise this was tongue in cheek, but let's face it ... the publishing industry is too genteel for that sort of cut-throat advertising. Plus cars are impersonal, whereas the author you just trashed might end up publishing their next book with your house.

Interesting articles though. Lots to learn and study - thanks.

I'm particularly interested in the idea of video promos to sell books. Much more visual, and more likely for a good one to spread than it is for an effective blurb to be repeated.

Leora Skolkin-Smith

Fascinating. This also explains why the same authors keep getting so MUCH major media attention and newcomers rarely get any attention unless attached to big budgets. The big names are brand-names already and the pub;lishing system perpetuates the inequities.The system of huge review attention and huge publicity promotions seems to be feeding this, too.

This series is so illuminating. thanks for running it, MJ and Gregory. I agree, though with Simon that it wouldn't be in any unknown athor's interest to "badmouth" the big celebrity authors, that's how we get locked in because they also are the "Blurbers" and might in be our house any day. The hierarchy is nearly impenetrable. I mean, who would dare say, "No, Michael Chabon, though enormously gifted, is not a "genius" and so-and-so (who no one ever ever heard of) brings you an authentic, fresh Jewish writing which is rarely lauded because etc... Fear of reprove and rebuke from critics and publishers and just about everyone would work against one using comparisons. And so only brand-new authors continue to dominate the market, often quite blindly said to write "masterpieces" (when maybe their novels are just very good or quite good, but hardly genius) I think this is working across the board.
Then how can you say: well, better literature is better for you? The way a car that is better is better for you? Then how without gigantic budgets can an unknown author even dare to fight back? Very complex questions, I think.

Once in a while miraculously a truly "brilliant non-brand name writer will emerge like the recent Chilean writer Robert Bolanos, author of "The Savage Detectives" but when I think of it, I think it's really because they were able to compare him to Gabriel Marquez and Isabel Allende (the "brand-names") and say Bolanos was a fresher voice.

I wish authors had the money to break through the brand-name dynasty but that's another huge problem.

Sorry to go on but thank you so very much for such a rich and valuable analysis of how marketing really works.

Simon Haynes

Authors don't start out as brand names, though. Publishers don't say 'let's take this unknown and turn them into a worldwide brand.'

No, first the author has to survive boot camp, which for most involves clinging to a publisher for two, three, four books while figures - hopefully - continue to build.

It's only when the public goes wild that the brand is born, and from that point the publisher will throw buckets of money at every release.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but publishers can't just advertise an unknown and turn them into a household name. Word of mouth does that, and you can't buy it.

gregory huffstutter

True that authors don't start out as worldwide brand names... but publishers *could* advertise an unknown and turn them into a household name if they spent enough money.

Movies do it all the time. Was 'Borat' a household name before the massive advertising/publicity campaign?

The problem comes back to break-even cost. 99.9% of books don't generate enough income to justify a $20-40 million dollar advertising campaign like a major motion picture release.

Borat earned over $250 million worldwide -- so their advertising budget was well spent. Most books sell less than 5,000 copies, so the upside potential from the publisher's POV is much lower.

But just because most authors don't have the same budgets at Sony Pictures, doesn't mean they can't do effective advertising on a smaller scale.

I thought Toni McGee Causey did a great job of taking messaging cues from 'brand advertising' while making something that could be re-purposed in a cost-effecient manner (YouTube, rich media online banners, burned DVDs for booksellers).

Thanks for the comments... and I'm glad you didn't take my proposed Stephen King commercial too seriously.

I'm not advocating that authors turn into cut-throat smear artists. No need to turn bookselling into a political campaign.

Leora Skolkin-Smith

Good points, Gregory and it is indeed comforting to know there are alternatives, your suggestions are so helpful!

And, yes, I agree that right now unknowns can be turned into brand-names and then some writers end being victims because they have to produce and maybe they have been pushed so hard because the publishers has to get their money back their paralyzed in their second books. I'm really also truly sympathetic to those unknowns who are catapulted without really having a chance to just drift and grow, too.

Thanks again for your excellent column!

JA Konrath

Nice post. :)

I want to comment on your reply:

GH: True that authors don't start out as worldwide brand names... but publishers *could* advertise an unknown and turn them into a household name if they spent enough money.

JA: Publishers have tried this, and failed.

To posit that all a book needs to succeed is enough advertisement is like saying that every book can be a bestseller if the marketing budget is big enough. This simply isn't true, or else every book released would be a bestseller.

GH: Movies do it all the time. Was 'Borat' a household name before the massive advertising/publicity campaign?

JA: This is a chicken/egg arguement. Did dvertising make Borat big, or did Borat catch on in spite of advertising?

In other words, did the hype fuel the product, or did the product fuel the hype?

We can't ever know. But we can look at box office bombs and see how much money they spent on advertising, and it is close to what was spent on Borat.

GH: Borat earned over $250 million worldwide -- so their advertising budget was well spent. Most books sell less than 5,000 copies, so the upside potential from the publisher's POV is much lower.

But just because most authors don't have the same budgets at Sony Pictures, doesn't mean they can't do effective advertising on a smaller scale.

JA: That assumes equal ratios, which can't be proven.

Say I spend 1 million dollars in advertising, and generate X sales income.

That doesn't mean I can spent $10,000 dollars on ads, and automatically guarantee 1/100X sales income.

The money spent on big TV and newspaper ads can't translate percetage of effectiveness to a smaller campaign. Especially since many ads fail, despite their budget.

I'm all for vidlits and flashy websites, but has anyone done a study of how many fiction readers give a shit about online content?

Is James Patterson huge because he has a killer website?

Or did he get huge, and then could afford a killer website?

Spending thousands of $$$ on a book trailer, when that money could be used to tour and meet booksellers, doesn't make much sense.

As I've said before: Have you ever seen an ad which made you run out and buy the book? A website? A book trailer?

Compare that to a bookseller who says to you, "Trust me, you'll love this."

Which is more cost-effective?

gregory huffstutter

JA,

Give me $60 million dollars, and I could turn JT Ellison, MJ Rose, or you into a household name.

But as you're right to speculate, there is a difference between creating a 'household name' and selling product.

'Grindhouse' spent a boatload of money to promote the pairing of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodgriguez... and it didn't pan out for a variety of reasons.

After you create upper funnel awareness, things like poor word of mouth, lousy reviews, bad timing, heavy competition, or simply a bad product can sink your efforts.

Advertising is only one leg of the stool -- you also have to have a product that lives up to the hype and a competitive price point and hit the market at the right time.

I will never argue with you that word of mouth and handselling is the most efficient, cost-effective form of sales. But as more and more transactions are taking place outside the bookstore, how does the general public learn about new authors and new titles?

That is the challenge. And I wish it were as easy as coming up with a ratio: "If I spend $1 million on advertising I'll generate X sales, and if I only spend $10K, I'll get 1/100th of that."

The same way you say that a video trailer has never made you buy a book -- so they must not be effective -- I could say that I would've never heard of and never bought "Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day" if not for that trailer. It doesn't make either of us right or wrong. Everyone approaches advertising messages differently.

I believe the answer is to have a varied media plan -- not relying solely on touring, not relying solely on traditional advertising. And whenever possible, brand yourself or your main character while giving pertinent information like release dates and distribution.

Simon Haynes

"Or did he get huge, and then could afford a killer website?"

That's my point exactly. There has to be a load of smouldering timber before the publisher's can 'o' gas sets the whole thing raging. Throwing fuel onto cold, damp wood achieves nothing.

And the smouldering timber is mostly the author's department. It's all in the book, which is why the playing field is so much more even than it looks. A book with all the right elements CAN become a massive hit, but the combination is so rare we might not see more than one a decade.

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