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GP9Feb05: Shameless Hussy Becomes Road Warrior
The Suits Have Taken Over. It’s often said we’re a nation of salesmen and engineers. Sometimes more one than the other. Though we need the two in perfect balance. Right now, we’re in a sales phase where products have more sizzle than substance. The challenge is to recapture gravitas, so that the things we buy embody both style and substance.
That’s the issue in books. We read lately of Ms. Jane Friedman, chief executive of HarperCollins, a distinguished old publishing house (or a merger, rather, of two nineteenth-century cottages under the umbrella of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) with an undistinguished backlist. (See New York Times, February 6, 2005, pp. 1 and 4.) In a less-than-robust industry, she and HarperCollins consistently report good results on the top and bottom line, for which they deserve no small praise. Once a publicist at Alfred A. Knopf, she’s come up through the ranks based on ardour and effort. But, if she were in advertising, we’d say she’s a suit, not a creative. Clearly, she’s not a book person, and, in fact, book people are no longer in command of the book business.
Wittreich. In fact, neither the suits nor the creatives should be in charge. But a synthesis of the two. Back in the 1960s, Warren Wittreich wrote “How to Buy/Sell Professional Services,” the only worthwhile article on marketing professional services ever written. Along the way, B-school professors aplenty have robbed his thoughts, wrapped them in longish, pedestrian books, and called his ideas their own. They owe him a string of royalties. Unlike all the contemporary historians accused of plagiarism, they have stolen his thoughts instead of mere words.
Wittreich implies that the maker and seller of anything great should be one and the same person. You don’t sell the right thing unless you make it. And you don’t make the right thing unless you sell it. In this vein, we suggest you take a look at “Risky Business” on Poetry and Business, where we learn that the very best poets engage the business of life to the fullest. Professional services, creative endeavors, all matters of excellence—at their best—are inherently custom, one-off activities where the highest craft and intimate familiarity with the user become dialectical partners. Quality blossoms when the creative process is emotionally wedded to customers gathered in the marketplace.
Edited to Death. This week we have invited Ms. Linda Peterson, mystery writer and an old hand at marketing communications, to tell us about peddling her Edited to Death, fueled we discover by her gumption and a whole league of power moms. For starters, it’s a great title for a book, because it nimbly reminds us of the plight of all writers, all of whom would nod with a pained smile if they should hear of it. At every turn, whether they are writing for businesses or for publishers, their writings are turned into chop suey by “suits” who feel that they know best how to hit the soft spot and viscerally connect with people. Parenthetically, most everybody on earth secretly feels as if he or she knows how to write, and it’s hard to keep all such part-time scribblers at bay. On rare occasions some little essence of the writer survives these deathly edits.
Already she is at work on her next mystery, which will be all the better because she’s been so much in contact with her readers on a whirlwind tour around the nation. She’s learning by walking around, often hobnobbing with the secret Legions of Lady Mystery Writers that have chapters in every hamlet in America. We would urge her and other authors to go beyond tours and to get fretfully involved in every aspect of marketing their books, especially the strategy. In fact, the selling plans put forward by most of the publishers are pretty humdrum.
Increasingly, we are discovering that the motormouths who try to do marketing for authors, for professionals, and for complex products bring very little to the party. They flog books, and creative individuals, and the finest goods as if they were commodities, mere grist for any mill. We often counsel chief executives who bring their companies to the financial markets that they, not the thickly suited investment bankers, will have to get the deal done. The investment bankers have a good rolodex, and that’s about it. Nuance is not the banker’s stock in trade.
Incidentally, Ms. Friedman of HarperCollins takes credit for inventing the “author” tour. Back when she was a publicist circa 1970, she tried to put Julia Child on TV to sell her French cooking books. Then she started sending Ms.Child hither and thither to give cooking demonstrations, which moved many books and prepared the authoress for her lifetime of endless trips about the land to spread the word about fine cuisine. Hence, the “tour,” which we suspect is an idea that’s past its prime.
Mysteries, you will understand, are just a very fun vehicle in which authors use their imaginations to kill off incarnations of people they feel the world could do without. And, between the lines, they include long sidebars about the things which really interest them. Ms. Peterson ranges heavily into all sorts of alleys and byways about the San Francisco Bay Area, home base for all her endeavors. As a local, she is able to tell us in one chapter, for instance, that California schoolchildren uniquely know this is the Year of the Rooster and are readying themselves to celebrate the Chinese New Year on February 9. And, of course, she gets to take a comedic look at editing and publishing in a book called Edited to Death.
Here’s what she has figured out about selling books:
But Enough About Me,
Let’s Talk About You:
Dear Friends of Global Province:
For more than 25 years our firm has helped companies and institutions around America broadcast their values and enlarge their reputations with the vox populi. Now The Global Province has asked me to confess all, telling how I have flogged myself and my new book to America. Here’s what I’ve learned about making the transition from tastefully marketing other institutions’ ideas and products by understatement to shamelessly self-promoting my own with sheer hyperbole. That’s the difference, I guess, between marketing and sales. By the way, I am counting on you to buy my book and serve it up to several of your friends.
Obviously, all that store of wisdom and good taste from years past went right out the window when my first mystery novel, Edited to Death, was published on January 12, 2005. Now, it’s me, me, me all the livelong day, as I ruthlessly figure out new ways to exploit my friends, family, and every human being I’ve ever known, and boost those sales figures.
After getting counsel from my fashionista sister on what to wear to readings & signings (black, of course, unless there’s something darker hanging in the closet), I’ve been hitting the road: Every mystery bookstore that would have me up and down the West Coast (Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and the Greater Bay Area), New York, Texas, and more. The next wave is figuring out where I’m going to be anyway, for business or pleasure, and finding the local bookstore target in that city. Barnes & Noble has been particularly welcoming, both on the website and for readings in key stores, which simply proves that a good mix of feisty independents and Big Players can’t hurt.
Behind all those appearances are some interesting numbers:
Initial press run: 2,000
I knew I had hit an all-time high (or low) in shameless hussydom when I proposed to my client at the San Francisco Botanical Garden that since my sleuth’s name is Maggie Fiori (flowers, in Italian), and that there are a couple of garden-related clues in the mystery, that it might be fun to invite me to be the lagniappe at one of their major donor events. Tasteless, huh? Well, he’s thinking about it.
It’s Multiple Dates to the Prom. Here’s the first thing I learned about writing a novel: It’s exactly like trying to get three dates to the prom. First, you’ve got to write it, then you’ve got to get an agent (mine is the high-energy, focused, and persevering Amy Rennert), then the agent has to find a publisher. Then, you’ve got to help move that merchandise. Oh, wait, that’s four dates, isn’t it?
And the last date may be the most important. Unless you’re Norman Mailer (or better still, John Grisham or the ever-frightening Danielle Steele), the publisher is going to do precious little to get you noticed.
Fortunately, in our small town, we’re blessed with some highly over-qualified temporarily stay-at-home moms. One of them was a “time-out” marketing director at a major publishing house. She signed on to book my readings and signings, and hooked me up with a high-energy publicist who had abandoned the Bay Area for a small town in Massachusetts. Thanks to email, phone, and psychic communication, Team Me, Me, Me was born. And, my bicoastal team members are high-producers; through a mix of charm, enthusiasm about the book, and knowing the right things to say to the right people, I’ve ended up with a calendar full of readings and signings, and supporting publicity.
The Generosity of the Genre. Unlike the more mainstream literary world—which has a rep for a certain amount of jealousy, backbiting, and gossip—mystery writers seem to overflow with the milk (or blood) of human kindness. Thanks to my agent, several high-profile mystery authors cheerfully read and provided “advance praise” blurbs. A few fellow mystery-writing acquaintances did the same. Many mystery writers shared their own marketing strategies, and helped identify mystery conferences to attend. (Just in case you find yourself in El Paso in late February, I’m appearing on a Left Coast Crime panel entitled: Sing a Song of Murder: What Music Adds to Mysteries. See? It’s all about Me, Me, Me.) Sisters in Crime, the national mystery book professionals and enthusiasts organization, publishes three very helpful guidebooks: Breaking and Entering, A Guide to Selling your Manuscript; Finding an Agent, and Other Mysteries of Publishing; Shameless Promotions for Brazen Hussies II—Practical Publicity Tips; and So You’re Going to Do an Author Signing (more info on their website: www.sistersincrime.org). One Vermont mystery writer I’d met only after I visited her website and told her how much I liked her book is sending her parents to my publication party in New York.
Substance is Okay, Swag is Better. Thanks to a generous and gifted designer friend (Jackie Jones, www.jjdonline.com), I’ve got a great website: www.lindaleepeterson.com. Even if you gulp at being self-promotional, the website can do it for you—plus, it can be linked to your publisher, bn.com and amazon.com for direct sales. It’s also an efficient way to offer updated information. And, I’m running a little contest on my website—a concept I stole from some other nice mystery writer. Maggie Fiori, my sleuth, fills her head with useless information, so the website offers a Match Wits with Maggie Minutia contest, and each month, winners who answer all the questions (info available—where else?—in the book), get entered in a drawing for a handsome, commemorative T-shirt. The shirt s, which read Maggie Fiori says: I’m a Know-it-All on the front, and carries a red-penciled, edited first graf of the book plus the website address on the back, also serve as giveaways during readings and signings. Vulgar promotion? You bet, and it makes people laugh at events. Bookstore owners like people to be in good moods in their store. It makes shopping more fun.
Every Connection Counts. My hometown library, where I serve on the Friends board, hosted a literary salon for me (75 people, sold lots of books), complete with a cake that bore a rice-paper reproduction of the cover on the frosting. One of my fellow trustees at a seminary that’s part of Cal-Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union turned up at a bookstore event, won a T-shirt, and proudly wore it—under his suit coat—to our board of trustees meeting. More sales ensued. Friends threw book parties, with sales benefiting causes we all care about.
My beloved alma mater included an item in the Stanford Magazine and is hosting me at a signing event at the campus bookstore, and I’m the featured author at the annual Women’s Club Books on Review event. And, my sister, who thinks of herself as my full-time promotional agent, is hosting a pre-reception for the publication party in New York later this month. (Partners & Crime, Greenwich Village, Feb. 24, 7 pm, come have a glass of wine if you’re in the neighborhood.)
Or, as one of my heartless chums said to me, “See, it’s good to have your first novel come out relatively late in life. You’ve got a really good rolodex by now.”
That’s what I’ve
learned in the first two weeks since my book made its official debut in
mid-January. Some good news: In two weeks, we’ve sold out a little more
than half the first run. Being shameless pays off. Oh, and don’t forget to
visit my website:
Copyright 2005 GlobalProvince.com