Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Publishing and publicity

Simon and Tim over at the Big Green Bookshop blog have had a great idea – they’re auctioning BGB merchandise on ebay. Brilliant publicity idea and the cachet of having one of those little badges amongst the BGB cognoscenti is going to be awesome. OK, maybe not awesome because I’m not sure how many cognoscenti there are and whether we will ever all get together in a bunch (shop launch party anyone?). But anyway, the prospect of having badges which say ‘So Many Books, So Little Time, Books Not Bombs and Muggle, Wizard (I am, after all, an immense HP fan) was too much to bear. So I’ve bid for them. That reminds me, I really should check my email to see whether/by how much I’ve been outbid...

Five minutes later: OK, so somebody seriously wants So Many Books, So Little Time. Every time I up my bid, their maximum trumps it. Oh well, now I’m pinning my hopes on the others. It would have been nice to take a photo of me wearing SMBSLT next to the tottering to be read pile, but hey ho ebay could take over your life if you let it. (As could reading other people’s blogs, btw…)

Anyway, the reason I brought up this mega badge auction is publicity. It’s always much on the minds of recently-published authors, especially those who are not household names and, as somebody recently remarked in their blog (sorry, whoever it was, I didn’t make a note of it, but cheers for the observation anyway) authors these days need two entirely different personae – one reclusive, creative and bloody-minded one (my words not the poorly-identified blogger’s) to do the writing and another bouncy, hello-look-at-me one to sell the books.
And, though I may just be speaking for myself here, I get the impression that most writers are not look-at-me types. If we were we wouldn’t be content to spend day after day sitting with only a laptop/pad of paper and a pen for company.

In this context, I'm reminded of the telly programme about Joanna Rowling which was on over Christmas. Am I the only one who thought how uneasy she looked as she turned up to the premier of one of the Harry Potter films (I assume it was last summer’s The Order of the Phoenix) in comparison with the huge-smiled, sleekly dressed stars of the show who were almost visibly purring at all the attention? It wasn’t that JKR didn’t look the part – she looked fab – she just also looked as if she’d like to be pretty much anywhere else on the planet at that precise moment.

So how do we who do not have premiers to attend do the publicity thing? I guess we all secretly hope that we won’t have to, that we slide the book out there into the public domain and, in a very short time indeed, without obvious effort or planning it will be the holy grail of publishing, a word-of-mouth success. Hmmm. Well how many books do you know that that is true of? Apart from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which, I gather from the word on the streets and no research whatsoever, Bloomsbury did not overly hype on first publication. Like, they didn’t hype it at all. (Please feel free to put me right on this if you are in the know…)

Blogs are publicity. I’m sure all of us who are writers secretly hope that people will be so captivated by the engaging personality which comes over from our witterings, so impressed by the erudition of our occasional forays into criticism, so generally impressed by our over-all spiffingness that they will hit the bookshops in droves and create a demand like a tidal wave for our books. And it may. But let’s not all hold our collective breath because that would a) be bad for our capillaries and b) have no effect whatever on sales.

My sister-in-law, wonderful woman, who read Testament in manuscript and loved it so much she wrote me a letter telling me why, suggested that we should all wear t-shirts on launch night (and beyond) saying ‘I am a Tobyite’ (this will only make sense to you if you have read the book, or at least read the stuff about Testament on my website) and, as one of the themes of Testament is belonging to a community, I guess that kind of t-shirt declaration might work. I just didn’t quite have the bottle to carry it off.

How about the rest of you writers out there? Do you think about publicity, or do you leave it to your publisher’s marketing department? Have you come up with any whizzo ideas for getting your book noticed?

Or shall I just get some badges done?

PS - just found the reference to the split author thing it's here at notes from the slushpile.



There's a little award for you over at mine - hope you don't mind :o)

David Isaak said...

I think you're right about the first Harry Potter book. And the advance wasn't all that striking, either--3,000 pounds, if I recall.

As to your larger question of how to generate publicity: Heck if I know. And I'm not even in the country where my book was published. Talk about what sociologists call "limited personal efficacy"...

Alis said...

Loving that phrase - 'limited personal efficacy'. I shall quote it at my sons next time one of them fails to come up to scratch on the household chores front!

Emma Darwin said...

I dunno what one does either. (Love that phrase too, David!). Given that we all know publishers don't have the time or budget to do everything to every book that might be done, maybe we should just be more upfront about saying, 'Tell me what I can do, and I'll try,' because it's lack of expertise as much as enthusiasm that stumps me about this stuff. (An Atlantic in the way, I do see, is a different order of problem...)

But I think there's a limit to what you can do that doesn't come naturally. As you say, JKR didn't look as if she was enjoying it, and I'm sure if I, a card-carrying telephone phobic, tried to cold-call small lit fests and pitch for a slot (or whatever one's supposed to do) I'd make a complete mess of it. But there are other things I can do okay, if someone will explain to me where to direct my efforts.


I agree that JK doesn't look comfortable with publicity - I suppose it's not everyone's cup of tea. Personally I'd love my book to sell itself (!) or leave it to a clever marketing department, but appreciate it's not that simple these days.

I thought Caroline Smailes idea of people wearing badges with Where's Adam on them was a good one - apparently lots of people asked about it and subsequently bought the book!