It’s all about the show

This is a continuing commentary of my Authorpreneur post. The author in my previous post, Connie Bennett, was gracious enough to offer her thoughts and reactions to my post, and we have some fundamental disagreements over what we consider effective promotion. That’s fine because differing opinions are what make the world go ’round. My reason for continuing the discussion is that I want authors know the difference between good promotion that will invite the right people to take you seriously and promotional misfires.

Connie’s overall message that stuck with me is this idea that “the show” is designed to get people to pay attention to the writing, and I think there is a huge disconnect in this logic. In Connie’s case (sorry, Connie, but you did put yourself out there), for example, her sandwich board is provocative. “Are you the right one? Will put out on the first date!”

She’s an attractive woman and used sexual innuendo to garner attention for her manuscript. You’d think she had written a sex book, right?  But you know what? I couldn’t remember. Turns out it’s a diet book. So authors need to ask themselves how effective is the promo campaign if everyone remembers the show but not the book. I’m an editor; I’m paid to pay attention to things like books. Yet I had to go look it up. To me, this is a misfire.

I can’t sell a peep show, but I can sell a well written book. To me, promotion, at any level, is about balance. Authors should ask themselves whether their publicity tactic is equivalent to the material being promoted. How does advertising you’ll “put out” equate to a diet book? It’s an interesting idea, but it’s promoting the wrong message, and that’s why I think few will actually remember the book.

In fact, I asked twenty of my agent and editor buds today, and not one of them remembered the book. But they remembered her. All of them thought it was pretty gutsy, a lot laughed, a few cringed, and all of them agreed that the stunt didn’t entice them to view the work. So what was gained?  Hey, it’s possible that Connie will sign a mega million dollar deal because of this; who knows? If she does, more power to her. Rock on! What worries me is whenever I see stuff like this, I see a ton of “me too” authors who think, gee, it worked for her, so I’ll try it too.

Before we know it, we have all kinds of absurdity walking the floors of book conventions and writer’s conferences, all trying to out-promote each other. It’s visual overload, and we tend to not even see it anymore; it’s white noise.

It’s like the story that went around about how JK Rowling’s oft-rejected manuscript was picked up because it was in a brightly colored folder. For a solid year my mailbox was filled with all sorts of whackadoodle packaging. I threw every one of them into the recycle bin. Unread.

Are you willing to take the chance of repelling those you’re trying to attract? This is about perspective, and I hope that before authors step out wearing feathers over their girly bits or toilets on their heads in hopes of attracting attention that they consider not everyone will find it suitable, even though they laugh.

If you want to get attention, write a damn good book and a damn good query letter. Get a damn good agent. Understand your audience and marketplace, and leave the theatrics to Hollyweird. You’ll never go wrong letting your writing do the talking.

10 Responses to It’s all about the show

  1. Aston West says:

    It’s much like a game of whack-a-mole…the mole that just popped up might pop up right where you want it to eventually, but odds are heavily stacked that many others moles are going to show up in completely different spots. 🙂

    Depending on the circumstances, though, it could be that people will remember the author’s name…and will pause a little longer over the next query from said author next time it comes across the stack.

    Who knows?

  2. MagicMan says:

    Marketing gimmicks work occasionally. Marketing professionally works the majority of the time. Sell your strengths, reveal your weakness and then underscore that weakness by overshadowing it with the strengths. David did beat Goliath, or was that a fairy tale?


  3. I thought it was a mighty bold move for Connie to “put herself out” in that way and draw attention to herself and her book. Yes, perhaps the message is a bit misguided; however, she did show one important selling point in this day and age: an author willing to do something outrageous, be an absolute extrovert, and go the extra mile to market her work.

    While it may be best for Connie to chalk this one up to “training and development,” the buzz and free publicity alone that she’s created with her stunt, whether or not it produced the exact result for which it was intended, will, no doubt, garner a lot of good information for her in terms of what works and doesn’t work in terms of marketing.

    As an author myself, I’ll learn from it, and I applaud her courage to step outside the box in a big way. Also, with the state of the economy right now, I think it certainly garnered attention and did so in a way that was culturally relevant, so I’m going to applaud her for making the move!

  4. Lynn, you’ve certainly opened my eyes. I appreciated hearing your editor’s perspective. Thank you for your thoughtful remarks posted here, as well as the response you were kind enough to write to me personally.

    Perhaps my marketing gimmick at BookExpo America was inappropriate or ill conceived? I just don’t know. Ultimately, however, it did enable me to connect with hundreds of people in the publishing industry, as well as hundreds of potential readers.

    Before BEA, I did consult with a variety of people in publishing and promotion to get their insights and opinions about my planned sandwich board, but they didn’t raise your emphatic objections. In the future, before I stage any off-the-wall publicity stunts, would you be willing to give me your opinion ahead of time?!!

    Of course, as you suggest, I already work hard and consistently to understand my audience and marketplace. Indeed, for years, I’ve been in touch with my readers and would-be readers through my free, online KickSugar support group; Sugar Shock Blog; radio show; and private and group coaching. I also receive hundreds of emails from members of my audience—this is usually the high point of my day. (In fact, this morning, I posted a reader’s heartwarming comments on my blog.)

    Furthermore, I’m always asking members of my audience for their questions, suggestions and input. For instance, people who signed up for my four-week, Break Free teleseminar/webinar course, which begins tomorrow, are invited to visit a special website to tell me what they’d like to learn and discuss in the program.

    Also, much of what I cover in my next book, “The Weight Loss Habits of Highly Successful Losers” (working title) is based upon feedback from members of my audience.

    All said and done, you and I are in agreement. I believe that your “writing [should] do the talking,” as you so eloquently put it.

    You see, Lynn, although I may have staged an unusual marketing gimmick, my focus is always on the writing—specifically writing, as you stated, “a damn good book.” Anyhow, today and tomorrow, I have to finish my “damn good book proposal” for my next book so my “damn good agent” can get it out to potential publishers. Thanks again for your thoughtful feedback.

  5. shel israel says:

    I use social media and public speaking to promote what I write. I tell people what’s in the book and then let them decide. If a few read it and tell their friends it starts a process that will sell many books.

    If that first round doesn’t like the book and doesn’t recommend it, then all the marketing money, and gimmicks and pushes just won’t do very much at all.

    So if you want to sell a lot of books the great untold secret remains: write good books.

  6. Don McCauley says:

    I have been in marketing and publicity for 30 plus years now. Suffice it to say I thought I had seen it all. However, upon entering the field of book marketing some years ago, I realized I had not seen the half of it.

    Success in marketing is deceptively simple. Marketing has been, is, and ever shall be:

    *Define your potential buyer’s profile precisely
    *Approach the buyer in the manner they prefer
    *Deliver a sharply branded, well honed, targeted message
    *And, above all else, develop trust in the mind of that client.

    People do not buy books. They buy the information in the book. Twittering your blatant ‘buy my great book’ message endlessly is not the way to go. This brands one as a novice. The end result is lots of ‘marketing effort’, but ultimately, failure.

    Buyers want value. Value, for the buyer, is clearly answering the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. I don’t know what theatrics were used here, but I can tell you that theatrics draw attention, not trust. Trust creates buyers.

    Don McCauley

  7. lynnpricewrites says:

    Wow, lots of thoughtful answers. Thank you so much. Especially you, Connie. As I said in my email to you, when an author puts themselves “out there” they have to be willing to take the bullets and the smiles. You’ve been most gracious in being held up for example.

    Don, book marketing is a whole other ballgame, and if you ever attend the BEA, you’ll see anything and everything – much of it wince-worthy. My concern with these gimmicks is how they create a bridge between the stunt and getting people interested in reading the book – or in this case, look at the manuscript? Do people really think, “gee, that man is wearing a toilet seat on his head, wow…I MUST read his book!” What does a toilet seat or saying “I’ll put out for you on the first date” say about the content of the book? And that’s the disconnect, IMO.

    I don’t think for one minute that Connie has ruined her chances of being read by an editor because it’s all about the writing. But personally speaking, if the cover letter prefaced that she was the one who wore the sandwich board, my wow factor would go down a few notches.

  8. lynnpricewrites says:

    From your post on your blog:

    While I hoped my publicity stunt would get attention, I hadn’t planned on being condemned.

    Connie, I don’t see where I’ve condemned you. I used your stunt to point out the the risks of this kind of promotion and to give authors a perspective from one who sits on the other side of the desk.

    You put yourself into the public eye in order to garner attention to your book, so you have to be prepared for the flip side and accept that not everyone is going to find the stunt useful. I don’t see that as a condemnation, but rather an example that authors should be wary of how they choose to get the word out to editors.

    I see that you’d like feedback about whether people approve or disapprove. To me, it’s moot because you’re talking to the wrong crowd. You’re trying to get noticed by editors, and right now, their opinions are the ones you should be seeking – not your fellow writers.

  9. Lynn, perhaps I picked the wrong word. Instead, maybe I should have used the word “criticized” rather than “condemned.” I’ll be happy to change the word on my blog now.

    Anyhow, as I stated earlier, my BEA stunt was to garner the attention of a wide variety of people, not just editors.

    Of course, I value feedback. Perhaps you misunderstood. I wasn’t just asking for feedback from fellow writers. I have thousands of readers and fans of my Sugar Shock Blog — I was writing to them.

    Anyhow, I’m really exhausted by this whole thing, and now I’m home sick. I tried something different — I’ve NEVER put myself out there like that before — and according to you and some of your peers, my stunt failed, so can we just leave it be, please? I’m embarrassed enough as it is.

    I really need to get over this flu (or whatever it is), finish my book proposal, complete a couple of essays that I’m writing, rewrite my four-week Break Free program (which began last night), coach my clients, work on my radio show, etc.

    Thanks again for your feedback. I do appreciate your insights even if they embarrassed me, but can I just go hide now? LOL!

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