Poor Book Marketing…

Posted on March 17, 2011. Filed under: 1 |

Seth Godin recently wrote about the poor marketing skills of some book publishers.

It reminded me of something I experienced a while back. The following is a true story.

In late 2009, hubby and I visited Los Angeles. The trip was part vacation and part business.

While there, we decided do something we’d never done: attend the taping of a TV show. I selected the (now defunct) Bonnie Hunt show because tickets were free and she seems like a fun lady.

Hubby and I, along with nearly 200 other folks, waited over two hours to be ushered into the studio. During our wait, everyone discussed who the guests might be that day. No one seemed to know for sure, but there were rumors that it might be LL Cool J, or Ree Drummond, who has a cookbook that I highly recommend (unless you’re on a diet, in which case, forget I mentioned it). And then someone said that one of guests might be writer John Irving. This is when my heart did a flippity-flip.

John Irving is best known for The Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp. But the reason my heart did a few flips when I heard his name is because John Irving wrote A Prayer for Owen Meaney, one of my all-time favorite novels.

A Prayer for Owen Meaney is truly an amazing book. In fact, everyone who reads this touching novel forms an immediate kinship.  It’s true:  I read this novel over 15 years ago, but whenever I meet someone who has read it, we immediately want to embrace. I’m not kidding. It feels like we’ve found a rare, kindred soul who share a secret – that the novel A Prayer for Owen Meaney touches you deeply in a way very few novels ever do. It’s right up there with To Kill A Mockingbird, folks.

So. I’m sitting on a bench in the Culver City Studios, waiting to be escorted into the studio and I’m thinking this could turn out to be one of the most amazing examples of synchronicity in my entire life…

Seriously. What are the odds that the one day I decide to be a studio audience member, that the guest is one of my favorite authors? I.  Am.  Psyched.

We’re escorted to our seats. First, we’re entertained by Bonnie’s warm-up comedian guy (who heckles my husband in front of the entire audience, but that’s another story). And then Bonnie enters. She’s adorable and funny and this audience-member-thing is surprisingly fun. Finally, she mentions that day’s guest.

LL Cool J  – check.

Rumor Willis (daughter of Bruce and Demi) – check

the author John Irving – oh good God in heaven – check!

Bonnie confirmed it – John Irving will be one of today’s guest! I can hardly sit still.

The rest of the show is a blur. I’m waiting for John. Honestly, I wouldn’t know him if he was sitting right next to me (even long-time fans often don’t know what their favorite authors look like), but I’m ready to find out.

When he walks on the set, my first thought is “He’s very handsome!”. When he sits down to chat with Bonnie, I realize (duh!) he’s there to promote his new novel.

Here I should pause this story to give some well-deserved “kudos” to the publisher. They did some truly smart marketing when they arranged for John to appear on this national show. I – a longtime fan – was unaware that a new book was available, and now I know. That’s pretty much the definition of good marketing.

Back to the story: As Bonnie and John discuss the book, I’m having the following thoughts: “I can’t wait to read it. I’m going to write the World’s Best Review of it on Amazon! Gosh, he really is quite handsome. I wish I could tell him that I’m a huge fan.”

Then, the following thought grabs me: “Oh my gosh, I bet we’re all getting a free copy of his new novel!!!”

I’ve seen this happen before on talk shows, of course. Ellen does it. Oprah sure as hell does it. After they discuss the book/product/whatever, they turn to the audience and say “And everyone in today’s audience is getting one for free!” at which point everyone erupts in elated applause.

Now I’m really excited, and my thoughts include: “I’m going to tell everyone I know about this!  I’ll buy more copies and give them as Christmas gifts. It sounds like a really great novel. This is so awesome.”

Then, all too soon, the interview is over and John exits the stage.

Wait a minute. They forgot something. Aren’t we getting a free copy?

It turns out, no. We’re not getting a free copy, and at the time, it was a mild disappointment, but not really a big deal. It wasn’t until later, when I looked at the situation from the eyes of a marketer (instead of a overly-excited fan) that I realized what a lost opportunity that was. No, scratch that. It was more than a lost opportunity. It was a short-sighted, stupid decision by the publisher to not provide free copies. Why? Think of everything they missed:

1. That wonderful moment on national TV when the audience erupts in applause after being told they’re receiving the free gizmo. Don’t underestimate this moment. Makers-of-products everywhere pay millions of dollars for such moments on national television. In this instance, the publisher could have received it for less than $ 1000 (the  Fed Ex cost to ship 200 books to LA + the cost of the books themselves).

2. Two hundred missed opportunities to create a new John Irving fan.

3. No doubt not every audience member was a reader. So what? Give a non-reader a hardcover book and there’s no way they’ll throw it away. They’ll simply give it to a friend who reads. Hell, this was early November. Do you know how many of those free books would have ended up under the Christmas tree, as a gift to someone else? That would have created even more opportunities for John to acquire new fans.

4. Word of mouth. This is the most important of all. By not giving away free copies, the publisher lost any opportunity to generate real buzz. There were bloggers in that audience, Random House. You took away any opportunity for them to go home and blog about the cool book they got at the Bonnie Hunt show.

5. With only 200 audience members, John could have easily signed each copy.  Then, each recipient would have left the studio feeling they had something far more valuable than a $ 30 book. They had a personalized item that had been touched and signed by a famous author. That has an entirely different feel to it. Now we feel connected to him.

Instead, we left the studio with a good feeling that quickly passed. Today, I bet 95% of the audience members couldn’t tell you the name of the author who was a guest at the Bonnie Hunt Show on the day they attended a taping.

When an author hires me to produce a book, I tell them in our first meeting:  “Plan to give away 5% of your print run.”  I wish someone would tell the big guys that.

~Nancy Heinonen

Publications Director

Crescent Hill Books

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One Response to “Poor Book Marketing…”

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Hi Nancy, I know you’ve written this post a while ago but I can’t agree with you more. It’s amazing that your points were overlooked. The undivided attention of 200 people who could easily become your advocates…. a major miss.

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