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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Do You Promote A Mediocre Book?

I have been promoting books and authors since 1989.  Truthfully many were mediocre.  A handful were exceptionally good and some should never, ever have been green-lighted for publication.  Often, a publicist is tasked with the challenge of promoting something or someone who is not exceptional.  That’s what makes the game – and it is a game – of marketing and promoting both rewarding and stressful.  Add to it that most publicists are overloaded and under-resourced.  There are competing priorities and deadlines for deadlines.  But somehow, publicists get through the day, and when all goes well they have some pretty good media placements to show for it.

So what do you do when you’re promoting a C-plus book? First, consider the following:

Understand why it is weak or define where it falls short.  Is it something that can be fixed, ignored, downplayed, or explained?  Or is it something too difficult to look past?  It’s one thing if the book has an ugly cover or a dumb title; it’s another if the book is poorly edited or remarkably boring.

Is the book lacking something to rally around to pitch to the media?  It may not be any different than other book of its genre, which means it doesn’t stick out, but if it is as good as others, then you can pitch it like you would any of the others.

Is the book the issue or the author? Is the author putting you to sleep or just a bad talker?  Is the author crazy or confrontational?  Is the author shy and absent a personality?

Once you get to the core of where the weak point is – and I realize you may have several to choose from in some cases – you can then map out a strategy to rally around a strength while defending against the weakness.

Before you promote a book, do a S.W.O.T. analysis:

S:    Identify strengths of the book/author
W:  Identify weaknesses in the book/author
O:   Identify opportunities in the marketplace or media landscape.
T:   Identify the threats out there. Does the author have enemies? Is there a bias against his message?

Promoting a book can be a little like being on The Apprentice.  You are suddenly thrust into an open, hostile competition with limited resources, vague goals, little time, and a dragon boss breathing down your back while you seek to win at what you believe you are good at.  Wouldn’t it be cool to reverse the positions for one day and you get to play Donald Trump, minus the ridiculous hair plant, and you get to fire your author?

Dream on.  Until then, think about how you’ll help mediocrity come off looking like a best-seller.

Interview With Holly Schmidt, President of Hollan Publishing

1.      Holly, as the president of Hollan Publishing, a conceptual agent and packager of non-fiction books, how do you work with authors? At Hollan, my business partner, Allan Penn, and I develop commercial concepts and find expert authors to execute proposals (with our guidance, of course). We then sell those projects to publishers and split the advances and royalties 50/50 with the authors. We're not really a packager, because we're not building the books, and we're not really literary agents either, because we develop the concepts first, then find the right authors for them, instead of signing authors with their own ideas. It's an unusual model, but it's working really well. We started out as packagers, but found that publishing houses today all want to keep their own in-house art and editorial departments busy and there was no added value in delivering finished books. However, the vast majority of the editors we work with are overwhelmed with juggling their various tasks and don't always have the time to brainstorm ideas and find authors. We provide that service for them. And we give our authors commercial, salable ideas, which cannot be underestimated – even the most talented, connected authors aren't always clued in enough to the nuances of the book business to know what's truly marketable. We sell 90% of the projects we pitch, so our authors have a better shot at landing a book deal by working with us than they would on their own. We've found a successful model that fits our changing industry, proven by the fact that our business doubled from 2010 to 2011 and is on track to double again in 2012.

2.      What do you love most about being a part of the book publishing industry? The opportunity to do creative work every day alongside other creative people. It's really a thrill to develop these ideas and watch them come to life. Sometimes it's easy to forget how lucky we are to create something new each season. I really can't imagine any job that is more fun than mine.

3.      Where do you see publishing is heading?  Of course the industry is in transition, which I find incredibly exciting. As long as publishers can maintain their profit margins, it will be headed to good places. And so far, most seem to be doing that. We own a digital publishing company that publishes genre fiction ebooks (Ravenous Romance and the forthcoming Ravenous Shadows imprints), so the ebook transition has been really good for us. And I think the opportunities it presents to writers are vast and thrilling, if they have open minds and a willingness to take risks.

4.      What advice do you have for struggling writers? I guess that would depend on their particular struggles. If the struggles are creative ones, I suggest writer's workshops and more reading. (I'm always amazed by how many writers don't read very much.) If their struggles are commercial, I think much of it is dependent on what they're writing – does it have a market? That is a hard question, but often the answer is no, and if the writer moves on to something else he will find success. We have several examples of this in our digital fiction business, and it's really gratifying to help someone turn his or her career around.

5.      Where do you see potential growth for certain genres in non-fiction? I am really excited about cookbooks right now. There is so much incredible talent in the blogosphere – great writing, gorgeous photography, fantastic recipes, extraordinary creativity – that five or ten years ago would have been completely untapped. They would not have been able to find an audience. Now that anyone with a passion can put their creative work into the world, we're seeing how quickly talent is rewarded with traffic, which can then translate to book sales. It's happening in a lot of creative categories, but food is the one that excites me the most.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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