Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming Soon: Memoir of a Six-Year-Old

My six-year-old soon recently asked me if I can “advertise” a book that he plans to make.  He doesn’t exactly know what I do for a living even though I remind him that I promote authors to the news media and market their books. But he knows enough to see that anyone – even a kid – has access to cheap technology that can create a book (regardless of the quality of the content) and he knows that it can sell with the right promotions.

I didn’t ask him what his book would be about or why he thought others would want to buy it.  I wanted to applaud him for thinking this up and on the other hand I didn’t want to encourage him to put his book together because I knew it would mean I’d have to promote it.  Not that I’m lazy or disinterested in supporting his efforts. It’s just that I wasn’t sure how I’d explain all the things many adult authors seem to miss the boat on.

Too many authors think like my kid does – slap together a book and promote it.  Then count the sales, right?  It’s not that easy.  Just as almost any healthy under-40 adult can have a kid, provided they have unprotected sex, that doesn’t mean he or she will be a good parent.  And so it goes with publishing.  Almost anyone can get a book published but it doesn’t mean the book is any good. And even if it’s a gem, it will need smart, relentless promoting or it will just die a quiet death.

I suppose if I did encourage my son, Benjamin Feinblum (I put his full name here so he can find himself online), to pursue his dream of getting published, selling lots of books, and becoming famous, I’d first help him think through what he plans to do.  I’d want him to think about how his book will be written, designed, and presented.  Image is becoming just as important as content. I’d ask him to define his marketplace – Who does he envision as his customer or reader?  Why will they buy from him and at what price point?  Lastly, he should tell me how he’ll promote it. Yes, a six-year-old with a business plan!

That may be a tall order to ask of a six-year old. Many adults fail to answer those questions or to deliver as promised on the answers they provide. There’s a lesson here, I think.  Technology allows us to get a book published instantly.  It also creates a marketplace and a means to promote. But behind all of the button-pushing we still can’t lose sight of the basics – you still need a compelling book, lots of energy, time, money, and creativity to promote it, and a readership that can be targeted to with the right offer.

Ben has already convinced me to participate in his other money-making schemes – a car wash, cupcake sale, lemonade stand to name a few.  Maybe publishing and marketing a book for a kid these days will become the new norm. I’m sure some other six-year-old is asking his parent to help with blogging or creating a website as we sit here now.
One thing my son has that most adult authors don’t is his innocence.  He has charm and personality. Who’s going to turn down a smiling six-year-old peddling a cute little book for a couple of bucks? Maybe he should write about dogs, happiness, money, or chocolate – a big percentage of the population supports each of those things.  Throw in a charity tie-in (Let’s raise money for the homeless, maybe?), and you have a neat little package.  For publicity, do I need much of an angle beyond; “Six-year-old publishes memoir; nation’s largest book PR firm promotes it?”  Too bad Oprah is gone but I can see a Publisher’s Weekly interview, New York Times profile and a Today Show segment (albeit, hour number eight) in the cards.  At least that’s what we’ll write on the galley copy’s back cover. His mom can give a great testimonial though his three-year-old sister, Olivia, can’t quite use her crayon to write neatly.

Say, the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to see why my son suggested his publishing foray in the first place.  He has me sold on it.

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