Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene Lessons for Publishing

This blog has posted entries about how book promoters and marketers can learn from how other industries or products promote, market and advertise themselves.  I’d like to explore how the publishing world can learn a few lessons from Hurricane Irene.

1.      Heed the warning signs – when experts forecast a disaster there is a chance they will be right.  You can’t afford to risk not following their advice.  It could be a life and death situation when it comes to a bad storm.  For publishing, the hurricane coming is e-books, online sales, other forms of entertainment, free sources of information on the Internet, and the recession.  The eye of the storm threatens an industry and a way of life – heed the warnings and adjust to the new landscape.

2.      Sometimes what you can’t see can do the real damage – wind is invisible but its effects are not.  When the winds gust, trees will fall and windows will break and power lines will go down.  In the publishing world there are forces unseen that pose a risk.  We can’ always see the enemy.

3.      Find a way to profit from another’s loss – Home Depot, hardware stores, generator makers, supermarkets, and others win when just the threat of a storm is announced. So too in publishing there are ways to make money when others see their business decline.  Seek to sell the things people need.

4.      Sometimes you need to start over – there are cases where damage is so great that you just have to start fresh and rebuild. So, too, shall the publishing industry look to start fresh in certain areas.

5.      Don’t always compete with everyone; cooperate in tough times – when disaster strikes, strangers become friends, enemies become allies, and old rivalries seem meaningless.  In book publishing maybe the way for the industry to survive is to find a way for everyone to work together and not look to take business from the other.

One final lesson to live by: confronting potential scenarios of the worst makes us appreciate what we have, what we didn’t lose, who we truly are.  I feel like the storm cleansed society, even if for a moment, where we all got put on equal footing, where we were all in the same boat. Our fates and fears were linked by bad weather.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that after the storm passed the sun shined bright today.  Maybe, just maybe, we are learning to play together.

Book Reviews
This is a new feature for Book Marketing Buzz Blog – book reviews. I have no parameters, at the moment, for what I will review other than at the time of the review the author would not be a client of mine.  I’m game to any topic, any genre, though I favor books relating to children, marketing, sales, pr, publishing, sports, photography and current events.

Henry! You’re Late Again! (Beaver’s Pond Press)
Written by Mary E. Bleckvehl
Illustrated by Brian Barber

How do you teach a first-grader not to be late for school? I won’t reveal the solution but suffice to say the story is well done and will leave readers with a positive feeling about life’s little problems and teach us all to look for the silver lining in every problem. The illustrations are terrific. The book received a Mom’s Choice Award.  I love that it deals with the subject of parental lateness.  My wife needs to read it!

Interview With Jaime Leifer, Publicity Director For PublicAffairs

What are the challenges today of promoting a book? The media has changed a lot in the past ten years that I’ve been working in the publishing industry. There’s been a major decline in the outlets that, traditionally, were most likely to include book coverage. Newspapers are stretched very thin and book review sections have been largely eliminated or have been greatly cut back. Oprah’s, of course, gone, and there are fewer of the knockout bookings that are guaranteed to sell a book nowadays.  At the same time, the internet has expanded exponentially the types of coverage books can get—news sites, personal blogs, tweets, Facebook posts,  etc.   So, in many ways, publicity has become more fractured, since you’re not just relying on a couple of big interviews and reviews to launch the book—you’ve got to have coverage on lots of different fronts, and you never know what’s going to make the difference and make a book really take off.  
How do you work with your authors on PR? At PublicAffairs, we really treat our authors as collaborators in the publicity process.  As I explain to new authors, there’s no one who’s a bigger expert on your field than you.  Who are the major players?  Which media cover the things you’re writing about?  By and large, our authors are very eager participants in the process—they empty their pockets, go through their rolodexes, and call in favors while we’re working all of our usual channels.  And with so many journalists, politicians, and other heavy-hitters on our list, they often come through with a crucial introduction that gets the book a big hit.

What advice do you have for authors who want to promote their books? Maintain a good relationship with your publicist.  He or she will work hardest for you if he or she knows you’re engaged, excited, and open to collaboration.  Keep an eye on the news, and try to see how your book fits in with what’s going on.  Write op-eds or blog posts if it’s appropriate and if you’ve got an opinion to voice—they can help to bolster your position as an expert.  On the social-media front, if you’re tech-savvy and interested in Twitter, it can be a great tool for promoting yourself and your book directly to the people who care most about it.  But you have to be sincere, and truly engaged—the Twitterverse will know instantly if you’re solely self-promotional.

What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? PublicAffairs’ tagline is “good books about things that matter,” and I really do believe that’s what we create here.  When I’m talking to reporters or producers about our books, I’m lucky in that our authors have something worthwhile to say that’s more often than not tied into the news of the day.   I love being a useful and informative part of the national and international conversation.  And I’m glad I’m encouraging people to take an in-depth look at important subjects.  Our world is so fast-paced that it’s sometimes tough to fully grasp complex topics like the debt crisis or America’s relationship with Pakistan.  I’ve read two of our books on those subjects in the past couple of weeks, and I feel infinitely better informed about what’s going on.  In general, I feel like people in publishing care about their world in more than just a superficial way.  It’s a great environment to live and work in.

Where is it heading? We’ve definitely seen a huge increase in e-book sales.  For us, that’s a great thing—with books that tie in so closely to current events, physical copies are usually not exactly where you need them when news breaks.  A large part of our e-book sales are incremental, not replacing print sales.  I think there will always be a market for long-form narrative journalism and argument, and hopefully e-books will continue to help us reach that market.

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 He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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